Founded in 1999, ThinkGeek was an e-commerce website that sold geek culture merchandise, such as toys, clothing, home décor, electronics, collectibles, and more. The company was founded by Jen Frazier, Jon Sime, Scott Smith, and Willie Vadnais, and was originally a side project headquartered in Virginia.
Originally, ThinkGeek produced merchandise catered for the open-source software community. To gain some exposure, they delivered a care package filled with their unique merchandise to Slashdot. A news website that gears its content towards geeks. After being fascinated by their merch, Slashdot decided to give them a shoutout. This is where ThinkGeek’s rise to fame began.
Just two months after being founded, ThinkGeek was purchased by Andover.net, a company that owned Slashdot. A year later, Andover was then obtained by VA Linux Systems, a company based out of California which sold computers containing the Linux operating system.
Va Linux Systems went on to change its name to Geeknet in 2009 whilst still owning ThinkGeek. In the same year, ThinkGeek achieved sales of $50m and saw its workforce rise, reaching 83 personnel in 2013.
It was not until 2015 when ThinkGeek would change hands once more. On May 16th the American retailer Hot Topic proposed an offer to purchase both ThinkGeek and Geeknet, reportedly for $17.50 per share. Yet, just 3 days later an unnamed company placed a counter-offer of $20 per share. Hot Topic was given a further 3 days to place a counter-offer of their own but no such offer was made. The deal was closed by July 17th and the unnamed company was revealed to be GameStop.
What Happened To ThinkGeek?
On June 2, 2015, GameStop acquired ThinkGeek for $140m. Then, in June 2019, GameStop announced the discontinuation of ThinkGeek.com and the integration of its e-commerce platform to GameStop.com. Visiting the ThinkGeek website today will simply redirect you to a section of GameStop.com where you can buy similar geek culture merchandise. Although, at this point in time, the website appears to be under maintenance. With the announcement of ThinkGeek closing its website, many loyal users were saddened.
However, there is still a silver lining. Whilst ThinkGeek’s online store has been discontinued, a small, curated, section of ThinkGeek products still remain across GameStop stores. Yet given the expansive range of products that ThinkGeek formally offered, a small section in GameStop stores cannot hope to cover the diverse range of geeky merchandise that we have become accustomed to.
In addition, a total of 40 physical ThinkGeek stores currently remain open according to reports from last year, but today’s searches yield 38. It is unclear what the future holds for ThinkGeek, a general lack of information on their part leaves us with nothing but mere speculation.
Given that the premise of the merger was to “build the GameStop of the future”, it is only natural to wonder just how long these physical stores will remain open. Perhaps keeping these stores open was a strategic business strategy to buffer the public backlash from the discontinuation of a brand that was so dear in the hearts of us geeks.
In terms of new ThinkGeek merchandise, unsurprisingly, it is very limited. Just 2 new products are documented online, these are a “Get Schwifty Bluetooth Speaker” and a “Jigglypuff Bluetooth Speaker”. So, for anyone looking for geeky merchandise from new games and shows, you may just be out of luck. Similarly, international buyers who are hoping to get their hands on ThinkGeek products may have a difficult time.
Why Was ThinkGeek So Popular?
ThinkGeek launched at a time when geeky merchandise had not yet developed mass appeal. As one of the core players in this very specific niche, they facilitated the rise of geeky merchandise into the mainstream, where today, it is essentially cool to be a “geek”.
Their range of truly unique products is one of the reasons ThinkGeek was such a successful business. Products such as the Star Wars Tauntaun Sleeping Bag, which originally started off as a joke, won our hearts and indeed our money, being one of ThinkGeek’s best sellers.
But it didn’t stop there, even more absurd products such as the USB Pet Rock were put up for sale. A small, USB companion that doesn’t need any upkeep: no walking, feeding or watering. Watch in pure delight as your pet rock just sits there and does nothing at all. Its products like these that really drew attention and cemented ThinkGeek as a retailer of unique merchandise. ThinkGeek even opted to take this a step further by posting hilarious fake April Fools products – a bold business move that few retailers would be willing to make. Products such as the Thor Mighty Mjolnir Mailbox were the pinnacle of their April fool’s extravaganza.
Thor Mighty Mjolnir Mailbox
This product was advertised as a mailbox shaped like Thor’s mighty hammer Mjolnir which lit up via solar power when mail was delivered. And get this… you had to be “worthy” to open the mailbox. Facial recognition technology for the buyer and USPS workers saw to this. A fantastic epic April fool’s joke. As with many of their April fool’s products, it proved so popular that fans wanted it made.
Rick and Morty Screaming Alarm Clock
Another great April Fool’s joke was the quirky Rick and Morty Alarm Clock. Perfectly capturing the scene from the show, the alarm clock’s screaming alien sun provides the perfect irritating alarm to get people out of bed.
Captain Marvel Universal Pager
The pager that only Nick Fury has to call Carol Danvers, as seen in the Disney film Captain Marvel. This is the 2nd Marvel April Fool’s prank ThinkGeek has successfully delivered!
ROOMBY: Kirby Robot Vacuum
What’s the most powerful thing that sucks in the universe? Most people would say a black hole, but gamer fans will say Kirby! ThinkGeek took advantage of this on April Fool’s and created a Kirby product to do the one thing he does best.
Flame Jam Hoop
Not as memorable as the other April Fool’s pranks, but still hilarious. The flame Jam Hoop is a mini basketball hoop that’s actually on fire. This is a parody of the classic NBA Jam video games, where the basketball hoops would catch on fire when the player scored enough consecutive points.
