December 9, 2020 — You’d have to be a little crazy to open a new store in the middle of a global pandemic, but that's exactly what Heath Harper did. The November 7 grand opening of Warp Drive Toys in Creve Coeur, Illinois was a smash hit. The store was packed with socially distanced customers who were eager to see the sci-fi decor, the big Yoda on display and new offerings.
“People needed to take their minds off of politics and just have some fun,” says Heath, “and I made a lot of sales.”
It was a gutsy move for Heath, an ex-cop and ex-3-D design engineer, but worth the risk. “Customers like the feel of it. They know they can come here and find a place to escape to,” he says. “I love the interaction with people and help them find the answers they need.”
The new store is more than four times the size of Heath’s previous store, allowing room for expansion. More interior design improvements are ahead, as are plans for hosting mini toy shows, game nights, trading card events and artist workshops.
Warp Drive Toys sprang out of Heath’s desire to fill the void when Toys ”R” Us declared bankruptcy and closed its stores in 2018. The loss so devastated his young son that Heath decided to make the leap from online toy and collectible sales to a brick-and-mortar presence.
There have been struggles, as evidenced by the Tums in Heath’s cabinet. The Covid-19 pandemic knocked his store out of commission for more than two months last spring. So he forged ahead online and says sales through his website, eBay and Amazon.com were phenomenal. In the meantime, he applied for a Small Business Administration loan and used the funds to set up the new store.
Heath says, “We’ve had some really good product lines to back us up. QMx is one of our Cadillac brands. They hadn’t heard of Q-Figs in the central Illinois area until I brought them in. I’m very proud of the product line. Customers love the little statues.” He says he sells a lot of 1:6 scale figures as well. And Star Trek is also popular. “I can’t keep the combadges in stock,” he says.
Radio ads and social media help promote Warp Drive Toys. High standards of quality control have paid off. So has transparency.
Says Heath, “I try to set up the best quality product. If I make a mistake, I own up to it. I’ve given away a fair amount of product because I messed up. It cost me, but customers will come back. It’s important to be honest and treat people like individuals, with respect.”
It’s also important to let customers touch products out of the box. “Touching tells customers whether they want to buy something or not,” says Heath. “Yes, there’s a risk of damage and it has happened. But that’s part of doing business and it usually pays off.”