INTERVIEW – JONATHAN CATHEY OF THE LOYAL SUBJECTS

Written by | Featured, Interview

The past weekend has seen the MCM London Comic Con open its doors for over 3 days to welcome hordes of fans from all across the Pop Culture Spectrum. We were invited down to the event by Bandai UK so that we could check out the products they had on display and to also meet up with the Co-Founder of The Loyal Subjects, Jonathan Cathey (referred to as JC by the TLS community) to learn more about his action vinyl brand. The Loyal Subjects is celebrating their 10th Anniversary in the industry and Bandai UK is the official distributor of their products. We were all excited to learn more about them and the secrets to their longevity.

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We linked up with Jonathan and this is what he had to say:

The Loyal Subjects 10th Anniversary

We started off by taking a look back over the last 10 years and ways in which TLS has achieved such a feat. Jonathan remarked that they are “still a one day at a time business and it’s crazy to think that it’s been 10 years – It’s all about relationships, community and commonality”. We then went a little deeper into the human component and connections that make TLS what it is today with JC remarking that “Everyone knows each other as there’s a satisfying human element and support network.”

On the topic of community, of which The Loyal Subjects has many various social groups who are not only passionate about the brand and its products but also about the members who share that common interest, Jonathan stated that “Customer bases are like sports teams with their sense of community and support of one another”.  When asked about the strength of the products over the last decade and how this has impacted their growth, we were told that TLS “Make fun, affordable products accessible for everyone and we pin it all on the value of play within us all. It doesn’t matter whether you’re 40 or 14, play keeps the synapses going”. It was clear that Jonathan is incredibly proud of his team’s growth and to be able to celebrate this milestone, but he hasn’t let it change their attitude to continually move forward with new ideas and the level of energy they bring to their brand.

How the industry has changed around them over the last decade

Our toy industry is an ever-changing beast with events both under the surface and out in the open shaping the landscape. Many of these changes have been beneficial for TLS but have also presented new challenges. “The collapse of Toys “R” Us is a great marker for the change in the community as change is something they didn’t do. They carried the same energy and ultimately did not adapt and evolve. This shook up the industry as suddenly the limited shelf space that we take up is now a far more competitive area with more products competing”. JC let us know that he felt Hot Topic really paved the way for them and helped establish “Nostalgia Collecting” which suits the licenses that they have perfectly. He also reflected that “The physical size of the collectibles has had to adapt to the change in the industry as suddenly there just isn’t room for massive boxes on the shelves. We’ve differentiated ourselves with articulation and accessories which allows for recreation of scenes from our childhood like when we had Lion-o facing off against the Turtles because they’re all the same scale so that makes perfect sense, right?”

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On the importance of The Loyal Subjects team

“It’s a village here at TLS and you just can’t do this by yourself. You don’t see just a drummer up there on the stage saying “Hey, check out my band”. I consider myself the main butler, moving around, asking what things I can help out with and making sure that everyone feels supported and able to achieve their best potential.”

Looking to the future of TLS and the wider Toy Industry

Jonathan has a clear handle on TLS’ view of the future: “You have to grow and do things that are innovative and challenging. Our partnership with Bandai UK is a big marker for growth allowing us to achieve more of our objective and is really a flag that says “Boom, here it is” – If you have the experience and you enjoy it, it’s important to bring it to more people.”

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“Retailers really need to try harder to adapt or wind up like Toys “R” Us. It’s all about experiences and for us, nostalgia. These places should make you feel safe and warm. Where in the past, the idea that kids dragged parents around Disney, that’s now been reversed with the parents dragging the kids around and this needs to be reflected in retail environments – It really is all about the experience.”

On the range of licenses within The Loyal Subjects Portfolio and their communities

We asked Jonathan about his portfolio of nostalgic licenses and the thought process behind the product development for these lines: “We have a unique footprint but are really just the custodians of the original ideas. We get too much credit for that as it’s all down to the original creators. It’s important for us to keep those ideas intact and to be respectful to their own communities but to also put our own spin on them as we are about selling an experience.”

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“Hot Wheels has been a real trip as my grandfather had them and they have a great history. It has been a really unique design experience for us to put our own spin on the line but we’ve been very aware that they still need to appeal to the fanbase. You have to be respectful to the brand and be faithful to its fans. We put a lot of work into the character build and design process.”

Back to the wider industry and changes on the horizon

“There’s all sorts of room for disruption and new ideas within the industry and TLS is a real part of that. We’re essentially recreating the toy-box and the memories of taking our toys to the back yard and bashing them up. Again, it’s all about experience.”

Jonathan used the analogy of the Gaming Industry as a good example of an area that’s always evolving: “The gaming industry is crazy and constantly changing with so many new collectibles. It’s hard to stay ahead of the curve before the next thing comes along and it can be hard to please the audience. Consumer standards are high and we need to be worthy of their decision to put down a dollar for our products and that’s a big part of our Action Vinyl set-up.”

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Toy Photography and the creativity of The Loyal Subjects community

“For the first 8 years I took all of the product photos! It doesn’t surprise me that the community takes their passion further by bringing our products to life. We give people the opportunity to create and we really view our audience as a talented body. Collecting goes back to the beginnings of civilisation and there’s still that same magic and energy in toys today. We’re excited to share more new lines with our community and we have more anime on the way including My Hero Academia. We’re also still workshopping ideas that I can’t talk about right now but we’re excited!” Jonathan went on to mention accessory packs and housing for them which are coming in the future. “We’re building more keys to the time machine with more story elements and a continued evolution of our Action Vinyl style.”

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Jonathan (C) hanging out with TLS collectors Leo Bidwell (L) & Chris Power (R)

It was clear from our talk with fans of The Loyal Subjects around MCM London that they truly appreciate the connection with the community that Jonathan champions and this is a big part of their success and popularity. Our talk with the platform’s Co-Founder was enlightening and allowed us an insight into the emphasis on experience and the underpinning of the value of play that factors into everything The Loyal Subjects does.

We say a big thank you to Jonathan for taking the time out of his schedule to speak with us and to Ben Austin of Bandai UK for the invite down to the show-floor.

You can learn more about The Loyal Subjects 10th Anniversary via Jonathan’s own blog post and of course, stay tuned to Exclu for more from across the toy community.

Stay tuned to Exclu for all the latest from across the Toy Community.

 

 

 

Last modified: June 1, 2019

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