Q&A with TG
The below is a recent online Interview with Thomas Gunn Miniatures by an American collector.
Thomas Gunn Miniatures (TGM) or Thomas Gunn (TG) to many collectors, co-owner Blake Reade. I certainly appreciate you sharing your thoughts on the toy soldier hobby and future of TGM.
For those who do not know much about TGM that was founded in 2009, tell us how TGM got its name?
TG is a combination of my middle name, "Tom" and the last name of Simon Gunn who started the venture with me. Over the years various people have been shareholders; its only recently I managed to obtain a majority shareholding. Even now it's not owned outright by me even though popular myth on various forums seems to propagate this theory. Many people call me Tom; it was a name I was referred to in the army for 9 years, in fact its only my mother and a few other friends who call me Blake!
Well thank you, Tom, appreciate your willingness to conduct this exclusive interview and getting to know more about you and TG.
Many of us who collect toy soldiers have some sort of veteran connection. Are you a military veteran or do you have a veteran connection?
Yes I served for 9 years in the British Army, did some time with a commando unit, and ended up as a weapons instructor at the Army’s Winchester Recruit Depot before leaving. I would say around half the time in the army was good, namely serving in Hong Kong and Cyprus parts; no comment on time spent in Plymouth, Aldershot, or Germany! The military was a great foundation for civilian life; it imbues you with a sense of "get up and go". I would recommend it to anyone; it was never going to be a "forever thing" for me, but I am glad I did it. The fitness element has certainly stayed with me. I run regularly up and down the surrounding hills of Warminster. Last week I clocked up 15 miles on a single run, the target is 26 miles but that may take a few more months.
I certainly thank you for your service as an ally/friend to the USA. It is also interesting to know that the values and regiments that we learn in our younger years stay with us for life.
TG produces a wide-range of figures and vehicles from various eras, what is your favorite era and why do you like it?
I don’t have a favorite era. It just depends on what we are making at the time and how much it fires the imagination. There are times when some production pieces are so vivid in my head that I have trouble going to sleep at night. It is as if the tap to turn them off is not working. It's quite strange when that happens; it's been going on for years now. I have found you need to be in a positive frame of mind for figure design, a bit like trying to use a chain saw when you are angry. You never get the result you think you will! We also get lots of ideas emailed to us from collectors and dealers. We try to fit them in if we think they are a winner. We also get help from collectors who now carry out research for us; for that I am eternally grateful. We don’t always get it right but we are getting better at what we do.
I'm sure collectors will appreciate knowing that their input is valued and utilized by TG.
As I’m sure much works goes into the design phase of toy soldiers before production, where does TG draw its creative inspiration?
The internet is a great source of inspiration and of course traditional books are an even better source. Some series are more difficult to make simply because they do not fire the imagination straight away, these are more of a slow burn. Then one day I will see something that will fit into that series and it will reinvigorate it, and we will be off again. Sometimes its better to leave a series and then come back to it with fresh enthusiasm. Other series like WWII seem to have a life of its own and lead us from one set of figures to another. It was such a vast conflict that it's quite easy to come up with new ideas for it.
Many are aware of how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted so many industries and our own day-to-day lives. TGM seems to have done particularly well in maintaining a steady flow of monthly releases. How has COVID adversely impacted your business?
We have had a lot of government support so cash flow has been fine. We have been quite badly affected by shipping but sales have actually increased. February 2021 was one of our best months ever for some unknown reason. However, our biggest problem is shipping and even now it looks like the May 2021 release will be delayed due to the Suez Canal blockage. Ideally, I would like to have a distribution center in Hong Kong for the figures or in the Philippines for our aircraft; that is something that may happen in the near future.
Congratulations on your success during a challenging time. TG has truly been producing some unique and amazing pieces throughout the pandemic.
With other toy soldiers companies producing pieces from some of the same themes (like WWII and Vietnam in particular), has TG had to change any of its competitive strategies and if so, how?
Yes, we had to improve the quality but maintain a competitive price, harder than its sounds. Lockdown has actually helped us develop several money saving strategies we will maintain once we return to normality. We now try to avoid an area where we feel another manufacturer has a strong presence; however, if we feel we can add to that arena, we will take a chance and develop some figures for it. One example has been the Zulu War range; it's gone from strength to strength for us and we will continue so long as the demand is there.
It is good to know that quality and competitive pricing remain at the forefront of TG's business strategies.
There have been discussions online over producing “like-items”; what would you say to your competitors who may claim TG took an idea from them?
All manufacturers whatever they are making get ideas from the competition and from the outside world around them. I am sure others out there looked at what we are doing and have followed suit. We have also produced many original products in 1/30 scale not looked at by any manufacturer, like the recently produced Brummbar.
