In 2009, we left the joint use with The Tin Soldier and moved, by ourselves, upmarket to the beautiful Queen Victoria Building, a late 19th. Century building, completely restored to its original condition. This is the largest boutique shopping centre and covers a complete block in the retail centre of the Sydney central business district. Our fit-out was completely done by a top carpenter/joiner and has stood the test of time, as no modifications have ever been requested, by the building owner, in the 11 years we have been there.
Immediately we opened, Sven De Braekeleir joined me as Store Manager, subsequently a director and shareholder. We have continued, to this day, as a team. While I am in isolation with the Corona Virus, the shop has temporarily closed and Sven has taken the stock to his home and is operating the business online. He and Leigh are in the process of completely updating our website and enhancing our social media presence and, in fact, when the shop opens again, I am worried that I might not have a job.
From the day the doors opened on our new shop, sales increased markedly. We were receiving overseas and interstate collectors as well as numerous “walk-in” customers. This enabled us to expand other maker’s ranges in stock and at the same time, regretfully, drop others, including Britains due to their inability to deliver. First Legion burst on the scene with a large bang with us, but with their continuing price increases, coupled with the substantial drop in the value of the Australian dollar (from 95 cents to 60 cents to the U.S. dollar), the product price-value relationship ceased to exist – a great pity.
Collectors Showcase, who I first saw in Chicago, was doing very well for us, with quality and price, particularly Napoleonic and ACW. Their first Roman release was a huge hit ( we have a large number of the legal profession, who studied Rome and Roman law, as customers), but, sadly, the quality of their second release was poor, and most customers deserted the range.
I must mention the mercurial Richard Conte. I was at Chicago the day that he released his range in a basement showroom. It was exciting and we joined the other dealers in purchasing a wide part of his products. We continued to do well with sales until all that was left were images of numerous products which were never produced.
Then, again, in Chicago, Rick Wang presented his “shock and awe” releases of Figarti. Some of his products were gigantic. We sold a heap of his German rail gun and, to a lesser extent, his E-boat. We were doing very well with his product and had become his Oceania distributor, when the paint peeling appeared, which was the beginning of the end of another manufacturer with great potential.
We were very fortunate to open the new shop at the same time as King and Country released their first series of the Australian Light Horse charge. This has been the most enduring and best-selling range that we have ever had. WW2 continues to be a major seller and Andy Neilson has the knack of, just when you are questioning whether he has run out of ideas, coming up with a new best seller.
We have always looked forward to Andy’s annual visit, together with the dinner for Andy and our customers. The very first one was held in the officer’s mess at Victoria Barracks, the original early 19th century block of buildings that are, even today, an operating military barracks, and the birthplace of the Australian Lighthorse . The officers mess is full of tradition with original cedar tables, old paintings and artifacts. It smells of old leather and polish. A toast to the Queen and the formal passing round the table of port are part of the enjoyment. The only thing missing was a cigar for everyone, but this was made up for with Andy’s address and the lively Q and A that followed. We were able to have a few dinners at Victoria Barracks until security was tightened on all defence facilities and we had to look elsewhere. We had one dinner at Randwick Barracks, a more modern building and then and the following years in a special meeting room near the shop. Each one of these dinners has a special camaraderie and the number attending is continuingly increasing.
King and Country takes back from these dinners a considerable amount of customer feedback, as well as the dealer’s input and keeps Andy, in his worldwide travels, with a finger on the pulse. This reflects in his continuing ability to introduce new and exciting products.
We have invited other manufacturers to visit, so that we can also introduce them to our customers. John Jenkins was going to come one year but had to cancel because of a health scare. Others, mainly because of the long airline flight, have not responded.