Back in 1983/84 my Mum and Dad owned the Card and Toy Shop in Waterloo, Liverpool. It was a traditional high street Toy Shop that stocked greeting cards, sweets (including those big jars full of goodies like Pineapple chunks, Cola Cubes and Rhubarb and Custard that you can’t get these days, and a penny sweet selection which the kids loved to spend their dinner money on), along with a great selection of toys.
The toys were a solid mix of classic early 80’s toys – Masters of the Universe, Care Bears, Fisher Price, Hot Wheels, Matchbox and ERTL cars, Action Man, Strawberry Shortcake and Barbie but best of all, Star Wars. Looking back, some of the big brands were missing – for instance, it always confused me why there was no Lego but looking back the shop just wasn’t big enough to be on the radar of the Lego sales reps and there was never any Lego available at the toy wholesalers that we used to get some stock from. Due to the limited shelf space in the store the stock ranged from pocket money through to mid-priced toys with very few high price items like the big Action Man vehicles and Scalextric and Hornby sets.
The real fun stuff for me was the Star Wars range and these were by far the best-selling toys that we had. There was a Palitoy rep who used to call in every few months to meet my Dad and I can still remember a very well-thumbed catalogue full of Palitoy goodies to look at. To me, it had the appeal of a top shelf magazine, I was constantly reading it! I’m still on the look-out for one of those for my current collection. I instantly became Star Wars Manager (well, in my mind anyway), and took up responsibility for making sure the shelves were always packed out with the best stock that we had. Funnily enough, the rest of staff were more than happy with me doing it …
My Dad placed orders with the sales rep and sometime later we’d get deliveries of pristine cases of Star Wars products directly from Coalville, Leicester. Whenever the delivery lorries went past the shop I was always first to the door to check if they had anything for us and I was always gutted if there was a delivery but there were no Star Wars products in it. The deliveries were never on schedule and you could never rely on the sales reps promises for when stock might be available because at that time anything Star Wars-related was in high demand and anything new, particularly the ROTJ lines, were extremely difficult to obtain directly from Palitoy. Demand outstripped supply in a big way and it seemed that Palitoy just couldn’t keep up with production, although they did seem to share out the limited quantities of stock in an even way because when I used to look in the big shops such as Lewis’s or Argos, they never had any stock either.
When the cases were finally delivered from Leicester the MOCs all came in non-marked, plain cardboard cases like the one Frank has. The only feature was a small label with the assortment number and a blue label that showed the shipping details and on some happy days I’d turn up and find 10-12 cases of minty fresh MOC’s waiting for me to get them on the shelves.
I must have been 15 or so at the time so only worked Saturdays. I seem to remember being paid £6 a day but I always got lunch thrown in!! I guess most teenagers doing Saturday jobs probably turn up lacking some motivation, but that was never a problem for me, I loved it. My wages all went on TDK tapes and vinyl but I never bought any Star Wars related toys despite having collected the early SW characters back from when I was in junior school.
From what I remember, the MOC’s came in assortments of around 2/3rd new ROTJ characters, and around 1/3rd recycled SW and ESB characters. It’s so weird now, but finding original SW characters, and particularly ESB characters always felt very disappointing because the kids were understandably completely nuts about the new ROTJ characters and didn’t care about the old characters that they’d been playing with for years already.
At the time it made perfect sense, the kids already had the old figures so were excited about the new characters, but it just feels odd now that we’d clear the shelves of 20 Weequay in a day while a single minty white Princess Leia Organa would hang around for weeks! We never got cases of single figures, they were always assortments and they all seemed to be packed slightly differently – we definitely never got identical assortments in the same shipment, but the split was broadly the same of old SW/ESB and new ROTJ characters. I presume single figure cases were only ever purchased by the biggest retailers or chains, as small toy shops just wouldn’t be able to sell that many (96) of the same figure.
Sometimes there would be oddities in the cases. I’ve got some vague recollection of a single ESB Red Snaggletooth appearing in one of the cases, although the only assortments available at the time should have been ROTJ cardbacks. That Snaggletooth upset me because it made the shelf look mismatched, I should’ve just thrown it in the loft! We also got the occasional factory miscards, normally wrong weapons, but the odd miscarded character as well. I always got the feeling that if it looked about right then Palitoy Quality Control would ship it. They were clearly under pressure to get toys on shelves and in fairness to them, the bubbles, cards and figures were always perfect.
All of the first wave of 65 back debutants sold very fast. Luke Skywalker Jedi Knight, Princess Leia Boushh Disguise, Rebel Commando, Squid Head, Weequay, Bib Fortuna, Ree Yees and Lando Skiff Guard were the earliest issued. As far as I am aware, neither of the early Ewoks (Chief Chirpa and Logray) were released in the first wave although they are available on 65a backs, and oddly, we never, ever had a Klaatu in the store up to it closing in 1984 despite searching high and low for it.
