FOUNTAIN CITY, Wis. (WCCO) — A long time ago in what seems like a galaxy far, far away…Brian Semling had absolutely no interest in Star Wars.
“We had a garage sale and I sold all my toys, including my Star Wars toys,” Semling said.
That’s hard to believe now, considering his home and his business are chock full of Boba Fett, Luke Skywalker and even a Snaggletooth (or Yak Face).
“Yak Face was never released in the United States,” Semling said. “It makes him a rare and valuable figure.”
It wasn’t until Semling was in high school and he watched the “Return of the Jedi” on TV that childhood memories came rushing back and he decided to build his own empire.
“I thought, holy cow, that was a really good movie,” Semling said. “I kind of forgot. It had been a long time.”
So he began collecting and selling old Star Wars toys.
When he left home to go to college at MIT, his parent’s garage and basement were full of collectibles. It was then that he realized his little business had made the jump to lightspeed.
As Master Yoda once said, “Do or do not. There is no try.”
So Semling went all in: He built a warehouse next door to his parents’ home.
“By the late 90’s, we were selling a couple million dollars a year of Star Wars items,” Brian said.
And that was when he was advertising in toy shop magazines and mailing out catalogs. Now he has the help of Amazon, EBay, and 17 employees including Travis Stein.
“My reaction was to go and tell my friends, Guess how much these things are going for?” Stein said. “Never did I believe that there was an item going for $2,000 for a toy.”
An extremely rare rocket firing Boba Fett sold for $28,000. A factory sealed Death Star will likely sell for about $8,000 – enough to pay for a family trip to Europe.
The value of a Star Wars toy is based on condition and how rare the item is – something Semling’s wife, Carina, learned, even if she didn’t start out as a Star Wars fan.
“He still liked me. Here we are 17 years later,” Carina said. “The fact that he had a business selling Star Wars was shocking to me and amazing.”
But she’s bought in.
So has the couple’s two children, Sonja and Erik, whose army of storm troopers have taken over part of the house.
Over the years, Brian’s Toys has added other product lines, but it’s Star Wars nostalgia that’s helped business grow bigger than the Death Star itself.
“It’s remembering that time when you were fascinated by toys and whatever it was that you grew up with that inspired you,” Semling said.
“We all have a childhood. It doesn’t change at this point. It’s fixed as we are adults.”
Semling’s children are the models for a new line of toys they created called Strictly Bricks.
He’s hoping their love for Star Wars leads them into the family business when they are older.