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Fan merchandise in a retro look

The company Retro-kingdom.nl is a webshop trading in hobby and leisure articles. Pokémon merchandise, Monopoly and Mega Construx building kits are no strangers to Retro-kingdom.nl. But what makes this store so special? This webshop is run by an owner who is completely blind. His name is Mike Schipper and he is 27 years old.
Blue and red lining looking like a present box. Retro in blue font, Kingdom - in red, making a Retrokingdom logo together.

#blog by Kristina Misiūnaitė

Fan merchandise in a retro jacket: welcome to Mike's webshop!

The company Retro-kingdom.nl is a webshop trading in hobby and leisure articles. Pokémon merchandise, Monopoly, and Mega Construx building kits are no strangers to Retro-kingdom.nl. But what makes this store so special? This webshop is run by an owner who is completely blind. His name is Mike Schipper and he is 27 years old.

For this blog, I went to visit him to ask him a few questions. Upon entering, I was immediately warmly welcomed and led to his small, cramped room. Over a cold coke, we began our conversation.

Old idea in a new perspective

"How did you come up with this idea?", reads my first curious question.

"I've been a big fan of Pokémon since I was little," Mike says with a twinkle in his eye. "Eventually about a year ago I decided for myself to try my luck selling stuff. Now, about a year later, I've decided I want to take it bigger and make connections with wholesalers who can provide me with the fan merchandise I need." I'm immediately curious as to what kind of gear he's referring to. Mike looks at me with a faint smile. "Well, at the time these were fake stuffed animals from China," he confesses. To add immediately after that, thankfully, this is no longer possible. "But it was a wise lesson to see if I would enjoy selling fan merchandise or merchandise," Mike says. "I wouldn't go back to doing it through China now and wouldn't recommend it to anyone."

What products do you sell in the online store?

Mike selects mostly on what he himself found or likes interesting and fun. "Of course, I do research to see if the prices I want for them are competitive enough," he explains. "When this is the case, I purchase the products. I am still, at least, not so much of a trendsetter, but most of the idea that the store should become something I want for myself. I mainly ask myself the question: what would I want to buy myself?" Briefly, Mike explains a few more product types. "Mega Construx is comparable to Lego. I always really liked Lego and with Mega Construx you can build certain vehicles/attributes from the Halo games." Mike thought the Harry Potter books were fantastically written. Knowing that those are very popular this species deserves a spot in his shop window as well. Mike also thinks a first belongs in this blog. "Recently, a new category of Hot Wheels was launched," he enthuses. "These are model cars, though of a slightly higher quality and a slightly more expensive genre. I don't have the normal Audi TT, for example, but the gaming characters of Hot Wheels. The cars that are used in various games of Mario Kart and the Star Wars series, for example. All in line with the term 'retro', in other words." Choosing one favorite product seems impossible for Mike. "I've bought several things for myself simply because I liked them." 

When asked how exactly he works, Mike looks a little dubious. "You mean when an order comes in?" After my affirmative answer to this counter-question, he explains: "When I receive an order I first check to see if it is a Click & Collect order, if not I print out the required packing slip and invoice and firmly put them aside. After separating the packing list and invoice, I pack the required product and wrap it in bubble wrap so that no moisture can get to the product. When the package is to be wrapped as a gift, I do not wrap the product in bubble wrap. After having done this, I neatly pack the box and add a thank you card including a little something that represents my web store."

Little something with every order

Mike grins a little teasingly. That's the secret of the blacksmith. It's really nothing big, but a little extra to express our gratitude. As for how he selects the right product, Mike has clearly thought about it, too. "I have a system built into my stock, a certain way of placing and stacking," he explains. "If I really can't figure it out or am not sure, I call the volunteers from the app BeMyEyes, who can tell me which product I grabbed." The fact that this works well is evidenced by the fact that Mike has never received anything in return so far and has already received many positive comments. "People are satisfied with the quality and service. Sometimes they even find products cheaper with me than on other places on the Internet." Mike also definitely encourages people to give feedback, including what could be better: "For every serious review, you get five loyalty points." Of the more than 31 packing slips so far, the orderers are mostly people within his own network. "Yet here and there a stray stranger," Mike adds. "Have it shipped or come by for pickup, it's all possible and the second option saves you shipping costs."

Extra dimension for the blind/disabled 

To his own surprise, Mike notices orders here and there from the target market. He himself had not necessarily expected this interest from blind and visually impaired people for the items he sells at first. "For sighted people, the products are fun to look at." The stuffed animals and action figures Mike sells make it possible to get an idea of what, for example, Pokémon looks like or Dobby (from Harry Potter) by feeling. "This gives a whole different experience," Mike has received feedback on several occasions. "Even though I'm blind now, I still enjoy collecting these things. Plus, I still have my own image of what these characters look like." Still, customers come up with their own creative ideas, like brailling a monopoly game. Mike sells the more unique versions of this board game, of which "Lord of the Rings" and "Super Mario Celebrations" are examples. Mike does want to point out that the warranty, unfortunately, expires if the game is damaged during the customization process. "Then it can't be brought back to its original state," he says.

Proud and full of plans for the future

In addition to 'click and collect', Mike is also proud of the account option and the savings points system within his webshop, which allows customers to save for discounts themselves. "I am confident enough to give every new account, which you can register at checkout, twenty savings points as a gift." Connections with suppliers here and there are also indispensable to Mike. "Basically, I'm a sole proprietor, but I see this in the form. There's nothing royal behind this, as it turns out: "Not only do I depend on PostNL and DHL for deliveries to customers and before that to myself, but also the suppliers where I buy products and thank-you cards." So although he runs the online store on his own, he has intertwined with several other companies that can do something for him. Quite a difficult balancing act it seems to me, to decide: do you hire someone else or do you manage it yourself? Mike has a short and clear answer to that, and at the same time some wise advice: "Dare to ask!" For example, for the first two months he had quite high disclosure costs. "By hiring an external agency, the costs are lower and it is in professional hands. I do want to try to take care of it myself first of course, but crazy questions don't really exist." The lesson he's learned along the way is that there's no shame in possibly outsourcing things. "Those kinds of companies have heard the craziest questions before, but if you don't ask them you're stuck with them. Very likely you are not the first one who has asked." "If you are, you can always ask for a discount because you came up with such a crazy idea," Mike jokes. "While the answer to your discount question will probably be 'no,' this does make for a fun partnership in the end, where you mutually help each other grow." Right now, the systems are working well, there are payment options in basic form, and new products are being added bit by bit. Mike wants to steadily expand the website, grow business-related and also exploit the possibilities of delivering to foreign countries through website expansion in different languages. "I have hired an SEA specialist who will help me to be found through Google Shopping," explains Mike about another of his plans for the future. "In a while I hope to adjust CEO with help, so that it will also be more optimized for search engines." 

Got curious? Then take a quick look at: https://retro-kingdom.nl/!

Regards from the Retro-Kingdom!


Friday, 17 September 2021