KUALA LUMPUR, March 27 — Tang Kok Weng tries his best to hide it, but there is no missing that glow of pride on his face as he watches a crowd of curious onlookers snapping pictures of his toy statues/ figures on display at the Toy Collectors Exhibition at Sungai Wang Plaza.
Some of them take the opportunity to snap selfies with the figures while others lean in a little closer to get a better look at the toys on display.
Tang’s personal collection is among the many being showcased at the event this weekend.
“So which of these figures belong to you?” I ask Tang.
“Some over there, but you see that one in the middle, the big Hulk statue? That’s mine lah,” he says quietly, his voice trying to contain the outburst of pride as I gawked at (and yes, drooled over) the majestic statue of the green-skinned superhero from The Avengers.
‘So why do you collect toys?’
Many collectors and toy enthusiasts get asked this question a lot, but the answers differ... Some collect just a particular brand or characters from a comic book, while others buy them to resell to other collectors at a slightly higher price.
Then there are the collectors who enjoy the thrill of the chase, the act of “hunting” or looking for a rare toy or collectible for the best price.
But for Tang, collecting toys has always been more than just a hobby; it is a gateway to the past and perhaps a reminder of simpler times growing up as a kid, idolising caped crusaders and masked superheroes.
“There is a sense of nostalgia in this… when we collect, it is not about the money you spend, it is about the satisfaction you get in return,” he says, adding that this was one of the reasons why he got together with other like-minded collectors to organise the Toy Collectors Exhibition.
Ironically though, collecting toys is about the money, or how much dosh you’re willing to part with in order to fill that glass cabinet at home with figures or statues.
In Malaysia, toy collecting is quite a niche market, and chances are you’ve probably interacted with some random toy collector on Facebook even though you haven’t physically met.
It is also a commitment, as toy collectors are by no mean casual enthusiasts. A six-inch or 1:12 scale figure can cost you anywhere from RM200 to RM600, while the premium 12-inch figures like those made by Hot Toys, a Hong Kong-based toy company, can cost anywhere between RM800 to RM2,000 per figure.
Statues are even more expensive as some are limited to 1,000 pieces worldwide and can cost about RM2,000 per piece on average.
Working as a sous chef in Singapore accords Tang access to more figures from branded companies compared to Malaysia, and he soon started helping other people back home source the figures and toy brands they wanted.
“I would buy for them and in turn, I get a commission.
“But what I did not like was that some sellers in Malaysia would sell the figures I see in Singapore for a much higher price, they mark up the price and I did not like that as a collector,” Tang added.
Dealing with the weak ringgit
Another toy collector, How KC, decided at the end of last year that since he liked collecting figures so much, he would start a part-time online business procuring international toy brands for the Malaysian market.
“It’s been about two months since I started the online shop EMT&R Anime Service, and for the most part it has been quite successful.
“In terms of product availability it is not a problem because I only start pre-ordering or back order from my suppliers when there are requests from customers, and since I am online I don’t have to worry about rental or maintenance fees,” he told Malay Mail Online.
“People call me Mr How because they always ask me ‘how’ to get the toys they want,” the bespectacled 24-year-old said with a laugh.
But How believes that going online will be the future of the toy market, as many ‘physical’ shops in shopping malls are suffering from high rental rates and costs associated with the weakening of the ringgit over the past few years.
“It is more cost effective, if it is online it is easier to manage. I believe sooner or later online platform will be the way to go,” he added.
How says that trends among toy collectors have also changed as a result of the depreciation of the ringgit; some collectors are now more inclined towards buying premium six-inch figures which cost considerably less than their 12-inch counterparts.
“Brands like Mezco Toyz, at the moment are gaining more popularity here as their figures are cheaper than Hot Toys, and although they are smaller, the quality in terms of detail and cloth fabric is almost the same.
“In the future I think a lot of people will change to Mezco instead of Hot Toys, or even SH Figuarts,” How said, referring to a brand by Japanese toy brand Bandai.
How said that most of his customers are working-class Malaysians and government officials but there are not many “new collectors” out there.
“Most of them are old collectors who have been collecting for a long time and are looking for a better price.”
Quite a number of the shops on the second and third floor of Sungei Wang Plaza serve as toy shops but for the most part these outlets are empty, save for the odd customer or two every now and again.
Some shop owners sit and look at their phones while one or two were seen speaking to possible customers asking about a particular product… all this while the toys and figures look on silently, gathering dust on their display shelves.
The owner of one toy shop, Oska Chin, says that it is much cheaper to rent shop lots in Sungei Wang compared to places like Amcorp Mall.
“And we have a lot of tourists here, so we hope that this can translate into business. But it depends on the season, usually after Chinese New Year business slows down a bit,” he told Malay Mail Online.
Like How, Chin says that many of his customers now choose toy products that are within the RM200 to RM400 range, and toys above RM500 are quite difficult to sell.
“There has been a drop in business. The ringgit dropped, so the costs increased, so it becomes difficult for people to buy, especially statues or Hot Toys.
“Some people even sell their old collection, either because they quit collecting or so that they can get the money to buy new things,” he added.