On the back of the first wave came the rest of the 65 back debutants including the Emperors Royal Guard, the Gamorrean Guard, Admiral Ackbar, General Madine and the Biker Scout. Again, all of these sold very well.
Overall, the best sellers seemed to be Luke Skywalker Jedi Knight, Gamorrean Guard and the Emperors Royal Guard but almost every one of the ROTJ figures sold in large quantities. At one point we used to keep a book under the counter with a ‘Wants’ list for the regular customers who we always saved the newest figures for. Particularly in the run up to Christmas 1983 anything ROTJ-related was hard to get hold of and we made sure that the regulars got first dibs.
It’s difficult to be sure which specific cardbacks (65a/b/c etc.) would have been included in which assortments. Logic would dictate that they were shipped sequentially but it’s not easy to prove because stock moved at different rates both in the shop and presumably at Palitoy as well, so there would be a mixture of cardbacks around at any one time. At the time no-one cared at all about what cardbacks were available, just which figures they could get their hands on.
I think people know that the blacked out Ewoks weren’t released with the earliest assortments to avoid spoiling the surprise in the film itself and this was a very good marketing ploy. I’ve always assumed that there were at least couple of waves of issues within the first 65a assortments: wave 1a (pre-film release) and wave 1b (post-film release). As we never, ever had a Klaatu in the store perhaps he belongs in wave 1c.
The only ROTJ shelf hangers were Admiral Ackbar (due to the mail away offer), and General Madine - we couldn’t sell him in particular for love nor money. I used to curse when I’d open a fresh case and there would be 4-6 of him. The non-ROTJ shelf-hangers won’t surprise anyone – either of the Bespin Guards and Lobot would have been very high on the list.
The maximum number of any one character in a case seemed to be about 6. I probably opened 50+ cases of figures at the store itself, and rooted through hundreds of other cases at toy wholesalers across the North West. The wholesaler I remember best is Macro, with their goofy green stickers, but they rarely had any Star Wars stock.
I believe that the second wave of figures was issued in 1984 and included some classics like Princess Leia in combat poncho, Han Solo trench coat, Wicket and The Emperor, but also a lot of figures that the kids just didn’t want – Klaatu Skiff Guard, the B-Wing Pilot, Nikto and 8D8 to name a few. With the film a year old and no way to watch it, a lot of the kids moved on to other toys and Star Wars sales began to suffer.
We got lots of other toys from the wholesalers, presumably because my Dad could get the right numbers without having to buy large quantities from distributors, but very few Star Wars toys. It was generally pure luck whether there was any stock at the wholesalers. Figures were rare to find at the wholesalers, but vehicles were more common. I don’t ever remember seeing playsets anywhere.
At the height of its popularity we tried to have two of every MOC out on the shelves. We didn’t have a unit to hang them on, so they were all unpunched. About 90% came directly from Palitoy with the rest being bought singly at wholesalers and they retailed for £1.99. We did get a small number of people who complained at the £1.99 price for the figures because some big Toy Shops could sell them cheaper, but they never had any decent stock and we always worked hard to maintain a good range.
Some characters were very tough to find, particularly some of the ESB characters. I hunted for a Princess Leia Bespin for a long time for one of the kids but I don’t remember ever finding one.
We had a shelving unit for the boxed Star Wars toys which probably came from Palitoy. They gave away a lot of point of sales stuff for free including boxes of shelf talkers which I assume all ended up in a landfill when the shop closed. In today’s prices there was probably £5k’s worth of shelf talkers alone. In 1984 prices they were worth next to nothing.
The boxed Star Wars toys seemed to be more readily available from Palitoy directly than the figure assortments. The big sellers were the Scout Walker, Jabba the Hutt playset and the speeder bikes although the mini-rigs also sold very well. The boxed toys that didn’t sell included a Star Wars logo Palitoy land speeder that sat on the shelf for a lifetime and the ATAT, but that was probably more to do with the price. I think it was marked up at £39.99 because the shop couldn’t generate big discounts from Palitoy and people could get them cheaper at bigger stores. The older vehicles such as the X-Wings and TIE Fighters sold very well, the Millennium Falcon and Rebel Transport were solid sellers, and I think we had the Imperial Shuttle as well.
The shop closed late in 1984. I remember before Christmas in 1983 working all day and being completely knackered. We’d taken a small fortune and I thought my Dad would be pleased but he told me that we needed to be taking that much money every day for the shop to be successful. The writing was probably on the wall from then on which is sad.
When the shop closed, along with the shelf-talkers there were 20+ boxes full of figures, plus other boxed Star Wars toys and lots of non-Star Wars toys. I think it all ended up in getting sold in one lot to a discount store.
Thanks for anyone who managed to get to the end of my essay, it’s been fun writing it