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Insights on a brick-and-mortar keyboard store

Paul from Geekboards in Germany gives us some insight about working in a mechanical keyboard store. Origins, community reactions, challenges, customers.

Paul Gerz
Published December 2, 2023
This post is part of the KBD.NEWS Advent Calendar 2023. The previous article was: Mantis: An Argument for Hexagonal Keys in Ergonomic Keyboards by Felix Kühling. Stay tuned and check back for more articles tomorrow!

Intro

I'm Paul from Germany, and I'm a bit of a newcomer to the world of mechanical keyboards. I've recently joined Geekboards, a stationary mechanical keyboard store in Berlin, and I find it quite fascinating. Given the rarity of such establishments, I thought it would be interesting to share the story of this niche project with you.

At the outset, the idea for this article was clear, but once you dive into the subject, you sometimes can't see the forest for the trees. But first, let me give you an overview of Geekboards so you know who or what we're talking about.

About five years ago, our CEO Roman opened his first small storefront in Russia, specializing in the sale of mechanical keyboards. At that time, Roman had already worked as a software developer for a little over a decade. As is customary in the profession, he delved into the realm of the right peripherals to make his workdays more comfortable and enjoyable.

Pic: Shop in Russia 5 years ago

Shop in Russia 5 years ago

Back then, in Russia, he couldn't find a place to buy the appropriate mechanical keyboards locally. So, he sought help from international companies and, when purchasing his first keyboard, decided to offer them locally himself. It all started as a "customer," and to this day, he still sees himself as one.

Since then, a lot has happened, and Geekboards in Russia has established itself over the years, becoming one of the go-to places for enthusiasts in Moscow. Due to business growth and life's unpredictable turns, Roman decided a few years ago to venture into the European market with Geekboards and shape the mechanical keyboard scene in Germany, just as he did in Russia. It was clear from the beginning that if suitable premises could be found, a small offline store would be established in Berlin alongside the European e-shop.

Pic:

The search took a while, and so, Geekboards started in summer 2020 without an offline store in Europe. When the store space was finally found at the end of 2022, renovations were needed.

Interestingly, even the empty store attracted interest, with people trying out various keyboards at our improvised table while renovations were the primary focus in the background. Those were exciting times, but ultimately, it's always a great feeling to see the result of months of work. In the summer of 2023, Ollivanders for mechanical keyboards officially opened its doors. Here, it's not the customer choosing the keyboard; the keyboard chooses the customer.

Pic: Ollivanders in Berlin

Ollivanders in Berlin

The association with Harry Potter and Ollivanders Wand Shop was intended by Roman but we didn’t expect that people will notice. We were, however, pleasantly surprised when we shared our store opening on Reddit. Many observed that our storage area in the store looks remarkably similar to the enchanted spot in Diagon Alley.

It was heartening to see the overwhelming support and excitement from the community about the store's opening in Berlin. Some even announced their plans for pilgrimages, and indeed, some customers on-site mentioned they had seen our post on Reddit. The fact that Reddit has such an audience is a blessing for a niche store like ours. However, it's essential to remember that despite the numerous forums dedicated to mechanical keyboards, awareness of this specific topic is still quite low among the general population.

Customers

Interestingly, most of the customers who visit us daily are not hardcore enthusiasts. We spend the majority of our time working with customers, explaining the basics. About one-third of our clientele simply wants to replace their cheap keyboard with another budget-friendly option, and on average, we manage to convince one in three individuals of the wonders of the little more expensive keyboard world. Of course, there are also many people in the store who just happened to walk by and wanted to see something unusual from the inside.

About 90% of our paying customers are primarily adult males. Many of whom purchase a mechanical keyboard out of fascination, turning it into a bit of a passion or hobby, ensuring they become repeat customers.

Pic:

The other majority consists of those who want to treat themselves to something good for work and enjoy typing without their fingers hurting after extended periods in front of the computer. I find the customer base particularly intriguing because mechanical keyboards are often associated with gaming. However, it's rare to see children and die-hard gamers as visitors.

It seems like the store is evolving into the physical counterpart of a forum like the subreddit. Many visitors drop by just to engage in conversations about the world of keyboards, a discussion we're always eager to participate in since we derive most of our knowledge from our diverse community. Some customers even spend up to three hours in the store. Fairly, a Reddit user once asked what we do if the customer doesn't buy anything. Well, we can't force anyone, but another user quipped that the customer would have to return to their rubber dome keyboard the next morning – punishment enough. 😀

Pic:

Inside the store

When it comes to advising our customers, we always start with some fundamental principles. There are three different types of switches: tactile, linear, and clicky. We then let them try these out on various keyboards, emphasizing how even the same switch sounds different in different casings. In fact, many customers quickly grasp that aesthetics are secondary, and it's much more crucial to utilize the other senses to find the right keyboard. This might seem unusual in today's world where the aesthetics of an object often take precedence.

Pic:

It becomes apparent quite swiftly that the higher the quality of materials used, the more beautiful the sound or feel. Once a customer has experimented through the store, we gather the keyboards they liked in terms of feel and sound, gradually connecting them to a computer for a typing test. This way, the customer receives immediate feedback on not only the feel but also the actual results when working. The more interest a customer shows, the more we explore and explain.

Pic:

Unfortunately, we sometimes hit our limits with the myriad switch options and the constraints imposed by manufacturers. Defying this limitation on-site while catering to the customer's individual preferences often challenges us to find and offer a comparable product. There are instances where a customer loves a specific look, but we can't provide the desired switches or the appropriate layout. However, there are also times when we leave a visitor completely satisfied, and on those occasions, we are unequivocally delighted!

Business

But speaking of time, as in any other startup, time is scarce for us as well. Besides the numerous location-specific tasks that come with running an offline store, being a small business in Europe means dealing with bureaucratic regulators constantly. New topics emerge daily, keeping the work routine never dull or monotonous. With only three full-time employees, we live by the motto that we do everything as well as we can, and as we work, we learn.

Pic: Shop in Berlin

Shop in Berlin

We noticed that a significant portion of the comments on Reddit revolved around the idea that our endeavor could never be profitable, and we would soon close. It's undeniable that such a niche topic faces significant challenges in establishing itself in the market, especially given the current rental costs in Europe, but we remain optimistic. We've had positive experiences in Russia, and another Reddit user succinctly summarized what drives us beyond profit. "…I think it would be fun to open a small, really specialized store like this. It would be operated more for fun and to keep busy than for profit. Spread the joy, stay active, damn the profits…" Of course, we're not unrealistic and need to survive, but we're working to endure for as long as we can, providing excellent service and personal presence to outshine the rest. :)

So, feel free to drop by if you're in the area and always let us know how you heard about us. We welcome every visitor and all their topic-related challenges and the knowledge they bring along with them. We look forward to seeing you!

I typed this article as a newbie on a NuPhy Air 75 with linear Gateron low profile red switches.

Paul Gerz (27)

LocationBerlin, Germany
DescriptionNewbie
OccupationBusiness Development Manager
Joined (the hobby)2023
NicheBrick-and-Mortar Store
Fav. switchNot sure yet
Other hobbieshiking, team sports, philosophy
Linksgeekboards.de, instagram
Do you like this post? Share, donate, subscribe, tip me off!

Published on Sat 2nd Dec 2023. Featured in KBD #2023.


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