Thomas Panke operates brick-and-mortar shop "Held der Steine" in Frankfurt and the eponymous YouTube channel
The cush IT job at a employment company Monster soon became a drag for Thomas Panke. Serendipitously, he discovers the potential of retail sales with Lego and opens up a brick-and-mortar shop close to his flat in Frankfurt, Germany. He calls it “Held der Steine” (which loosely translates as “Brick Hero” and comes from the name of the individual Lego pieces.) Shortly thereafter, he launches a YouTube channel, but it struggles to get into overdrive—until he hits the right nerve with his scathing review of a Lego tow truck model last November. Now his rants generate reach and followers. OMR takes a look at how this reversal of fortune has helped him build his brick and mortar business.
“Alright people, now I’m going to talk about the aspects that are so annoying, that I have to recommend that nobody buy this set.” That’s the conclusion Thomas Panke reached in his aptly-titled video “The 42070 is the most disappointing LEGO® Technic Modell that I’ve ever seen!” The clip with its scathing review of the much ballyhooed tow truck was released last November and has been seen 740,000 times. Seems counterproductive for Panke to bash a Lego release, the same products responsible for a Lego merchant’s revenue. In building a brand, however, the honesty has struck a chord—and Panke has doubled-down: The channel’s most successful video is entitled “A €370 disappointment— the LEGO® Technic 42083 – Bugatti Chiron.” A 30-minute critique that’s been seen over a million times.
Honesty is the best policy
Besides tearing apart Lego products, the two popular videos have something else in common: they form the turning point in the YouTube channel’s fortune, propelling the channel to new heights in views and subscribers. Until October, “Held der Steine” had never surpassed 100,000 views or 1000 subscribers in a month; the afore-mentioned rants changed all that with views exceeding 1 million and hitting a peak of 10K new subscribers in a month.
The most recent critical piece, on the new Bugatti model, was released in June and caused an even greater impact in Youtube stats, with nearly one third of all his views coming in the last month. Similar story with new subscribers, as a shade over 105,000 signed up in the same time frame. Engagement (a combination of likes, dislikes and comments) has increased as well with 22 per 1000 views—an above-average clip.
Can criticizing your own inventory be good for business?
Panke confirmed the underlying assumption that lambasting his own products would impact sales negatively in an interview on Gemran Youtube channel “Klemmbausteinlyrik” (interview auf Deutsch). If you don’t happen to sprech the Deutsch, Panke said before he tested the tow truck he projected about 150 sales. In the end, he sold something like 4 or 5, he said. That, however, was primarily a result of the fact that he didn’t want to sell them, or couldn’t in good conscience. “I know most of my customers. They’re regulars and they rely on my opinions when deciding what to buy. In the case of that model, I talked it down significantly, because I knew it was crap,” said Panke flatly. He went on to add that his critical opinion of the model kept “dozens” from buying the model, which can cost up to EUR 250.
While his criticism has impacted sales, the trust his clients place in his opinions and insights seems to more than make up for any lost revenues—and we’re not talking chump change, either. If we take the previous example and assume that he would have sold the 150 Lego Technic tow trucks like he projected at a price of EUR 200, that’s revenue of EUR 30,000 that he’s forgone. The losses from the Bugatti video, the most watched clip on “Held der Steine”, figure to be even greater as the Bugatti runs for EUR 370.
Revenue compensation online style
The reach that Panke generates from his Youtube channel also generates revenue, as every video contains a link to the product featured in the video that redirects viewers to the corresponding Amazon website, aka affiliate marketing 101. Additionally, the description has links to another affiliate, a German online toy shop called ideeundspiel.com, while another sends viewers to his account on bricklink.com, the world’s most popular Lego marketplace for used sets and spare parts. That profile was created in November 2013 and has since then generated 2500 orders and over 1000 positive reviews.
In the same interview with “Klemmbausteinlyrik,” Panke stressed, however that the majority of his direct purchases happen in his brick-and-mortar shop around the corner from his flat in Frankfurt. The shop, which first opened in 2012, lies just 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) from Frankfurt’s main shopping drag, Zeil—where there is also an official Lego flagship store. But it’s hardly a competitor. “We know each other well and send each other clientele whenever they can’t find what they are looking for.”
A lack in face-to-face contact and good vibes spur the offline adventure
Panke first had the desire to launch a Lego shop in 2012 after an attempt to sell exclusively online. “The only contact I had with anyone was with pissed off customers and the mailman,” he told German daily Welt. “I could have stayed at Monster for that.”
“It’s similar to economic computer simulations I liked playing back in the 90s—but now everything is real.” While there are no guarantees, 6 years of the brick-and-mortar are nothing to sneeze at. “If it ever stops working, I can still fall back on Youtube.” Content and Reviews on all sorts of toys have after all produced some of YouTube’s most successful channels.