SAN DIEGO — One way members of various fandoms can firmly declare their devotion lies in memorabilia and collectibles. Whether it’s comic books, movies, TV shows or video games, merchandising allows stories and popular heroes to live, thrive and survive long after the book has closed or the final credits have rolled.
At Comic-Con, more than a thousand vendors packed the massive exhibition hall on the first floor of the San Diego Convention Center, hawking virtually every possible item from T-shirts, costumes, accessories, posters and figurines, to creations ranging from artistic interpretations of individual movie or TV scenes, all the way up to 6-foot-tall statues and sculptures.
Without question, the purchasing pace can be best defined as frenetic. Exhibitors and vendors see Comic-Con as one of the most effective platforms through which they can market their wares.
Right in the middle of it all is ThinkGeek, based in Fairfax, Virginia. It’s one of the most well-respected purveyors of pop-culture memorabilia in the nation.
“ThinkGeek was founded as an internet service provider, and then we cut our teeth by producing a shirt that read ‘Got Root?’, which is a nod to the Linux community,” said Jeff Burchett, director of product marketing.
“But since then, we have developed a line of geeky tech gadgets that progressed from Got Root? to what we have today, which is essentially a collection of licensed and unlicensed products that help you extend your fandom into everyday life. These are things that range from housewares to cosplay and everything in between.”
Of major appeal to those in attendance are the Comic-Con “exclusives” that vendors and product companies create, procure or manufacture — and then sell — at Comic-Con.
“I particularly love the ‘exclusives’ from ThinkGeek,” said Joe Levine, owner of the Comic Collector Shop in Sunnyvale, California, who left the ThinkGeek booth with no fewer than six loaded giant bags.
“There are always really cool exclusives that you can only get here, but since not everybody can get into Comic-Con, my customers rely on me to bring these items back home. They always look forward to my return from San Diego,” he added.
A visitor known only as Neptune, impeccably dressed as Mantis from “Guardians of the Galaxy,” raves about the company.
“ThinkGeek is one of the best websites ever,” she said. “I love buying from them, and I always find the coolest stuff when I come across them. I typically purchase online because it’s just easier, but when I find something I can get at a ‘con,’ I always go buy.”
So what grabbed her attention? “I bought an Iron Giant figure and I also got some light-up Dungeons and Dragons dice, too,” she said. “I also really like the Pokémon stuff they carry. It’s so cute; I love it.”
For Burchett, Comic-Con also provides the idea forum through which to connect with his core clientele.
“This is the perfect venue for us because our customers are all over the place here,” he said. “One of the great things about ThinkGeek is that we don’t just do comics or video games or science; we do everything. And Comic-Con is this great melting pot where all these interests collide in one place, so we get to talk to all of our customers at one time.”
He added, “It’s really a lot of fun.”
Comic-Con is also one more cog in the wheel of the company’s ongoing expansion and growth. Recently acquired by retail giant GameStop, ThinkGeek now has 33 brick-and-mortar locations across the country with plans for more.
“Our goal,” Burchett said, “is to be in every shopping mall in every city in America.”
Or, as he put it, “ultimate global domination.”
With a dynamic product line fueling a highly-satisfied customer base and true growth plans already in place, such domination is a definite possibility.
Resistance, in this case, may indeed be futile.
Steve Winter and Kenny Fried are WTOP contributors who work for Brotman/Winter/Fried, a Sage Communications Company.