Many COVID success stories start the same way: some budding entrepreneur using the 15-month (and counting) pandemic as a reset button to finally chase the passion they’ve either been putting off or couldn’t find the time for before. We’ve seen pop-ups transform into successful takeout empires, home bakeries and backyard BBQs, a hub for Black small business owners, Drake’s line of Drake-scented candles—you get the idea.
Last spring, when a case of lockdown-inspired boredom led Logan Fournier to rediscover his old Pokémon TCG collection in his mom’s basement, demand for trading cards—Pokémon especially—was at a then-all-time high. Seeing an opening in the market and on paternity leave from his full-time gig, the Ottawa native sold off his childhood collection and spun the sales into the creation of Hobbiesville, eventually opening a brick-and-mortar location for the hobby shop in nearby Kemptville, Ontario. All within the span of a few months, and all during COVID. At first, he recalls, his family “thought I was a bit silly, especially to be leaving a good job.”
But as of last month, Hobbiesville has had $4.9 million CAD in sales. Who’s silly now?
It helped, of course, that Hobbiesville’s rise coincided with a massive boom in Pokémon TCG’s popularity. This past December, a First Edition Charizard card sold for an eye-watering $369,000 USD. According to eBay’s recent State of Trading Cards report, Pokémon card sales have jumped 574 percent over this past year, thanks in no small part to celebrity collectors like Logic and Logan Paul, who recently dropped $2 million(!) on sealed First Edition Base Set booster boxes, and then unboxed one live on YouTube to celebrate Pokémon’s 25th anniversary. (The stream’s since been viewed over 5 million times.)
In other words, it’s been a case of perfect timing for Fournier and Hobbiesville. (Even if he wishes he’d held onto his First Edition Charizard.) We spoke to Fournier about how COVID helped push him to take the leap with his business, the Pokémon bubble, trading card grails, and his advice for anyone similarly looking to change their situation.
Alright, so walk me through the story behind Hobbiesville, going from selling your childhood Pokémon cards to turning that into a business.
Essentially, my wife and I were bored. She was pregnant and I had taken some time off to help her. And I started going through my mom’s basement and stumbled across Pokémon cards. I started selling them on eBay. And me being kind of scrappy, I was like you know what? I’m just going to reach out to every wholesaler that I can possibly find and try to lock down a deal to carry the newer Pokémon cards.
Originally, I actually started buying stuff on eBay and just flipping it. There was like no margins or anything. It was more so to build a following on Instagram because I knew how important that was. Eventually I locked down a wholesale deal. I didn’t expect it to go anywhere until I started really leveraging Instagram and things started to grow really quickly. I was getting a lot of requests for Pokémon and I was pretty much just stocking items to meet those requests. But it was crazy. We essentially just kept doubling our sales every single week and people really enjoyed what I was doing. I was trying to build a community more so than a business, and really leverage that.
And then a few months into the business, a product line came out called Champion’s Path. And I remember I put up Champion’s Path on the website, I put a really big order in—I just believed in the product—and we actually did like $75,000 in sales in one day. And I was just like, wow, I think I’m on to something here. Like, OK, this is what I want to do. But without those cards in my mom’s basement… that really funded Hobbiesville. Without that, I wouldn’t have had the money to jump headfirst into it.
For most people, COVID has been a major disruption to the daily routine. I’m wondering if you felt having that forced pause helped push you to take a chance like this that maybe you wouldn’t have otherwise?
I’ve always been a go, go, go kind of person. And I think COVID gave me an opportunity to take a step back and focus on smaller-scale things, which is how the business started. For the longest time, I had always said to my wife, I really want to start a business like yours, but I just never really did it. And I think it’s just because I was constantly moving, constantly doing something. But COVID gave me the opportunity to slow my life down and really look around at opportunities and take advantage of those.
And I do agree with you, l think without COVID, I probably wouldn’t have started the business. I just don’t think it would’ve happened. I think that I would have been more focused on my job or going to the office.
I don’t think COVID’s a blessing by any means, but I think without it I probably wouldn’t have started the business. And you know what? At the same time, I don’t think the business would have grown as fast as it did, because I think the hobby industry, we’ve seen a huge growth due to COVID. People are at home, and in a nutshell, what can you do? There’s really nothing. Collecting trading cards, getting board games, getting puzzles are items that are flourishing within the current climate that we’re in.
“My goal was never to make money in the beginning. It was just something I enjoyed doing and I really wanted to share with people that had the same interests as me.”
Reading that eBay report on the state of the trading card business, some of those numbers are wild. Pokemon card sales grew nearly 600 percent last year? That’s insane.
