Pursuing His Hobby
Former teacher turns hobby into a lucrative business in farm toys
Henry County, Ky.’s Burnett has opened a Campbellsburg facility
CAMPBELLSBURG, Ky. (August 2020) – One of Christopher Burnett’s earliest childhood memories of Christmas was getting toy tractors and farm equipment as a gift. Although he didn’t become a collector, he would later turn that fascination into a profitable business.
“I loved playing with them,” said Burnett, 47. His passion was fueled even more by an event that happened when he was in the fifth grade. “My dad fell and broke his hip on the ice while going to work early one February morning. Doctors did not have the technology to repair his hip as they do today, so he was in the hospital for a long time.”
Before the fall, his father farmed in Henry County, Ky., as well as worked as a warehouse clerk for Belknap Hardware in Louisville. They raised cattle and tobacco on their farm but “let the farm go when dad fell, so then I became a toy farmer.”
During this time Burnett spent a lot of time with a family friend and his family after school while his mother went to Louisville to check on his father. The family friend was the parts manager at the International tractor dealership in Campbellsburg, and “we customized toy tractors to pass the time. This is when I got into the hobby side of farm toy collecting.”
Christopher Burnett travels around the country to attend farm toy conventions and shows.
At the time, said Burnett, there were not as many options for farm toys as there are today. That led him into the custom building aspect of the hobby. “We would custom build items to go with our farm tractors such as implements or turning them into pulling tractors.”
So pulling tractors, pickup trucks and gooseneck trailers are the items Burnett began custom building, and “these are still my favorite items to custom build. I actually paid off my college loans and put a down payment on our house selling toy tractors.”
Custom building farm toys eventually turned into a second business, which has now turned into a full-time business for Burnett. Most of the farm toys he sells are manufactured by other companies such as Tomy/Ertl, Spec Cast, Scale Models, Greenlight and First Gear/Diecast Promotions. “I still build custom items for customers as well to sell out to the public.”
But with running a full-time business, he doesn’t have as much time to custom build as he once did. “Custom building is still my favorite part of the farm toy hobby/business.”
Burnett Farm Toys LLC has moved from Burnett’s home into a newly constructed building on Commerce Parkway at the entrance to the Henry County Industrial Park in Campbellsburg for its day-to-day operations. Burnett expects to open the showroom in late August. He will now have ample space for a workshop, warehouse and retail showroom.
Since it would be impossible for Burnett to make the amount of toys and implements he sells, Burnett now works with manufacturers who mass produce items “for us to our specifications.
Farm toy collector Christopher Burnett of Henry County, Ky., is pictured at a recent show.
This gives us the option of having a mass produced custom built item. The difference is going from building a few of one item to building several hundred or several thousand of the same item, but it does put the item at a lower retail price.”
When building farm toys was still a hobby for him, Burnett did not have plans to open a business.”I enjoyed building farm toys, so I began selling some to have room and funds to build more. While in college, my parts manufacturer liked the farm toys that I built as I used his parts. Soon he was furnishing me parts, and I would build tractors for him to sell.”
The finished tractors were shown to customers, which in turn “sold more parts for him,” said Burnett. This partnership gave him the opportunity to attend more shows and work with more customers and dealers.
After college, Burnett taught in the special education department at Bedford Elementary School for 11 years. Working with students with disabilities became very stressful for him, coupled with the growing demands of the farm toy business that he could barely keep up with.
“The decision was made with strong support from my wife and a lot of prayer to the good Lord to resign from my teaching position and run the toy business full time. We soon attended more trade shows, and started a website to retail items across the country.”
His father-in-law told Burnett that the more he got into the business full time, the more business opportunities would come along. “Soon we began having items manufactured for us. We would wholesale and retail the manufactured items which lead us to work with more dealers across the country.”
After discussing the future of the business with his wife, Alissa, they decided that customers all over the country knew what they sold, but not so much locally. They decided the business had outgrown their house, and “we wanted someplace for people to come to see our products in person.”
They also knew that one day they would want to slow down their business traveling, since they currently attend between 25-30 trade shows annually. Burnett attended his first toy show in 1986 at age 12. The couple also had a healthy mail order side to the business and the addition of a website expanded the business with national exposure.
“When the opportunity came about for my husband and me to purchase the lot in the Commerce Park area of Campbellsburg, I was extremely excited,” said Alissa, who also works as a legal assistant for Robert H. Foree Law Office in New Castle. The location is close to where Burnett grew up and not far from her family in Eminence, where she grew up on a beef cattle and tobacco farm.
Burnett’s brother Patrick, who is an EMT, helps them at shows and will assist at the store. His parents, Connie and Bobby, live nearby and will lend a helping hand as needed.
Even though “COVID has created a slight feeling of nervousness with opening a new business, at the same time, the store front will give us the option for people to come see us rather than just us going to see them, especially since trade shows have been cancelled. We are very optimistic with the show room especially as the holiday season approaches.”
As to the future of the business, Alissa said, “We plan to continue providing service to our customers for the next 20-plus years. There is always going to be a need for farming and truck driving, so what better way to continue those traditions than providing a place for people to come to collect toy replicas of such industries.”
n For more information, visit www.burnettfarmtoys.com, find them on Facebook or call the store at (502) 532-3002.
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