Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Budget Geeking: A Visit at the local Ross

I'm not sure how many of you out there are aware of these amazing things called budget stores.  Places like Ross, Big Lots, Marshalls, and TJ Maxx get cheaper goods than retail, but you have to wait around longer for them. This can be an amazing place to grab some of the pieces of your geek collection that were hard to get or expensive at, say, Toys R Us. While each of these stores is a different animal, and present different levels of discount, product availability, and other factor, I will be focusing on my most recent visit at a Ross.

For those who are collectors of Transformers, GI Joe, Marvel Legends/Universe, and Power Rangers (or any Bandai America brand like Ben 10 and previously Thundercats and Kamen Rider Dragon Knight), you might be aware of the treasure trove that is Ross.  Around three to six months after a toy is released on regular retail, these brands show up with a fair amount of consistency at Ross, at around half off their retail prices.  Marshalls and TJ Maxxes have the same pattern, but they tend to discount off the highest (like Toys R Us prices) retail prices instead, so they run slightly more.  Big Lots only carries post-clearance products from retail, though they are at best inconsistent about what will show up. 

In the past, I was able to complete my transformers collections through Ross.  I was even able to troop build, and buy multiples of the troop-buildable figures like the Transformers: Generations Scourge (as the Sweeps), and Transformers Prime Vehicons. 

Another interesting category of stuff I’ve found at these stores, most exclusively to Rosses, are the appearance of RARE VARIANTS, and HARD-TO-GET toys.  In the past, certain action figure lines were not able to relese variant repaints in retail, but those variants were already produced, so they go straight to Rosses. 
Left: Retail version, Center and Right: Retail variants that look remarkably like..... this one.  Yup, the SDCC colorsheme, the "traditional" Sentinel look can be had for a small fraction if you just wait a bit longer, and a bit of digging at Ross.  The only difference is the box, which, ironically makes it hard to keep it in pristine collector's condition.

The Marvel Universe Sentinels were released in retail as the not-so-traditional mostly navy and silver colorscheme, while the tratidional purple and maroon versions were previously though to be something unique to the San Diego Comic Con exclusive Sentinel.  I have found that around 6 month after the sentinels were released and shelf-warming at Toys U Us, retailing for around $55, a different Sentinel, the traditional navy and purple kind (just like the Comic Con Exclusive) is available at Ross for a mere $25 each.  This version has the retail packaging, but the coloration of the Comic Con exclusive.  As far as I know, this version never reached brick-and-mortar retail stores; it did not even reach the Toys R Us online store.  It only showed up at Rosses and found a limited release at BigBadToystore (but at, I think, a $10 markup from retail) and (for a discounted $30). 

During the first GI Joe movie, there was supposed to be a secondary post-movie storyline release of figures.  Most of these figures were not able to show up at retail, but they were the most amazing repaints.  For the first time in a while, the Cobra HISS Tank was revamped and released for the movie, but the awesome black version only showed up at Ross. 

Power Rangers toy collectors know that previously, Bandai of America did not do the best job of distributing their toys.  Usually, the last wave of toys never make it to retail.  This was the case for many Power Rangers Megazord Systems; the first wave would have the main Megazord of the year, but not the additional zords that attach to it.  I was fortunate to be able to find Power Rangers: Jungle Fury auxillary zords and Power Ranges: RPM’s very retail-elusive Skyrev and Paleomax Megazords, and I got them at a discount.  Back then, the only other method to get those hard-to-find Megazord releases were through Disney Stores that marked them up significantly.  

$3 each. This is a picture from Big Lots, but it was the same at Ross, Marshalls, and TJ Maxxes.

I was also able to build and finish my Thundercats and Kamen Rider Dragon Knight toy collection through Ross.  Ross and Big Lots were selling $3 of each of the basic figures (from $8 retail) and the Thundertanks for a mere $5!!!  I was able to get my Kamen Rider Dragon Knight Buckle and Dragvisor for $7 each (down from $30 retail). 

…but those are just things I got in the past, and it was exclusively finds at the Toys Section.  This time, I ventured out of that section, and to the housewares in hopes of finding a friend a set of shotglasses or something.  I found awesomely Licensed Geeky Merchandise!

Top: $5 for the shotglass set, which were $10 retail. Bottom: $6, marked down from $12.

I found half off a set of Star Trek shotglasses, and a pair of cups with blueporints of the enterprise printed on its side. 

Each pair is $9, marked down from $16.
I found three pairs of TMNT mugs: a pair featuring designs that feature all of the turtles, while the other two pairs (4 total) feature the head of each turtle.  I can see why these are discounted though -  the ones featuring the turtle heads utilize glitter paint for their masks.

I also found an amazing treasure trove of wall decorations I have NEVER SEEN BEFORE.  You know those faux painting you see at retail stores:  They’re usually something pastoral, Bob Marley, or Marilyn Munroe (there were soo many of Marley and Munro).  These, however, were COMIC BOOK COVERS!  I only found one 24” x 36” printed canvas cuplication of Spider-Man’s first appearance at Amazing Fantasy #15, marked down to $20 from $45.  If I was a Spider-Man fan, I would have grabbed it. 

I also found more of these smaller ones.  I think they’re 11” x 18” wood panels $10 from $20 retail, and there are a whole bunch of them, though I found the character selection a bit limited.  For Marvel, there was Spider-man covers (including the Death of Gwen Stacy Cover), some Fantastic Four ones, Hulk, Iron-Man, Captain America, and Thor (I did not find an actual Avengers one).  For DC, it was just Batman, Superman, and Joker covers.  

I also found a couple of wallets where the exteriors were printed covers of a certain comic book, and the interior ID holder features a panel, which is kinda cool  They were $10 each, and it says it retails at $20, but could go a high as $40 like in Kohl’s.

So there, that was my wonderfully eye-opening visit at the local discount store.  I ended up getting only two of those smaller wood panel covers: Batman #0 from the Post-Zero Hour Crisis and a Superman Cover featuring him carrying the American Flag (the one with an eagle on his arm is more iconic, but they didn't have it, sadly).   

All in all, a fruitful trip. As you can see, sometimes the hard-to-find toys that drive up the price on the internet can be found the same place they were found by toy hunters in the 90s - bargain stores. Before you hit ebay, wait a few months and check out your local Ross.

John Garcia is a Professor of English, specializing in popular culture, comparative literature, and postcolonial studies. He is also an artist and character designer for Smorgasbord Productions.

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