Over the weekend, I visited Theme Park Connection in Winter Garden, FL. This is the best place for everything theme park related. They have years and years of history all for sale! Not a single item in the store is not for sale. I recently interviewed the owner Marc Pianko:
-What are some of your big ticket items?
We have items that range from .10 cents to over $50,000.00 in our shop at Theme Park Connection. We are always looking out for those iconic items that bring you back to the park, or maybe it’s a film or animated feature that brings you back to that point in your childhood memory with a significant other or sitting around watching a movie with your family. We have animation art that can range from $10.00 to our Shrek concept art that can range up to $1000.00. On the animation side we have Cels from Peter Pan, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and even TV classics that are non Disney including my childhood favorite He-Man, and other classics like My Little Pony, Fat Albert, and even Beavis and Butthead. Those range from only $75.00 to $125.00 in price for an original animation cel. The higher big ticket items in animation or concept drawings are things from the Disney Legends like a Ward Kimbal original Drawing that we have for $1600.00 to an original Caricature of Walt Disney from 1955 for $2500.00. As far as props, we actually have a Carousel from Disneyland that is valued between $30,000 to $50,000, a Timothy Mouse that has sold for over $20,000 in our shop to recent scores like the Devil and Props from Mr Toads Wild Ride; those are the things that really capture the history of Disney and bring customers to our store, almost like a museum. Those things don’t last long as we sold the Mr Toad items in less than 24 hours of getting them in. It’s bitter sweet because we want to have those historical pieces in our shop but we also know we made a collector extremely happy and obviously we are a business and it’s our intention to sell all of our items in our shop.
-How did you get into this business? How did you start this collection?
If you asked me this question when I was in college, I would have told you that my career would be in Broadcasting as a reporter on TV, which I did pursue after I graduated, but it was on a trip in College to Disney that changed that focus or at least a dream of mine. I had graduated college and worked as a reporter in Youngstown, OH but after 6 months I realized that’s not what I wanted to do. It was a lot of accident stories, shootings and talking to people that didn’t want to talk to me because they just lost their house in a fire or a family member was shot. It wasn’t the kind of life I imagined being on TV. I decided it was time to see what Disney would have to offer. After interviewing, I got a job at Disney Institute in 1999 and it was the start of my Disney passion. I moved from up north and made the 1000 mile journey to Walt Disney World and worked there for the next 6 years. During that time I learned so much about the company and I started seeing how much the value was on the items that Disney sold, especially during the millennium when they introduced Pin Trading. I then quickly learned about eBay and began selling Disney pins on eBay to pay for more pins for my own collection. I began to see how eBay could pay for my collection by buying collectibles to feed my own addiction of collecting Disney items so it was a win win for me and over the next 10 years it expanded from pins, to figurines, to props, and to anything Disney really. But I was buying far more than I could keep up with, so I started collecting massive amounts of items as there was nothing I would turn down when I would find rare Disney items. My house was overtaken by Disney items and I had to rent 5 storage units to house it all. Then one day at my storage shed I was climbing over boxes and realized I needed to open up a physical shop so people could see all these treasures and historical pieces I had; now I’m sitting in over 7000 square feet of this stuff.
-Is everything mostly Disney or all theme parks?
The majority of our items are definitely Disney but we have changed that focus to include anything “fantasy” related with the recent addition of a ton of Movie Props. We’ve even added a room devoted to what we now call the “Great Movie Room” in which we have Movie Props from Pirates of the Caribbean, The Game Plan, Batman, The incredible Shrinking Women, and much more. We will actually be on the TV show called “Hollywood Treasures” on the Sci-Fi channel buying a lot of the props off of Academy Award winning Makeup Artist Ve Neil. We always try to find ways to branch into different areas, and Movie Props and animation is something we are now focusing our efforts on. One of the cool things we have is the original TRON animation art that shows the entire animation sequence from the drawings used to create the scene, to the layers of animation it took to put just 1 scene on the screen. So I’m really trying to branch out into all things fantasy and animation. As far as other parks, we just purchased the character “Boots” from Dora the Explorer that was used in a Nickelodeon show so again we don’t just focus on Disney, although it’s how we got started in this business and it will always be a focus of the business but we really look out for unique items. Unique one of a kind rare items are what we get excited about, and we search them out and get them in a lot.
