Banter Toys

Garry Issacs

Let’s rewind to 1988 –  Garry Issacs owned a pop culture shop in the Bourke Street Mall called ‘Heaven’ selling collectible products sourced from Japan and LA. Central to the store’s fit out was a sixty-compartment candy bar full of American Candy (Nerds, Jawbreakers) and Trading Cards (NBA and 21 Jump St). 

Kids loved it and business was going well and Heaven expanded to a second store in Glenferrie Road Hawthorn. But it wasn’t too long before interest rates hit record highs of 17.50%, people stopped spending as much and retail was extremely  tough.  

The Hawthorn store was dying a slow death and as a last-ditch effort Garry installed a cabinet full of basketball trading cards. Within six months the revenue of the store had increased ten-fold. Michael Jordon was in full flight with the Chicago Bulls and trading cards were flying off the shelves.  The buzz around the collectable cards meant that other Trading Card shops started to sprout up in Melbourne and around Australia.

These precious and collectible trading cards needed somewhere to be protected, stored and showcased. Garry sourced a nine-pocket page suitable for storing cards from Ultrapro and secured the distribution for Australia alongside the sports cards he was also importing into Australia. From those humble beginnings of selling collectable trading cards, such was the success that wholesale business surpassed the retail business and Banter Toys was born. 

How did you come to find Martin & Martin as your accountants?

Andrew’s brother Tony, who was probably 14 at the time, had set up a Trading Card Shop in Heathmont.  Andrew’s father Ivan would come in on a Saturday morning to pick up Tony’s wholesale order of trading cards and pocket pages. I was behind in Sales Tax (the precursor to GST) and in need of an accountant, we got talking and Ivan said, ‘I can sort that out’. 

Not long after that Andrew joined and he had a way to relate to my situation and we hit it off. He’s a smart arse and he doesn’t hold back in telling me the truth. If he thinks you’re doing something wrong or maybe you’re not doing it properly he tells you. He doesn’t make you feel good if there’s no reason to make you feel good. We get along very well together. 

Looking back it was probably 1993 that we became his client. That’s 30 years ago! Now that we look at it like that, it’s a long association. In that time, we’ve grown from two little shops in Melbourne and Hawthorn to a $200+ million business. Who would have believed it!?

What do you remember about those early days of working with Martin & Martin?

I had a business partner years ago that is no longer with me who was very conservative – ‘you shouldn’t go overseas, you shouldn’t do this, you shouldn’t do that, don’t spend so much money’.  It wasn’t as if we were spending money willy nilly – we were sitting down the back of the plane and sleeping on the floor of the old jumbos.

Andrew had never ever said don’t go or you shouldn’t do things. He’s one for saying ‘you should go! You’re nuts if you don’t go, that’s how you build your business’. He doesn’t sit on the fence and is always positive when it comes to investing money to find ideas and other products. Many other accountants are more concerned about your bottom line and what might go wrong which can be very short-sighted. Our overseas suppliers and sourcing product are incredibly important to us.  Andrew understands business is about relationships and then doing what you say. 

Is it true that you had once said ‘If I go broke it’s your fault!’…?

Yes, that’s true – that’s a fact. I forgot that.

It was different time, we were taking bigger risks than we do today. We’re in a far better financial position than those early days, we don’t have to worry about the bank, and I don’t say statements like that anymore.  

You couldn’t get a better accountant. If you were in a business that is willing to have a crack. He’s the perfect accountant. He’s not negative. He thinks about what is important. We’ll have our monthly meeting to review the accounts and he’ll always tell me the things I need to invest in: more staff, better premises, you need to spend more money. It’s ridiculous, he’s always looking at the positive side of things and the potential. 

What have Martin & Martin helped you navigate through?

Whilst Andrew is our accountant, Daniel is our ‘by the book’ manager who looks after our affairs at Martin & Martin.  Daniel makes sure we are compliant with the ATO and ASIC and reports on our investments Kumbi looks after our Super – they’re all very friendly.

We have monthly management meetings so we can stay on top of what’s going on. 

Most recently, they’ve encouraged us to set up a Foundation for our giving. Our Foundation supports the Susie O’Neill’s Kids Foundation and Project Rockit amongst other initiatives. I grew up in an orphanage, I know what it’s like to live on the shit side of the fence, so we give back to kids focused initiatives that might give someone the help they need.   It is going to be something we do more of in the future.

What do you value about working with Martin & Martin?

We have evolved with each other. 

As I said, business is about relationships.  We have excellent relationships with our retailers and suppliers. Two reasons for that; we’ve got great products and we’re an honest company. We don’t play games. If we unload a container from our supplier and there’s more than we paid for, we’ll let them know.

It’s Karma, if you do the right thing by people they’ll do the right thing by you. It’s our business philosophy really. Keep your word and do what’s right.

I would hate to be doing business with a typical accountant because that would be boring! Andrew’s not boring, you can ring him up and talk about anything – it doesn’t have to be business – kids, personal and business conversations. Nothing fazes him. He makes sure he knows what is important to us.  He’s got this wonderful way of keeping you up. He’s more a business advisor than a typical accountant. He’s been very good for me and my family. A solid citizen and a good person.