There is a small hobby shop tucked away in a sleepy neighborhood of Lebuh Lembah, Tanjung Tokong. Liberty Toys is a local business no stranger towards the collector’s community up north of Malaysia. The business name even on its own is familiar to many, simply because it derives from the Statue of Liberty in New York City, its significance was drawn up by no other than the founder himself, Kenny. Liberty expresses “Freedom”, and therefore implementing the “Freedom to Collect”. He wanted a name that relates to the country’s origin simply because most of his collection was assisted by his brother, who has been permanently residing in America.
I first came across this shop a couple of months ago while I was travelling up north. Dispirited from the results of hunting across several hypermarkets and the only TRU based island wide, the unfruitful trip has descended me to seek assistance from the local community via Facebook. Their first recommendation was the shop as we speak today, and surprisingly Liberty Toys is the only hobby shop that solely specializes in die-cast collectibles in the entire Penang Island – the next closest thing is approximately 40kms or an hour’s drive away.
Liberty Toys carries an array of 1/64 die-cast collectibles, mainly focusing on Hot Wheels Car Culture and Entertainment series, Super Treasure Hunts, RLCs, Mijo Exclusives, Mattel larger scale models, Tarmac, Greenlight, Tomica Limited Vintage Neo, Transformers Masterpiece series, dioramas and many more. Today we took the opportunity to explore this hidden gem and we’re talking tiny cars with Kenny.
The Owner Himself
Running behind the scenes of Liberty Toys is no other than the owner himself, Kenny and his beloved wife. He also happens to be one of the most passionate Hot Wheels collectors in the island. His Hot Wheels collection range from the emotionally charged to the downright cool. And, what’s more, he embraces other die-cast brands alike.
In the 80s, young Kenny started admiring MASK, Transformers and Starcom during his childhood years and later in life discovered the love for die-cast. As disposable income was limited and majority of Malaysians suffered in financial instability, toy collection those days were far-fetched. When the late 2000s were around, Kenny rediscovered Hot Wheels and with the help of his brother in America he was able to amass a large collection. As his private collection grew, he decided to start a small business by trading his excess collectibles during his part time and later in life lending him into the retail business.
Collecting Hot Wheels was so much more easier during the late 2000s, you could literally find any car on the pegs. Once in a while, you’ll also be able to pick up a few Supers or Treasure Hunts from the local hypermarket too.
In many ways, Kenny represents the transitional phase kind of Hot Wheels collector – one who has started in the early years prior to surge in demand and scalping culture. His top personal favourites are Entertainment movie cars, most notably the Ecto-1 from Ghost Busters, other highly prized collection includes a dozen or more Super Treasure Hunts, a few Collectors Conventional, some sick RLCs, a cute and highly sought after Hot Wheels M&Ms Kool Kombi that I personally like but couldn’t think about a reason to acquire, Vintage Racing classics, and the infamous Hot Wheels BRE Datsun RLC Edition specked out in the iconic spectraflame contrast livery. Even as a retailer himself, not everyday is rainbows and sunshines, Kenny fork out a small fortune for it at RM1,550 ($380 USD), that’s the most he has ever gone to attain a particular car.
Although with a handful of experience, even with a decade going through mountains and valleys could at certain times land him into mistakes. “I am still learning even though I am somewhat experience, it’s all about the market trend and where it leads. Sometimes I ended up over ordering what I predicted was a good price or that it could be taken up by the market easily. But it is not as easy as it seems, it takes just one person/seller to bring down the market value once they start throwing prices out of financial desperation.”
More Than a Store
Liberty Toys does not solely relies on its traditional footprint. Besides brick-and-mortar, majority of its sales contributes through social media channels like Facebook and local classified site Mudah.my. “When it comes to online, service is very important. Answering inquires on time is key to closing a potential sale, buyers these days are anxious. If you don’t get back to them in time, they will look elsewhere.” said Kenny.
