Description: Online toy retailer specializing in collectible action figures
Founder: Joel Boblit, 29
Location: Somerset, Wisconsin
Projected 2005 Sales: Over $4 million
Robo-Biz: Joel Boblit parlayed nostalgia for his childhood toys into big-time business when he discovered how much Transformers--robot action figures whose popularity has continued since the 1980s--were being sold for online. He launched BigBadToyStore.com in 1999 shortly after graduating college, while he was reliving fond memories of trading his favorite childhood toys--GI Joe, Masters of the Universe and Transformers. The biggest challenge in those early days? Boblit admits: "Being teased by my friends."
Parental Guidance: While in college, Boblit sold action figures as a hobby for extra money, but when he decided to turn his hobby into a business, his parents supported him on all levels. They went heavily into debt to finance the business, and worked 100-plus-hour weeks alongside him for BigBadToyStore. Housing his inventory at one point, his parents had to create aisles in their home to navigate around the ceiling-high boxes. Says Boblit, "They have been instrumental throughout all this and worked just as hard as I did to keep it all together during the tough early years."
Grade A Service: BigBadToyStore caters to specialty toy buyers with vintage favorites like Star Wars figurines and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Boblit also branched out to comic- and movie-related items, earning loyal customers around the world. Serious collectors prize mint-condition toy packaging, so Boblit guarantees his toys by using a grading system to distinguish "standard grade" (mint or near-mint condition) from "substandard grade" packages. He also offers a premium packing service that ensures an item is in tiptop condition and handled with extra care when it's shipped. Another big draw is the "Pile of Loot" function, which allows customers to stockpile items they've already paid for in a virtual storage bin. Upon the customer's choosing, the company will ship out all the items at once, reducing shipping costs. Future plans include distribution to approved retailers, who can view volume pricing online. Boblit says, "We've got the competitive edge for convenience."