“You know, the reports you put out (in The Joe Report), I have to say—I read them—and I have to bite my lip. Unfortunately, it’s not reflective of what the industry’s put out.”
Hasbro Exec is Clearly Listening—But (Respectfully) Disagrees With the Views of Many 12-Inch Fans
I sat down with a very congenial and upbeat Derryl DePriest on the afternoon of April 11, 2015, with the primary purpose of catching up with one of the most famous GIjOE collectors in the world. For those who may not know, DePriest is the Vice-President of Global Brand Management at Hasbro and the author of one of the most famous books ever written on vintage 12-inch GIjOE collecting entitled, “The Collectible GIjOE—An Official Guide To His Action-Packed World.”
Derryl’s fame as an author and lofty position in the toy industry aside, I was more interested in learning about DePriest the man. In fact, my idea of interviewing him had only occurred to me one day before, when I’d seen him walking around at JoeCon 2015 in Springfield, IL. I’d met Derryl previously (at JoeCon 2009 in Kansas City), but only long enough to shake his hand and thank him for all his work on behalf of GIjOE. Now, six years later, I was curious to discover what else had been happening in his life.
As a result, when we faced each other in the dealer room/exhibit hall at JoeCon 2015, I told him I had no prepared questions and no particular subject in mind (to discuss) other than himself. Derryl quickly suggested an alternative to a typical Q&A interview, stating, “Let’s just have a conversation” instead. We agreed, turned on the tape recorder and jumped right in. Interestingly and unbeknownst to either of us, our conversation would quickly veer into a very sensitive subject area: Hasbro’s current treatment (and/or lack thereof) regarding (that’s right, you guessed it)—the 12″ GIjOE line. Here then, is our conversation:
INCLUDES 11 NEW & EXCLUSIVE
PICS TAKEN AT JOECON 2015
TJR: So… Could you tell us about the book you’ve written and your interest in GIjOEs?
“I published The Collectible GIjOE in 1998. That was a dream come true; to be able to write a GIjOE book. I’ve collected 12-inch GIjOEs pretty much my whole life. It’d been my favorite toy when I was a kid and I had to put them away when I was in college; but I’ve never stopped buying them or ‘curating’ a collection. When I as kid, I had about 75 to 100 GIjOEs.”
TJR: Wow. When I was a kid, I had like 6.
“Well, I don’t want to misrepresent it; I didn’t come from a wealthy family by any means. Instead, I came from a family where we had a regular stand at a flea market, and my parents routinely bought and sold things on the weekends. I also have two younger brothers who love GIjOE. So we took our meager allowance every weekend and were running around the flea market buying toys.”
TJR: How old are you now and where are you from originally? Where did you grow up?
“I’m 50. So I was born in 1965. I’m from San Diego and grew up in a family that had a very entrepreneurial spirit for buying things and then selling them at a profit. That’s pretty much what my family did.”
TJR: San Diego? So are you from a Navy family?
“No. Dad worked for McDonnell Douglas as a liaison engineer with some of the armed forces manufacturers down there. Anyway, I do have fond memories… Every time a new GIjOE or a set came out that we had to have for Christmas, my brothers and I would look through the Sears catalogs. We had three different colors of pens and each of us would circle what we wanted. I remember when the Mobile Support Vehicle came out and the Headquarters came out. All three of us had drawn BIG circles around them. Under the Christmas tree that year, we got THREE of each toy, because we couldn’t share, we were all jealous of each other.”
TJR: Do you live in Pawtucket, RI, now?
“Yup. After my book came out in ’98, I was contacted by Hasbro. They were closing their Cincinnati office and hiring a new team in Pawtucket. Many of the great folks who’d worked in Cincinnati didn’t want to leave Cincinnati, so what came open was the Director of Marketing for GIjOE. I’d interviewed in Kenner before and I’d really set my sights on joining Hasbro. For years, I’d decided that was really my ‘dream job.’
In 2001, I interviewed with the folks back in Pawtucket, including Alan Hassenfeld, the President of Hasbro (son of company founder, Merrill Hassenfeld). A few days later they offered me the job and I told my wife we were moving to Pawtucket. I had joined Hasbro as the director—heading up GIjOE!”
TJR: What were your first GIjOE projects at Hasbro?
