Skip to main content
Updated:
Original:

Man's passion for 'Star Wars' turns into multi-million dollar business

Author:

A Wisconsin man's childhood passion for Star Wars has led to a multi-million dollar business, which recently passed the threshold of $5 million in annual sales.

"When I started, I was a 16-year-old kid," Brian Semling, 37, told the Rochester Post Bulletin. "It went from being a hobby to a business that was an extension of my hobby to becoming a real career."

Semling started collecting "Star Wars" toys when he was in high school, and then launched Brian's Toys, a mail-order collectables business, in his family's basement in 1994 to make some extra money for college, according to the Brian's Toys website.

His hobby turned into much more. Semling started taking out ads in trade magazines and attending conventions – with the help of his family, the start-up quickly grew, the Winona Daily News reports. He was in college at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but was traveling back to the Midwest nearly every weekend to work on his ever-growing business.

In 1996, as a sophomore, Semling decided to leave MIT and transfer to Winona State University, where he could fully commit to developing Brian's Toys, the newspaper says.

Now, the company, which is headquartered in Fountain City, Wisconsin, but has two of its main warehouses in Winona, claims to have the "world's largest selection" of "Star Wars" toys and collectables with customers in all 50 states and over 100 countries, according to the company's website.

Semling has also included Winona in his success. He has hired most of his 26 employees from Winona State University, Saint Mary's University or Southeast Technical College in Winona, the Rochester Post Bulletin notes.

Changing with the times

Semling has altered his business plan to change with the times. First, he advertised through ads and by attending conventions. As technology advanced, he started using eBay to sell the collectables. Now, with a website, and the popularity of social media, he's reaching 10,000 potential customers with each tweet and Facebook post, the Rochester Post Bulletin reports.

Brian's Toys is also not just about Star Wars anymore. The business has grown and also sells "Transformers," "Masters of the Universe," "GI Joe," LEGO and "Indiana Jones" collectables, according to an e-newsletter from Merchants Bank.

Semling also has plans to launch a smartphone app this fall. The app will allow customers to use their phones to scan bar codes of toys in their original packaging. This will simultaneously create inventory and give the customer price quotes from Brian's Toys, Semling told the Post Bulletin.

Although Semling has been adapting his business, he and his family are still a major part of the company. His parents assist part time, his wife, Carina, helps with payroll, and his two young children, Sonja, 7, and Erik, 4, help out on occasion, according to the company's website.

Semling not only owns and runs Brian's Toys, which has an A-plus rating from the Better Business Bureau, but he's also authored a book about "Star Wars" collecting.

Next Up

D'Angelo Russell

With KAT out, Timberwolves can't upset Nets

D'Angelo Russell stepped up but couldn't overcome Brooklyn's firepower.

Everson Griffen Vikings dot com

Everson Griffen confirms he has bipolar disorder

"I’ve been running from it a long time. I’m not ashamed of it anymore.”

Angela Renee Jones, St. Cloud murder suspect

St. Cloud suspect now charged in two local murder cases

Both murders happened within a day of each other in June.

st anthony 3 crop

Twin Cities police ask for help finding missing 16-year-old

Police say all her family and friends have been contacted, and none of them know where she is.

mpd suspect 12.3.21 - 1 - CROP

MPD releases photos of shooting suspect, asks for public's help

The man is wanted in connection with a fatal shooting that happened Wednesday evening.

redmons popcorn colbert 2

Support grows for Redmon's Popcorn after shop's sudden closure

The county also commented on the situation, saying it hopes to help owner Zack Redmon.

prior lake high school

Prior Lake HS investigating another 'racist' video involving student

The principal said the social media video was reported to them this week.

Screen Shot 2021-12-03 at 3.08.27 PM

Walz: Minnesota has secured 1 million rapid, at-home COVID tests for kids

It comes as the delta variant continues to surge in Minnesota, and the omicron variant might follow.

boundary waters

Forest Service limiting permits to BWCAW due to damage, overcrowding

Visitors have been cutting down trees and have been forced to compete for campsites.

police lights

Lockdown update: Armed man threatened to go to Kimball High School

A high school and elementary school near St. Cloud went into lockdown as a precaution.

chaska sewer

People in Chaska are flushing the wrong crap down the toilet

Water and sewer crews in Chaska have had to clean the same pump four times in the past seven days.

Related