[Laughs.] Yeah, it’s crazy. The cards that I found, you know, I did find a Charizard card and looking at the pricing now… like if I were to go back in time… Obviously it helped me get Hobbiesville started, so I wouldn’t remove that, but I probably would have got that card graded and sold it for maybe hundreds of thousands of dollars compared to me selling it for like $20,000 or $10,000. It would have been a big difference.
What’s the most valuable card in existence right now? I saw one went for like $370,000 last December. Have prices gone up since then?
With Pokémon, it’s a scarcity thing. There’s just not a lot of items out there. The Charizard card I think sold for $370,000 at one point. I don’t follow that too much. I follow more the sealed product. I’m not sure why that is… I think I’m drawn to it because it’s so unattainable.
We are seeing a bit of a decline right now though. And I think that’s totally natural. We hit this peak where things were insane and people were spending all their money, and now it’s a bit of a decline, and you’re seeing a rise in sealed product. And then outside of Pokémon, we’re seeing a huge rise in sports cards. Sports cards I definitely think are more of a long-term positioning—especially as the dynamics of sports changes. Like you can’t go to a sports game, right? So how do you get involved? You buy sports cards. LeBron cards have been selling for a lot. We actually had a customer bring in a Wayne Gretzky rookie card, which he wanted us to look at.
So Pokémon has taken a bit of a dip, but you know what? I think that it’s going to come back even harder towards the end of the year. I think right now we’re in a bit of a lull where Pokémon’s not pushing things as hard, products aren’t coming out consistently, but as soon as the 25th anniversary set drops, I think that we’ll probably see an even bigger boom. And then Logan Paul and all these people will jump right back into it.
Do you remember your first card, the first one you got that seemed super collectible? That you felt like you should hang on to this.
I dive headfirst into everything really heavily, and I think I did the same thing when I was a kid. I probably took my stepdad to—I think they sold them at gas stations at the time—yeah, probably took him there every single day. My first-ever Pokémon memory was going to a Chinese food restaurant and getting Pokémon Red from my mom and falling in love with it. And then probably two days later going to the convenience store and going to the comic book shop in Ottawa and just buying cards. I don’t know if I remember necessarily the first card that I got that was good, but I know that I was a Charizard person through and through. I hunted for that Charizard. And I do remember specifically trading probably a whole Pokémon collection for the Charizard that I had and that stuck with me until last year.
For me though, Base Set was there when I was a kid and the Charizard was the big draw, but I was really into Neo Genesis, which I think was the fourth or the fifth set. That one just pulled me in heavily. That was a set that I really wanted to collect. And that’s probably where I ended it too. Because I got that whole set and was like, I’m wasting my parents’ money… [Laughs.] But yeah, Charizard was definitely the first card that I really went after, and then Neo Genesis was the first set that I just fell completely into and really got into. And I probably made so many bad trades with those cards looking back.
It’s kind of wild to me to think about trading these cards as kids for fun and then now, oh, yeah, here’s one that’s worth $300,000.
When I found my collection, it brought back so many bad memories because I found a bunch of fake Japanese cards that I had traded my English cards for, that were worthless. And I was just like, I traded a Blastoise for this or Venusaur or a Ninetales? I definitely regret it now.
Do you still get that same rush from opening a new pack that you used to? Now that it’s part of the job?
When we first started, we used to do mystery packs all the time before packs were astronomical. Old packs are just crazy priced right now. But before you could get a Base Set for like $20. And I used to love opening those. XY Evolutions. That one brings back a lot of nostalgia. I don’t necessarily get that same feeling as much with Pokémon because I feel like the driving force now is you want to get these good cards, you’re not enjoying the artwork and stuff as much. But I do get that feeling with some of the newer card games.
There’s two that I really like. There’s one called Flesh and Blood, which is like a Magic the Gathering, but the artwork is just amazing and you don’t really know what you’re going to get. And then there’s another game called MetaZoo, which is pretty fun to open. It’s very similar to a Pokémon. But yeah, my staff would probably challenge me on that because I will sit there and be like, “Do you guys want to open this? I’m super excited.” But then afterwards I’m like, oh, I just wasted a bunch of money. I could’ve sold this to someone.
I know that for sneakerheads, everyone’s got a grail. Do you have a grail when it comes to trading cards?
Oh, Base Set box for sure. Base Set box, I’d probably snuggle with. [Laughs.] Every time I watch a [unboxing] video, I’m just like, I wish I had one of these. And it’s funny because I remember doing eBay searches maybe seven years ago and looking at the price of them… And looking at the price now, obviously you’ve seen it, they’re hundreds of thousands of dollars. But that’d be one of my big grails. I really do wish that I collected sealed product more when I was younger because looking at some of the collections, it would just be so fun to look at.