“I was in charge of GIjOE from 2001 to 2004. So I brought back the 40th Anniversary Joes and really helped amplify our 12″ GIjOE line. The resurgence in 12” GIjOE had really started before that, with the ‘Classic Collection,’ as done by the Cincinnati team. In fits and starts, that Hasbro team had reissued the classics; after John Michlig had helped bring back the true vintage GIjOE with his book and the ‘Masterpiece Collection.’ But I had felt that we really hadn’t done justice to the original vintage roots of GIjOE, so I conceived the 40th Anniversary Collection (a series of vintage reproduction figure sets with window boxed accessories); and with OUR team, executed that and brought it out. The great lament I would have is that we didn’t get to some of the more exotic and rare and desirable sets. But it is what it is. I’m glad we were able to get out the 24 that we did. Thankfully, the (GIjOE Collector’s) club finished up the Green Beret and Air Force Dress sets for us. We just couldn’t get them to retail.“
TJR: I LOVED the 40th Anniversary line! I really hated to see it end. What did you do next?
“Well, ultimately, 12-inch GIjOE wound down and then it was OUT. So I made a decision to go over to the Star Wars team in 2004.”
TJR: What do you say to all the 12-inch GIjOE fans and collectors out there who are still hurting from Hasbro’s lack of any 50th celebration—and yet, their wallets remain WIDE open, ready and eager to buy more Hasbro 12″ GIjOEs? It seems like a sizable market is being overlooked—or even ignored.
“A market is definitely being ignored.
Hasbro is a big company with shareholders. We can’t make everything that we want to. We have to put our design resources where they’re going to be most productive. Unfortunately, the economy of scale of GIjOE—especially 12-inch GIjOE—doesn’t make it (creating new 12″ GIjOEs) a viable proposition for us.
In 1994, when there was a 30th Anniversary of GIjOE underway, that was a much different time in GIjOE collecting, where there was a much bigger base of active collectors. Ten years later, when we did the 40th Anniversary line, we launched that with the anticipation that we would re-engage a lot of fans, and initially, we thought we were.
But the reality is, even at the time when we had the 40th Anniversary line out there, the 12-inch Joes were finding a much bigger audience to kids than they were for fans. It was still a very much kid-driven line, but we were doing ‘fan-product.’
But…the sales tapered off. And what they showed Hasbro senior management is that the 12-inch business really was a very niche business in the world of boy’s toys. So… We had to shut it down. Sales didn’t sustain it. And I’d say 10 years later, the situation really hasn’t changed. 12-inch collecting has a small but passionate fan group (base), but it’s not significant enough for Hasbro to devote design resources to putting fan-targeted product back out there.”
At this point in our conversation, the sober realization that Hasbro would no longer be making 12″ GIjOEs, once widely considered to be the “World’s #1 Toy,” left both of us feeling clearly saddened. We paused for a brief moment, lost in thought, watching convention goers pass by our table, before Derryl tried to put a positive spin on this depressing 12-inch forecast, by saying:
“What we HAVE shown…is that there actually is a very big market for 12-inch figures. They’re not the kind of figures that fans want to see, but there’s been a 12-inch business ‘renaissance’ of sorts with our Titan series of figures from Marvel and Star Wars. These are the figures with 5 points of articulation at very consumable price points. They’ve become a VERY big part of our business globally.”
TJR: Okay, let me stop you right there. You know those (5-point figures) are widely panned and derided by everyone out there, right?
“No. That is not true.
TJR: That’s NOT true?!
“They’re widely derided by fans who want ARTICULATED figures.”
TJR: Right. I’m talking about all the posts I’ve read on places like the Trenches. I’m talking about the Sandbox. I’m talking about ALL of the 12-inch fan groups over on Facebook, where collectors go to discuss what’s currently being offered.
“Those are…I want to say this in the politest way possible…The days of a 12-inch, adult collector fan base being a significant part of our audience are unfortunately behind us. We had the opportunity 10 years ago to make product for that market—and we did! We made wave after wave of 40th Anniversary products. The market was NOT there, compared to any other business at Hasbro. I made a very valiant effort to launch and float that line as a viable business, and ultimately it did not pan out.
What I’m trying to say here is, because there are fans who have the money and means and want to buy product, it doesn’t mean it’s a business that Hasbro should be doing. Quite honestly, Hasbro has finite resources, and we have to deploy them where they’re going to give us the greatest return on that investment for the company.”
TJR: Have you given any thought to maybe creating an off-shoot company or license someone else to release regular offerings to 12-inch GIjOE fans, i.e. those fans that Hasbro no longer considers to be financially viable?