Apart from bricks-and-clicks, Liberty Toys engages with some major local events such as CFTKL, Tarmac Mini Car Annual Festival, frequent sponsoring annual dinners, actively participating in annual club sales events such as Raintown in Taiping, and setting up in a flea market at Udini Square every Sunday.
The store’s most sellable item are Hot Wheels Car Culture assortments, this is because of Kenny’s strategic price point and long-term relation with his suppliers, enabling him to offer a competitive price to his customers at an ultimate value. Potential buyers and customers throughout the region inquire on a daily basis to place their names on the latest Car Culture series, no longer one needs to frequently patron TRU since these sets can get very limited due to constant demand and limited available.
Besides having the opportunity to experience Kenny’s highly sought after Hot Wheels collection, I had the privilege to assemble a pair of prominent Tomica Limited Vintage Neo Mazda 787B. I first came across this car in retail at Takashimaya, Ngee Ann City – Singapore last month, it had a staggering asking price of $159.95 SGD ($118 USD); while Liberty Toy’s offers them at a fraction of a cost at RM320 each ($78 USD).
I was thoroughly excited like a child in a candy store and had a great time getting these beauties out of the box as they are extremely detailed and accurate to the original car. The Mazda 787B is one of my all-time favourite Group C racing car from the 90’s, and the Tomytec team took this casting to a whole new level. It features an open front and rear end with detailed engine parts, interior, and exterior, made and sold exclusively in Japan or its affiliate Japanese stores. Hot Wheel’s also offered the same casting from its recent Circuit Legends Car Culture series, in comparison the Hot Wheels has a more realistic 1/64 scale approach as these cars are huge in reality, but the Tomica Limited Vintage Neo’s detailing just triumphs over the Hot Wheels by ten folds.
Penangites HW Culture
According to Liberty Toys’ business in Penang – a thriving tourism state located up north of Malaysia that is segregated to an island and mainland, acts more like a distribution hub when it comes to small scale hobbies rather than a consumer retail store. I asked Kenny why so?
“The Penang market can get quite tough when it comes to consumer retail, even the big international brands knows it. There is more sellers than buyers, 90% of the local customers who purchases from Liberty Toys are aiming to gain a profit from their collection. While the remaining customers who are true collectors and care less on monetising were once loyal to Hot Wheels, but are slowly moving on to other brands such as Tarmac, Greenlight, Mini GT, and Tomica Limited Vintage. As these brands often offer higher detailing and value pricing in comparison with the speculated yet difficult to attain Hot Wheels.” says Kenny.
Nowadays, its getting ever more difficult or even impossible to find a Super Treasure Hunt on the peg. Base on my experience the chances of finding just one STH card is 1 out of 12 cases. Supers used to resell around RM30 to RM40 range, but these days they can easily reach up to RM200 on average which is unrealistic.
Penang has been notoriously known as the supplying hub for illegal distribution of Hot Wheels siphoned from Mattel’s factories. Anyone can literally purchase unreleased mainlines in either rivert or unspun for a small premium. With lucrative profits from this backend business, more and more sellers are jumping on the bandwagon to make quick profits, mainly due to the surge of Hot Wheels demand worldwide and the rise in US dollars.
In terms of trends, “Penangites love collecting JDM’s, especially those models that can make fast money and high profits. There are also some avid Liberty Toys customers that specialises in collecting ’67 Camaros and Chevy Gassers too.” says Kenny, who frequently advises new collectors to buy what they love and able to afford. After all, it’s just a hobby and the whole idea is to have fun collecting.
He also suggest to attend local events, such as the weekly TT (Teh Tarik – Coffee) meets at Bukit Jambul (adjacent to Petron), flea market at Udini Square, and Aminah Tomyam in Kepala Batas (mainland) to gain more knowledge and information from seasoned colellectors. “Most of the collectors out there are friendly and willing to share their knowledge in order to grow this hobby.”
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