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Digger talks to John at Tortoys









Digger: Hello John, itís David at

John: Hi David. Thank you for ringing.

Digger: Thatís alright. Iím assuming the Christmas rush has started for you?

John: Yes, weíre busy, busy, busy.

Digger: Iíll crack on with the questions then. What's you background and how did Tortoys come about?

John:  My background Ė Iím 53Ö

Digger: The same as me.

John: ... I have trouble remembering my own age...

Digger: The same as me!

John: ... I say that so you get an idea of where Iím coming from in my interest for old toys. When I was a little kid I used to play a lot with Matchbox toys and used to collect them avidly. I had a huge collection which I got rid of unfortunately.

Digger: Itís a common tale isnít it? Itís a shame they all got lost.

John: Particularly the boxes that collectors value very much. But my background more recently is in sales. I was actually sales and marketing manager for a computer company for 25 years or so. I was with a number of companies Ė one called Channel Business Systems, who got taken over and who were a small software house that used to supply EPOS and Retail Stock Control Systems and thereís a bit of a relevance to what I do now. We also latterly supplied things like web-based sales programmes so I have a background in stock management and small business accounting and web design.

Digger: Oh! Thatís all very handy.

John: Yes, it works rather nicely.

Digger: I have a theory that sometimes all of these things end up coming together and give you a platform to do something new and suddenly it all makes sense.

John: So, I hated the job, liked the money (Digger laughs) and used it to learn a lot about what I wanted to do in the future. And I always had an ambition to have my own business on some level. And since 2006 I threw that career away because I hated it and had paid my mortgage off and Iím now, believe it or not, a Youth Justice Worker with the Youth Offending Team in Somerset. Which is completely different, but along with the interest in old toys and computers and things, Iíve also done quite a lot of work over the years with young people. Iíve been with the Scout Movement for fifteen years Ė Iím a Group Scout Leader, so thatís another angle Iím coming from. Most of my workís with young people nowadays and Iím a director of the YMCA in Bridgwater as well.

Digger: Iím just wondering when you get any spare time to breathe?

John: I donít.

Digger: And Tortoys is getting bigger and bigger, is it?

John: Yes, it doubled its turnover last year, from microscopic to twice microscopic Ė if I gave up my day job and gave up all my time to that it would be a lot bigger very suddenly. Iím only limited by the number of hours in the day. Having the time to take photographs of the stock to be brutally honest.






Digger: Obviously once youíve got the photographs up on the site then people want them?

John: Thatís right, yes, and Iíve got a lot of stuff waiting to be photographed and thatís my glass ceiling at the moment. Hours in the day to do things and, of course, Iím rubbish at delegating so I canít get anybody else to do it. But there you are.

Digger: Thatís my struggle too. I could do twice as well but thereís only me and thereís only so many hours in the day. Nobody else is going to do it.

John: Fate might take a hand in the new financial year and I might be a victim of the local authority cuts so Iíll suddenly find myself doing this full-time.

Digger: In a way I hope that happens (John laughs) because Iíve spoken to so many people who have left a job they donít really like and gone into what they love full-time and itís really worked for them. Theyíve made that jump for one reason or another and itís always worked.

John: My cunning plan is that if I can do a phased retirement, as long as I can see the screen and type on the keyboard, I can carry on running this business until I drop.

Digger: I hope you can. Do you wear glasses now?

John: Oh yes, Iím leaning closer and closer in order to read things. When looking at CDs I go by the colour of the spine now, reading them is right out! (Digger laughs)

Digger: I call myself the Pinball Wizard. I can tell what things are by touch and smell rather than seeing them these days.

John: My arms arenít long enough to read generally if I havenít got my glasses. I can see things in the distance.

Digger: On the bright side, 150 years ago weíd be dead John.

John: Thatís true.

Digger: So do children today appreciate die cast toys or as these mainly for the older children among us?

John: I think they donít appreciate them. Children these days donít buy that sort of thing. They donít buy toys really - toys tend to be sold to parents who buy them for young children. Once you get to seven or eight you start spending your money on fashion and music and entertainment. Thatís where the young peopleís spend goes and thatís why toy shops all over the land are closing. Toy shop branches and all the rest of it disappearing overnight.

Digger: I can remember the thrill of going to the local toy shop Ė my favourites were a fort, a garage and a farm with all the animals and buildings. I loved those toys and played with them all the time.

