Posts Tagged: hobby franchise

Global Toy Experts: Richard Gottlieb Q&A with HobbyTown President, Bob Wilke

Posted by Richard Gottlieb

I found it highly noteworthy when I heard that HobbyTown was going to take advantage of the demise of Toys R Us by aggressively growing number their franchise stores. To find out more I conducted this interview with Bob Wilke, HobbyTown President.

HobbyTown Unlimited was founded in 1985 and opened the first franchise store in 1986. Today, there are stores nationwide in 41 states. The HobbyTown franchise consistently ranks annually in the Entrepreneur Franchise 500 recognizing exceptional performance in areas such as unit growth, financial strength, stability and brand power. Bob Wilke was appointed President of HobbyTown in August 2009 after serving as Senior VP since 2000. Bob currently serves as the President of the Hobby Manufacturers Association and is actively involved in the Lincoln community. 

Richard:    You have been retailing toys since the 90’s and in that time you were in the shadow of Toys R Us. What do you make of this new Post- Toys R Us world?

Bob:    We were literally in the shadow of Toys R Us in many of our store locations that were anchored by the big box stores and we will miss the “drafting” of customers that sought out higher end or hobby grade toys. Water will find its level and the sales volume will eventually move elsewhere to other mass retailers, online and specialty toy retailers like HobbyTown, but the nostalgic “Toys R Us Kids” shopping experience will certainly be missed. One challenge for the toy industry will be to redefine product innovation and consumer discovery without the Toys R Us footprint.

Richard: Can you tell us about your franchise system?

Bob:     HobbyTown began franchising in 1985 and currently has locations in 41 states, the largest footprint of any chain in the hobby industry. Our retail store concept has evolved from the traditional hobby store offerings such as model trains, plastics, and radio control to an expanded merchandise mix with a growing emphasis on toys and activities. HobbyTown provides franchisees with support in all aspects of business operations including marketing, merchandising, inventory management (we have a proprietary POS system), financial preparation and product distribution. Our website is now integrated with each franchise location providing inventory visibility to consumers for an omni-channel shopping experience that meets modern shopping expectations.

Richard:     What are your plans moving forward in light of the end of Toys R Us.

Bob:     We have expanded our strategic merchandising team to focus on growth and development of the toy category in our stores. We are establishing new vendor relationships for our franchisees to make direct buys and also adding to our mix of inventory for distribution. Our distribution offers franchisees with added value as they can more efficiently replenish inventory without meeting traditional vendor MOQs and can experiment with new toy lines and SKUs with minimal investment. We have reformatted our new store design to allow for more activity space and shelf space dedicated to the toy category. As we move forward, we will more aggressively pursue opportunities with toy vendors for product distribution and participation in our cooperative advertising and marketing efforts.

Richard:     What percentage of your stores are devoted to toys?

Bob:    Each franchise store has a unique footprint and some variance in inventory to cater to the local market and the expertise of the franchise owner. The typical HobbyTown store has about 20% of the inventory and footprint devoted to toys, with many stores dedicating up to 40-50% to the category.

Richard:     What do you see as the natural nexus between hobby and play?

Bob:    We have always considered the HobbyTown merchandise mix as a “screen alternative” that engages your mind and hands. Our demographic reaches all ages and begins with juvenile toys such as wooden trains that can inspire a lifelong passion for the model railroading hobby. We recognize that our products must be age appropriate to provide an experience that exceeds expectations for the customer and if that spark is ignited, child’s play can continue a progression through adulthood from toys to hobbies.

If anyone wants to know more about the HobbyTown Franchise opportunities, click the LEARN MORE button today.

When a Hobby Grows Into a Business

CEDAR RAPIDS — Niels Christensen said he’s been racing hobby-grade remote-controlled vehicles in events around the state since 1990, oftentimes taking his family along. “It turned into a family outing,” said Musetta Christensen, Niels’s wife.

