Interview with Benny Kline of Tenacious Toys (Part Two of Two)
TOYSREVIL: How long have you been in the biz? Seen any changes in the culture recently, that really bugs you up your bum? Or sends you into toy-bliss? Because as a retailer, you have a unique perspective on the scene, which most times you might not be able to voice out (but now you do, on TOYSREVIL). I am asking as you seem more vocal about what you do, versus say a retailer that "just" hawks his toys and probably thinks nothing much of "the scene". I do not think you'd be surprised.
TENACIOUS BENNY: Steph and I sold our first toys on eBay in 2004. So it’s been over 6 years now… Since then, the toy game has gotten more hectic somehow- more companies and designers making vinyl. I think the real shift is the really interesting artists (maybe they are artisans?) who pour their own resin toys these days. Some of them (END of Argonaut Resins, in particular) have been doing it for over a decade, so this growing interest in handcrafted resin is less of a surprise to them. But to me, a vinyl guy, I am actually surprised not only at what is possible in resin, but how much I love the resin pieces.
Actually, ditto for the Japanese-style Kaiju and kaiju-like pieces that are proliferating. I was against this style for a while. Now I’m growing to love it. There’s spin-off styles like western kaiju and kaiju-infused mashups. Sorta nifty.
[Tenacious Toys x Argonaut Resin Exclusive TUTTZ Waves 1 & 2]
TENACIOUS BENNY: Another crazy shift I’ve seen is the current ideological struggle that a lot of us are engaged in, which is the push to the mass market, or the resistance to the mass market. Most of us love these art toys because they are so limited. You KNOW very few others own the same pieces as you, and that’s a source of pride. BUT, with exclusivity comes limitations. Our community cannot grow if it shuts itself off from the mainstream.
Keeping art toys underground might preserve their exclusivity but it’ll also keep them becoming more popular. What we have now is a proliferation of companies and artists, and this growth is NOT matched by a similar growth in the number of collectors. So, we get old unsold inventory, distributors discounting perfectly good toys, well-known toy companies going out of business… too many toys, not enough buyers.
What’s the solution? How do we increase our customer base while m
aintaining that edgy exclusivity? I don’t have a great answer for that but I do know that a little more mainstream recognition can’t hurt. I’m not saying I want to see 8-inch Dunnys in Toys R Us. I’m saying I want to have more customers looking to buy art toys.
On that tip, I know that occasionally the big toy companies come under fire on the blogs for making corporate branded toys. The bloggers take exception to those toys because they are judging them by the same standards that they’d judge an art toy that they themselves might buy. I think this is a mistake.
If Toy2R can make 1,000 Qees for State Farm, and State Farm writes them a big fat check and distributes those Qees as promotional items, GREAT! Great for Toy2R as they get recognition on the packaging and they make some money. Great for us as a community because those might be the VERY FIRST QEES in some person’s collection. After that, hopefully, they say “Hey, what is this Toy2R company? What is a Qee? Oh, a vinyl art toy? What is that? Are there other things like this that I can buy?” Boom, you have a new collector.
The corporate Qees (and similar projects by other manufacturers) do NOT detract from my sales or your personal collection. So why bother criticizing them? I welcome all new customers and collectors, no matter how they are exposed to the art toy scene.
[Benny and Steph = Dynamic-Duo of Tenacious Toys!]
TOYSREVIL: Am in total agreement with your stance on "Corporate Toys", and I have been on the other side of the fence earlier on - and realized that the chest-thumping looked all-justified-and-good, it does not necessarily feed a company enough to stay afloat. Let's face it, you will never make a huge amount of money only making toys (and by that, big companies outride smaller ones any day), much less blog about toys! Muahahahahaha
"Price-points"? Or "Personality"? What does it take to survive these days? Ironically, I remember years back when folks could blog anonymously and go about their day. These days, folks WANT to see who is blogging and telling them what to buy! Does that apply in the toy-retail world?
