Funko president Brian Mariotti, seen here in 2012, bought the company from a friend in 2005. (Dan Bates / Herald file)

Toymaker Funko moving to downtown Everett

EVERETT — Booming toymaker Funko is close to finalizing a deal to expand into downtown Everett.

The company is negotiating a move of its headquarters to the former Trinity Lutheran College building at the corner of Wetmore Avenue and California Street, according to several people familiar with the deal.

Funko declined comment. “We’re looking at a variety of options,” said Mark Robben, the company’s marketing director.

The five-story office building is a registered historic property. Built in the late-1920s, it first housed the Rumbaugh-MacLain Department Store. Later it was home to the Bon Marche.

Trinity Lutheran College bought the property in 2008 for $11.2 million. The school closed earlier this year after years of mounting losses, leaving the building mostly vacant.

The Trinity Education Foundation, which holds the assets of the shuttered school, could not be reached for comment.

It is not clear if Funko is trying to lease or buy, although city officials said they thought the company was going to lease the building. It also wasn’t clear if Trinity was selling the building or was going to continue to own it.

An application has been submitted to the city, either by Funko or someone representing the company, to get approval for exterior signs and other cosmetic alterations.

The building at 2802 Wetmore Ave. is listed on Everett’s Register of Historic Places as the Port Gardner Building. Any alteration would need to be considered by the city’s Historical Commission, which would issue a recommendation to the City Council, said Paul Popelka, a city planner and the liaison to the commission.

The Historical Commission’s role is advisory only.

Popelka said he hadn’t seen the application yet, but was aware it had been received by the city.

Funko has grown at breakneck speed in recent years on the popularity of its pop culture collectibles. The company started as a side project in 1998 in founder Mike Becker’s Snohomish home. Becker had moderate success with the company making licensed bobbleheads and other items based on nostalgic pop figures, such as Popeye and Count Chocula.

The company’s products are designed here, manufactured in China, and shipped back to the U.S. for distribution.

He sold the company in 2005 to a friend, Brian Mariotti. The toy collector and former night club entrepreneur turned the company into a powerhouse in the collectibles industry, distributing millions of bobbleheads, action figures and vinyl figurines. It has licenses to make characters from Disney, DC Comics, Star Wars and Game of Thrones, among others.

Funko’s revenues shot from less than $10 million in 2010 to more than $40 million by 2014, Mariotti told the Herald in previous interviews. The company’s workforce has grown by even bigger margins — from three to more than 60 by 2014.

That growth has prompted the company to move into bigger digs in 2012 and 2014, when it moved into backpack-maker JanSport’s former distribution center.

Now, Funko has outgrown the 200,500-square-feet space off Hardeson Road in south Everett.

Funko’s Pop! figures have fueled much of its growth. The vinyl figures have big heads and small bodies like bobbleheads but no wobble. And while you can buy characters as diverse as Batman, Hillary Clinton and professional ultimate fighter BJ Penn, the Pop! figures all have the same caricature style.

“There’s a Pop! for everybody,” said Dave Selkner, owner of BobaKhan, a toys and collectibles store in Everett.

People buying Pop! figures range from “hardcore collectors who aren’t going to take it out of the package to kids who rip them open,” he said.

Funko has built on the line’s success, following up with key chains, T-shirts and other merchandise. It has spawned a dedicated fan base — called Funko Fanatics.

“They’re calling us constantly to find out if we have the latest Pop!” Selkner said.

A few years ago, BobaKhan dedicated a four-foot section of shelf space to Funko products. Today, Funko’s goods sprawl across a 24-foot section in the store.

“They kind of have done everything right,” he said.

Dan Catchpole: 425-339-3454; dcatchpole@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @dcatchpole.

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