Maybe not everyone has heard of Funko — the Everett-based maker of pop culture collectibles that, after the worst IPO in more than a decade and a half, is now dominating its market — but many would recognize at least one of its products.
The brand’s highly adored Pop! line can be found on the shelves of just about every retailer in the country, including Target, Walmart, Walgreens, Hot Topic, FYE, GameStop, and more. The figures have small bodies, large heads, round (usually) black eyes, and come in the form of many of the company’s close to 4,000 character licenses from creative entities such as DC, Marvel, Disney, Warner Bros., Star Wars, and beyond.
In recent years, Funko has expanded and branched into apparel and accessories with the acquisition of the brand Loungefly. It also has its own animation studio, a popular podcast, a boxed cereal brand, and formed a partnership with PEZ.
“Everyone is a fan of something, and that is what we are all passionate about at Funko,” said Funko’s senior director of capital projects, Heidi Ray, of the company’s vast portfolio of pop culture products.
That passion was something CEO Brian Mariotti wanted to embrace as he and his team began plans for the company’s 88,000-square-foot headquarters and ground-floor retail flagship store on Wetmore Avenue in downtown Everett.
“We have the most amazing fan base on the planet,” Mariotti explained in the 2018 documentary Making Fun: The Story of Funko. “I sometimes feel guilty they would make trips out to see us in just a corporate park. There were a couple of statues and it was kind of fun, but let’s give them an experience. Let’s make them come out and reward them for coming out.”
Not only was the new headquarters an homage to Funko fans, also known as Funatics, but Mariotti believed it would add credibility to the company ahead of its 2017 IPO.
“He wanted to have this so people could look at us and be like, ‘This is legit,’” Ray said of Mariotti’s vision. “We have an HQ and we’ve got a 14-foot Grape Ape, so we have to be legit.”
Because the company was originally founded in Snohomish County in 1998, the logical home for the company’s crown jewel had to be Everett.
Originally built in the early 20th century as the Rumbaugh-MacLain Department Store, the building in which Funko now operates is most famously known as the Everett location of the old Bon Marché Department Store. In later years, and after the Bon Marché was acquired by Macy’s and moved out of the building, the structure housed Trinity Lutheran College.
Though many skilled hands ultimately crafted the building into the new Funko HQ and flagship store, the construction of the building ultimately was under Ray’s management. “I came in when this was just a shell and then got to build the place,” she said.
Born of Mariotti’s imagination, every day of construction was a new adventure for Ray.
“Mariotti is like a savant — he’s Midas,” she said. “He started looking at (the building plan) and manipulating it, started growing it, and it became this beautiful thing.”
In the retail space, shoppers can browse the newest Funko products, sit in a Batmobile, take a selfie with Elsa from Frozen, walk through Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley, or try to spot the in-store cameo of Marvel’s Stan Lee.
“I had an idea that we could do more than just retail,” Mariotti said. “Our artists took my ideas and just expanded and made them better, and better, and better. We want that experience for the fans by creating worlds where they can shop and also take pictures with their favorite characters.”
These are just a few of the grandiose projects that were relegated to the first-floor retail space, where the public could marvel at them. But many other amazing facets of Mariotti’s imagination were placed where no fan could go — the upstairs offices where 300 of Funko’s more than 800 employees work.
One of the biggest projects Ray tackled was the installation of a metal slide on floors three, four, and five of the historic five-story building along each staircase. “He wanted a slide made of metal because it’s fast,” she said with a laugh. “I actually had to put a magnet on the slide that says, ‘Hey, man, (slide) at your own risk.’”
There also are conference rooms themed around Hanna-Barbera characters, bathrooms done up with an under-the-sea vibe that would make Ariel feel at home, a photo and video studio, and a massive lounge on the second floor where employees can have lunch or chat with co-workers.
And then there’s the basement. Only, Ray doesn’t like to call it the basement because that makes it sound “creepy.” Instead, she likens it to a cruise ship by calling it the “lower level” while she wiggles her eyebrows conspiratorially.
There’s the full gym and locker room, where employees can blow off steam or join Mariotti in his private “Yoda” — not yoga — room for a group workout. The lower level also contains an arcade with classic cabinet games and pinball machines, all free, of course. And don’t forget the lounge, with its plush purple couches and Hanna-Barbera character portraits.
But the real MVP of Funko’s lower level is the bowling alley. You heard right. Funko Lanes is a real thing. And it is not just for show or for the occasional lunch break; Funko has several bowling teams that maintain a lively rivalry.
For a company that was literally founded on fun — founder Mike Becker has stated publicly that Funko stands for “fun company” — and rooted in pop culture, it certainly seems like it is all about having a fun company culture while supporting the fans. And it is. But Mariotti said the hard work is far from over.
“The company was founded on kind of nostalgia and small-town ideals,” he said. “We still think of ourselves as the little company that could. And I think that we’re much larger now, but I think that mentality bodes well for us to keep humble; keep working very, very hard; and don’t expect success — earn it.”
What is next for Funko? Ray currently is splitting her time between the Everett location and the company’s soon-to-be 40,000-square-foot retail store on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles. She can’t give away too many spoilers, but she practically vibrated with excitement when she said, “It’s going to be really, really cool” and “totally different from anything downstairs” in Everett.
What does this mean for Everett?
“This will always be HQ, and this will always be the flagship store because Funko was born in Snohomish County, it will always be here,” Ray said.