I think now what I’m looking to do is start over, and with these new games, collect some of the boxes, so when I hit 10 years from now, I can say that I did the same thing that I wanted to do with Pokémon. Sealed product is something that I really enjoy and it’s something that’s kind of unattainable. But I really do wish that I had it. That’d be like my grail. Yeah. Or a Charizard. But I already had one of those, so I don’t even like to think about that. [Laughs.]
What’s the coolest thing you’ve got in the store right now?
That’s a good question. I don’t even know. I’ve never really thought of that. I have the newer Charizard cards, which I really do like. They’re something that I’d like to hold on to. Charizard’s obviously just such a big draw with Pokémon. I do have some of the Flesh and Blood sets starting from the first one. Those are probably my favorite things. And I’m going to hold on to those because I see value in it. I do have some vintage cards as well, those I really do cherish, and I’ll put them on our website every once in a while and share that with people. But those are the main ones.
Anyone who’s in the industry, I’m sure they can attest to this, it’s hard to be a collector while you run a hobby store. But there’s the small things that you really appreciate. For example, the Flesh and Blood stuff, it’s something that I probably wouldn’t have been able to get without owning a store. MetaZoo, I have their Kickstarter boxes, so if that game grows… I really took a chance on them. And that’s something that I’ll cherish for a long time. Things like that I really do cherish. They’re kind of like grails for our store.
Do you have any advice for anyone who might be thinking about taking a leap during COVID, whether that’s starting a new business or just going after a passion like you did?
My biggest advice is just to do it. I think that I hesitated for the longest time with so many different ideas. It’s always that fear of the unknown. But I think that if you actually dedicate your time to something you’re passionate about there’s a different driving force than just trying to make money. My goal, and I think that’s probably what made us do really well, was never to make money in the beginning. It was just something I enjoyed doing and I really wanted to share with people that had the same interests as me. And I think anyone who has that inkling or feeling, whether it’s fashion or jewelry or cooking, whatever, if you’re passionate about it, you can really grow something out of it because there’s a driving force behind it.
And then again, like, COVID is pretty scary, but I think there’s no better time than right now. You’re at home. You can start a website really cheap and play around with things and just see how it goes.
I think one of the biggest things I really leveraged—and it’s super scary in the beginning—is marketing. My biggest advice point there would be put money into marketing. There’s no better way, or no quicker way, to grow yourself as a brand. And then the other thing I’ll say is take advantage of things that are free, like TikTok is such a driving force right now. There’s no better time to launch a business on TikTok or Snapchat even. We market on all those channels and we see a lot of return on that.
This might be a bit left field, but it’s something I was interested in asking you. Obviously, tangible items are pretty important when it comes to the hobby industry. Do you have a take on the current NFT craze?
I knew you were going to ask me that for some reason. [Laughs.] NFTs are tough because I don’t want to give any sort of advice… But I think there’s value in NFTs, for sure. I think if you look at where the world’s going with augmented reality, virtual reality, NFTs have this place in it. And I think that that’ll grow. I’ll be honest, I think they’re a bit inflated right now.
One of the big ones I know right now is Top Shot. That’s one we hear about all the time. Top Shot is a little bit different. There’s a lot of backing from the NBA, players are into it. I think that one is a decent long term hold as far as a product goes. But it’s similar to a cryptocurrency. There’s a bit of hesitation because it’s not tangible. You can’t touch it, but there is value in it. And I think if you look at it in that sense and you don’t overcommit to it, it probably will grow to be bigger than what you thought it was. I’ve bought Top Shot stuff.
I think there’s value there for sure. I would just say be careful and, back to TikTok, do not get conned by TikTok people who are like, put your money into this! [Laughs.] Because those are people who are probably getting paid to do so. But I do think there’s value in it long term. As as the world grows and becomes more virtual, it is just kind of a no-brainer.
So what are your future plans for Hobbiesville? Like, if year one moved this quickly, where do you see it going in year two?
Without spoiling anything, we do have plans to open a couple different locations in different parts of the world, which is very exciting. We really want to leverage the community as much as possible. That’s something we’re looking at doing, running different events here in Canada as well as the United States. We think there’s a hunger for that once COVID opens up.
I think the goal overall for Hobbiesville, and this has been my goal since the beginning, is, how can we be different than every other hobby store? And I think that’s going to be our driving force moving forward. We want to create an inviting environment. We want to have multiple locations that you feel welcome [in] and that if you go to—similar to a Soho House—you go to one, you can go to another one and you feel like you’re taking a step into the same place. That’s big for us. We have a new website that we’re launching. We’re going to launch a YouTube channel, talking about Hobbiesville as a whole, different investments, product, stuff like that. So we definitely have a lot in the works. But I’m excited to see what the five-year plan for Hobbiesville is going to look like if this is just year one.