TENACIOUS BENNY: Yeah, that always scared me. At first I just ran this website and shipped toys. Then everyone started blogging and I realized I had a lot to say. If you go way back, my first blog posts were fairly devoid of mentions of myself. But then I started hanging out with all these NYC people, and my picture got posted to the net a bunch and people started to know me, personally, and it became too hard to hide. (I always have this paranoia about too many people knowing too much about me!) But hey, I’m here now in full view of everyone. Once you do a Con, you are sorta out there as a personality, forever.
TENACIOUS BENNY: So I guess the answer is “personality”. I really can’t beat everyone on price- I offer competitive prices but I can’t be the lowest. My margins are slim! I do have to feed myself and pay rent! I’ve had to learn through pain and many, many mistakes that Tenacious Toys must be run like a business if it is to survive. The one thing I can offer to the world, that no one else can offer, is me! So I do try to get myself out there now and be helpful and friendly and let my personality come through in what I do. No more anonymous blogging.
[OsirisOrion signs Paul Kaijus ass at NYCC 2010 = I cannot explain this picture]
TOYSREVIL: Ride the waves of the times, I say! You are well known on the toy-culture as the owner of Tenacious Toys, but tell us something about Benny himself! What does Benny do? What does Benny collect? What about Benny that nobody else knows, that you cannot and will not admit about in public, but will do so only on TOYSREVIL?
TENACIOUS BENNY: The first thing I ever collected was toy cars: Matchbox and Hot Wheels. I had a ton of them, somewhere between 100 and 200. Then I got into Micro Machines. I also had a ton of Legos, some Transformers, Thundercats, MOTU, M.A.S.K., and a buncha other random toys. After that it was 1:18 scale die-cast cars. But what really got me going was R/C cars- I used to buy the kits and build them myself, do all the painting and electronics set up, as well as building the transmission, suspension, everything. I started with a Tamiya King Cab and soon learned through breakage that I had to start replacing stock parts with upgraded pieces: aluminum chassis, upgraded motors and tires, more high-tech shocks.
After that I bought a Losi JRX-Pro and began racing back home in Connecticut at a place called R/C Madness. I used to race in the 2WD buggy class on their outdoor dirt track on Sundays. My collection really grew- I bought and played with a lot of different types of R/C cars. I had a Tamiya Bullhead, a Kyosho 2WD electric Nissan 300ZX, a 1/10th-scale carpet track racer. I even bought a Tamiya Mountaineer, which had a working metal transmission with several different gears which you could change via the controller.
Actually, that hobby led me to an internship for a couple summers at AirAge Publishing. They publish a few different R/C magazines about cars, boats and planes.
[And instead of showing Benny with his Matchbox cars, we have a better one:
Benny with his cat! Learn to lurve this, I don't want no lip from you folks ;p]
TENACIOUS BENNY: I’ve also been interested in art all my life- I studied art in college and I spent a semester in the south of France at an Ecole de Beaux Arts. I suppose that artsy side of me is what drew me initially to art toys. Mostly what I like is photography- I prefer to develop my own black & white film and photos in a darkroom, but for lack of time, now I do a lot of digital photos and photoshop work. Here’s a link, stuff most of your readers have never seen- a little of my own artwork on fineartamerica.com.
TENACIOUS BENNY: Aside from photography, I like doing large-scale mixed-media pieces, like cityscapes with duct tape and fat markers and spray paint.
What else? I love Calvin and Hobbes. I have a tattoo of Calvin on my ankle which I got when I was underage. My parents were PISSED. But hey, it’s Calvin, you know? They got over it. I took the image of Calvin dancing to his parent’s classical records, but with the music sped up (there was a whole Sunday strip, in full color, where he was dancing in his pajamas). I sorta altered the colors so he was dressed in his normal red and black outfit instead of the light-blue jammies. I love the childish innocence of Calvin, and his imagination, and Bill Watterson’s philosophical take on life. How Hobbes really has simple needs- he likes to nap, eat tuna fish sammiches and occasionally pounce on Calvin and kick his ass. I love the trouble they get into. Best comic strip ever.
