Nothing is more frustrating than having a great idea for a custom and not being able to move forward with it because you don't have the right head or arms or torso, etc. Many custom projects languish in limbo due to lack of parts. So what's a customizer to do? First, know your alternatives. Second, reexamine where you hunt.
Figuring out what the possible alternatives to the part you need can save you a lot of headaches. Your first and best source for ideas is your fellow customizers. Check the websites. See what others are doing. Subscribe to the Customize mail list. You may find that your trying to reinvent the wheel. Don't be afraid to ask other customizers for suggestions on what parts to use.
Another good idea is to get yourself an action figure collectors guide. Collectors Mail Service publishes "Action Figure Collector". It's a 416 page guide with thousands of full color pictures of figures ranging from the early 80's to late `97/early `98. It costs under $30. Drop by and visit them by clicking here. The ISBN # is 3-929025-16-7. Being able to look at thousands of figures is great for giving you ideas on what parts you could use for a project. It might even inspire some new projects.
Finally, check the web again for articles on customizing. Raving Toy Maniac and Customize It! have a number of them. They cover all sorts of things from altering existing parts to making your own.
Now that you know what parts you need, its time to begin looking. Again, your fellow customizers are a great source. Check websites and mail lists for trading lists posted by other customizers. For the most part, customizers who offer to trade via the Internet are relatively trustworthy. Burn someone in a trade and everyone will find out about it. Still, this method will always entail some risk, so be forewarned. If you don't have anything to trade some customizers might be willing to sell instead but be aware that many people feel uncomfortable with selling. No one wants to be labeled a scalper.
As for real world shopping, there are a number of places to look. For dirt cheap deals, garage sales rule. Dig around in those boxes of toys and don't be shy about haggling. Keep an eye on townhouse divisions, they'll often have community sales. Some churches hold sales occasionally also. Then there are flea markets. Prices are higher than garage sales but you can find the older stuff here. Antique malls and stores can have some great finds and steep prices, it comes down to how bad you want it.
Stores. Let's get comic shops out of the way first. Their stuff will most likely be MIP and cost a bundle (it IS a business). Again, how bad do you want it? Toy stores always have a bargain bin that's worth digging through. There are also discount stores like Wal(K)Mart. Little selection but it's worth a try. Salvage stores are great if you can find them. They might have undamaged figures from a damaged case. They also sometimes have older discontinued lines that the major retailers have stopped ordering. Another place to check are variety stores in more rural towns: TG&Y, Dollar General, VS Variety, etc. Again, these stores often have figures from last years lines and at good prices. If you flip through your phonebook and keep your eyes open when driving around town, you'll probably find additional places to find figures and parts that you need.
Something to keep in mind when your hunting for figures and parts is if you find a good deal on something, even if you have no use for it yourself you might want to buy it anyway to trade at a future date. You may not have a need for that Avengers Thor in the bargain bin or that Silver Hawks Condor from the garage sale but someone else does. You may even find a use for it yourself, later on.
If worse comes to worse, you may have to put a project on hold because you just can't find what you need. But if you've checked into half of the stuff mentioned above then chances are you'll have come up with some ideas for other projects that will keep you busy in the meantime. Persistence pays in the long run so don't give up. Happy hunting!