You know you’ve wandered into a unique store when you see the nearly life-size Freddy Krueger standing, how else but menacingly, just inside the side entrance of the store at 97 Main St. in Batavia. On top of a nearby display case is another clue, the rubbery head of a one-of-a-kind beast with a gaping maw and toothy jowls.
This is Foxprowl Collectables, of course, a place for sci-fi and pop culture collectors and the young at heart in the heart of the city, and Genesee County Chamber of Commerce’s 2016 Entrepreneurial Business of the Year. Owners Bill and Joy Hume will join other honorees Saturday night at the annual awards ceremony at the Quality Inn & Suites on Park Road.
Deborah Green, a friend of theirs who lives in East Pembroke, nominated the business. She says the Humes are community-oriented and their business brings in people from throughout Western New York to Batavia.
The Humes' enterprise is chock full of action figures, comic books -- 40,000 of them (wrapped in plastic, priced, alphabetized and in chronological order), toy collectibles and more, a place for tots and Boomers alike to look for many of their favorite characters and remember back in the day...
As a young man, Bill, a Batavia native, played in bands, did construction work and delivered furniture and appliances. Although he had collected toys all his life, he had no particular interest in business before starting Foxprowl as an ebay enterprise back in 1999. He had a lightbulb moment about the potential for making a living around his hobby and started buying toys in "lots" or quantities, then selling off excess while building his reserves.
"Most people know more about their hobbies than they know about their jobs," Bill said. "So if your hobby is your job, you have more of a passion, more of a drive, and you're going to work 12-, 13-hour days because you enjoy it."
The first storefront opened in 2010 on Ellicott Street and then they relocated and opened Sept. 1 last year in the building at Jackson and Main streets.
"It's a new ballgame," Bill said of the new space. "It's a different demographic. (On Ellicott) it was more of a destination. Here there's more foot traffic, quadruple what it was. I'm looking forward to our first summer here, that's for sure."
Bill and Joy both say they are honored to be part of Batavia's business community and thankful for the recognition by the chamber for their hard work.
Joy said "drive, desire, diligence, setting goals, growth, planning the work and working the plan" are the keys to their success to date. And she gives a lot of credit to their employees and supporters.
"We have a great team that has grown with us and works right along with us and we are blessed with an abundance of family and friends who support us in so many ways," Joy said.
These include Tim Schiefer, Wayne Stahler, Marc Tillery and Bill Doetterl.
Stahler for the past two and a half years has run the online side of the business, handling Internet orders, shipping, tracking sales, complying with merchant rules for Amazon, eBay and their own e-commerce site on Big Commerce. His duties include working with a variety of distributors worldwide to get proper authorization to ship certain licensed goods. They only starting selling on Amazon last year and already Stahler said it is quickly reaching par with in-store sales.
Keeping the store itself organized and neat for finicky collectors and grandmothers seeking a special birthday gift for little Tommy is no small feat either.
"I try to keep it pretty shoppable," Bill said.
Glass cases house mint-condition items; on the walls and on countertops Star Wars is kept with Star Wars, likewise for G.I. Joe, KISS, Transformers, etc. There is a big bin for action figures.
"Kids love digging through there, rummaging, digging for the buried treasure buried at the bottom," Bill said.
He has some backstock, too.
In a small closet about 25 Millenium Falcon spaceships from Star Wars are stacked, variously equipped with their dozens of parts. Of those, he said he could maybe put together two whole spaceships with all the parts, in which case one would sell for $150-$160. The rarest bit is the Jedi Training Ball, which hangs down like a boxing bag. That alone sells for more than $20.
"Every mom vacuumed that up and so it's the part that's most often missing," Bill said.
Care to look through an old Atari magazine from the '70s? Ever seen uncut sheets of Three Stooges trading cards? Remember the Snoopy Sno-Cone machine? They are all there! Some people drive four hours just to get the special Japanese-made Godzilla figurines sold there, each exquisitely detailed and not cheap either.
But buying inventory and deciding well in advance of, say, a movie's release, how much of its corresponding merchandise to stock, can be tricky. Consumers are fickle and their memories are short. Despite all his acumen, Bill said it's still "a crapshoot."
A proven adjunct to the business is Foxprowl-Con, which brings together stars, a variety of clubs, artists, fandom and vendors on the weekend before Thanskgiving. It debuted at a local hotel in 2015 after 11 months of painstaking planning.
The first year there were 18 celebrities, dozens of vendors, dealers, crafters, artists, book sellers, and clubs like the Ghostbusters Club with its 20-foot inflatible marshmallow, plus interactive games, contests, experts panels -- like makeup artists and costumers, plenty of family fun all day long.
Putting the convention together was challenging but people loved it. Bill learned on the fly about third-party ticket sales, per diem payments, security, travel planning, promotions, advertising, and on and on. And he said he learned that it was important to treat every customer as royally as each star.
"Everybody is important," he said.
Joy said she thinks Foxprowl is one of Genesee County's coolest places; Foxprowl-Con is a labor of love. Both are places where families and fans can "geek out" and enjoy their favorite characters and artists and have a good time.
The Humes plan to keep having fun doing what they love.