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Hobby shop survives despite economy

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By:  Russ Chizek

Rob Placer and his wares. Photo by Sam Foster

Rob Placer not only grew up surrounded by toys, games, and models, but he grew up surrounded by collectors, gamers, and modelers alike. “In 1975, my parents opened Hobby Masters in Red Bank, New Jersey.” Placer said, “It’s still open today and is one of the oldest and largest hobby shops in the country.”

Placer told the VOICE he started working at his dad’s shop when he was 10 years old.. “ I was supposed to watch over the group of teenagers that would gather to run D&D games. Every time they would come to the store they would ask me if I wanted to join in on their game.”

At first he didn’t want to play the game but eventually Placer gave in to the wishes of the group of Dungeons and Dragons players and decided to give the game a chance, if the boys would finally stop asking him to play in the case that he did not enjoy himself.

“I begrudgingly sat down and learned the rules of the game, but after the first few turns, I was hooked, and much to my surprise.” Placer said.

After years of working for his parents at Hobby Masters, working for other hobby stores and holding many different positions for corporate retailers, Placer finally decided it was time to do what he had always wanted to and open his own shop.

“In 2009 I was recently unemployed. I had been working on a business plan for my own store for quite a while, but never had enough time to devote to it thank to all that hours I was putting in at my previous job.” Placer explained.

Placer opened Hamilton based Family Fun Hobbies with a different kind of business idea in mind. “People tell me that I’m crazy for opening a disposable income businesses in a down economy, but those people don’t understand that the escape from reality and social aspect of hobbies and games are something that will never not be in demand.”

Tom Clark, a first year film major at Mercer, as well as an avid shopper at Family Fun Hobbies said, “You might find a better selection online, but shipping is too expensive and when I come to the store I can to talk to a lot of cool people that I wouldn’t otherwise get to meet. And my friends come here for the same reason. It’s a place to go and buy stuff, yeah, but it’s also just a place to go and hang out.”

A survey of twenty Mercer students showed that exactly half of the students preferred to do their shopping online.

Second year communication major at Mercer, Kellyjo Macuda prefers shopping online. “I can shop while in my bathrobe and eating a five dollar foot long, and most of the time, you can find way better prices online.”

The Bloomberg Businessweek article “Cyber Monday sets mark as top online shopping day” by AP News published on November 27, 2012, states that “Cyber Monday was an online shopping bonanza, with sales rising 30.3 percent, making it the biggest online shopping day ever.”

One large advantage that many online retails have currently is the ability to not charge sales tax if the retailer does not have a physical presence in that state. “That’s seven percent, a pretty hefty discount,” Placer said, “For them it’s a competitive advantage. An illegal one, but an advantage nonetheless.”

N.R. Kleinfield explain in his article “Amazon to Build New Jersey Warehouses and Collect State Tax” published on May 31, 2012 on the New York Times that “Amazon customers, like other online shoppers, are supposed to keep track of what tax they owe on online purchases and pay the amount when they file their income taxes. They rarely do so…”

In the same article New York Times article, Kleinfield says that Amazon will build two distribution centers in New Jersey and start charging taxes in 2013.

Placer explained the difference between what he sells at his store and the big retailers. “Target, Best Buy, Wal-Mart, Amazon…I like to say those places sell you stuff. I don’t sell you stuff. I sell you a hobby – I sell you something to do. And I give you a place to do it in. You can’t get that kind of experience at big box retail and you certainly can’t get it online.”

The Hamilton business owner is confident that his store will benefit from Amazon charging taxes but he said to be more concerned with something else. “What I’m more concerned with is customer service. Online businesses in no way shape or form can provide the level of customer service that a local business can. That’s what keeps customers coming back.”


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