Posted by Philip on April 13, 2004 at 01:51 PM CST
My conversation with Scott Vogel at Master Replicas:

During the last year Master Replicas developed a reputation for marking down Star Wars prop replicas to the extent that it devalued collections of some of their best customers and fans. I asked Scott what steps they have taken to prevent this from happening in the future.

Scott said this required a bit of a background to understand. When they first released products there was a speculation bubble from retailers, and possibly collectors, that artificially inflated demand. With the high demand, they misunderstood the market demand for many products and over committed to larger edition sizes than they should have. By the time Master Replicas figured this out, they had a number of pieces built in larger quantities than they knew they could sell at full price. As any business selling products knows, the best markdown is the early one and they marked them down. As we've all seen, the edition sizes are much smaller now and Scott does not expect to have a need to ever have markdowns such as that again. Not only does it make good customers unhappy, it's not profitable for the company.

I wondered what Master Replicas would think was the ideal sell-through for a product and if he had an example of one that they had done perfectly.

Scott said both the Han Blaster and Luke ROTJ sabers were perfect, but a more current example would be the Medal of Yavin, selling out in about a month. Ideally, he said they would like a product to last at least a month, but not more than four months. There will of course be products that sell out very quickly, such as the Signature Edition Anakin and some will take longer.

Since customers can be part of the Master Replicas Collectors Society only if they buy direct from them, and that cost is often more than the cost from dealers, I asked Scott if he thinks the benefits of Collectors Society membership are special enough to satisfy members.

Scott's quick answer was "yes", but he does recognize the benefits are very important to members. He committed there would be continued efforts in this area, including a product this year available exclusively to members, as well as rewards again for meeting purchasing goals based on dollars spent directly this year, rather than pieces purchased.

Many collectors were surprised with the cost of shipping and handling of the Medal of Yavin. Additionally, as many of us know, the initial shipments of the mini-sabers arrived in FedEx boxes with no cushioning or protection for the saber box. This made their $7.00 shipping and handling fee seem completely out of step with the normal $15.00 fee for the much larger and well packed full sized props. I asked Scott if he felt they were sensitive to this issue.

Scott said they never arbitrarily set the cost for shipping and handling. The issue is related to the manner of shipping they use for their products. The cost of handing an order is the same to them whether the item is a large or small package. This is such a high percentage of the cost to ship, the cost will be a higher percentage of the overall price as the cost of the item goes lower. He committed to taking this information and being more aware of collectors' sensitivity to it.

Reading our forums prop section, while I think the overall satisfaction with customer support at Master Replicas is good, there are customers who have not had great experiences. I asked Scott to rate his current level of customer satisfaction.

Scott placed it between good and excellent, and improving. He feels they have a good feedback mechanism, citing their quick response to learning the mini-sabers were shipping without packing and correcting this quickly.

I asked Scott if they were currently using any third-party customer satisfaction measurement services and he said they were not. I suggested they begin doing so as it is the only way to truly measure customer satisfaction and he agreed it was an idea worth considering.

As it's now clear that although Master Replicas started with Star Wars prop replicas, they had always planned to venture into not only other licenses, but non-prop items. Assuming almost anything used in the making of a film could be considered a prop, I wondered if there was anything they would not venture it.

In what you'll see became a continuing theme, Scott said they don't feel limited to doing just prop replicas. Anything that is collectible and takes advantage of their ability to created very detailed, high quality and authentic items is available for consideration as a product.

Along these lines, I asked about the Fiber Optic Star Wars jacket and if he could name other kinds of things they would be getting into. I threw out guesses like pewter vehicles, statues, ornaments, helmets, armor, among others. While not being committal on any of them, Scott emphasized his earlier statement about collectible items, that are detailed, high quality and authentic, all of which these items could easily benefit from.

I asked Scott if he was concerned at all that non-prop items, such as the jacket, may not sell well. He said they are being careful with these kinds of things and the edition numbers and prices are designed to meet their anticipated market demand within their 1-4 month sell-through goal.