“The GIjOE Club exists to do those kind of things. They’ve managed the collecting business for 15 years now, or longer. They’ve managed conventions and they’ve seen it all. The GIjOE club knows the size of that audience. Unfortunately, what the club has seen over that time is a steady erosion of active collectors in the 12-inch hobby.
Sideshow and Hot Toys have also made a number of 12-inch figures (see HERE) from us, under license, for the past few years. They were absolutely unbelievable. So in a way, we did exactly as you said. We DID license out 12-inch GIjOE. Unfortunately, even Sideshow’s tapered off. No one (else) has knocked down our door to license 12-inch…the business just isn’t big enough.”
TJR: We hear all the time from GIjOE fans who wonder why Hasbro can’t simply return to a smaller, more targeted version of their original “razors and blades” concept. They’re not asking for another big 40th Anniversary-style product push, only some occasional new 1:6 scale uniforms or equipment that hasn’t been produced before. Has that approach ever been (re)considered?
“The retail model in today’s landscape doesn’t work that way at all. Retail is a real-estate play. We have to be productive and turn in the space that we aggressively maintain with our retailers. The common comment we get is the ‘razors and blades’ model. That is a 30-40 year old model that is not tenable today. It doesn’t work. It’s not the way other competitive products are sold. In practically any line out there, the FIGURES are the things that sell and are highly consumed. Accessory sets languish and are quickly eliminated from any line, not just GIjOE. The ‘razors-n-blades’ model is an antiquated model that doesn’t represent the way consumers purchase today.“
(At this point, Derryl decided to turn the tables and began asking ME a few pointed questions):
“When was the last time we had a 12-inch GIjOE line at retail? Do you remember that? Did you pick up the figures we did in 2011 when we came out with a series of 5 or 6 different 12-inch military figures at retail?”
(Caught off-guard, I couldn’t recall which figures he was referring to specifically, so I just shook my head.)
“You probably don’t remember that. That just gives you an example. People will make figures and people don’t show up to buy them. That’s why we’re not (making them anymore). In 2011…we brought back some new configurations of 12-inch figures. We publicized them throughout the Joe community, but the 12-inch figures were the weakest sellers we had in the entire line. Nobody showed up to get ’em. We had almost no pickup or response from the fans.”
(Still unsure what 12-inch Joes he was referring to, I replied):
TJR: Well, is it perhaps that 12-inch collectors are a little more discerning and demanding now, and that they felt the 2011 figures weren’t worthy somehow?
“I don’t know, you tell me! You didn’t buy ’em! I’m not here to do a post-mortem on that line, but what that line suggested was that kids were not—at the time—into 12-inch figures and the fan base wasn’t enough to sustain that business.
My long answer to a short question is… As passionate as the 12-inch fans are—and I’m one of them, because my story’s built on 12-inch, I came to Hasbro to take over the GIjOE line, I have launched many lines internally—it’s (unfortunately) a small but passionate business; not big enough to sustain.
Our focus now is Joe-Cobra. That’s not to say Joe-Cobra couldn’t be 12-inch, but the days of a kind of generic GIjOE and razor/blades phenomenon or Timeless Collection stuff are in the past.”
TJR: Wow. Well, we’ve covered quite a lot today, haven’t we? Let’s finish by talking about you again. Do you still have a GIjOE collection? Do you have a “Joe room” at your home? Do you have display cases or is everything stored away in tubs?
“Yes, to all of that.
I’ve got every GIjOE figure ever made!
Some are on display and some are not because of space limitations. You can see in my book exactly what my collection comprises. That’s the story and essence of my collection. Since that time, I’ve acquired a lot of packaged GIjOEs. That’s what I’m interested in now; adding really nice, packaged examples to my collection.
My goal someday is to have every single packaged figure, vehicle and accessory set.”
TJR: Is there a possible second book in the offing then?
“No. Unfortunately, while I’m at Hasbro, I can’t write any more books.”
TJR: Okay then, do you ever leave comments on GIjOE fan forums or other online fan sites?
“No. We don’t participate in social media, either. And I don’t care. It’s never been about celebrity for me. It’s about trying to bring out the things that fans are most passionate about.”
TJR: Well, your heart’s definitely in the right place! Thank you so much for all your time.
“My pleasure. Thanks, Mark!”
Bottom Line: Our sincerest thanks to Derryl for his generosity and contributions to this article. It’s always fascinating to hear directly “from the top” whenever discussing the past, present or future of Hasbro’s most marvelous creation. If you’d like to see and hear more from Derryl DePriest on this topic, we highly recommend you watch the following VIDEO. Enjoy! Go, Derryl! And GO, JOE!