Interview: Loot Crate’s VP Of Growth Jacob Shin
If you’re a geeky sort of person, you’ve probably heard of Loot Crate [lootcrate.com], a subscription service that, every month, sends out a mystery box of goodies that can include t-shirts, limited edition toys, fun accessories, and other good stuff. What you may not know, especially if you haven’t taken the plunge, is how it works. Like, how do they figure out what goodies to include in each box? Which is why I sat down with Jacob Shin, Loot Crate’s VP Of Growth, to get a sense of what Loot Crate does, and what they’re planning to do in the future.
For people who haven’t heard of Loot Crate, or maybe have but aren’t sure how it works, what is it?
Let me start with where it came from. Our co-founders [Chris Davis and Matthew Arevalo] came up with the idea of putting the fun of Comic-Con into a box, the idea of putting collectibles and t-shirts and toys into a box. And it really took off. Fast forward three years, and now we’re much broader than that, it’s much more about pop culture and video games as well as Comic-Con. To put it shortly, it’s fandom. So it’s for fans of superheroes and video games and such nostalgic things as Back To The Future.
Every box has four to six items, but you don’t know what’s in it until it arrives. And they all arrive in the same five-to-seven day period around the world. Also, starting in December, every box will have a t-shirt, that was a big request from our customers. Each month has a central theme, and everything is curated to that theme. For example, the theme for October was “Time,” so we had some Back To The Future items, some Doctor Who, and some Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure items.
And does everybody get the same items?
Yes. Though you obviously pick your own t-shirt size.
Are the items ones that are commercially available, are they things that aren’t available at the time but will be later, are they exclusives…
For the most part, we try to get exclusives from companies that make commercially available items. Some of these product lines are commercially available, but the specific item would be exclusive.
Okay, so like you might do include a POP! toy from Funko, but it would be one that isn’t available anywhere else?
Do you guys say what those exclusives will be, or do the companies come to you?
We decide, but we work with the companies because there are certain restrictions. We couldn’t do an R2-D2 toy with the Loot Crate logo on it.
Do you ever include books?
We do. We included [Ernest Cline’s] Ready Player One in the box that had a gaming theme, I think it was “Play.” We’ll also include comic books with different covers, those do pretty well when we survey our customers.
Now, along with the monthly crates, you also do one-off crates that are just about one thing. Like the Fallout 4 crate you did recently.
Those are limited editions, we only make a certain number of them, and what’s in them still a mystery, but in those cases, everything fits the theme. So the t-shirt, the toys, all the stuff in that crate were from Fallout 4.
I assume those go rather quickly.
Yeah. The Fallout 4 one crashed our site when we launched it, and it sold out in a few hours. And the Mass Effect one, which was the second one we did, sold out in less than a day, in about twenty hours.
So if you’re a subscriber, like a year-long subscriber, do you get a discount on the limited edition crates, or first crack at them?
If you’re a Looter, as we call them, you don’t get first dibs, but you’ll be among the first to hear about it. But no, they don’t get a first shot at them or a discount on them.
It’s something we’ve been contemplating. We love our Looters, but there are also fans of these things outside of our customers. So that’s something we’ve been debating lately, how to handle this. We actually make quite a few, in the tens of thousands, but they still sell out quickly. Our plan is to get the mechanics more refined in 2016.
So how do you decide what movies, TV shows, and games you’re going to cover? Because you can’t get too obscure and include a Buckaroo Banzai toy, but at the same time, you can’t keep doing Star Wars. Okay, you probably could keep doing Star Wars, but you get my point.
Right. We are sensitive about giving too much love to one property, or even one genre. So we buy the merchandise about four to six months out, but we plan the monthly themes about nine to twelve months out, and the themes are often tied to such key events as video game launches or movies coming out or when TV shows are coming back. Though we also talk to our customers to get a sense of how much they did or did not like certain items.