The new Brummbar looks great! It's also nice to see TG offer variants with different numbers and decal options, both winter and new tri-color camo scheme.
Let's talk a little about the people that collect toy soldiers. I’m sure many will agree that the toy soldier market is comprised of an older, more mature consumer base; would you agree and if so, where do see its future?
I agree its an older collectors hobby. It would be better if younger people were becoming more involved, not sure how we as a company can do that. I feel that’s more the role of the war game companies and then hopefully gamers will graduate onto finished products, as those customers have less spare time in later life due to work and family life.
Expenses and disposable income probably play a role as well.
You have some new WWII pieces in the pipeline, primarily from the European and Pacific campaigns; can you share a glimpse of what’s on the horizon later this year?
Yes, we have a Panzer III coming very soon, some great looking Vietnam War sets, and also a return to the Foreign Legion. I have included a picture of our new German Mortar Team on the move for you to share and also a new scene of our Boer War Highlanders. We have remade VW002/003 with new faces, equipment and rank patches added so collectors can now add to their current firing line.
Let's share those, shall we? Starting with the Panzer III and German Mortar Team:
Loving that Mortar Team! It's cool to see them combined on the Railway Crossing/Cobblestone Mat.
The Large Cart with Barrels (ANNOFF020) is still available, I might add. Some really impressive pieces!
Is there any particular piece that you are excited about?
Something to do with Ancient Egypt; it’s a theme I have been working on. All I can say is that it is very exotic and also very original.
Wow! I'm sure Egyptian fans can't wait to know more.
With the past release of four Korean-themed US soldiers and upcoming BAR and .30 Caliber Gunners in the pipeline, what are your thoughts on releasing more Korean soldiers and vehicles?
I have a B version of the Korean Patrol just about done. We have just finished some designs for more USMC and also some Aussies for the series. There are 2 vehicles in the pipeline planned for this year. There will be others next year.
Nice! Look forward to seeing those.
Many toy soldier fans seem to love the Roman era; is TGM planning and new Roman pieces?
Yep, we sure are. There are some Teutoburg Romans and Germans coming. We also have some civilians coming for the series. These are going to be something very unique and not done before in this vein.
Excellent, it's always great to see civilians as well.
Lastly, what message would you like to share with the numerous TGM fans reading Part One of this exclusive interview?
COVID has changed the world; hopefully there will be a return to the "good old days" soon. I got through it by keeping active with my fitness which I also find is a great mental stimulant. I also try to leave the phone at home whenever I am outside doing anything. Why spoil a nice walk with a phone call from someone you don’t want to speak to? It will always wait; try and make time for yourself in the day, it's all too easy for people to get embroiled in work and not have any down time with their hobby. Last but not least, stay away from junk food and politically correct types of people who have no sense of humor!
COVID has taken a toll on so many. For those of you having a difficult time coping, take some "time out" as Tom recommends. Not wasting time on the negative is also a great idea.
It certainly has been a pleasure learning more about TG and new pieces planned later in 2021. Thank you so much, Tom! Really appreciation you taking time to conduct Part One of this exclusive interview. I look forwarding to talking with you again in Part 2 of the interview.
Tom, I would like to start by talking a bit about TG Warbirds, a most impressive collection of finely-designed model aircraft.
For someone not familiar with TG Warbirds, are they polyresin or made of wood?
They are all hand carved Mahogany, we don’t use resin in our model aircraft at the moment. This avoids the need to pay for a mould and means we can do much smaller runs, as little as 2 aircraft, although it does mean the finished product is more expensive than its resin stablemate.
How would you say TG Warbirds differ from other manufacturer’s 1/30 scale aircraft?
I think we can offer a greater diversity as we are not committed to large production runs, we try to offer new aircraft every month even if some have been released previously in different markings or colour schemes. If you look at the paint on a wooden warbird, to me it seems to ‘sit’ more naturally in my opinion, as if the wood is naturally absorbing the paint as opposed to just being applied. To me they have a more authentic look to them.
In terms of quantity, how many of each design does TG typically produce?
For aircraft it can range from 2 to 15 pieces, most seem to sell quite quickly.
That leads me to TG’s limited quantity of all its pieces. I have heard some collectors criticize not being able to obtain certain figures due to limited quantity and stores selling out quickly. Others appreciate the rarity of pieces. Why such limited runs of each piece/figure?
It saves the need for large storage facilities and also the need to tie up large cash reserves for stock that may sit there for years, we don’t have pockets deep enough to facilitate this strategy. Not only that it makes those limited pieces more special for collectors and hopefully easier to sell on should they so wish. Of course we would love to do production runs of 500 pieces but I don’t see the demand being there for us.
Has TG ever considered offering a second run of the same piece that sells particularly well (not in terms of designing a variation “B-set”, but rather producing a few more hundred of the same piece)?