There continues to be some confusion about the "first flight" replica shipments and how that relates to numbers customers receive. I asked Scott if he was aware of this. He deferred to Cindy Bath, Vice President of Marketing, who gave me the following info. The first flight is never larger than the first 300 units. Sometimes it is less. It's a number than is planned and part of the manufacturing process. Orders for the first flight actually have different part numbers in their system, which is why the first flight of orders and the actual boxes say "1-300" for example. The first X hundred orders equal to the first flight should always get a saber numbered in that first flight. It is not necessarily true the first order gets the first saber however. Part of the benefit of being a Collectors Society member is getting to order a day before non-members, which should give members a better chance of getting a first flight replica. It's still important to be there when they go on sale if you want the best chance of getting a first flight edition number.

I then moved onto some product specific questions.

With the issues we saw concerning the shipping of the Jango Blasters to some states, and the insertion of orange plugs in the barrel, I asked Scott if he anticipated the same kinds of issues with the upcoming blasters.

Scott said he wouldn't be able to answer this as each item has its own criteria and it was up to the attorneys to determine the exact way they handle these issues.

I asked Scott why it seemed Master Replicas was avoiding building a Luke ANH saber. He was completely unaware of any reason they were and suggest that after building two Luke sabers already they were just giving us a rest.

As we know it seems there are rarely very good photos of the products from which to make a purchase decision prior to the first order date. On occasion Master Replicas has sent me an item to photograph and review prior to the order date, which helps this situation, but it doesn't happen every time. I asked Scott if they could try to do better getting photos online before we have to make our purchase decision as this was especially important to their Collectors Society members, many of which like getting first flight edition numbers. Scott said they currently do the best job they can getting photos and that sometimes they don't have finished products to photograph by order date. I suggested they push out the order dates on all products enough time to allow photos, but he was non-committal.

Since we had some specific questions about the AT-AT shown at Toy Fair, I took this opportunity to ask them. Scott confirmed the overall height of 18-1/2 to 19 inches. He said the guns will likely ship un-mounted and "may" move. The legs will not move. I asked the product team about packaging the AT-AT for shipment and they confirmed they would like it to ship in one box with the case, but it had not been decided yet. I strongly suggested it ship in one case to reduce the overall shipping cost.

Wondering how many vehicles Master Replicas might make per year, I asked Scott and he said no more than 2-3 per year.

I posed the question about other non-vehicle items, such as a Taun Taun, Rancor or Dejarik creatures (holo chess). Scott indicated they may stick with hardware, but was intrigued by the holo chess suggestion.

Wondering about how the size of a prop might affect their ability to make it full size, I asked if there were some desirable hand carried weapons they simply could not do full size, such as Chewbacca's bowcaster. He said yes, size does make a difference, but there are ways to combine price, edition size and exclusivity to make things like this happen.

Considering how many sabers have already been made, I asked if they were running out of pieces that make sense to make and if they would consider things like Plo Koon or Ki Adi Mundi's sabers. Scott said they definitely would if they felt there was demand for them.

With the success of the Gentle Giant San Diego and Wizard Word Chicago exclusive Clone trooper last year, I asked Scott if Master Replicas had any plans to have a convention exclusive this year. He said yes, but we'll have to wait to hear what it is.

I asked Scott if Master Replicas was considering any other Lucasfilm licenses, such as Howard the Duck, RadioLand Murders or Indiana Jones. He said new licenses are a two-way street with licensor's so it's too early to comment

With Master Replicas showing the Lord of the Rings FX Sting at Toy Fair, I asked if there were plans to make a Gandalf the Grey electronic staff. Scott said yes, this was part of this year's plan for Lord of the Rings along with an electronic One Ring on Sauron's finger and an electronic Light of Earendil.

And one final thing? I asked if Master Replicas regularly follows the Rebelscum prop forum discussions. Scott said they do follow it closely and though they do have a VIP account they have yet to post. He also made a point of saying thank you to all of the Master Replicas customers, both for their business and their ongoing suggestions and questions.

I'd like to thank Scott and Cindy for taking the time for this conversation. Their openness is most definitely appreciated by me and I'm sure will be for all their customers. Thanks also to the Rebelscum Prop Forum regulars for the discussion points and thoughts I was able to put to Scott on your behalf.