Scoop contributor, collector, and Overstreet Advisor, Art Cloos sat down with, Steve Savino, one of the hosts of the popular collectable based show, Toy Hunter. On the show, Savino and his fellow toy hunters seek out pop culture collectibles around the country to buy and sell with other collectors. Savino was born in Manhattan, New York City, then moved to New Milford, New Jersey. He has spent the last 53 years living there, where he met and married his wife Sheri and with whom he has a 16 year old daughter, Saramy. He can be found on eBay as 123-kid, and can be reached at email@example.com or (201) 257-2194.
Scoop: Steve, it is a real honor to have one of the Toy Hunter people sit for an interview with Scoop.
Steve Savino (SS): Thank you Art.
Scoop: Was it toys or comics that first hooked you into collecting?
SS: I started collecting baseball cards in 1975, I was 17 years old. The toys started for me in 1981.
Scoop: You were never a comic guy then?
SS: I did find comics back then but not as much. When I was going to garage sales in the ’70s I was just finding all kinds of baseball cards, non-sport cards, football cards, and hockey cards.
Scoop: So where did you go with the cards? Did they become a big hobby for you?
SS: I was collecting cards up until 1985, then I got a job at a baseball card store part-time and saw the owner making serious money. So then I started to sell my cards at local shows because baseball cards began taking off in 1984-1985 thanks to Don Mattingly and Dwight Gooden whose cards started the card fever. I was lucky in that over the years I've met a lot of the top baseball card dealers, Mr. Mint Al Rosen, Tom Reid, Bill Mastro who I was friends and competitors with.
Scoop: You became a dealer at an early age?
SS: Yes, I was in my 20s when I began selling.
Scoop: Now how did the toy fever start?
SS: Well, like I said I was going to garage sales a lot and one time I’m at one buying cards. All of a sudden I see that in the corner of the garage is a box full of toys. Vintage G.I. Joes and Mego figures are sticking out of that box. So I ask the owner if the box of toys were for sale and she said yes she wanted $20 for it. I said sold. After I left the sale I was jumping up and down like a little kid at my car. From then on after that sale I was looking for toys.
Scoop: Was that the end of card collecting?
SS: No, I was still selling cards at shows because everybody had started to buy cards. As I said, earlier, in 1984-1985, the baseball card market went sky high – you had stock brokers investing, doctors, and lawyers too all buying them. However, by 1989 the cards had basically fizzled out. All the card companies had flooded the market with way too much product for the market to absorb.
Scoop: Are cards still important to you today?
SS: Not as much, I have some baseball cards, but I do have my football sets from 1967 to 1985 all of which are complete sets.
Scoop: So where did the toys take you? How did they become the main focus for you? Was it all that $20 box of toys?
SS: Yes, that box started it all. The thing is, though, I never really knew any price values at the time except what I saw at toy shows back then. Then Toy Shop came out in 1989-1990 and then it happened. The toy market exploded thanks to that newspaper.
Scoop: So you think it was Toy Shop that was the big catalyst for the 1990s toy market?
SS: Yes, Toy Shop opened the doors to dealers from across the country to be able to reach buyers from across the country. Also toy show listings let dealers and buyers both find shows to set up at and go to in order to buy.
Scoop: Was being a toy and card dealer all you ever wanted to do, or did you ever step away from it to do other things?
SS: Toys and cards was it for me. I was setting up at different collectible shows and also got into promoting shows with my friend Ken in the ’90s with K&S Promotions.
Scoop: Ken Laurence who sets up at the Wayne show?
SS: Yes, that Ken Laurence.
Scoop: So you never left the hobby to do other things?
SS: No, it’s a real crazy life I have had. I think I was ahead of my time when I started looking for toys. I didn’t even tell you how I met Jordan from the Toy Hunter Show yet.
Scoop: Yes, I want to discuss that too. But first, you were into wrestling too at one point?
SS: Yes, K&S also did wrestling conventions.
Scoop: Tell us about the early toy shows you did. What were they like?
SS: Well, as to what toy shows were like back then, it all depends on the place they were held. For example, I did hotels where they could hold 200 to 250 tables to a small venue that was 60 tables. It didn’t matter what the shows were like, collectors wanted their toys. The frenzy was on.
Scoop: I am assuming the competition among dealers was intense back then?
SS: Well, that is where things fell into place for me big time. Like I said, I was ahead of my time. I used to go back to old candy stores or old toy stores and find old store stock there, so when dealers saw what I had they were buying from me constantly.
Scoop: So, you became a picker at that time?
SS: Yes, and it wasn’t just finding one item in a store, how about cases that never sold of Mego toys or 1966 Batscopes with the display box, or full cases of 1966 Superman pencil cases. It goes on. You bought a full Superhero Folder display from me remember? I had six of them at one time.
Scoop: Wow, so all the top dealers bought from you?
SS: When the Newark Airport Holiday Inn had toy shows in the ’90s I had old store stock there. Dealers could not believe what I was finding. I was the toy warehouse guy that everyone wanted to buy from.
Scoop: So how long did that continue with you being the warehouse guy?
SS: For about 5 to 6 years
Scoop: Then what?
SS: Then eBay came along and everything changed. It came on the scene in 1996 and the toy market changed forever.
Scoop: So eBay was the 800-pound gorilla in the room, huh?
SS: eBay started setting up at shows trying to get customers to buy on their site. I had no idea who they were then.
Scoop: Really? I never saw them at any shows I went to?
SS: It was at the Atlantic City shows where it all started with them. Dealers were so angry at them and with their motto which more or less was, “Why go out when you can shop at home?”
Scoop: There is no doubt that eBay changed a lot of the pop culture collecting market. How badly did it hurt you?
