Interview with Benny Kline of Tenacious Toys (Part One of Two)

When I first knew Benny of Tenacious Toys, it was back in the day when he sent over snaps of convention displays, and I thought: "Now THERE'S my man-in-New York"! ~Me being thousands of miles away from where the action was at, meant a great deal to me, both then and now (regardless of original intent). Through the years, the name "Tenacious Toys" had become synonymous with "creator-exclusives", which frankly is not that often an occurrence, especially with independent artists and online retailers. And when I was downed with Stroke late last year, Benny showed a side of compassion for this humble blogger, and that was a measure of how good a good man he is, IMHO.

A notion I like, is that Benny is to Tenacious Toys, as I am to the TOYSREVIL-blog = we remain synonymous with our chosen name, and what happens to it, is "personal" to us. It comes as no surprise I get to the depths of who BENNY KLINE is, and what Tenacious Toys is about. And it took me two separate parts to do it too! Posted below is the FIRST PART (of 2) of the interview - Read-ON!

TOYSREVIL: Why the name "Tenacious Toys"? There must be a story behind it and we wanna know about it!

TENACIOUS BENNY: We love the American Pit Bull Terrier, a breed which is commonly referred to as a “tenacious” breed. They never, ever quit going after whatever they are focused on. We admire that quality: Never, ever quit! When we were thinking up names for our growing toy business way back in 2004, Stephanie said “How about ‘Tenacious Toys’”? and it just stuck. The alliteration didn’t hurt either, and it allowed us to use one of our favorite pitties as a logo (his name is “Danger”).

Benny and Tiny Steph and dogs
[Say *hello* to Benny & Steph, Danger & Tiny]

TOYSREVIL: I am "beginning to suspect" TT is a one man show? Tell us how it is in the TT-world? Where it's from, what happens in a day-to-day basis.

TENACIOUS BENNY: TT is indeed a one man show. And one mighty fine woman as well! Me and Steph started TT in 2004/2005 as a way to spend more time together (after being newly married and never seeing each other due to conflicting schedules). As the years went on I got deeper into the computer but Steph yearned for more time with animals, so she’s currently working as a licensed veterinary technician at a hot-shit animal hospital. But she still heads the show here- I defer to her judgement a lot of the time. Her financial decisions keep TT from going under- I’m a bit impulsive when it comes to buying toys but she’s more practical, money-wise. I do the customer service and pack orders but Steph and I work together on purchases and decisions so TT is very much both of us. If you stop by our NYCC booth you’ll meet both of us, as we always work the shows together! I couldn’t do this without her, it’s waaay to much work.

On a day-to-day basis, I answer a lot of emails, process orders, go to my warehouse, pack boxes, go to post office and Fedex. I place orders, pay CC bills, plan projects, write blog posts, make calls. It'd be boring except for the fact that I get to see and handle lots of toys all day!

Toy Street Benny setting up
[Benny setting up Tenacious Toys @ Toy Street 2011 - seems quite "frantic" :p]

TOYSREVIL: Aaahhh yes - man-handling toys - that's where it's at! LOL ~ And from the fun times to the nasty ~ What is the least happiest piece of nastiness in this business that folks (in-da-know or not) do not necessarily know about?

TENACIOUS BENNY: This is going to sound dumb, but the nastiest part of the art toy biz is the nasty people. There aren’t many of them, but they are out there, posting negative shit on the boards and wasting air space. I’m not gonna get too specific here but what I hate the most is when one of my friends/artists/customers emails me with a link and says “Hey Benny, you see this on the board?” and it’s someone saying bad stuff about me or TT. I work REALLY hard to make sure everyone’s happy: customers, artists, vendors…. It’s a source of pride for me to run a tight business in that respect.

I LOVE art toys and I love to spread them around the world. My motivation is positivity: spreading smiles in vinyl. So when someone trashes me or something I do, I take it very personally. I think to some people I look like this big scary dude but really I’m very sensitive. TT is my baby, I love my shop. I take criticism to heart. I always, always try to fix problems if there are any. I just don’t understand why some people insist upon writing negative shit on the boards when they coulda simply emailed me with their concerns. Thankfully that kind of thing doesn’t happen much anymore.

TOYSREVIL: Nothing sounds dumb at all dude - "misinformation" or the lack of it most times makes people do things they think are "justified" in their actions, rather than "right" (for their fellow man), IMHO. With the nasty done-n-dusted, let's go back to some goodness! What is the most fulfilling aspect of your business thus far?

TENACIOUS BENNY: I love connecting up with collectors and artists and being there and a part of it when they find a toy they love, or achieve some recognition for their work, or whatever makes them happy. I guess that’s why I put myself out there to help out other shops and companies and artists when those opportunities arise. It’s a fun, funky, art-centric community and I’m stoked to be a part of it.

benny n NYC crew at almighty dunny
[Benny & the NYC crew at the "Almighty Dunny" show]
benny almighty dunny

TOYSREVIL: Nice. With all it's ups and downs, what is it you hope to do, with TT? (Or with TT backing you up?).

TENACIOUS BENNY: I guess there’s two ways to answer it: in a broad sense, I just hope to spread our community far and wide and get us some more collectors and more interested people. More recognition I guess?