Now, that weekend family outing has turned into a business. The couple decided to buy into HobbyTown, a national hobby franchise with headquarters in Lincoln, Neb., after the Cedar Rapids hobby store Box-Kar Hobbies closed its doors. “It was kind of one of those things I’ve always wanted to do,” Niels said. HobbyTown is located in 2,800-square-foot space that previously housed Box-Kar. The majority of its items includes vehicles such as cars and planes, but the store also sells drones, quadcopters, board games and puzzles.

The store also tailors to model enthusiasts. “The modeling, I didn’t think would be popular — but there’s a big market for that,” Musetta said. “It seems like big-name stores have dropped those products, so this is a niche for us.” However, the majority of its customers are racers such her husband, she said. In fact, Niels the couple recently received permission from the landlord to host remote-controlled racing in the shopping center’s parking lot this coming summer.

The benefit of buying into a franchise, rather than opening their own small business, is the help received from the national company, Niels noted. When the couple had a funeral to attend on a Saturday, for example, an employee from an out-of-town HobbyTown was able to keep the store open for them. “We could have started our own business, but we would have had to learn by fire, which would not have been good,” Niels said. Through their store and their experience, the Christensens said they hope to bring more popularity to hobby-grade interest and racing in Cedar Rapids.

Are you looking to turn your hobby into a business? Click the LEARN MORE button today to be like Niels!

Sales Professional Leaves Behind the Corporate Grind to Become HobbyTown Franchise Owner

Steve Noel had had enough. After being laid off twice when the economy slowed, he was ready for his next opportunity and found it in franchising with HobbyTown. Said Steve, “I figured if I was going to lose my job, it’s going to be because I did something wrong.”

Having strong support from the HobbyTown team was important to him, too. “Three people from the Corporate Team came to help get my store open. Everything is thought out. The merchandise is pre-priced and pre-labeled, there’s a blueprint of how to lay out the store… the operations people were awesome,” said Steve.

Eleven years later, his Orland Park, Illinois location is going strong. He works in the store almost every day, but says it’s because he wants to, not that he has to. His wife Kim works with him, placing orders, doing inventory, and the bookkeeping.  His sales team is as passionate about customer relations as Steve is, and they help him keep his store exciting and new.

“To attract people to your store you need to change things up, make it interesting. Give them new products to get excited about. HobbyTown’s proprietary products really help cement our growth and we put a lot of focus on them in our store. Now people come in specifically looking for the HobbyTown branded products,” said Steve.

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Hobbies run in the family for Franchise Owner Scott Dayton

Scott Dayton became a HobbyTown Franchise Owner in 1999 after leaving a career in Project Management and Aerospace Engineering. He’d grown weary of the corporate world and set his sights on owning his own retail business.

Scott’s dad was a hobby enthusiast. Though he never grabbed on to a specific hobby himself, his dad’s interest in remote controlled boats and planes made him a regular customer at HobbyTown. The nostalgia of these experiences and his familiarity with the concept led him to consider franchising with HobbyTown.

Impressed with their inventory management and bookkeeping systems as well as their relationship and dedication to existing Franchise Owners, he decided to move forward and began looking for a location. He ended up purchasing an existing hobby store in Virginia and the HobbyTown corporate team helped him to build it out and get systems in place to start operating as a HobbyTown. He and his wife opened the doors of that first store in 1999.

Early on, Dayton remembers being in the store almost every day at first. The organizational and management skills he’d learned from his time in corporate came in handy with managing day-to-day operations and he grew in his product knowledge of their inventory. They’ve since grown to five locations throughout the area with no plans of slowing down and he now spends most days in his office running the behind-the-scenes of the business.

Where Scott’s story began with him as a kid in tow with his dad, he now loves to see college-aged customers who’ve been shopping with him since they were kids. In the changing times of the always-on internet and online sales, this customer retention proves the sustainability of brick and mortar stores that provide face-to-face, stellar customer service.

With 16+ years of owning successful HobbyTown stores, Dayton shared his secret, “I follow the HobbyTown system. And it works.”

Click the LEARN MORE button today to become a HobbyTown Franchise Owner!