Yes we are reproducing the small jungle hut and making a new variant of it at the same time. I think this is the first time we have done this.
Did you hear that, TG fans? Now that's listening to feedback from the community. AWESOME! (and a personal thank you)
In Part 1 of the interview, you mentioned some upcoming items in 2021, particularly some “great looking Vietnam War sets”. As Vietnam seems to be a “hot seller” at present, care to elaborate or give us any hints as to what we might be seeing from TG?
Yes I have attached a picture of 4 of our new infantry squad we have for our Vietnam series coming back into base, I will leave it to the readers to figure out where we are going with this series! I have attached pictures of 4 of the figures, there are another 6 in production that I can release pictures of later on, after all no point in spoiling a good thing too soon is there? BTW the soldier with the M2 carbine, the barrel is being reworked so no need for collectors to worry there.
Let's take a look, shall we...
In discussing the new Korean series, you mentioned some designs for more USMC and Aussies. Are these specific to the Korean campaign or perhaps WWII Pacific?
I am hoping the USMC and some of the Aussies can fit in with Korean ‘summer’ period but as of now it’s a working progress. We do have a tank and a truck for this series lined up as we speak and hopefully we can work some British troops into the campaign as it develops.
I recall you mentioning a new Japanese Truck for the WWII Pacific series in one of your forum posts. Will we see the Japanese Truck in 2021 and/or does TG have any other WWII Pacific pieces in the works?
Yes I have attached pictures of it, this piece should make an appearance soon as its already entered the production process. There will be 2 versions initially, 1 with a driver and 1 without. At the same time there will hopefully be some all action Aussies also as well as some Allied armor to compliment the troops. There will be another 3 dead Japanese for this diorama as per our commitment for the victory in New Guinea announcement we made last year.
I'm sure Pacific fans will absolutely love the new Kurogane. Check it out...
In regard to the numerous TG collectors, you had mentioned how some provide you with their ideas for future releases. How can TG collectors best provide you their ideas and/or input?
Just drop us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, plenty do and some have been very useful. Actually some of the research we get from collectors is particularly beneficial as we don’t have the time or the resources to do it all ourselves now and do farm out projects for collectors to help us out with.
Lastly and on a more personal note, who/what encouraged you to establish TG?
I was based in Hong Kong with the army and came across the K&C shop at Pacific Place. I thought it was amazing. A few years later whilst living back in the UK and with China opening up, it seemed like a good idea to set up a company where I could make what I felt there was a demand for. It has not always worked as not everything sells out immediately and then other items are gone within 24 hours. It's quite a feat sometimes figuring out what collectors will buy and what they will not. It's been a great experience and privilege doing this for a living and I have made friends with collectors all over the world. I go to work happy and usually come back in the same frame of mind; there could be worse jobs!
That's a great story and thank you for sharing Tom. I commend you on recognizing other companies that you admire.
Let's expand on the exciting news of TG's newest theme:
What inspired you to delve into French Indochina?
It's something we have been ‘toying’ with for a while now and of course the Far East and Dien Bien Phu (DBP) always conjures romantic images of a time long now since gone. I know it was not really like that, but the stand of Legion at DBP is the stuff of legend. Whenever I think of DBP I always remember ‘Gunther’ a German soldier I met only once.
Whilst serving in Germany with the British army I was in a local bar which had double fronted glass doors, I used to frequent this place quite often, one summer evening we had a visitor in the form of an elderly gent in leather jacket riding his motorbike thru the open doors and parking it in the middle of the bar! I got talking to him and after a couple of beers I was brave enough to ask him what the long scar was round his throat. He gave me a knowing look and then relayed an incredible story to me in his best English/French/German. Without batting an eye lid he informed me he had once been in the Leibstandarte, yes Adolf Hitler’s bodyguard, now you don’t meet many of those on a Saturday night whilst down the pub! During the 1944 Normandy liberation he and a couple of others had become separated from their unit and after days of exhaustion with no sleep and thinking it was relatively safe, had gone to sleep under a tree, him with his back to it. An Allied unit had come upon them and slit his throat whilst he was asleep and killed his 2 friends in the same manner. I don’t know if its because he was propped up by the tree but by some miracle he did not die but was shortly found by members of his unit during a German counterattack who stitched him up and sent him to a field dressing point. This was overrun by the Americans some time later before he could be evacuated to a hospital, he was then handed over to the French as a POW. Once the war ended he and his other SS comrades were informed they could either spend the next 2 years in a French prison ship in Bay of Biscay or they could ‘volunteer’ for the French Foreign Legion!