TOYSREVIL: You know at some point we'd love to see that tattoo, yeah? Heh. Tell us something about Tenacious Toys that most folks might not know (or care to know).
TENACIOUS BENNY: I live in Manhattan, and we don’t own a car. So… I physically carry every package to the post office. Every single order we’ve ever shipped (over 10,000 now!) I personally carried to the post office, or to a fedex location or truck. I have my Fedex driver on speed dial. We spend between $10,000 and $20,000 per year on shipping alone. I work harder than most people know.
TOYSREVIL: Yikes. "Man-handling toys" has now a brand new meaning! Aside from production toys - what I thoroughly enjoy about TT, is that you've collaborated with loads of artists to do exclusives, and as well attained exclusives for Tenacious. How does that work out? And hopefully without sounding like an idiot myself = Why do it?
TENACIOUS BENNY: Those collabs didn’t really start rolling in till 2008 or so. Before that, I was this little guy, sorta hiding behind my computer screen. Then I met NEMO and I offered to support his many ideas and help promote him. Next thing you know, we’re doing the Rollie Show together and I’m meeting and promoting artists and their work. After that, I started using Facebook more and blogging more and I started showing a few random customs on our site. It all sorta snowballed- once a resin guy gets wind that you’re working with another resin guy, he’ll reach out and see if you’re interested in working with him.
[TT @ NYCC 2010 / Oh but for the "threat" NEMO constantly faces behind closed doors]
TENACIOUS BENNY: Ditto the customizers. I love seeing new work and I definitely love helping people, so it all just sorta got bigger and bigger. I send platforms to customizers now in return for the privilege of hosting the sale of their pieces on my site. And since I don’t have an actual shop with high rent, I don’t need to get 50% of the sale price. You can ask the people I’m working with: more often than not, I let them decide how much they’ll pay me as a commission. They are usually very generous and I think it creates a better working relationship with the artist.
[Custom Marshals Blind Box Series from 2010]
TENACIOUS BENNY: Somehow I’ve created a site that people enjoy going to- I try to sell a wide variety of interesting pieces, and I think that ends up being beneficial to artists that are looking to get their names out there. Plus I make sure to email projects and collabs to bloggers such as yourself, and I make sure to promote them on FB, Twitter and my own blog.
Right now it seems like the more I work with different artists, the more people want in. It’s great! As far as exclusives go, it’s really worked the same way: most of my exclusives are with people who make their own toys. I make sure to create a super-positive business relationship with them: I pay fast and I don’t jerk anyone around.
Why do it? Same reason you do TRE: I love it too much to stop!
TOYSREVIL: Thanks for sharing with us thus far, Benny - tis been a privilege. What's happening next to Tenacious Toys? What should folks look out for in 2011, and beyond?
TENACIOUS BENNY: 2011 will be a year when I really kick our collaborations into high gear. We are working with a number of amazing artists on various custom series: Nerviswr3k, Rsin, Bryan A. Collins, OsirisOrion, NEMO, AW177, Ian Ziobrowski, Matt Anderson and many, many others. We’ll be continuing to further our relationship with resin guys like Argonaut Resins, Brian Fyffe, Halfbad Toyz and Rampage Toys, and I’ll be seeking out new collabs with resin toy makers we’ve never worked with before. I’ll be scouting exclusive production pieces to offer to our customers. I’ll be investing heavily in ThreeA. Basically, more of the same ideas that have been working for us in the past few years, only bigger and better.
Find Benny Kline here:
WEB - http://www.tenacioustoys.com
WEB - http://www.funhousewares.com
FB - http://www.facebook.com/tenacioustoys
TWITTER - http://twitter.com/tenacioustoys
BLOG - http://tenacious-toys.blogspot.com
CALL - (347) 223-5869