1/6th Spotlight - BlackOps Toys

Welcome to the very first in a new regular feature entitled ‘1/6th Spotlight’.  Focusing on the retailers that keep us supplied with our ‘plastic fix’, this feature aims to enlighten us to what goes on behind the scenes to keeping these businesses running and allows us to learn a little more about the retailers who make this hobby possible.

I was very excited when Brian and Jennifer of BlackOps Toys agreed to be the first to showcase this new feature.  They are something of a household name in the 1/6th community, certainly in the realm of retailers.  I’ve only been in this hobby for just over a year now, and had been using BlackOp’s Toys from the very beginning for the odd loose item here and there, until more recently when they’ve pretty much become my first choice for all of my loose item purchases. 

Although I am based in the UK, it is unfortunate that as with most items, the British customer faces far higher prices, import taxes, VAT etc… all of which inflates the cost of what can be found far cheaper outside of this country.  That very fact is highlighted below when Brian mentions that a high proportion of his customers come from outside the US. 

So without further ado, on with our ‘interview’:

In your own words, tell us a little bit about you?

The man himself...My name is Brian Sullivan and I love action figures! 

I am 36 years old and I have lived in Oregon most of my life.  I graduated from high school in Beaverton, Oregon and I graduated from University of Oregon with a degree in Psychology.  I even went to Portland State University for a while getting my Master's in Counselling.  I dropped out with only my internship left to go because I knew I didn't want to be a counsellor.  I taught English in Japan for a while, I love to travel, and I’ve been to every Disney Park in the world except for the new one in China.  I read a lot of books and lately, I play a lot of Call of Duty.  I was married last year and have a great wife, three great step-kids, and a really great “job.”  
How long have you been into 1/6th scale action figures?

Since the very first 1/6 scale figures came out for sale, so about 12 years.  I loved them from the very beginning.

Roughly how many do you own in your private collection?

Wow!  I would guess I have 300 or so figures in my personal collection, but they are mostly customs.  I don't have a lot of mint-in-box figures in my collection.  I like playing with them too much to keep them in the box.  I have thousands and thousands of pieces that I try and keep organized, but my “man cave” gets away from me sometimes.

Which is your most prized figure?  If you can’t pick just one, name your top three.

Only three?  :-)

Hot Toys Batman DX, Joker DX, and Tumbler or Hot Toys DEVGRU figures and the PMC 07 and the new Soldier Story China Expo figure.  Honestly there are too many to choose from. 

How did BlackOpsToys start?

After an accident that led to an extended hospital stay, I started making custom 1/6 action figures to keep myself busy and pass the time. But custom figures led to an excess of pieces, so I went on eBay to sell off the extras. Soon, I realized I was making more money selling the extra pieces than the mint-in-box figures originally cost me to buy.  I started buying boxed figures just so I could part them out and sell the pieces on eBay – and that is pretty much how it all started. 

I officially started BlackOpsToys in 2004 on eBay as a hobby (before that I was on eBay as “eclipsehobbies”).  My wife built our website in 2008 and even then we still ran the business as more of a hobby.  I had no idea at the time that the business would grow like it has.

How many people work for the company and what are their relations to you, e.g. family members, friends, partners?

We have 6 people so far. And we expect to expand in the next year and add another person.  Three employees are family members (me, my wife, and her oldest son) and one is my best friend Brian Lowy.  The other employees are good friends that we have hired. 

Do you have a ‘bricks and mortar’ store, or is it all web-based?

We are mainly web based, but we do have an open warehouse people can come visit.  We don't have a showroom, but people do walk in and buy things here.  We also travel, on occasion, to toy shows or even gun shows and sell loose parts and customs there.  We are planning a retail showroom for sometime next year. 

What do you enjoy most about running the business?

I enjoy the endless access to the latest figures and gear.  I love to make customs and when a new order comes in, I eventually get a mint-in-box figure for my personal collection.   I also enjoy the people I meet online, through Facebook, the online web store, the forums, and face-to-face at the toy shows, because we all have something in common.  It's nice to meet people with the same interests and talk shop.

What do you find the most challenging about running the business?

