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Presently, I was greeted by Brian Thomas, the man who is Military Miniatures of Texas - yes, it's a one-man show. He'd been delayed, he explained, by a customer calling with an order (a hazard of the business!).
With Brian was his newly adopted baby girl. Brian told me that one of the advantages of running Military Miniatures was that, since he worked out of the home, he could stay home with the baby while his wife Cheri went to work. (Having a baby in the home had also meant other changes - for instance, baby's room had formerly been a business room, forcing Brian to relocate more material to his garage.)
Getting into the Business
I asked Brian how he had become the proprietor of his own miniatures company, and he told me the story. He'd moved from Michigan to Houston in 1980, and back in those days he'd been a collector of 25mm figures - but not a wargamer. There were two stores in Houston which carried figures. One was pretty good, but the other one went out of business. So Brian decided to start his own business, ordering miniatures for himself and a few local friends.
The miniatures business was a part-time thing at first (Brian had another, full-time job). Chiefly, he sold figures to members of a local historical gaming club, about ten gamers. He made $100 here and there, taking special orders, and bringing boxes to the meetings to see who wanted to buy what he had in stock.
"To make a living at this is very difficult," Brian told me. "You really have to watch your overhead."
Eventually, Brian realized that if he wanted to make his miniatures business more stable, he needed to have a specialty. "I had to find a lock on something unique, or else I'd be like everyone else."
His chance came about three years ago, when he started to talk to the folks at Museum Miniatures in the UK. They ignored his letters at first, but Brian was persistent about pitching himself as the perfect U.S. distributor for that company. Museum wanted him to guarantee a minimum order, and wanted a non-exclusive relationship, but Brian kept negotiating. At last, they had a deal.
Brian is bullish about Museum Miniatures and their chief sculptor, David Hoyle. "He's as good as anybody in the business - maybe better," he said. "I think he's about the best in the business." Dave formerly sculpted the 25mm QT Models product line, and I was told that he has made steady progress in style and sculpting skill since joining Museum, and particularly since the shift from traditional 15mm figures to the "large" 15mm scale (closer to 18mm) has given more opportunity to show detail in the figures.
Museum Miniatures in the UK is also essentially a garage or cottage business, handling their own research, sculpting, and manufacturing. Brian is able to influence their planning - sometimes. For instance, one of the recent lines was made at Brian's suggestion that it was a niche which no other company was filling. At other times, though, Dave will agree to do one thing, only to end up doing something completely different because it "hits his fancy."
Today, Military Miniatures is built around his relationship with Museum Miniatures, though Brian continues to sell other products (rules, wargames accessories, magnetic basing, some Essex, Old Glory, and Dixon, and the occasional painted army). The company is Brian's full-time occupation. He sells by mail order and at the major conventions - particularly Historicon.
Over the years, Brian's greatest business hassles have been due to customs. He's had the duty changed seemingly on a whim of the inspector, and has found that the customs officials have great discretion over how they enforce the rules - making it difficult to predict expenses. In the end, he decided to use a customs broker to handle importing. "It saves time and headaches," he said.