Succeeding without marketplaces

Spielkiste merges brick-and-mortar selling with e-tailing

For exactly 30 years, Spielkiste in the small market village of Kaufering located on the outskirts of Munich's affluent suburbs has been somewhat of an institution. "We had planned some big-time celebrations with festivities and many other campaigns throughout the year", the business owner Michael Rietig says. Corona thwarted those plans. "We will postpone this until next year. We are pleased to have survived – that is in itself already the best anniversary gift we could have in a year dominated by corona."

Despite many challenges, Spielkiste not only welcomes customers at its shops, it has also become a fixed element of this small community's commercial life – a fact that is owed to the family-run toy shop and especially the flexibility of its owners. Founded in 1990 by his wife, Heike, as a small family business in an annex to their home – "practically a doll's house", Rietig says – the shop moved to a larger space a few years later, only to go through a further two expansion phases in the years that followed. Some two and a half years ago, Spielkiste took over the local bookstore which was threatened with closure and integrated a large share of its product assortment into its own premises. "And yet we have again outgrown the scope of what we intend to offer our customers", Rietig adds.

Spielkiste Schreibwaren

While many brick-and-mortar toy shops in the district of Landsberg focus on individual, ideally high-margin product ranges, the Kaufering family business has chosen an alternative path and instead caters for the needs of a range of different target groups: families with children up to the age of 12, grown-ups that love to play, and kids, youngsters and adults who love to read. "It is our mission to fulfil just about every wish our customers have", Rietig says. "That is why we stock school articles as well as the most common toy ranges, have a large selection of board games, but also many children's books and books for young people, and a large selection of fiction, from regional novels to suspenseful thrillers. And what we don't have in stock we will order."

A lone online fighter since 2012


Customers also have the option to order – at Spielkiste's own online shop. The team has been selling its complete product range at since 2012. The e-commerce department is headed by Rietig's youngest son. Online shop system, online marketing, data maintenance, pricing, shipping from their own warehouse, customer service – Spielkiste does everything itself. "That’s quite an effort", Rietig admits. "And you don't just build such an online business overnight. We have been doing this for 8 years now and are still learning."

But the effort is truly worthwhile. Online sales have risen continuously over the past years. The Rietigs generate around 50 % of their total sales with their own online shop by now. And this despite the fact that prices are usually higher than that of the big-time online market players, Amazon and mytoys. "We don't do price dumping", Rietig says. "Our prices remain close to the recommended retail price. This unhealthy price battle which is so common in e-commerce, we don't adhere to that. Margins for toys are already tight enough as they are." Which is why Spielkiste does not sell its merchandise via online marketplaces. Rietig dismisses Amazon for ethical reasons – "there is no need to further support such a tremendous power in the market", says the entrepreneur – and being present on other predominantly price-centric marketplaces simply makes very little sense at the moment, so Rietig. "They only take away from what is already a small margin and on top of that, limit our contact with our customers."

Consistent customer orientation

Michael Rietig, Spielzeugkiste

Yet it is this very direct contact with his shoppers that the retailer considers his secret ingredient – even when it comes to e-commerce. "Our online shoppers receive equally solid and extensive advice as our in-shop customers do", Rietig adds. "Our online shop clearly benefits from our expertise that we gain from our brick-and-mortar outlet." Online staff advise customers by e-mail and on the phone; collections or product demonstrations can be arranged at the shop any time. That is also where customers can naturally have their online orders gift-wrapped – free of charge.

A further key to successful e-tailing: focusing on interesting products, as well as the latest hype articles. Spielkiste is a mid-sized retail space which offers the largest selection of Tonies in the district of Landsberg. "If you want to establish such a sales space in what is a purely brick-and-mortar shop to make sure that it pays off, you will need a long breath and patience", says Rietig with a look at his prominently placed Tonies sales wall. "In our case, our store benefited from our online shop: Tonies started out really well and fast online which is why we could wait at the shop until the audio concept had become an item amongst our local shoppers."

On the other hand, the Spielkiste team utilises the established online shop time and again to publicise on-location events, such as school satchel parties in January, or the monthly games nights for adults. These evenings are predominantly attended by regional regulars – but there are always newcomers.

Generally speaking, connecting these channels manually so to speak works very well at Spielkiste. But Rietig still has a few wishes open. Improved product data from the makers for example – that would reduce the effort for the online shop. "And an employee and a trainee would also be appreciated", Rietig adds. He has been looking for months now, but the affluent district of Landsberg has almost no unemployment and good staff are hard to come by. That is also why in the year of corona – of all years – a major investment is imminent: A modern ERP system is to be installed which further automates online shop processes and better ties in the store’s stocks. "That is quite an investment for a shop our size", says the retailer. "But if you don't go with the times, you will go in time."

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