-Do you sell original art such as traditional animation cels, pencil tests, concept art, storyboards, and autographed drawings?
Absolutely! We get excited when we find these items. It’s these types of items that really shaped the history of the parks or an animated classic film. One of my favorites to get in or find is concept art. To me, looking at concept art is such an amazing thing because it can take you back to the time when an attraction or film was just an idea on paper. Then once you see the concept work, you can compare it to what was actually built or made and see what concepts changed. For example we have the blue prints from the Venetian Resort at Walt Disney World that was never built. You can see the money that Disney spent on the idea but never made the resort. It’s cool also to compare concept work to what was made as we sold at one point for $4000.00 an original concept map of Walt Disney World that showed resorts that were never created. Next to props, concept art is something I really enjoy. Also animation cels and autographs are something we get in a lot and they sell fast too. Currently we even have a Michael Jackson Autograph and several from Batman. We also have a lot of original Disney animation from cels to concept art and original sketch drawings.
-When did you open?
The history of Theme Park Connection really dates back to 1999. I started on eBay as an internet based company and continued that business for the next 10 years, and had amassed so much stuff from collecting as well as selling that it was all stored in 5 storage sheds. The problem with that was no one got to see the stuff I had. It was all hidden and I could only really list 100 auctions a week by myself and I knew I needed people to see all this history I had collected over 12 years. Then in 2011 I decided to rent a warehouse, more to put all my stuff in one place and still solely focus on eBay, and then I realized that a retail shop would make great sense. So from January 2011 to about November it was a hidden secret about us and we had people come to the current shop but we never advertised we were officially opened. It was more word of mouth, and we only had 3000 square feet at the time and even then we filled that up quickly. We now have over 7000 square feet.
-What are your plans for the future? New locations?
Right now our biggest next move could be our reality TV show that is in the works. Once that takes off the sky is the limit. It’s really something we are looking forward to. We are in a contract with a major Hollywood production company and we have already shot some beginning episodes so it’s a very exciting time at Theme Park Connection. In just little over a year we went from a 3000 square foot warehouse to over 7000 square feet and we wish we had more room. We have talked about expanding to California but it’s tough to find a person that knows the business well enough to be able to buy and sell the items that we have experience doing for over 12 years now in that location but it’s in the back of our mind right now. If the right person comes along we would be open to that for sure. We go to California about 6 to 8 times a year to buy items anyway. I actually have 2 storage sheds in CA filled with stuff now. Mostly Movie Props, Scripts, and more Disney items are stored out there as they were not easy to ship back but we do travel all over the country buying items. We eventually want to own our own building and move to a location that is more retail friendly than our current location but we are in our location because we can afford the rent and keep our prices low for our customers. The last thing I want to do is get in over my head in a location we can’t afford, and then we have to raise prices. I keep our prices low to keep our customers happy and coming back. We also plan to have shuttle services from resorts to get more people to our shop when they are on vacation and don’t have a car. Also we have a lot of exciting things we do on our Facebook page with Trivia Contests, Discount Days and tons of updates. We also plan to add a retail shop online to our website www.themeparkconnection.com. Just a very exciting time at Theme Park Connection.
-Could you tell us about the recent expansion?
Since our official Grand Opening last year in November, we got an amazing amount of Media coverage and our traffic to the store just boomed. We found ourselves moving all our stuff to a much larger warehouse next to our old location a short 2 months later. We went from the 3000 square feet to over 7000. We added an entrance room, media room, warehouse and our new Great Movie Room. We are always looking to expand more but to stay in this location we are now “land locked” but there’s always ways to be creative with our space. We get new items in daily so it’s constantly changing.
Thank you for the interview Marc!
Now I bring you the
Cabinet of Mystery!
When you are in the warehouse room, over in the corner hidden you will see a tall metal cabinet. You never know what you will find in there.
Theme Park Connection’s Official Website: http://www.themeparkconnection.com