John: You do occasionally get young people who are interested but itís because their parents are interested and involve them with it. Theyíre looking at it almost from an academic point of view, a collectorís point of view rather than for playing with them.

Digger: Like the sorts of precocious kids you might see on the Junior Antiques Roadshow?

John: Thatís right yes. So I had a hunch that these things might be valuable in years to come and I did keep a few when I was a bit older, the ones that I had.

Digger: So how are you sourcing these items? You said you have more than you can photograph so where are they coming from?

John: Iím in the lucky position that people contact me. Yes, they see the website and they say ďIíve got one of those in the atticĒ and they dig them out. And itís usually because theyíd like them to go to a good home and theyíd like a bit of money. I hadnít anticipated this and I thought Iíd be out and about trying to buy items, but itís very interesting that frankly I donít need to and it all comes to me. Occasionally I buy something on eBay if itís particularly juicy. Itís because people of my sort of age just remember what theyíve got and itís usually at this time of year leading up to Christmas and they start buying for their own kids or grandchildren. They start thinking ďOh, toys arenít what they used to be. I remember when I hadÖ Oh, Iíve got that upstairs.Ē And thatís the sort of thought process.

Digger: Are these items turning up in a good condition?

John: It varies a lot. One of my points of difference, because there are one or two other people doing similar things on The Internet, is that I donít just sell the pristine condition items.

Digger: You obviously specify that theyíre not Ďmintí.

John: The pristine ones cost the earth Ė they fetch very large amounts of money and people do specialise in them. There are some very wealthy collectors around the world. I tend to, and my aim is, to help recapture peopleís childhood and get the toys back and I think if theyíre a little bit played with that adds to their charm. Thatís where Iím coming from and   think the pre-loved is my kind of strap line.

Digger: Itís like when you buy a new car or something and youíre actually relieved when it gets a bump or a scratch or twoÖ

John: Yes, and then you donít have to go through the pain of seeing it get damaged.

Digger: Yes, that awful feeling when you first scratch something that was new and you feel bad for a day or two.

John: Itís a good niche to be in because I can sell some quite bashed up toys at a very low cost to people who would like to recapture the memories of their youth.

Digger: You are the Reggie Perrin of vintage toys.

John: Yes, well I do sell some nice items as wellI have quite a good condition grading system and show photographs of the items from at least four angles. We donít get returns.

Digger: Thatís good. That would be uncomfortable if people had thought that something was described wrongly.

John: Yes. Our descriptions are always very accurate.

Digger: What are the best things about what you do?

John: The best things are the feedback really. Very often people do feedback via email and say they are delighted with it or the person they bought it for is absolutely delighted. They just mention that they used to have one of those and their spouse will go out and buy it at Christmas for them and theyíre generally delighted.

Digger: Weíre all big kids, arenít we?

John: Yes. I tend to package things really well too and respond to people quickly and lots of positive stuff. The bits I like are when it hits the right button with the person whoís buying it. And we get a lot of repeat business as well Ė 30 Ė 40% is repeat.

Digger: Thatís why. Because you are bothering to pack properly and communication is so important to the person at the other end.

John: A lot of stuff gets sold on eBay and thatís a really difficult territory Ė thereís a lot of goodies and some baddies out there and I think people are quite relieved because, thereís quite a rejection of that now. So to find a site like mine because people have had bad experiences with auction sites generally. They like to find ordinary honest people like me.

Digger: There are some left!

John: Thereís a few of us. Because I work with the Youth Offending Team I begin to think there arenít very many.

Digger: I can see that, but my experience is that people are generally very honourable on The Net and in life.

John: Yes.

Digger: As in life, you get people ranting on chat rooms and being obnoxious or even deceitful but most people are honest and friendly enough.

John: For my sort of target market, the sort of people who buy toys are not fraudsters.

Digger: No.

John: Money laundering is not an issue!

Digger: (Laughs) Some bloke from Nigeria who is offering you £2 million for a toy?

John: Well, I have had enquiries from Nigeria Ė ďCan we come over and see all your toys?Ē But I tactfully ignored them.

Digger: There is a retired guy who runs a website where he teases and scams the scammers by stringing them along. It is very funny. It was funny to see the scammerís responses getting more and more frustrated then annoyed as he kept asking questions and making pointless observations to them.