SS: When you as a buyer would go to a show and find a rare toy that you had not seen before and then all of a sudden find that eBay may have five to six of the same toy, but at half the price of what you paid years ago, you are not going to be so willing to go to a show anymore to find stuff. So, toy shows largely disappeared for a long time. The result was sellers all of a sudden were making less than they were before. So, like a lot of the dealers from back then I joined the eBay club in 1998 and am still selling there but I have to say I am still setting up at toy shows today too.
Scoop: It seems to me that the toy show scene has been coming back in recent years. Do you see that too?
SS: Yes. Customers want to see and touch the item not look at it on a screen.
Scoop: Which brings me to Toy Hunters. So how did that show come about?
SS: Ha, yes The Show.
Scoop: I would bet it began with Jordan?
SS: Well, let me give you some history on how I met Jordan Hembrough. There was a store in Ridgewood, New Jersey called Starlog which was a sci-fi collectible store. When I used to go in there I would see the counter person and we would talk about toys, and Star Wars in particular. When this guy told me that he was the buyer for all the Starlog stores I was like, “That’s cool” and through him I started selling the chain old store stock from Star Wars, Star Trek, The Super Heroes line and more. Then we became real friends to the point where I was taking that buyer, who was Jordan Hembrough, on buying trips with me. Does this ring a bell people? I have known Jordan now for 26 years.
Scoop: So you were doing the Toy Hunter thing long before the show started?
SS: Oh yeah. We would go out of state to find toy collections just like on the show. With our combined knowledge we were an unstoppable duo.
Scoop: How did the show come about?
SS: Well, all this is in my bio. Our friendship is like Abbott and Costello or Martin and Lewis. One day I get a call from Jordan, who wanted to know what was up with me. I told him I was setting up at toy shows as usual. Then he tells me he was doing a reality show but it was not the Toy Hunter show yet. The show didn’t have a name. He told me a production company was looking for a host to go around the world and buy toys. So, I told him that’s really nice and I wished him good luck. He said that he had told them about me. Now, you have to understand I had no idea what this was all about. I was happy doing my thing in life. Jordan then tells me to go and audition for a co-host role on the show. I said, “What? You want me on TV, are you nuts?”
Well, the next thing I know I’m on my way to New York to talk to the casting people. It was in this huge building and as I walk in I am saying to myself, “What the heck am I doing here?” I get to the directory to find the floor and office and see my reflection in the glass from it and say to myself, “So here I go.” I got off the elevator on the right floor and ahead of me is a long line of people and we all wind up waiting in line for hours. I’m thinking what a waste of time this whole thing is. I finally get in to the interview with Sharp Entertainment and tell them who I am.
Scoop: Who was Sharp Entertainment?
SS: Sharp Entertainment was the production company. Travel Channel was the network. I sit down and talk to them about my history with toys but I find out its going to take more than just talk. They show me a vintage G.I. Joe doll in the box and all they said was, “What do you know about this?” Well, I took that doll and told them so much history about Hasbro that their heads were spinning by the time I was done. The result was I got the co-host job. There were 300 people casting for it and I got it. Next, we did a 15-minute sizzle reel. This was the start for the show. At the time it was called Pop Kings, Kings of Pop Culture. When the pilot was shot and season 1 was filmed it became Toy Hunters.
Scoop: Did you know any of the 300 people who were auditioning?
SS: No, I was so nervous I couldn’t care who was there.
Scoop: What about Jordan? How did he get involved with this?
SS: Jordan knew before me that I got the role. It was funny. Jordan always had an agent because Jordan did clothes modeling as a kid. His agent knew about the casting call in the city and told him about Sharp Entertainment. What Sharp liked about Jordan is that he did this full time where all of the other tryouts all worked a full time job.
Scoop: You did a lot of traveling on that show didn't you?
SS: We would go from the east to the west coast a lot. We went to Puerto Rico and England too. We would be away for 9 to 10 days straight then come home to take a break for a few days then it was back on the road again. Seasons 1 and 2 were shot back to back with no vacation time.
Scoop: The show lasted three seasons?
SS: Yes, three seasons. It was great working with the Sharp crew it felt like we were all family, filming for 15 hours a day. We all became very close and I am still close to them today. We chat on Facebook from time to time.
Scoop: Did you know that the very first segment shown on the first show was with Andrew Heller, a long-time friend of mine who also sets up at the Wayne show?
SS: Yes, that was on the first show and I know Andrew from us both setting up at the Wayne show.
Scoop: What is the current status of the show? There has not been a season 4 yet?
SS: We did some filming for season 4 but none of it aired. The show was canceled and there was 26 shows that we did that you can get now on Amazon.
Scoop: But it got good ratings, didn't it? Why cancel a popular show?
SS: Travel said we were not branded to their channel meaning we did not talk about vacations, hotels or food which is what all the shows on the network were supposed to do.
Scoop: I am sorry to hear that. It was a fun show. So what is the future for you? Will there be more TV? Will you continue to be a toy dealer?
SS: Well, now Jordan and I are doing comic cons together and we are also signing autographs for fans as well as going back on the road looking for collections. Toy Hunter is now being seen in The UK by Quest TV network and they are watching me there as we speak for this interview.
Scoop: You really have achieved a lot.
SS: Yes, for me starting in baseball cards as a collector/dealer and winding up on TV, I think I have achieved a lot in my life. One thing that I learned is to never say never to TV when it comes knocking at one’s door.
Scoop: Steve, it was a pleasure. We thank you for taking the time to sit down for this talk with us.
SS: I want to thank Scoop and you Art for your time and the interview and it was a pleasure. See you soon.