Spielwarenmesse: Interview with EULIES: We're doing our thing!

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Movers & shakers

Interview with EULIES: We're doing our thing!

from Ulrich Texter

Unfortunately, Generation Y doesn't seem to enjoy a good reputation. A good work-life balance seems to be more important to them than making money. In Peine, in the German state of Lower Saxony, Nils Willmann and Lars Kückelhahn tick a little differently, though. The young toy enthusiasts opened their toy shop EULIES in Peine a year ago – and both owners feel very much at home in the labour-intensive environment of the brick-and-mortar retail trade.

Mr Kückelhahn, how come you ended up opening a toy shop?

Lars Kückelhahn and Nils Willmann

Lars Kückelhahn: I've always been keen on toys and used to collect them a lot. When we were at university, we were already running an online shop and selling remaining stock on eBay. At some point, we said, "Why don't we run a business together?"

Nils Willmann: We've always been interested in retailing. When the Knollis toy store in Peine was due to close, we had talks with the owner and said, "Well, we can carry on with it." But in the end, we went our own way. And we pulled the whole thing off in just eight weeks.

Mr Kückelhahn, you finished your studies in Wolfsburg in 2015. Weren't you warned against entering the traditional retail trade?

L. K.: I know that the brick-and-mortar retail sector is facing challenging times. But I've always been someone who hasn't shied away from risks. Thanks to my studies, I am as much a number cruncher as I love marketing. Our priority was to focus very strongly on the expenditure side. Unfortunately, we've had to reduce personnel and space costs to downsize ourselves. Before that, we had 1,000 m2; now we have 350m2.

Mr Willmann, you're a retail specialist with experience in the toy industry. Didn't that put you off at all?

N. W.: No, on the one hand, it's all about numbers; on the other, it's all about people from whom you get a lot in return if you treat them with empathy.

Let's come to EULIES. Many town centres are suffering right now. What's the situation like in Peine?

N. W.: Peine is a place that's very aware of its traditions, but it is also aware of the waning retail trade, especially in the fashion segment. There are really a lot of dedicated people in Peine who are committed to the retail trade in order to make the town centre attractive. We're experiencing a revival of the town centre.


There’s often a gap between commitment and action. What makes you so confident?

L. K.: People want a town with a feel-good atmosphere, a town that is fun. They're on the lookout for something individual. Take Berlin, for example, where a lot of small boutiques are emerging in certain districts.

N. W.: We know that the Internet is our biggest rival. But we are incorrigible optimists and we stick to what we believe in. When we radiate this feeling in the shop, then it radiates back to the customers.

How did you handle the start-up? Did you have to draw up a business plan for the bank?

L. K.: Since we have both always been business-minded and our online shop had made some money, the risk was manageable. At our age of early to mid-thirties, it's not easy to talk to banks about collateral. But the investment sum was manageable and we don’t depend on anyone, so we could always call it a day at any time.

What makes EULIES so different that customers come to you and don't go and buy online?

N. W.: It starts with the name EULIES, which is a reference to the owl town Peine [the German word for 'owl' is 'Eule']. The owl motif runs through the entire store. We want customers to know right away that this is their EULIES shop and not some sterile toy shop full of lovelessly stocked shelves. At the heart of our shop are the gift boxes. A 100 m2 area of our shop has 160 boxes, all made by a carpenter, to create a great atmosphere. And our mascot EULIE hands out small gifts to the children once or twice a week in the pedestrian zone.


What are the product range cornerstones of the EULIES concept?

L. K.: Because of the year he spent in the toy industry, Nils knew the kind of product range we'd have to display here. We go for wooden toys because sustainability is important to us. But because we want to be up-to-date, we have to go with TV series, too. We want to offer toys that inspire children. They have to catch their eye. If they do, then they will appeal to children.

N. W.: It's important to listen to the customers. At the beginning, we thought, at one time or another, that we needed a certain range of products. That idea soon evaporated.

Why did you choose the toy association of VEDES?

N. W.: We grew up with their catalogue.

L. K.: VEDES has always been a strong brand.

So once VEDES always VEDES?

L. K.: Not necessarily. But VEDES is fast. We get the goods here within two days, even if they are a bit more expensive. But the VEDES service is great. On the one hand, the digital shopping solution allows us to get very close to the customer, and on the other, we regularly receive the newsletter about "hot goods", which keeps us alive in a certain way. If we had to keep ourselves constantly informed about everything, we'd be out of our depth.

What actually has to change in the industry for young people to decide to try and run a toy shop?

L. K.: That depends on the individual. We are people who find it hard to subordinate themselves. We always want to do our own thing. I think you have to tell young people that they can do their own thing. This drive is the prevailing factor with us, too.

Cynics say that if you don't have an online presence, you don’t exist. When will EULIES start to exist?

N. W.: You can't do something like that as a rush job. Because, besides our online presence, we want to have an actual shop. And in order to achieve this, we will rely on VEDES.

L. K.: EULIES has a strong social media presence. On Facebook, we generated 1,000 followers in just the first six months. That's really good. With our EULIES good mood video clips during the lockdown, we've had 40,000 clicks. When we post something, we always notice the results the very next day.

You've also had your first Christmas as a toy retailer. How did it go?

L. K.: It was a completely new experience! It's fascinating how people's buying behaviour changes so much from one week to the next, but that's what we live on for the rest of the year.

Coronavirus has made the world go into shock. How was the coronavirus lockdown for you?

L. K.: Easter was cancelled, so to speak. That hit us hard in our start-up phase. Our customers were able to order toys from us by phone or e-mail, and we delivered the goods to them. But apart from our customer service, we didn't get much out of it. Our Easter voucher campaign – with a EUR 10 gift as of a voucher worth EUR 90 – went much better. But what is now for us like a second Easter business are the #Peinehältzusammen vouchers issued by the town of Peine in cooperation with the town marketing department and the merchants guild. Since the shops have been open again, we have gained new customers thanks to this campaign. In combination with our Easter voucher campaign, this is really bringing us some footfall. We can only recommend such a voucher campaign to other towns or districts that also want to draw their citizens back to the town centres!

What conclusion can you draw after one year? Was it worth all the effort?

L. K.: Oh, absolutely! We're happier and we're both completely satisfied. I wouldn't want to have not taken this step. Peine has given us a warm welcome.

Mr Kückelhahn, Mr Willmann, thank you for talking to us.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Spielwarenmesse eG.

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