When you’re doing one of the limited edition crates, I assume you don’t also include something from that movie or game or show in the monthly crate, right?
No, sometimes we do. Like when we did the Star Wars limited edition crate, we also included some Star Wars items in the December crate because Star Wars is so big. We did the same with Fallout 4.
But I assume it’s a completely different item, right? For instance, there’s an exclusive Star Wars: The Force Awakens Han Solo toy in the regular crate. So I assume there won’t be a Funko toy of Han or even a different Star Wars character in the Limited Edition Star Wars crate, or a Han Solo toy from a different company, either.
So in a situation like that, where you’re going to hit both crates with something from a movie or whatever, how do you decide what goes into the limited edition crate and what goes into the regular one?
The monthly subscription is $13.95 plus shipping, so it’s about $20.00 for about $40-45 value; the limited edition crates are typically $50 to $100 for about $150 to $200 worth of items. So the limited edition crates not only have more items, but it also has slightly higher value items.
Gotcha. Has there been any talk of doing crates with super high-end stuff like $300 Kotobukiya limited edition statue?
That may be coming because there are super fans who’ve been asking for that kind of stuff, but not yet.
Do movie, TV, or game people ever come to you and say, “We want you to do a crate for our thing?”
Those conversations are not too infrequent.
Right, but I would think that if it’s a new thing, like something they want to promote, that’s not going to work for you guys.
True. But there are ways we can do things. A good example is that the people working on Mr. Robot wanted to do something with us, to get the word out, so we didn’t do a physical item in the box, but we did do something in the magazine we include in the box, and on our email list, and that worked out really well.
Though we are having discussions about having crates that are curated by specific people, a celebrity or a known person, and in that case, they could be from something new.
Oh, so if Peter Jackson was directing a new sci-fi movie, you might do the “Peter Jackson crate” where he would help pick the items inside?
Have you done, or thought to do, a limited edition crate, but for charity?
Not limited edition per se, but this holiday, we worked with Operation Supply Drop. We partnered with them to deliver crates that fit what they do. We’re also working with Toys For Tots, and making crates that have kid-friendly items.
Now, given the variety of stuff you include in the crates, it’s inevitable that people will get things they don’t want. Have you noticed trading going on over social media?
Yeah. We’ve had local Looter meet-ups. We did one at Meltdown Comics [in Los Angeles] where we had about 400 people show up, and we had a trading post there. We’ve had a lot of requests to set up more of them. But we’ve found that there’s a lot of regifting going on. And, of course, a lot of stuff ends up on eBay.
Oh, I’m sure there’s people who only subscribe so they can put stuff on eBay.
Yeah. Even before they receive them, people will put the Limited Edition crates up on eBay, often with a huge markup.
Have you guys considered doing other kinds of crates? Like a Sports Crate?
Well, we want to stay true to our core. People love our company because we listen to them. So when we launched the Anime Crate, it was because people asked for it.
That crate works the same as the regular one, I assume.
Yeah, it’s monthly, and secret.
And does that mean you won’t have anime items in the regular Loot Crate?
No, we will.
Ah, okay, so you have Loot Crate, Anime Crate…
…we have Level Up, which is more of a lifestyle brand, so it’s all wearables and socks and accessories, but is still in the geek and gaming and fandom world. And it also has the same theme as the Loot Crate. We also have a Pet Crate, which will be toys and leashes, but still appealing to our core audience, so it’s things like a Star Wars leash.
And we’re exploring what else we can do, what makes sense for us.
Cool. So, finally, if you could do a Loot Crate about anything — and I don’t mean one you think would sell well, I mean that you’d personally want to own — what would it be?
I really enjoyed our “Time” crate because I’m nostalgic about a lot of things. I recently took my boys to an arcade, where we played Bubble Bobble for thirty minutes, and then the old TMNT game for another thirty minutes. So my crate would be a mix of late-’80s stuff. It would be some Transformers items, Voltron, some old Nintendo items. That stuff is classic.