Pop culture big business for St. Ed alumni entrepreneurs
By Mike Danahey email@example.com May 7, 2012 5:44PM
Ron Madoch, Mike Boyer and Steve Loney, owners of Toynk.com, a rapidly growing company specializing in pop culture products at their store/ warehouse in Bensenville. The company specializes in costume, collectible toys, action figures, replicas/props, statues/busts and other collectible items. Boyer and Madoch are Elgin St. Ed alums. May 4, 2012. | John Konstantaras~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 9, 2012 8:02AM
Ten years ago, Dundee-area native Ron Madoch quit his day job at Arthur Andersen to join a college buddy from the University of Iowa, Steve Loney, who already had left the same firm to form his own business.
“I said, ‘Enough with the accounting. Let’s do toys,’ ” Madoch recalled.
A year later, Madoch’s pal from St. Edward Central Catholic High School in Elgin, Mike Boyer of Bartlett, became a business partner in the company: Toynk. Its website states the company is, “Carrying the latest collectible toys, action figures, replicas/props, statues/busts and other collectible items. You can’t find these in other toy stores.”
Now the three entrepreneurs are looking to expand their operation — from a warehouse with a storefront in Bensenville located on the back end of O’Hare International Airport — and hope to find a 100,000-square-foot space in the next month or so, more than tripling what they rent now.
That goes along with sales figures that have more than doubled in the last year or so, Loney said. And Toynk now employs 35 full-time workers and about 180 seasonal employees in the fall before Halloween.
What’s driving the company’s success is this country’s — and the world’s — hyperbolically growing passion for all things pop culture that’s been building at warp speed at least since “Star Wars.” Be it sports, comics, action/adventure/sci-fi/fantasy blockbusters, Japanese anime, cult movies, cartoon TV shows, HBO series, video and smartphone games, or good-old-fashioned nostalgia, practically everybody seems to want a souvenir or signifier of some sort.
Perfume to ‘V’
To that end, Toynk plans to set up booths at 10 pop culture-related conventions during the year. Those included the three-day Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo (C2E2) in April, which 41,000 people attended, up from 34,000 in 2011 and 27,500 its first year, 2010. The company will be in San Diego this July at the three-day Comic-Con International, the largest event of its kind in the world, which has had its attendance capped at 125,000 since 2007.
Of course, pop is short for popular, which means big business. Witness the recent movie opening of Marvel Comics’ “The Avengers,” which has brought in almost $642 million worldwide at the box office since its first showing April 25.
For Toynk, the latest megahit means offering items that include a $400 bust of Iron Man; and Thor cologne and Black Widow perfume in 100 milliliter bottles, each priced at $35.99.
Loney said the big hits’ biggest financial impact on the company typically comes at Halloween time, when people want to dress up as what they’ve seen at the megaplex.
Old movies and other past fads do well in drag, too. To that end, seven years ago Toynk also started its own line, Incogneato Costumes. It has licensing agreements to make iconic outfits at factories in China that include mariachi suits modeled after the ones in the ’80s comedy “The Three Amigos”; The Dude beard and bathrobe from the Coen Brothers’ “The Big Lebowski”; and Pacman garb.
Manufactured by others and sold by Toynk, Waldo of “Where’s Waldo?” fame and Smurf makeup kits remain big sellers. And one mask’s appeal goes beyond Halloween to use in left-leaning political protests — the eerie Guy Fawkes model from the dystopian movie based on a graphic novel, “V for Vendetta.”
“We’ve sold tens of thousands of those,” Loney said.
That Toynk is doing well with the fall holiday is part and parcel of a national trend. According to the National Retail Federation, overall spending on Halloween-related items in the United States hit a record-high average of $72 per person, or $6.86 billion, in 2011.
Madoch said that the costume side of the enterprise now accounts for a majority of the firm’s business. Of the company’s inventory, from 12,000 to 14,000 active items are costumes, while 6,000 to 8,000 items are listed on the toy-related side.
And the Internet has meant that more than 20 percent of sales are to people in other countries, Madoch said.
Items moving well right now include spinning, battling tops tied to the Japanese anime series “Beyblade”; a $19.99 foam pickaxe modeled after one in the video game Minecraft; and items tied to the ubiquitous mobile video game Angry Birds.
Loney noted that he turned down a chance to have a licensing agreement on Angry Bird costumes, not figuring at the time how big those birds would become.
“You never can tell,” he said.
What he does know is that the worlds in which Toynk dwells and sells offer a wider audience than his first entrepreneurial endeavor selling sports trading cards through eBay, a market that has peaked.
Still, while Toynk employee Heather McCurdy said she is “there for the toys,” at least on the collectibles side, the market does remain a largely male one.
Boyer noted stories of wives complaining that about their husbands’ hobbies taking up too much space in the basement or having to store it away to make room for a newborn. By the same token, Boyer surmised the appeal of a lot of what Toynk sells is nostalgia — and “the hope that the kids can get into it, too.”