I have been following the blogs on BMC Toys for most of this year, reading about the development of their toy soldier playsets. Some of the past World War II playsets are coming back this month. The boxes have been updated and so have a few other details too. BMC Toys made a lot of different toy soldier playsets, plus bagged sets of soldiers and other accessorizes for plastic toy soldiers.
The other day I was able to ask Jeff Imel of BMC Toys & VictoryBuy Inc. a few questions. I am glad he had some time to answer them. Thanks again Jeff.
Warhorse Miniatures: Hi Jeff, I just wanted to thank you for taking some time to answer some questions. I see that you are President of BMC Toys and VictoryBuy Inc., can you give us a brief history of yourself, VictoryBuy Inc and BMC Toys?
Jeff: Yes, I’m President (and Chief Bottle Washer) of VictoryBuy Inc., and BMC Toys® is now a brand that is part of my company. I started dabbling in online retail in the late 90’s on a variety of platforms and products. Early 2002 I went full time with the business (then Ferretbee Enterprises) and in 2015 incorporated the company as VictoryBuy Inc. BMC Toys was founded by Bill McMaster in 1991 and began producing original historically themed plastic soldier playsets shortly thereafter. He used his experience as a Toys-R-Us purchasing agent to start BMC Toys Inc. and brought the classic army men playset to a whole new generation. Bill operated BMC Toys until he unexpectedly passed away in 2014. I worked with Bill’s family and together we found all the people and parts needed to continue production of the BMC Toys product line. New production was made in the same factory that has been producing the line for over 20 years and will be in stock around September 8th.
Warhorse Miniatures: I see that the old World War II BMC playsets are coming back in late August, can you add anything about the process and changes to any of these sets?
Jeff Imel: My original intention when I began the process of continuing BMC Toys production was to just send an order to Bill’s manufacturing agent (Thomas Leung in Hong Kong), and get the products back in stock as quickly as possible. I soon found that some of the products had licensing agreements that were no longer in place without Bill around. The artist of the fine art used on several of BMC products was very helpful and we reached an agreement that allowed me to sell what was already on hand, but he had a new licensing agent that I couldn’t reach an agreement with for new production. The licensing issue, along with the fact that most of the package art was so old it was on film and not in a digital format, led me to redesign the packaging from the ground up. I decided to reduce the size of the large playset boxes to help cut down on freight costs which have increased tremendously since the sets were first introduced, and also upgraded those boxes to a sturdier and more reusable tray style that was often used for vintage playsets. Once that was decided, I figured since we’re redesigning the packaging, now would be the time to make any other changes or upgrades. We (myself and Thomas) reviewed of all the contents, colors and tooling (molds). Thomas suggested sticker sheets might be a good idea for the vehicles, and I already had this in mind since it worked out well on the Tim Mee reissues I offer. I wound up designing the sticker sheets and most of the package design work myself, which turned out to be a much bigger project than I anticipated, and delayed the new production by nearly a year. I decided to have the Bombed Farm House mold improved a bit, and had a new mold of a flag and rock formation made as upgrades to the D-Day Normandy and Iwo Jima boxed playsets. The flag and rock pieces are copies of pieces from the original BMC Alamo set, although the new flagpole is thicker since the original had a tendency to sag. I made minor color changes on some of the accessories, and also increased the piece count of the Appomattox bagged set.
Warhorse Miniatures: BMC made some interesting playsets, like “Battle of the Little Big Horn”, “Battle of Yorktown”, “Gettysburg”, “Alamo” and some others. Do you have any plans of re-releasing these?
Jeff Imel: The early BMC Toys molds (pre-1998) were owned by the factory in China that produced the sets. The owner of the factory passed away unexpectedly, and the molds were sold to another factory. The products were then sold under the Americana Souvenirs brand. Since I don’t have access to the original molds, there are no current plans to reissue the early sets.
Warhorse Miniatures: Are there any plans for any new playsets? What are your plans for BMC?
