ALPINE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — For years, brick-and-mortar stores have been trying to find the recipe for success as Amazon swallows up the shopping arena. A Kentwood-based business may have finally figured it out.
At a time when other stores are closing, Galactic Toys & Collectibles is welcoming record sales and a new location near Walker, which opened Nov. 8, ahead of the holiday sales season.
Store manager Richard Van Vels says with customers coming from as far away as Big Rapids and Cadillac, Galactic Toys’ second spot at Alpine Avenue NW just north of 4 Mile Road was perfect.
“We wanted to have something on the north side of town for those people, so they didn’t have to travel as far, especially with the road conditions as they were today and getting worse for winter. We really wanted to make sure that they had the ability to have a store where they felt welcomed closer to home as well and not as far away,” Van Vels said.
Galactic Toys’ appeal also extends south.
“At the Kentwood store, we’ve had people from as far as Chicago and Indianapolis come all the way up to our store for the Gundam build event,” he explained.
It’s one of many events Van Vels says Galactic Toys hosts to build something else: “It’s the community that makes a brick-and-mortar store what it is. And without the community, that’s how we see some of these stores that are brick and mortar kind of falling apart because it becomes transactional.”
Van Vels says Galactic Toys’ employees are dedicated to being experts in the games they sell, as well as being involved in each genre.
“You want to try Magic: The Gathering? We’ll teach you Magic: The Gathering. If you want to play Pokémon, it doesn’t matter how old you are, we’ll teach you how to play Pokémon. If you want to collect plushes for kids and stuff, we’ll show you our wall of plushes that we have. So I think that’s what sets us aside from other stores, is the staff that we have and their love for the community, and then of course the community itself,” he said.
He said it all starts at the front door.
“We really want to focus on learning people’s names, knowing people on a first-name basis. So if I see someone come in I know, I say, ‘Hey Heather, how are you doing? You know, ‘Hey, Nick! How has your day been?’”
Van Vels says Galactic Toys’ personable culture started with its owner Jeff Bleich.
“He loves playing Magic: The Gathering. If you come out to any of our midnight releases, he’s there playing along with the players. You know, he’s not just some like distant entity, he’s there with the players in the community, responding and talking to everyone,” Van Vels explained.
Bleich started his business by selling Funko Pops out of his home in 2013. Now he owns two stores and a 100,000-square-foot warehouse on 28th Street.
“He started in his own garage and he literally built this company with his own two hands. It’s just his love and passion for the hobbies and for the people within the community,” said Van Vels.
Galactic Toys isn’t ignoring Amazon’s success. The company actually uses the cyber storefront to sell some of its products, building on business from its standalone website and stores. Van Vels said on Nov. 18 alone, Galactic Toys posted a record-breaking 8,000 orders.
Van Vels says Galactic Toys’ close relationship with Funko Pop has also helped the business grow.
“We released an exclusive Funko Pop to our store. So along with those sales we’ve really had a large volume going out of the warehouse. So they’ve been super busy over there,” Van Vels said.
He said Galactic Toys uses the community as a sounding board for improving its stores, which also serve as gathering places for players. The Alpine Avenue location plans to build on that bond with a plan to transform the store’s backroom into a space for events, tabletop gaming and possibly video game tournaments.
“We want to facilitate an experience while you’re here. We want you to come in, we want to welcome you, we want you to feel welcomed and also want you to know there’s a place for you here,” Van Vels said.