Pop Culture Retailer The Buzz


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," says Shapiro.

"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 at times.

"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 searching.

"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 way.

Tom Semeniuk is the president of Vendmax International Inc., a bubble gum vending machine manufacturer. His company sells gumball machines to individual vendors.

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."

Links

The Pop Culture Store
Check out the original items for sale

Vendmax International Inc.
Interested in vending Dubble Bubble gumballs?