Every generation makes its mark in history. Pop culture items are
considered the souvenirs of our ever-changing culture. Silly Putty, Dubble
Bubble bubble gum and Slinky are all pop culture items.
Pop culture retailers realize the potential of selling nostalgic items.
The "pop" in pop culture means "popular." Most pop culture items were born
through mass media.
"A pop culture item essentially is anything that grows out of popular media
-- movies, television, books, [or] radio," says Howard Shapiro. He is the
owner of an online pop culture store called House.
Popular television shows and their promotional items are popular collectibles
today. Past TV shows and movies like Star Trek, Close Encounters of the Third
Kind, and The Partridge Family still have their place in today's society.
They were the themes of thousands of toys and lunch boxes. Today, these items
are still sought by collectors.
Pop culture retailers are usually collectors themselves. They find their
items in antique malls, flea markets and warehouses. It's like "cultural recycling,"
"My wife and I have been collectors, or shall I say accumulators, of old
stuff for probably 25 [to] 30 years. We had so much stuff we decided to open
a store. We had this store for about eight years, and then we decided to close
the store and create an online catalog."
Mark Daughtrey also started an online store of pop culture items called
The Pop Culture Store. In the business, he goes by the name "Pop" Culture.
"I began as a collector of monster magazines and models when I was a kid
in the 1960s," says Pop.
Little of Pop's first collection survived to adulthood. But after some
encouragement from his wife, he began collecting again.
"We enjoyed going to yard sales and flea markets on weekends -- and still
do. Over the years, my finds started to mount up."
Shapiro also enjoys the hunt. But he admits that it can be challenging
"We go into warehouses. Some of these warehouses are unheated or can be
awfully hot in the summertime. So we put on our grubbiest clothes and we start
going through boxes or climbing on shelves and seeing what there is. We're
always on the lookout for stuff."
Both Shapiro and Pop specialize in certain pop culture items. To be successful,
it's important to know what to buy and what to pass up.
"We specialize in offbeat things," says Shapiro. "It needs to be something
that people who grew up in a particular time would remember. Where someone
who grew up in a different time would have no idea who the character or the
TV program or movie was. That's the definition that we use for the products
that we offer."
Pop is particular as well. "Basically, I look for items that I think are
personally cool. I'm not into certain things like G.I. Joes, Barbies, or Hot
Wheels because I really don't have an interest in them," he says.
"Anything based on television shows or movies from the 1950s to 1980s such
as dolls, figures, board games, books, records, etc. would be on my list if
I can afford it. But the key is not to spend a lot of money," he adds.
"The items that I find must be in excellent condition. I will not buy an
item if it is broken, dirty, rusty or torn. Some things can be cleaned up,
but if a little soap and water won't help, then forget it."
When Pop does find that special something, it makes up for all the empty-handed
"You never know what you might find when you go out buying, so it's hard
to know what you are looking for until you find it. I've come home from yard
sales in the past with fantastic items that I didn't even know existed when
I left home that morning. That's the fun of the hunt."
Pop and Shapiro showcase and sell their finds over the Internet. They get
orders from people all over the world.
"The best part about the website is that I can run my little business from
the comfort of my own home," says Pop. "When an order comes in, I pull it
from my collection, wrap it up and send it on its merry way.
Being a collector certainly has its advantages when selling pop culture
items. But it's not necessary. Sometimes a good opportunity just comes your
Tom Semeniuk is the president of Vendmax International Inc., a bubble gum
vending machine manufacturer. His company sells gumball machines to individual
Semeniuk realized the potential of using Dubble Bubble -- a historic pop
culture gum -- in his already successful business. Dubble Bubble is "the stick
form gum that everybody can remember they grew up with that was in the stores
with the comics," says Shapiro.
Maybe this is why a light bulb appeared over Semeniuk's head the first
time he was offered a sample of Dubble Bubble gumballs. He knew the potential
of using this gum in his machines.
"It's a combination of elements," he says. "We had a very nostalgic-looking
machine that we had developed and manufactured ourselves. And we were just
using regular products such as multicolored gumballs and mints...just like
everybody else had.
"When I received those samples, I automatically associated it as the driving
force and the identity that I wished to merchandise out of my Emperor machines."
Semeniuk says that Dubble Bubble is the driving force of their gumball
sales. "It appeals to people of all ages. Very seldom you get a product that
appeals to everybody," he points out.
"The Dubble Bubble is riding the coattails of 80 years of history. That's
brand-name recognition in the strongest degree."
Semeniuk has some advice for anyone else who wants to give it a try. "In
any business, you have to have a proven system that has repetitively resulted
in good return on investment. You have to fit into a competitive marketplace
and stand out in a competitive marketplace."
Salaries for pop culture retailers vary greatly. Some depend on it as a
full-time job. Others casually sell items as a side job. Pop has other jobs
to make ends meet. But even if he never gets rich from his online retail business,
he has a great reason for continuing. "It's a fun way to make some extra money
and meet people from all over the world."
The Pop Culture Store
Check out the original items for sale
Vendmax International Inc.
Interested in vending Dubble Bubble gumballs?