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Vintage Tin Toys Become Viable Company

Freshman Aaron Brown’s business is booming thanks to a passion for all things retro

Sep 25, 2017

It’s safe to say that most students enter their freshman year at Georgia Tech with big dreams. They want to invent something incredible, be a leader, or run their own company one day.

Aaron Brown, a first year industrial engineering major, is beginning his journey at Tech as the founder and CEO of a successful company: Tin Toy Arcade. The young entrepreneur runs a website that allows people to buy genuine tin toys and, hopefully, reconnect with their childhoods.

When he was in second grade, Brown discovered a box of vintage toys as he was digging around in his grandfather’s basement: think windups, robots and rocket ships. While most kids would be perfectly content to simply play with toys, Aaron Brown wanted to share them with other people.

With a five-hundred-dollar loan from his dad and camera in hand, Brown entered an art show, where he displayed creative photos of the toys next to the toys themselves and sold them as a pair. By the end of the night, he had quadrupled his father’s investment and won Best-In-Show.

“At the art show, people really liked seeing the toys,” said Brown. “I could see the happiness on their faces. It gave me the idea to reconnect adults with their childhood toys and spread that joy to more people.”

Brown’s family helped him set up a website, and whenever he got an email from an interested customer, he would go to the box of tin toys he kept in the living room and ship the toy out.

Eventually, Brown ran out of his grandfather’s old toys, but found ways to keep selling the trinkets. His newly-minted toys are created on the same machine presses that the vintage versions were made on decades ago.

The business took off, and Brown’s stock of toys grew from a cardboard box to shelving units covering the walls of his house. The toys are now stored in a large warehouse near the airport.

Brown’s toys have attracted a lot of attention. One of his products, a mini radiocon robot, was featured in the Wall Street Journal’s 2016 Off Duty Holiday Gift Guide. The vintage toys have been incorporated into the sets of a variety of movies and television shows, such as Heroes, Men In Black, The Man in the High Castle and Interstellar.

Brown’s journey has taken him all over the world, from trade shows in New York to working with toy makers in Germany. He knows what it is like to stay close to home and play it safe, as well as aim for the stars and invest four years of revenue on a shipment that could make or break the business. Brown took a big risk on items from a toymaker he thought his customers would love, and the gamble paid off; he is now the world’s exclusive retailer for these toys.

Aaron Brown with family

Brown’s success is due in part to capitalizing on the nostalgia of his customers, as well as taking carefully calculated business risks. Improvements to his business have been made in tiny increments, but Brown says that is what has made Tin Toy Arcade flourish.

“My business has been successful due to taking one step at a time, and if it doesn’t work then I take a step back, reassess the situation and step forward again,” said Brown. “Of course, I have no idea what I’m doing. So far, it’s worked out, but the business is growing and I don’t know how to wing it anymore.”

That’s where Brown’s major, industrial engineering, comes in. He loves to constantly improve the efficiency of his business—so much so that their main competitor is now Amazon, due to the ability of both companies to promise same-day shipping.

Tin Toy Arcade pulls this off with seven full-time employees, two of which are Brown’s parents. Brown says that he has learned a lot from managing people from such a young age, and likes to make sure that everyone is equal and has valued input. As CEO of a small company that has far-reaching impact, Brown finds himself doing both big and little things to keep the place running – he makes the investment decisions and takes out the trash.

Brown hopes that the math and other technical skills he learns in his classes will teach him how to continue to improve Tin Toy Arcade, as well as inspire him to come up with new ideas.

While his intent was to use Tin Toy Arcade to save money for college, Brown says that he is going to keep it going because growing the company motivates him. His passion for what he loves and his entrepreneurial spirit are some things that he shares with many Georgia Tech students. Brown thinks that the key to a great entrepreneur isn’t the spark that starts the business, but the continued work that is needed to keep an idea aflame.

“I want [the company] to be better, even though it doesn’t need to be better,” said Brown. “I think that’s what engineers should be doing anyways, whether it’s entrepreneurial or not. You can definitely apply that from engineering to the entrepreneurial spirit and passion to really make great products.”

Creating something amazing inevitably involves some risk, and Brown lives for that uncertainty. He knows, better than anyone else, that sometimes you have to be bold in order to make it big.