Childhood hobby turned thriving business
J&J Cards and Collectibles has become an institution in Waterloo as a source for all kinds of toys, games and other collectibles.
Owned by brothers Jim and Jason Schill, the store was originally located at the corner of King and Columbia. With the initial success of the store, they moved to their current location at the corner of Weber St. and University Ave. in Waterloo to facilitate the expanding venture. Since the move the store has expanded its size and inventory to its current 5, 000 sq. feet to offer premium stock and selection.
“My brother and I did a lot of collecting in sports cards when we were younger and we started doing some collectible shows… and that led us into starting up the business,” Jason Schill recalled.
Although they decided to open the store, he said that the business “just kind of materialized.”
As the business matured, so did its inventory.
“We’ve actually branched off to be fairly diverse, which has been the key to our growth over the years,” said Schill. “Then about ten years ago we really made the shift into the toys and games and that’s been our focus over the last decade.”
“Sports cards and comics are a very small part of business now,” he added. The products they carry range anywhere from marbles to cards, to large and elaborate models and board games.
Running a business like this no doubt presents some challenges. One of the largest hurdles that faces them is how to remain competitive in a market that has big time players like Walmart and Toys R’ Us, among others. Jason explained they’ve decided to “focus on some of the items you won’t find in the majors [that are] exclusive to the independent retailers.”
With a store like J&J, repeat customers are no doubt an essential aspect to a thriving enterprise. Being in the market of collectibles and very niche products, Schill sees “a lot of regular customers who will come in on a weekly basis.”
Aside from giving the store regular business, this keeps the owners in touch with the changing trends in the market and their customer base, more specifically.
Some people would be apprehensive about entering into a business with their family members. However, despite the potential pitfalls of combining money and family, the two brothers have managed very well.
“The one advantage of working with family is that at the end of the day you’re still family,” explained Schill.
On the business end of the matter it does have its advantages as well. “We see things in two different perspectives … it gives us that opposite angle to look at,” Schill noted, acknowledging that this helps them assess and overcome any issues with the business.
As well, there is a risk of deteriorating interest when running any business that started out as a hobby. Schill has found this in his experience, noting that as it has become “more of a business … you lose it as a hobby.” Despite this, he remains interested in the products they carry.
Facing many challenges from competition with multinational store brands, to working with family and staying competitive in a niche market, the Schill brothers believe they have succeeded in maintaining a local and independent venture.
Schill summed up their success in simple, yet accurate terms, concluding, “It’s worked really well.”