Building a Small Business Brick by Brick
Mike Atwood is skilled at building things. When he was a kid, he’d work up to 70 hours a week in his dad’s engine repair shop. As an adult, his building skills shine through a different medium — a successful full-time career as a software engineer.
Mike’s son, diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), has always loved building things, too. Like other children with ASD, LEGO® bricks became a considerable part of his developmental process.
As a result, Mike and his wife Kelly Atwood began buying used LEGOs in bulk for their son. They learned how to find bargains online, then started making connections with dealers throughout the country.
As their son outgrew his fascination with the toys, Mike and Kelly began listing them for sale online. They found they could sell used LEGOs at a profit and began to build a lucrative side business. The extra money was helpful for the growing family, allowing Kelly to stay home to raise their children.
Soon, the couple had developed a specialty in collecting and selling minifigures, the tiny block-like figurines which have grown considerably in popularity in recent years. Though LEGOs have been around since the 1950s, they introduced “minifigs” in 1978 and have since produced over a billion. They’re incredibly collectible. Both children and “Adult Fans Of LEGOs” (AFOL) buy, sell, and trade them without their original sets.
Before the Atwoods knew it, they needed to lease 1000 square feet of warehouse space just to keep up with saleable inventory, which they were turning around quickly.
Searching for Retail Space in the St. Louis Area
By the beginning of 2019, The Minifig Shop — the Atwood’s online retail store — was out of room. They had so packed their warehouse with LEGOs that Mike, Kelly, and nephew Bob Atwood (whom they brought on as a partner) barely had room to work.
The Minifig Shop was ready for an upgrade, and they believed it could be in the form of a retail location. Mike had always dreamed of having a brick-and-mortar shop the way his dad did. Bob, who has a background in retail sales, was looking for a new challenge.
The three partners were all on board: Mike and Bob began looking for a retail space for lease where they could display the Minifigs and share them in-person with customers.
The store would be an experience for young families, featuring huge LEGO displays and places to play. That way, The Minifig Shop wouldn’t have to compete with box stores or online retailers.
To make their vision a reality, however, they needed a highly-visible storefront in a walkable area — one that would include other “draws” for their target market. Kirkwood would be ideal, but they weren’t sure it would be in their price range.
With a desire to find something in mid-St. Louis County, they were open to property as far west as Maryland Heights and as far east as Webster Groves. But after a few weeks of browsing listings on their own, a former coworker (and electrical contractor) referred Mike to Jeff Altvater of Hilliker Corporation.
A Great Place for Families
Using a combination of methods, Altvater quickly found approximately 20 available storefronts that fit within Mike and Bob’s parameters. Before long, they had narrowed their search to about eight properties — all of them with triple-net (NNN) leases.
However, the Atwoods quickly focused on 200 South Kirkwood Road. It’s a walkable distance from the Kirkwood Farmer’s Market, historic train station, and The Magic House. The building itself features popular anchor tenants Kaldi’s, Bar Louie, and Crushed Red.
Additionally, Kirkwood is a great place for retail businesses during Halloween and Christmas, when neighborhood events attract thousands of young families to Kirkwood Road. And when Alvater presented the Atwoods with a favorable report from a traffic pattern analysis, they were sold.
It was everything they were looking for.
Financially, it fell on the high side of their budget. However, Altvater negotiated five months of free rent so the Atwoods could remodel the store. The two main tasks were:
- Installing the display cases (handled by Jeff Herzog of Fixture Contracting);
- Putting together a series of jaw-dropping LEGO sculptures for customers to view.
Mike enjoyed working with Altvater, saying, “Jeff’s a really good guy — a straight-shooter. He was very helpful through the process.”
Mike, Kelly, and Bob set a goal of having the shop completed and opened for Kirkwood’s yearly Halloween walk — a goal which they met.
The finished store is an incredible place for fans of LEGOs. Customers can buy used bricks in bulk (they keep between two and three thousand pounds at all times). They can also choose from 20,000 Minifigures on display, many for $3 or less.
What’s next for your business?
As your business grows, your goals and method of doing business will mature as well. As new opportunities arise and new dreams take shape, Hilliker Corporation develops alongside you. We help entrepreneurs like you take advantage of the best the real estate market has to offer.
If you’re in a time of growth or change, let Hilliker Corporation come alongside you and guide you through your next real estate transaction. Contact Jeff Altvater and get started finding retail, industrial, warehouse, office, or institutional space for you and your business.