Not being much of a sailor he opted for the Legion, first posting – Indochina! Our story teller actually loved the Legion so much he stayed after his 5 years were up and in 1953 ended up at a place called Dien Bien Phu. He told me he could still hear the ground shaking to this day with the Vietnamese artillery shells that just kept pouring into their camp. Eventually his luck ran out and he was hit in the leg by shrapnel which to this day had left him with a limp and one of his testicles missing! He showed me the scar from the shrapnel wound on his leg, I did not ask to see proof of the missing testicle, I took his word for that! I mentioned that the wound had probably not done much for his love life, he told me that when he arrived back in Germany he was determined to prove a point and had managed to father 11 children with 4 different women! I never forgot this guy’s story and now I have the chance to recreate that last stand of the Legion, it seemed like too good an opportunity to miss. Especially as none of the main players have done Indochina in any depth, Vietnam of course has been done by several manufacturers, IC has not.
The FFL in Indochina is coming to a dealer near you soon. We will also be revisiting traditional FFL from the 1870’s to early 1900, the painted masters are on their way from Russia and we will be giving the whole range an upgrade like we did with the Zulu war series.
The first 4 figures have some really nice detailing. You mentioned 6 in the works. Will these be the same “patrol type” variety?
No, they will not, but all of first 11 figures will fit together in one diorama or on their own, and definitely tell a story. I have included pictures of Bruno Bigeard and 2 of his fellow officers as they would have appeared after dropping into DBP in 1953. I know its not a 100% accurate rendition of the photo but its our interpretation and at some point Bigeard would have had both his boots on! As far as I am concerned its close enough for people to see it for what it is. The sandbag set is also available soon, it was actually designed for our Vietnam war Aussie gunner but I think Bigeard and his officers look pretty cool in it. Also included are pictures of ‘Indo 001’ an FFL NCO who is overseeing the patrol as they march back into camp with prisoner (no pictures of prisoner but similar to the K&C ones just released). The new K&C pieces look to be a very nice set and could be used with our patrol as well. Following on from the FFL at DBP we have some French Marine Commando’s coming, these will be all action figures carrying out a raid on a Viet Minh camp. These figures were inspired by an American comic book of GI’s in Vietnam, I will reveal more once we can show the sculpts to everyone.
In regard to the community, some collectors appreciate the fun they bring. Others are highly passionate about historic accuracy and are critical at times, what would you like to see less?
I would like to see less abuse being launched at manufacturers on the forums and elsewhere. We have been subjected to it and so have others.Its hard enough making a living doing this as it is and I can assure collectors that whatever is presented from every manufacturer, is the result of an enormous amount of time, effort and money before the collector gets to see it. We don’t make products with mistakes on purpose, some people seem to extol in pointing out the mistakes of others. Others are more sanguine and adopt the attitude, if you don’t like it don’t buy it.
I had one collector phoning me (I was not in fortunately), he left a message telling me I was “misleading collectors by stating in my newsletter the Ta-183 Huckebein had seen action in 1946 and therefore how could Pips Priller have ever flown it! Everyone knows the war ended in 1945, how could I not know that as a manufacturer of military figurines?!” Somehow I must have missed that when I was learning history at school, I mean really why did he feel the need to make the call?! I did not return the call, he did however and warned Helen in the office that we should “desist from misleading the public or he would take further action!” To be honest some people seem to have nothing else better to do than find fault or offence where previously there was none. I won’t waste my time with negative people, you need to be in a good frame of mind to design a good figure and also a bad one come to think of it, hopefully we get it right more times than we do wrong. Of course its helpful to know if and when we make a mistake so we don’t repeat it on a future release, for that I am eternally grateful to this form of constructive criticism. As for the others with an ulterior motive, we see you for what you are and we know why you do it.
What do you appreciate most about the community?
The enthusiasm, the positive vibe I get from people. I know we cannot please everyone all the time and we are only a small fish in the industry, but we try our best. Its nice to know that some people look forward to our figures each month, I know that because month in, month out they ask me when they are coming!
You mentioned your initial visit to K&C’s shop at Pacific Place. Are there other companies that you appreciate?
Yes I think John Jenkins designs do a very nice job with some inspired pieces and First Legion for their quality. Both bring something positive to the industry and I hope both continue along with K&C (who offer a great variety) for as long as its viable for them all to be in business. Let's not forget Britain’s, they make some great entry level pieces and I wish them all the best for the future.
A few companies have produced large pieces. Has TG ever considered designing a large piece (e.g. boat, submarine, or large-scale diorama) or are these cost prohibitive?
You mean something like a B-29 Superfortress?! Just kidding Rob, there are 2 factors to consider here: One is the size, resin only holds its strength and shape to a certain point before it breaks or starts to show flaws and then there is the cost of shipping. Its also expensive for our dealers to then forward the item to the customer. If we switch away from 1/30 scale and make items in a smaller scale then one day these type of pieces might be a more realistic option.
I look forward to talking with you again soon. Thank you and your team for all the wonderful pieces that TG continues to release!