Unique concept Hobbiesville is the latest retailer to be setting up shop along the popular Ossington Avenue strip west of downtown Toronto.
“Hobbiesville kicked off in the summer of 2020. I had met Logan through a previous business that I was involved in. We used to do luxury men’s streetwear and he was one of our good customers,” said Georges.
“I met Logan through that business. He was working for Shopify and then fast forward to early summer 2020, COVID hits, everyone’s kind of home, Logan ends up finding a binder of Pokemon cards at his parent’s place, and he used to be a big collector when he was younger, and online sees what they’re worth, sells them and takes that money, turns around and pops up a free Shopify store.
“He messages me and says check this out. I just launched a pre-order for this new product that’s coming and essentially the sales are just kind of rolling through. This was just before the big wave of collectables that kicked off around September 2020. Around 2020, I think everyone figured out we’re not back to work, everyone’s sticking around remotely, COVID’s not going away anytime soon. Around July 2020, we started talking about how do we turn this into a thing and how do we set ourselves up for success. What are some of the main barriers that we need to overcome?”
One was having a physical storefront. At a coffee shop, the two did some ‘napkin math’ and discovered they could afford a store for about $1,500 per month. They found one in Kemptville, Ontario, about an hour outside of Ottawa.
The concept was selling online by August but the store opened at the beginning of September that year.
“Month over month over month within that first four-month period our sales kept doubling. So we did something like $2 million in sales in four months between September 1 and December 31,” said Georges. “We outgrew Kemptville within six months.
“We ended up moving the store to Ottawa and opened up a store right downtown Ottawa. That was about a year in. And we had already outgrown Ottawa in about six months and then we decided that in order for us to continue to support the growth we needed a fulfillment warehouse. So we opened a 4,400-square-foot warehouse not far from downtown Ottawa.”
Georges said Toronto has always been the goal from day one. He said 27-28 per cent of sales on any given month are through Toronto. And all of the products initially come into Toronto.
“We’ve got pretty big expansion plans in Toronto over the next couple of years. We’re opening a store on Ossington and Queen West right on the corner in a 3,600-square-foot store, two floors. It’s going to be our Toronto flagship store,” he said, adding it will open within weeks.
Fournier lived in the area for about five years and described it as a nice up and coming neighbourhood with not much competition for this type of concept. The idea is to change what the hobby industry looks like. The two want to make it more exciting and inviting which would fit in well with the Ossington area.
“We have an opportunity to kind of elevate the hobby industry on that street and bring in new customers that we would not have seen before,” he said.
Georges said the focus right now, and the bulk of sales, is online, but the company wants to have a physical footprint in major cities that it services so that people can leverage experiencing the store and buy online and pick up in store.
“The long-term goal is having a flagship in every major city that we service,” he said. “So probably Montreal, Vancouver. And then Toronto we’ll see. If we start to get a lot of customer demands to open up closer to certain suburbs then we could maybe look at that. But as of right now we want to focus our efforts on really building an immersive retail experience on Ossington. We also have plans to expand into the US.”
The key thing with the Ottawa flagship is its boutique feel when customers walk through the doors. It’s not the typical strip mall collectable store. It’s brighter for one.
“It feels a little bit more like a luxury retail store than it does a collectable store. So the goal down the line is to build spaces that really kind of give you the feeling of being a portal into Japan,” said Georges. “The Ossington store will be a first step in that direction. It’s not going to be a full-blown immersive retail experience. That’s going to be coming down the line.
“But things like having arcade games, giving people the opportunity to try snacks and drinks that are imported from Japan. Japan is really the main hub where a lot of what we sell comes from. It’s bridging that gap . . . What we’re trying to build under that roof is a space for like minded people that enjoy all those things.”