Motion Controlled Mimic Package
No, this isn’t Venom from the Spider-Man universe; it’s a Mimic from Dark Souls. In the game, Mimic’s are disguised as treasure chests and patiently await gullible players.
Where Can I Buy ThinkGeek Merchandise?
ThinkGeek became the poster child for wacky, geeky merchandise. Even now, with other online stores having cemented themselves as key players within the same geeky niche, the demand for ThinkGeek products is still present. Given that ThinkGeek’s online marketplace has now been dissolved, access to their expansive range of products is very limited.
The best place to find ThinkGeek merchandise now is at one of their physical ThinkGeek stores, or at the ThinkGeek section in the ever-dwindling GameStop stores. However, there are a few other places you can grab some ThinkGeek merchandise.
Target, the 8th largest retailer in the US has a limited range of ThinkGeek products. Their online store shows that there are currently 24 products available, although in-store there may be more.
Amazon has a much greater range of ThinkGeek products available, spanning a multitude of niches from zombie head cookies jars to Game of Thrones shield backpacks. Current searches for ThinkGeek products yield 212 results.
eBay has perhaps the largest collection of ThinkGeek products for those shopping online with 830 products. Perhaps what separates eBay from the competition is the availability of pre-owned goods. Given that anyone can post something for sale on eBay, you are probably more likely to find that rare ThinkGeek item you are looking for, here, rather than anywhere else.
Although ThinkGeek may be gone, the demand for geeky merchandise is not. When geeky merchandise entered the mainstream, sometime in the last 10 years, a lot of new retailers were created to fill the demand.
Today there a variety of ThinkGeek alternatives where you can get your geek on, here are some I recommend.
Forbidden Planet is perhaps the world’s oldest and largest retailer for comic and science fiction goods. Forbidden planet’s physical stores are predominantly based in the UK, but there a few stores elsewhere such as the one in New York City, and another in Rome. Of course, all of their merchandise is available online and their range of products is very expansive.
Zavvi is another great retailer for geeky merchandise. Formed in 2007, Zavvi originally had a selection of UK stores before going entirely online. Zavvi has a strong focus on physical media such as DVDs, Blu-rays and steelbooks, but they still sell a lot of tv, film, and gaming merchandise such as statues, plushes and pop vinyl figures.
Founded in 2016, GeekCore is a much newer company. Despite being the newest of my recommendations, GeekCore is perhaps the most alike ThinkGeek. Unlike Forbidden Planet and Zavvi, there is no emphasis on any one particular medium of products – GeekCore just sells geeky merchandise across the board.
When browsing their website, the experience is somewhat reminiscent of what ThinkGeek used to be. There are a lot of great novelty items to discover such as The Legend of Zelda Link Cosplay Earmuffs and the Donkey Kong Red Tie. The only drawback I can see is that the range of brands they create merchandise for is more limited than for the other retailers.
Hot Topic is a long-standing American retailer founded in 1988. They specialize in edgy clothing, accessories, and music. Clothing, in particular, takes up a significant proportion of their merchandise, and this is where they shine. They have unique designs spanning a variety of niches such as pop culture, horror and anime. There should be a shirt here for everyone.
Another reason Hot Topic is such a good retailer for geeky merchandise is that they have exclusive pop vinyl figures that cannot be found anywhere else. That’s a strong enough reason alone to check them out. Their merchandise can be purchased both in-store and online.
Jinx, another older retailer, founded in 1999. Based in San Diego, they sell a variety of geeky merchandise. Their website is a little cluttered, and they don’t have the biggest range of products, but it is still a great retailer to check out for all us geeks!
Neatoshop is an online clothing retailer. This website sells quirky t-shirt designs for virtually anything you can think of. They have a loyalty program to reward returning customers. For every item purchased the buyer earns NeatoBucks, these can then be redeemed for future purchases. They also offer a custom printing service, and link up with artists to produce new t-shirt designs.
GameStop, originally named Babbage’s, launched as a software company in 1984. It was named “Babbage’s” as a homage to Charles Babbage, the man attributed to creating the original concept for the computer. Later, in 1999, Babbage’s was sold to Barnes & Noble which went on to merge with the company Funco. They then ultimately changed their name to GameStop in the year 2000. Today, GameStop is accredited as the largest video game retailer with over 5,500 stores worldwide.
Despite such longstanding success, GameStop has fallen on tough times in recent years, largely due to the widespread adoption of digital downloads. Much like how Blockbuster was overshadowed by the rising popularity of online streaming services such as Hulu and Netflix. But other poor business decisions such as the launch of Spring Mobile saw GameStop plunge into some serious debt.
As of January 23rd 2020, after failing to sell in 2018, the value of the company nosedived. Originally asking for $16 a share its stock prices have dropped to just $5 per share, valuing the company at just $5 million.
Following this massive loss, GameStop has voiced that they will be closing 320 stores within the next year. This is in addition to the already closed 321 stores. Meaning there will be even fewer places to buy ThinkGeek merchandise. There is no current information on how physical ThinkGeek stores are likely to be affected.
In its day, ThinkGeek was a one of a kind retailer, as one of the founding fathers within the geeky niche, ThinkGeek paved the way for many of the newer businesses which are now emerging. Whilst not completely gone, as some physical stores still exist, it remains a shadow of its former self.
Many of its original international fans are left cut off, and forced to scour the internet for any remnants of ThinkGeek products that remain. Fortunately, like-minded products are still being sold by other retailers. But I doubt that any one retailer will quite be able to replace ThinkGeek.
The diverse range of subject matter, the ridiculousness of its products, the witty April Fool’s gags, I am certain ThinkGeek will never be forgotten.
Goodbye ThinkGeek, it truly is the end of an era.