A lot of reissued Marx plastic toys aren't in Kansas anymore. They're being sold around the country through a partnership between Marx Toys & Entertainment Corp. and a Kansas-based toy dealer that specializes in vintage Marx products.
In the unusual move, Circle X Ranch - part of the Toy Trackerz LLC business run by Noah and Terri Coop of Fort Scott, Kan. - began handling sales and distribution for Sebring, Ohio-based Marx in April.
Circle X now offers several action figures, as well as play sets featuring a Cape Canaveral missile base and a retro Sears gas station. The toys were molded between 1995 and 2001 and are reissues of classic Marx items. Inventory is stored at a Marx warehouse in Sebring.
Although Marx exited wholesale toy production in the 1970s, it still has a loyal legion of fans who collect Johnny West action figures, Big Wheel riding toys and Rock 'Em Sock 'Em robots. Marx's predecessor firm - Louis Marx & Co. - dominated American toy production in the 1950s and 1960s. Marx collectors operate the Marx Toy Museum in Glen Dale, W.Va. - where the company once operated a factory - and host an annual convention in Wheeling, W.Va.
Circle X now keeps some inventory in Fort Scott, updating its stock with shipments from Sebring. Terri Coop - a criminal defense lawyer who met her husband Noah at a toy show in 1998 - said sales have been decent since the Marx/Circle X partnership was formed. Most of the 12-inch action figures are selling for $15-$20, while the plastic-and-metal play sets go for $30-$40. Vintage and reissued Marx toys account for about two-thirds of Toy Trackerz sales.
``This has been a learning experience and a lot of fun,'' Terri Coop said. ``For my husband, it's a dream come true. He has pictures of himself playing with Marx toys when he was 7 years old.
``The Marx name still has a lot of magic to it,'' she said.
Marx announced the Circle X deal less than two months after Marx Chief Executive Officer Ross LaTerra resigned. LaTerra had taken the CEO job in late 2004, replacing Robert Bambery, president, who had remained on the board of directors.
Bambery is trying to rebuild the firm after more than three decades of ownership upheaval that began when Louis Marx sold the toy maker to Quaker Oats Co. in 1972. Most recently, audio equipment supplier Stereoscape.com bought Marx's assets in 2000 - mainly toy molds and inventory in Sebring. Stereoscape then changed its name to Marx Toys & Entertainment in 2003.
Attempts were made to revive Marx as a nostalgia brand as well as introduce new products. But those efforts took a turn for the worse in late 2004, when two different Marx CEOs - Steven Wise and his successor, Robert LoMonaco - were charged with stock fraud for manipulating the company's stock price in penny stock trading.
In January, Wise was fined $75,000 by the Securities & Exchange Commission.
Moving ahead, Marx plans on introducing a new action figure.
``The time for a renaissance of the Marx toy line is at hand,'' Bambery said.