December 11th, 2020 — Cutting the ribbon on his brand-new pop culture collectibles store on Black Friday, Cliff Lee, owner of Lost4Toys in West Hempstead, NY, is nervous, anxious and absolutely thrilled. Setting up a brick-and mortar presence for his online business fulfills a dream he’s had for nearly two decades.
“I’ve been wanting to do a storefront since Day 1,” says Cliff. “It’s nerve-wracking, but I’m very excited. I love the business!”
What’s astounding is that Cliff almost quit just last year.
Lost4Toys was launched as an e-commerce store in 2001. The company sells direct and through Amazon, eBay, Walmart.com and Mercari. For the past 19 years, Cliff has also had booths at more than 15 shows around the U.S. Shipping stock, setting up displays, paying for staff, hotel rooms, car rentals, meals has been challenging, especially since it’s been on top of Cliff’s other full-time job as a lineman for Verizon.
2019 was a pivotal year. Lost4Toys suffered terrible losses at an Arizona show. Then, pallets of products for a show in Chicago went missing and were found badly damaged. After that, merchandise was stolen from Cliff’s van, which was burglarized right in front of his house. Cliff contemplated quitting by the end of 2019. He recalls, “Dealing with the competition, with their monstrous booths at shows, it always felt like I was fighting an uphill battle.” If he did poorly at just two or three shows a year, it posed a potentially serious setback.
But the unexpected happened. New York Comic Con late last year kickstarted a strong holiday season. Amazon sales picked up after Lost4Toys switched to free shipping. And oddly, Cliff says, his company has flourished despite the Covid-19 pandemic. “People are home, they can’t go out and they’re getting nostalgic. They want something they feel close to,” says Cliff, and they’re reaching for pop culture collectibles.
QMx Q-Figs, Q-Fig Elite, Q-Fig Max and Q-Master have been big hits with Cliff’s customers, because they’re “a statue-quality product for a reasonable price,” Cliff says. He makes sure to display them out of the box in a special QMx-designated section, so that customers can see the design details, paintwork, expressions and poses.
It wasn’t just luck that turned things around for Cliff. He got a low-interest, 30-year Small Business Administration loan. He started ordering more to get volume discounts. He makes sure to stay connected to customers through social media, especially Facebook and Instagram. Cliff, wife Kathryn and their three kids are also investing more time and effort into Lost4Toys.
Cliff’s advice to small businesses that are struggling: “Be patient. Don’t overextend yourself. A big problem with businesses, they feel like they have to order everything. If you do get behind, make cuts, slow down, get back on your feet. Build up some equity. Many [retailers] make the mistake of ordering new items and cutting prices immediately. Resist the urge, because that devalues the product and the brand.”