Jeff Imel: No new playsets are in development yet. I have some ideas, as well as some projects that I found in Bill’s files. So far, my focus has just been on relaunching the existing BMC Toys product line ‘American Heroes Collector Series’. There are a couple of smaller projects I’d like to develop soon. One is a set of Coast Guardsmen that would plug into the D-Day Higgins Boat. There is also a tank project that Bill developed that is ready for the mold phase. In the short term, I’m adding a new product line to BMC Toys, the ‘Classic Army Men Collector Series’. This line will feature recasts of vintage figures and accessories made in the US. The first product in this line is a recast of the Lido WW2 GI’s. The next product is a 1950’s mold from DK Toys and Novelty. It’s a set of WW2 Soldiers that are copies of the early Tim Mee figures. My plan for BMC is to relaunch the products, and maintain it as a retail toy line sold in hobby shops gift shops and eCommerce. I see the product line as a bridge between the inexpensive toys sold in the mass market and the more expensive hobby shop plastic figures.
Warhorse Miniatures: Thanks again Jeff, is there anything else you would like to add about VictoryBuy Inc., or BMC Toys?
Jeff Imel: When I work with venerable brands like Tim Mee and BMC Toys, I generally see my role as that of caretaker. This was driven home even more when I met Bill’s son James to complete the sale of BMC. As we shook hands he said “Take good care of my Dad’s company.”. I take that to heart, and it reminds me that these aren’t just pieces of plastic, but are encapsulations of people’s memories. They’re a small physical representation of the soldiers they’re based upon, the artists that designed and sculpted them, the business people that brought them to market, the mold makers, factory workers, and the now several generations of folks that play with, collect, and in turn share them along with the memories with the next batch of youngsters. A bag of plastic army men seems like such a simple thing, but it actually takes a lot of people and a lot of work to produce. I have too many people to thank for their help in relaunching BMC, so for today, I’d just like to thank and remember Bill McMaster and his family.
I was glad to learn more about Jeff and BMC & VictoryBuy. It should be interesting to see what they produce in the future. I will run out and grab a few playsets soon, they make great gifts for the young & old a like. So don’t miss out on these sets this time.
I like the “AMERICAN HERO COLLECTOR SERIES”, especially now when it seems that History is being erased. Here is a list that I grabbed from the BMC blog page, that you can go to through the link above.
Here’s a rundown on the changes to the BMC Toys product line in 2017:
- 40028 ACW Appomattox Figures 26pc: Piece count increased to 26.
- 40022 Alamo Figures 37pc: No changes.
- 40023 ARW Yorktown Figures 34pc: No changes.
- 49991 WW2 Amtrac Vehicle: Sticker sheet added.
- 99999 WW2 Atlantic Wall Fortifications 21pc: New item.
- 49996 WW2 Bombed Farm House: Walls changed to tan ABS plastic, reinforcing lines added to interior and roof pins are thicker.
- 40024 WW2 D-Day Figures 34pc: No changes.
- 40009 WW2 D-Day Normandy Playset: Smaller tray style box. Sticker sheets, 3 flags and rocks added. Barbed wire, sandbags, and improved Farm House.
- 40027 WW2 D-Day Utah Beach Playset 40pc: Sticker sheets added.
- 49997 WW2 German Bunker with Cannon: Sticker sheet added.
- 49999 WW2 German Tiger Tank (Gray): Sticker sheet added.
- 49998 WW2 Higgins Boat Landing Craft: Sticker sheet added.
- 40032 WW2 Iwo Jima Figures 32pc Olive and Tan: New item.
- 40026 WW2 Iwo Jima Figures 32pc Sage and Butternut: No changes.
- 40013 WW2 Iwo Jima Playset: Smaller tray style box, sticker sheets, 2 flags and rocks added.
- 49990 WW2 Sherman Tank: Sticker sheet added.
2 thoughts on “An Interview with Jeff Imel and the Return of BMC Toys”
Fascinating read on so many levels. Many a young boys dream job, or a big grown up kid!
The insight you provide to the whole world of designing, moulding, manufacturing, licensing, distribution and packaging is great. Hard to understand that figures that were designed and created by your company can be lost to the factory that you paid them to make.
Best of luck with the new products, you deserve it!
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