On a more real level, I’d so love to have a brick & mortar shop on a busy street here in NYC. Ridiculous rents keep that dream from becoming a reality… but I know I could put on some kick-ass shows if I had a venue, and probably sell more toys too! I guess I could open a shop somewhere low-rent outside the city, but that sorta defeats the purpose. Foot traffic = sales so I’d rather just keep TT online-only than compromise by setting up shop somewhere slow. (I’m not saying “never”, I’m just sayin that’s how I feel now, today). (…any VCs or investors interested in putting up some money?)

Steph and FOOX
[FOOX with Steph - yes believe me that is Steph - yes, on the right]

TOYSREVIL: I've always dreamt of owning and operating a brick-n-mortar - but I soon realized I'l be buying more toys for MYSELF than to sell, so there goes my dashed dreams! LOL …. And congratulations on being nominated for "Best Online Toy Store " in the upcoming Designer Toy Awards! I remember back in the day, you used send me snaps of show happenings in the States, or where you're at. Now that that's a faded memory, how does it feel to author your own blog-space? What are the pros and cons of such a practice? And how does that relate to your business?

TENACIOUS BENNY: Dude, now you’re making me feel bad! I LOVE seeing my snaps on TRE, that was always such a proud moment, when you posted my stuff. But, two things happened: People like Steve Talkowski and Matt Siegelbaum started showing up with digital SLRs and my stupid little crap images started looking embarrassing to me. Guys like that have been very diligent taking great shots at NYC events. Also, they’d get their (better) images uploaded faster than me so it’d just be easier and better for you to go to their flickr pages and get the shots there… plus, I have to go home each night and pack orders.

Packing orders is my #1 priority as a shop owner, so if I have 3 hours or awake time at night, and I have to choose whether to edit photos to send to you, or pack some orders, guess which one I’m gonna do? I always feel bad about not sending you more snaps; it’s really cool to have a brother in toys all the way across the world. But I gotta think of my customers first.

setting up NYCC 2010 booth NYCC 2010 again
[Above: Tenacious Toys @ New York Comic Con 2010
Below: NYCC 2010 AW177 Malmstedt & Sir Narwhale]

NYCC 2010 AW177 Malmstedt & Sir Narwhale

TOYSREVIL: All good in da toyhood, bro - you know I had to bust your chops about that LOL (and one day, I too will own an SLR ;p). How is the toy business actually? With the advent of Facebook and Twitter, and blogs, promoting toys has become such a frantic biz these days (back in my day, I only had Ebay to pull my hair out to LOL). There are even toy shows and conventions to consider now. How does all that work for you?

TENACIOUS BENNY: : Frantic is a pretty accurate description. These days there’s about 1,000 different companies, small and large, pumping out toys. Honestly, I can’t even keep track of all of them and all of their products. That in itself is a full time job (innit, Andy? Keeps you busy!). Facebook/Twitter/blogging are all great. They are free ways to advertise and interact and so I use all of them a lot. The upside is I get to “meet” more people and find out what’s hot and who’s making what. The downside is it’s a time suck, and I have to balance that part of TT with the really important part: processing orders and getting toys in the mail. So it’s a battle, and time is my enemy.

This past week I got our 3A Large Martin shipment in and spent nearly a week packing and shipping. Spent a LOT less time on FB and twitter and blogging simply because that stuff ain’t gonna get toys in the hands of my preorder customers! And yeah, we got cons (we do NYCC and ToyStreet) but at some point I’d like to get to SDCC, WonderCon, DragonCon, DesignerCon, Taipei, Singapore, etc etc. When I’m rolling in cash, I’ll show up at those shows. For now I gotta keep it local to NYC.

Benny always connected
[Benny stays connected / Notice Benny's frown? Why you making Benny frown?]

TENACIOUS BENNY: How does it work for me? Um, I’m frantic half the time, running around, going to the post office, my warehouse, slapping my computer like an angry rhesus monkey… it’s a lot of work. I try to LOOK like I’m cool and collected but really I stay up late, get up early, run around a lot trying to keep everything together.

You can ask some of the NY-area guys that know me- I work really hard to keep TT going. To anyone thinking of selling toys: I’m not gonna tell you NOT to start a toy shop, but just know that you will work way harder than you’ve ever worked, and earn way less for those hours and for the effort you put in. If you love toys, it’s worth the work!

[Tenacious Toys @ Toy Street 2011
Benny said: "Don't you guys love my ghetto TT banner taped to the wall?"]

TOYSREVIL: Last question for today! How was Toy Street 2011 for you? And your brand? How was the response?

TENACIOUS BENNY:: Toy street was great! I got to reconnect with some of my customers which is always nice. I met a lot of new potential customers and talked a lot about toys in general and their place in the world. I made sure to give out nice big stickers to anyone who came to my booth. It was a great show with a lot of different stuff to see and buy. My brand seems to have developed from a little nothing store to a place that everyone's heard of. I was interviewed for the Kronikle and for Big Kev's Geek Stuff so hopefully those interviews and yours of course will push Tenacious further.

The response to my wares was great- everyone was digging the toys I brought in to sell... I'd say it was a great success for us! I think Toy Street is going to become a real East Coast destination event... I mean, it's in NYC and it's free, and almost nothing is free in NYC!

[Above montage of images via / Photos by Ryosuke Suzuki]

Stay tuned for PART TWO of the interview with Benny Kline of Tenacious Toys! Meanwhile go buy yourselves some toys HERE and/or HERE, and twitter the dude HERE :)


North American Lemi distributor.
AW177 said…
Great interview Andy w/ Benny, who is the freakin' man. I wish him nothing but the best of luck and success as he totally deserves it!!! Steph is wonderful too!