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Saturday, Sep 23, 2023

Duo Plays With Serious Collectors of Action Figures

Van Nuys-based toy manufacturer Sota Toys has registered an explosive 775 percent three-year growth rate since being founded in 2002. According to Jess Bansal, Sota’s vice president of sales and marketing, the chief reasons for the company’s growth are its superior craftsmanship, effectiveness in maneuvering the distribution channels in the toy world and an ability to forgo sleep for long stretches of time. But as the toy company settles comfortably into its role as a maker of high end action figures and collectibles, the company’s seven full-time employees might get the chance to stop and contemplate exactly how quickly they have been able to make inroads in the notoriously cut-throat toy industry. The company is the brainchild of Sota President Jerry Macaluso, a toy designer and sculptor who had obtained the license to produce the action figure for the Lara Croft character from the popular film “Tomb Raider,” starring Angelina Jolie. Spun off from its parent company (a movie special effects house) in 2002, Macaluso immediately brought in toy industry veteran, Bansal, to handle the business operations. While Macaluso focused on the creative end of operations, Bansal turned his energy toward growing the business. In its first year the company pulled in $400,000 in sales, but by for 2005 it projects sales of $3.5 million. However, according to Bansal, this type of growth was anything but easy. “It took a lot of hard work to grow the company the way that we did. There were a lot of sleepless nights, mailings, phone calls, creative brainstorming, and meeting with buyers,” Bansal said. “We knew the correct buyers from our previous jobs, so we didn’t have to chase down people. Our past connections were very important. There is no such thing as a dead connection.” Vince Sam, the sales director for El Monte-based toy distributor Triple AAA Anime Distribution, agrees that Bansal’s wide range of contacts coupled with Macaluso’s design skill paid major dividends for the company. “When (Bansal) joined the company, the range of markets that became available widely expanded. He had lots of contacts and licensing opportunities and he was able to take them to a different level,” Sam said. “He knows what sells and what doesn’t and he’s also familiar with the video game market and the specialty market for Japanese. They have gotten themselves into the larger stores and tapped into product niches that are very successful right now.” Though like any two people trying to formulate one vision, there have been disagreements along the way. “We got the Professional Bull Riders license, which was a mass market item, but (Macaluso) felt that the company’s direction should be to keep it more niche and collectibles-based. Even though we had that license, we had to personally terminate it and walk away,” Bansal said. “There were also some other video game licenses that were targeted for the mass market niche that we’ve had to walk away from them. But the company currently still enjoys a comfortable position in the collectibles arena.” But Bansal proclaims that working as a team can bring a significant upside as well. “The upside in the partnership is that we have two heads that allows for egos, unrealistic goals and unrealistic expectations to check themselves, there is always the other person there to provide a reality check,” Bansal said. As for the secrets of how to stay cool and work to achieve goals, even if one person might disagree, Bansal maintains that like in any relationship, there needs to be trust. “We had to have a lot of trust involved to make it work together. No one ever tried to micromanage and there definitely can never be any politics. If the vision is there and the parties stay true to those ideas, then success is certainly within reach,” Bansal said.

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