John: I have a book written by the same guy, a Scottish fellow and itís very funny. I do a lot of business overseas actually, and Iíve got a shipment over to New Delhi right now.

Digger: So who in New Delhi is buying British vintage die cast toys?

John: Well, itís a chap who used to play with them when he was a child.

Digger: An ex-pat?

John: No, itís an Indian name.






Digger: Maybe the Matchboxes and Corgis did end up going out to the old Empire in the old days?

John: Some did and it was British India then. And I do send a lot out to Australia, New Zealand, north America and Canada. They often are people whoíve emigrated.

Digger: Thank God for The Internet is all I can say.

John: Itís fantastic. As is the postal system, which isnít as bad as everybody seems to think it is. The vast majority I send using the postal service Ė I use couriers very rarely.

Digger: Why is retro and nostalgia so popular?

John: I think every generation thinks that things arenít as good as they used to be and it was better in the old days. You can go back over the centuries and every generation has thought that. Children behave worse than they used to and the winters were warmer and the summers not as rainy.

Digger: Yes, when people talk about how great the spirit of the nation was in the war I have to remind them that nevertheless we were getting the wotsits bombed out of us by the Germans and there was rationing, the black market and looting.

John: Yes, thereís a great deal that was really horrible indeed. People are just more in touch with their feelings then with the horrible nature of it all. We say modern life is rubbish but thatís mainly because we donít understand it and itís overtaken us because the buttons on the bloody telephone, or whatever it is, are so confusing. Iím turning into my father.

Digger: Good for you. Iím glad to hear it John.

John: Itís perfectly normal isnít it?

Digger: My girlfriend moans because I moan about stuff, but I explain that itís my way of getting it out of my system. Itís perfectly natural.

John: Yes, I think the love of the past is about getting in touch with the good old days that we think were good and old!

Digger: The future of the business, John, sounds as though a lot depends on what happens next year. But itís going to grow and that is just a question of how quickly I suppose?

John: Yes, it is. If I devoted all my time to it then it could expand about five or six times.

Digger: Go on. Do it!

John: I will ultimately, but at the moment itís pocket money on top of my salary and it tops it up rather nicely. It could grow rather quickly I think because the demand is certainly there.

Digger: And do you think the supply will always be there?

John: Thatís a question, isnít it? Because Iím very much aware that the generations will move on and the people who are currently buying these things will fade away in one way or another. And Iím not sure that the generation behind them will have the same level of interest. I am consciously moving my stock range, which used to stop at 1970, Iím now thinking of bringing in some stuff from the 1980s and perhaps bringing in some character merchandising like Thunderbirds and James Bond and all that sort of stuff. I think those are the things that people are going to collect in the next few decades.

Digger: And that the youngsters will be aware of as being valuable as well.

John: Things like Action Man Ė I donít know if you remember that but thatís a whole new ball game.

Digger: I used to buy a cheaper version of Action Man when I was little.

John: GI Joe, you probably had.

Digger: The moulding wasnít as good, he didnít have moving parts as good as Action Man Ė and even the uniforms were cheaper at 5 shillings as opposed to ten. We used to abuse those things Ė drop them out of windows and submerge them in water.






John: Yes. So, thereís a very big collectorsí market for those. And I started out my business with die cast toys and cars mainly and I felt that I was missing out on half the market because I was doing nothing for the ladies. So I started doing the Floral Garden range. Thatís been extremely popular and Iíve got a huge pile of that waiting to go out. Itís very labour intensive Ė assembling and photographing.

Digger: Are you going to do Sindy and Barbie as well?

John: Well, thereís two things I donít do. One is trains, because I never had much in the way of trains when I was a kid and the other thing is Sindy and Barbie Ė if I was to find a business partner or two with a special interest in those two thatís an area where I could grow.

Digger: Well, best of luck with the future and thanks for letting us know all about Tortoys, John.

John: It was a pleasure. Thanks David.



We buy and sell vintage, old and collector's toys and models made by Matchbox, Corgi, Dinky and others. We specialise in Lesney Matchbox diecast toys.

Whether you are a keen collector of old toys or just want to recapture some childhood memories, you've come to the right place!  We offer a constantly-changing selection of vintage diecast vehicles and constructional toys, mainly made before 1970.  If you have something to sell please let us know!

(0)7703 033947







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