FX – The Mike Herz Interview
In 1991, at the insistence of a close friend who wanted me to get an autograph for him from guest Butch “Eddie Munster” Patrick, I attended my first Florida Extravaganza (FX) show. My original intention was make a quick run through the show, get the autograph, and hit the road. As I walked in, I was immediately overwhelmed by what felt like my entire childhood captured in one room! I literally got a headache from information overload as I stared at table after table of items I grew up with. This was in the days before reproductions and re-releases so everything was the real deal just I remembered it. Several hours later, I left the show exhausted and clutching several boxed Action Man figures (G.I. Joe’s English cousin). I was now a full-fledged vintage toy collector and I owe it all to FX (and my friend who badgered me into going for him)!
The face of collectibles shows and collecting in general has changed tremendously in the past the decade. With the advent of online auctions and the explosion of Internet sales, there is the equivalent of a “show” going on 24/7. For many though their will never be a replacement for the thrill of actually being in the same place at the same time with thousands of items to sift through and hundreds of dealers to swap stories and information with. In Florida, the one show that has survived these transitions in collecting and even its own internal turbulence is the annual Florida Extravaganza. Now in a time of sustained resurgence and almost at its twenty year anniversary, I sat down with the backbone of the event, Mike Herz, to find out how this became the “coolest show on Earth”!
ED Tucker: Let’s start with the history of the Florida Extravaganza Collectibles Show and how it began. I know I have been attending the show since 1991.
Mike Herz: The show has been around for eighteen years now. Bruce Zalkin ran it in 1989, I helped him out with it in 1990 and then we became partners in 1991. We split up in 1997 and then I bought it back in 2004. 2007 was my third show since I bought it back.
ET: What do you feel brought the show to the slump it was in and what was your strategy in getting it back on track?
MH: When Bruce and I were together, he handled the money end of things and I handled the promoting end of things, for the most part. I don’t think that he had the vision of the end product the way that I do. I always wanted to create a multi-genre event that covered everything. I wanted to do something that was more than anything else out there – I wanted to do the coolest show on Earth. 1996 was my last year with the show, although I helped out on 1997. 1996 was the year we brought David Prowse (Darth Vader), Kenny Baker (R2D2), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca), and Jeremy Bulloch (Bobba Fett) together, all for the first time. This was the first time that all four of these actors had signed together. In fact, I think that was only Jeremy’s second signing and maybe Peter’s third. I think at that point we had hit such a high place already that it took a couple of years for it to start going down hill.
ET: So the show started coasting on the momentum you had built up?
MH: Yes, it coasted until about 2000. That was around the time Beanie Babies were really popular and it kind of turned into a Beanie Babies show. All of the other dealers bailed because it had turned into a Beanie Babies show and then Beanie Babies died so those dealers bailed too. The public felt like they didn’t want to go any more because they were no longer finding vintage toys and there were no good guests.
ET: Do you think Internet sales had an impact on this? By 2000, eBay was in full swing.
MH: Yes, that had a lot to do with it, especially where the International dealers were concerned. I closed my store (Whiz-Bang) in 2000 because eBay killed it. I loved that store but after eBay came along it was just no fun any more.
ET: After eBay came on the scene there was a toy show going on online 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That had to really hurt traditional shows.
MH: It was really great at first because a lot of stuff was coming out of attics. One of the examples I use is the Joker hand puppet. I had gone many, many years as a dealer and I had only ever seen one of those. I had a waiting list of about ten guys who were willing to give almost anything to get one. Then, in 1999 or 2000, for about nine months in a row there was at least one up for auction on eBay each month. That has all dried up on eBay now and when you do find something good you pay for it.
ET: Do you think the novelty of online sales is starting to wear off?
MH: Yes, I think people are coming back to shows now because shows are fun! People go to these things to have fun and it needs to be an event, not just a toy show. I go to some shows and I am just bored to death. You look around, find a couple of toys and then you’re ready to go watch a football game or something! I think a lot of promoters don’t get it. They just bring in some dealers, sell them some tables, collect five dollars from everyone at the door and that’s it. I think it has to be an event. For people to come out, spend their money and spend the weekend, they have to have fun. They can take home a memory with them just like going to Walt Disney World.
ET: What happened after you left the FX Show? Did you concentrate on retail sales?
MH: When Bruce and I split up, I started doing the Toy Expo in Philadelphia. It was Philadelphia the first year and then we moved to New Jersey. We did that from 1997 until the spring of 2000. It was the same thing there, eBay made it dry up and people stopped coming. I decided at that time it was too much work to do for that. I missed it though, I missed the promoting and I felt there was a need again for someone to do a good show.
ET: What changes did you make when you came back in 2005 to get the show out of its slump?
MH: Well let’s start at the beginning – FX was a toy show. When I came back I tripled the toy dealers. I had known all of these guys for years and they had bailed because the show wasn’t doing well. As soon as I took the reins of it again and they saw me out at shows and advertising nine months in advance, they realized it was going to be a good show again. We brought back Artist’s Alley for comic artists. That had been a part of the show back before I left but it had been eliminated. Our comic part of the show has grown phenomenally. We’re trying to bring in new blood with more aggressive advertising. We’ve increased our number of guests.
ET: What goes in to your considerations for who to have as a guest?
MH: For me, as a promoter, I want to bring in the most popular guests who are going to bring the most people through the door. I am changing my way that I look at guests now based on my past experiences with cast members from shows like Happy Days and Three’s Company versus newer shows like Firefly. The people that come to these shows for the most part want the hot, sci-fi, what’s going on today celebrities. The people that remember Happy Days all want to come up and say “hi” to Potsie but they don’t want to pay for his autograph. My criteria for guests are I want what’s hot, I want what’s now, and I want people that haven’t signed before. We also get some guests that come as part of package deals and some that call up and buy their own tables.
ET: There also appears to be a renewed interest in premiums at the FX show since you returned including a Greatest American Hero action figure that is one of the nicest show exclusives I have ever seen.
MH: Thanks, I am very proud of that one. We used to do the G.I. Joe conventions and I am responsible for creating hundreds of different convention exclusive cool things. The Greatest American Hero figure may not be the nicest thing we have ever done, because we have done some very impressive Joes, but it is my favorite so far. This is a tip of the hat to Mego and this is what we feel they would have done if they were still around today.
ET: Mike, thanks for taking the time to discuss the show with me and thanks for all these great events here in Florida. I hope we can talk again in twenty years and find out how the show has survived to be almost forty! I am sure by then collecting won’t look anything like it does now.
Mike: Your welcome ED, it was my pleasure.
Fanboy Alert: The 19th Annual Florida Extravaganza is this weekend, January 25-27, at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida. The advertisements promise that this will be the biggest and best FX ever and that this is the largest indoor toy show in the world! I say lock the kids in the closet, call in sick to work, raid the ATM and have the time of your life. Everything you wanted but never got for Christmas is back for one weekend in Orlando!