Thorsten Klahold’s path to his building brick store "Steingemachtes” (literally stone-made) was not a straight one. . "In my opinion, interlocking building blocks are the best toy in the world", says the entrepreneur, "they are fun and also have a learning effect".
From Millennium Falcon to Youtube success
Customers of "Steingemachtes" know the man with the distinctive sideburns under his proper name. But for many thousands of building brick fans he is mainly known as the creator of "Johnny's World". That’s the name of Klahold's YouTube channel, which today has more than 25,000 followers. The contributions revolve around the entire spectrum of interlocking brick manufacturers. Besides Lego, these include European producers such as Cobi (Poland) and Stax (sales in the Netherlands and production in China), as well as Mega Construx, part of the Mattel Group. The numerous companies in China such as Qman offer a particularly wide range. And the great thing is that most building brick systems are compatible with the standardised dimensions of Lego.
Klahold started out on Youtube a good two years ago. At that time the father of two and "avid Star Wars fan" built the Lego "Millennium Falcon” model. He filmed the project and put the clip online. And soon afterwards he started looking beyond the brand world of Lego. Two years ago, this was a new focus for the large network community of interlocking brick fans." But this way of looking at things adds greater variety and colour to the hobby," says retail salesman Klahold, whose family runs a specialised shop for schoolbags.
He had the idea of founding the business at the Spielwarenmesse® 2019
Nevertheless, enthusiasm for the hobby is one thing, critical spirit another. In his Youtube contributions, Klahold therefore not only compares sets of different brands and films construction projects, but also explores the history of toys (his discovery: Lego perfected interlocking bricks but did not invent them) and he also evaluates the way licences are handled as well as product quality. This mixture was well received right from the outset. And so the Youtuber, with around 10,000 subscribers at the time, reported on the steadily growing range of building bricks at the Spielwarenmesse® 2019.
"I made lots of contacts there, and it was at the trade fair that I had the idea of starting my own shop - both in bricks and mortar and online. As a second-generation retailer, this was an important aspect" says the man from Paderborn. This was the birth of "Steingemachtes", whose product range today comprises around two dozen manufacturers. He set up the shop within six weeks. "It wasn't at all easy back then without an established network of importers," recalls the building bricks pioneer, although it was just one and a half years ago.
Customers sense when a dealer has a real passion for his products - online and offline
The business idea made a strong impact on the scene. "Within half a day of opening I had sold my entire stock," Klahold said. He has since closed the gap in the distribution network himself: On a trip to China he strengthened his trade fair contacts and now he is an importer and wholesaler, supplying other specialist shops in Germany with interlocking bricks.
Customers from all parts of Germany come to “Steingemachtes”. The shop as a "place where people come, where they can see the finished models, where you can touch and discuss" is very important, says Klahold. "If the buyers sense that the dealer has a passion for his products, then specialised local stores have a chance of surviving in the future," says the interlocking brick specialist.
Boom in digital formats in the times of Corona - both shops and shows
However, the restrictions imposed as a result of the Coronavirus since March 2020 have shown how important digital channels are today. This does not only apply to flourishing online specialist stores, but also to discussions within the hobby community. From mid-March to the end of May, for example, there were live streams on the subject of building bricks under the hashtag #buildingbricksforhappyness - often several times a day. On 31 May the "Big Final Show" took place.
And it goes without saying that the building brick Youtuber Klahold was part of this event. The range of interlocking building bricks made by other manufacturers has certainly seen a boost over recent weeks as a result of this virtual exchange. And Klahold thinks there is a great potential for further development. Because "a lot of products are a great addition to the world of Lego", says the expert, adding with a laugh: "but replacing Lego? No other brand will ever manage that".