For four and a half weeks, the long-standing toy shop "Hermann Spiel- und Schreibwaren" (first opened in 1899) in Oberwesel was closed due to the coronavirus-induced lockdown. "Such an enforced break in the middle of the busy Easter period hurts a lot," says managing director Franziskus Weinert. Although the toy retailer introduced a same-day regional delivery service for orders placed by e-mail, phone and WhatsApp, the orders delivered via this service may have accounted for perhaps 10% of normal Easter trade. "But luckily, we're not just a brick-and-mortar business," Weinert adds.
Slow-moving items sold like hot cakes on eBay
In fact, with his small toy shop, Franziskus Weinert is one of Germany’s most successful eBay sellers in the model-making segment. It all started about 17 years ago. At that time, Franziskus Weinert secured the seller name "toyshopmittelrhein" on eBay and started offering on the online marketplace his worst shelf warmers, which lay like deadwood in his shop. And to his great astonishment, many products, especially those from the model-making segment, which had not been popular in his shop for years, sold like the proverbial hot cakes. Spare parts for Märklin trains in particular were in great demand.
"We discovered that when it comes to model-making, eBay is the address to go to around the world," the retailer states. "Such business has been established there for years and nowhere else can model makers find a larger selection or more precise choices online, so collectors look there specifically for special products and then find them with us. Without eBay, we wouldn’t stock any model railway items any more.”
When the eBay customer suddenly appears in person
Weinert responded to the demand of his growing eBay clientele and began to include special spare parts in his product range. He didn’t have to wait long for the next surprise: footfall in his brick-and-mortar shop in Oberwesel suddenly started to rise again. "One unexpected but happy side-effect of our eBay presence is that a lot of our eBay customers suddenly started appearing in our shop, even those who had never heard of our business before," says the retailer. "We now reach customers who had never noticed us at all before, even though they live only a few kilometres away." Weinert gratefully accepted this ‘gift’ from his customers, and began to clearly communicate on his eBay website and in every package sent out that the Hermann toy shop "is not a business selling from a garage, but a real toy shop that you can actually visit".
Modern ERP system to coordinate the distribution channels
Business on eBay was going so well that Weinert and his team could hardly keep up with the many orders and the maintenance of their marketplace presence. That is why he invested in a modern ERP system in 2016, so he can control all distribution channels centrally. The firm’s own online shop and its presence on the idee+spiel marketplace followed. For the 2019 Christmas sales period, Weinert purchased a second packing table for his in-house warehouse in Oberwesel that handles both the brick-and-mortar business as well as all the online orders. "That turned out to be really lucky for us just now during Covid-19," said the retailer. "Thanks to the two packing tables, we’ve been able to maintain the necessary hygienic distance between employees in the warehouse and still cope with the high volume of orders." During the month of the coronavirus-induced lockdown, Hermann sent out as many online orders as he usually does in the middle of the hectic Christmas sales period. In 2019, the company already achieved roughly half of its six-digit annual turnover in online sales; in 2020, the e-commerce share is expected to grow significantly once again.
Deliberate channel management
However, items offered on online sales channels don’t sell themselves: the retailer also has to have a clear strategic orientation. "We’ve found that simply listing our entire product catalogue on eBay is not worth our while," Weinert stresses. "In fact, there’s a demand for very different product ranges on different sales channels – and we base our listing on this demand. For the products that work best in our stores – i.e. the top products of the major manufacturers such as Lego or Playmobil – our company is just one of many online. Amazon, Mytoys or Galeria Kaufhof are faster and cheaper than we are. So we keep these products in the store and focus on niche products in e-commerce instead."
During the coronavirus pandemic, however, the retailer did away with this clear focus and also listed classic toys on eBay. However, Weinert is not going to take part in the sometimes merciless price war for some products on eBay.
Own online shop for corporate customers of stationery, school and office supplies in the pipeline
Weinert believes his shop is well positioned for the future – despite coronavirus. This is another reason why he is already making new plans for his online sales channel. From his physical shop, he also supplies several corporate customers in the region with stationery products; these customers will soon have their own online shop for their orders. "We want to signal to these customers that, with us, a highly trusted local supplier, you can also cover all your corporate stationery needs – and ordering is just as easy and delivery just as fast as with a large mail-order office supplies company," says Weinert. "And our service and advice is even better and more personal." So as to be able to offer the widest possible range of products in his planned stationery shop, the tireless retailer from Oberwesel is currently in negotiations with several suppliers.
About the author
Ingrid Lommer has been writing about online retail for around 15 years. She analyses the strategies of successful online retailers for specialist publications such as INTERNET WORLD Business and shopanbieter.de and keeps a watchful eye on both large and small online marketplaces.