Inventory control is by far the most difficult challenge.  Followed second by credit card fraud, and third, not being able to buy every single figure that is released because there is just so much good stuff.  I have to pick and choose what I know BlackOpsToys customers will want to buy.  

How has the recent economic situation affected business?

My wife and I both lost our jobs, within a few weeks of each other, about 18 months ago.  We faced the tough choice of going back out on the job hunt or running BlackOpsToys full time.  We picked the business.  Best choice we could have made.   We have seen business grow so much in the last year and a half and we are glad we got downsized by our other jobs. 

The other side of this coin, though, is that we have seen the ups and downs of the world wide economic crisis affect our sales.  We noticed a big drop off in sales in 2009, but we also weren't running the company as a business back then, we were still hobby-based. 

Now we have more customers outside the USA than inside, but we have noticed a pick up in US orders recently.  For a lot of 2010 and early 2011, US customers were hard to find, because people just didn't have a lot of excess income.  I think people are finally breathing a sigh of relief, and it shows in our sales for 2012.  I would be lying though if I didn't say that the upcoming presidential election didn't make me nervous.

What is the next big product release that you’re excited about?

Probably the new Crazy Dummy Army figures and the Tron Light Cycle.  I am also really excited about the new Dam Toys Tears of the Sun figure. 

What plans have you got in the near future for expanding the business or services offered?

We have increased our buying, so we'll have more figures and pieces to sell.  We've made a lot of improvements to the web site in the last six months and I think that has improved our customers' experience online.  My wife has a lot of big plans for the web site, too.  And we have an employee site where we keep track of inventory, update the product listing, etc and my wife is constantly upgrading that for us.

Finally, our biggest plans are for manufacturing and becoming a brand.  We know what you customers want and we want to give it to you. 

Who puts together the ‘Black Ops Customs’? 

There are two of us.  I do some myself and Mike Skram (Sir Eaton Flipflop on OneSixthWarriors) does the rest. 

How do your friends react to your hobby / business?

Most of my friends think it's cool, though I do get teased sometimes by some people who call the figures “man Barbie’s.”  My friends know I'm a toy nerd, but lately, now that I've started running the business full-time they respect what I've been able to do. 

What would you like to see manufacturers produce more of?

Such a good question.  This is why we want to get into manufacturing ourselves.  Don't get me wrong, I love what is coming out, but I have a million ideas.  Ask me this question in a year. 

Have you ever thought about having your own product line created and manufactured to specification?

Yes.  We are working on that, getting licenses signed and we are sourcing out the best location to manufacture right now.  I can't say much about it, because we're in negotiations.  Ask me this question in a year, too. 

What would you say makes BlackOps Toys standout from the other 1/6th retailers out there?

First, Black Ops Toys has always prided itself on our customer service.  We don't ever want our customers to be unhappy and we do whatever we can to keep them coming back to us. 

Second, we set ourselves apart from the competition by having old stock, rare pieces, and items for sale that you can't find anywhere else.  I have always been a toy collector and I store boxed figures for years.  That way we can sell items on our site that people haven't seen for years and years.  It keeps people coming back to blackopstoys.com. 

Finally, I am on Facebook and Twitter every day.  I post, I connect with people and I try to keep the excitement going.  When customers have a question they can email me, send me a message on Facebook, post on our BlackOpsToys wall, message me on the forum, etc.  I am always available and I think that ensures our customers that no matter what, we are there to help them. 

The Pics

Some of his collection, he has a thing for Batman obviously!One of Brian's many custom works...Brian sitting at his desk in the warehouse...Brian at the Hobby Expo...A shot of Brian's 'Man Cave'Another angle of the warehouse...Another shot, including someones lunch? ;)Note the packing table, the final stage of your order!

You can connect with BlackOps Toys a number of different ways, one if which is via their website here.  Another is via their official  page here.

I would like to thank BlackOps for giving us an insight into what goes on behind the scenes and taking the time to answer our questions.  I hope those of you who have read this article have found it and enjoyable and interesting read, and we look foward to catching up with Brian in the future to see how things are progressing.


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