This story has been a long time coming. Many of us, growing up, tried our hands at building models. Airplanes, tanks, cars – we tried. Some of us were good at it, others… not so much. But we got in touch with Nicolas in Belgium, who told us the story of how a WWII (that’s right, World War II) drugstore became a so much more.
I’ll start with the history of our shop. We are located in a touristic area, at the border with France. When I say, at the border, I mean that when we step outside the shop, across the street, we are in France. The village where we have our shop is Westouter, and the street where we have the shop is called ” Zwarte Berg – Mont noir,” which means Black mountain. (The shop is actually on a hill.)
During the second world war, the shop started as a typical drugstore and butchery (a very, very, small shop). At that time, they were selling a lot of cigarettes, butter, meat, alchohol, and souvenirs from Belgium. A lot of smuggling was involved during this period. After the war, the family changed the shop into a pub.
In the early 50’s, the second gerenation family started to sell toys; they drove 100km to buy their toys in Ostend (big city at the sea). This started with 10 different toys; a puppet, a miniature drum, etc.. During those years, part of the shop was set aside for the toys and the [rest] was used for selling gifts, alcohol, cigarettes, post cards,and such. It stayed like this for years.
Then, in the early 80’s, my father-in-law and his wife took over the shop. This is where it’s getting interesting. They changed the name to “geschenkenhuis bij Patrick en Linda” (“gift shop Patrick and Linda) and expanded the shop. At that time, they sold beer, liquor, whiskey, cigarettes and cigars, tobacco, a lot of toys (Barbie, Disney, etc.), and other gifts.
The early 90’s brought with them a name change to Domino, (this sounds good in every language), and because of a lot of competition, we stopped selling toys. At that time, a customer asked if we could get our hands on some (diecast) model cars. Patrick, a big rally fan, was immediately inspired by this and, in no time, we had a small collection of rally cars; 1/43 scale and some 1/24 scale modelling kits (modelling kits = rally cars, civil cars, WW2 tanks, airplanes, figures…)
This expanded really quickly and, a few years later, the shop was too small again. So to answer the questions “Why did you decide to build a business around scale models” and “When and how did you start this business,” a combination of interest and passion from Patrick and a lot of demand from the customers. Don’t forget that we still sell beer, liquor, whiskey, cigarettes and cigars, tobacco, and gifts. So half the shop is modelling and diecast and the other half is tourist stuff.
This story keeps going on untill 2005, the year my wife and I joined the club. We didn’t intend to continue with the shop, but very quickly changed our mind. I was too interested in cigars and I wanted to expand that. My first work was developing websites for Domino modelling and for Domino cigars. In this way, I got interessted in modelling and rally myself.
In the mean while, we hired Steven, a very big rally fan and model builder who buys 80% of all modelling products we sell. The shop kept growing and growing. We expanded again and I started specialising in cigars. We’ve bought a few big trucks and started to go to modelling shows and competition.
How many modelling products do you have?
A few years ago, we had over 22,000 different products (modelling and die-cast, now 25,000). Two years ago, people were complaining about the big model manufacturers. This was because there were almost no new rally car releases. This was the start of Belkits, our own brand of model cars. We’ve contacted some professional plastic injection companies, car manufacturers and 3d-artists.
The result was our first release: A 1/24 scale Peugeot 207 S2000 rally car, with 9 different versions to build. One detailed kit with one decal, photoeched parts. Apart from that we have 8 different decals that people can buy.
Right now, we are negotiating with Ford and M-sport for the rights to the Ford Fiesta S2000 (Hirvonen, winner, rally Monte Carlo 2010) and the Fiesta RS WRC (Hirvonen and Latavala, Deutschland ADAC Rally 2011). These cars shoud be our second and third releases.
How involved are you with car culture and motorsport?
As I said, Patrick is a big rally fan. He sponsors a local rally driver, Ronny Hosten, who drivesh a Toyota Corolla kit car, pictures can be found here: www.hostenrallysport.eu
My interest for motorsport (rally, Formula1) in general began in 2005, when I started working for Domino. Steven and Giovanni (who also works here) are huge rally fans. We also sponsor the Ypres Westhoek Rally, the biggest rally in Belgium which is an IRC rally.
You can read our interview with Ypres organizer, Kristof Denaeghel here.
We’ve also sponsored famous rally drivers from Belgium like Freddy Loix and Patrick Snijers, and we’ve been to the ADAC Deutschland Rally (WRC-rally) to sell our miniature cars. In Finland, we had a great experience, where we drove a Ford Escort MKII ourselves… on a frozen lake!!! This went totally crazy.
Can you tell us about a time when your business faced a challenge and how you overcame that challenge?
The biggest challenge we have – even now – is having enough space to display our cars in the shop. We have lot of building space left, but the Belgian governement will not allow us to expand any more. This is really frustrating, but right now there’s nothing much we can do (except move, but that’s not an option). Most recently, we were challenged with the creation of Belkits. It’s always dangerous to invest in something new, but I think we’re doing quite well at the moment :)
Looking back at your time in business, what is one of your most cherished memories?
This is a difficult one. Haha. We’ve got so many great moments already.
The most cherished memory I have was the first year we went to modeling shows, rallies, and events with our trucks fully loaded with modeling and diecast, and the reaction of the people seeing all the products we took with us; over 5,000 products in one truck, 3,000 in the other one. We’ve got very good comments on this and it was good publicity. Now everyone at the shows and meetings knows who Domino is. (Did I mention we go to shows in Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Germany and The Netherlands, with plans to visit the UK and perhaps Spain>)
Which models are your most popular products? Why do you think this is the case?
At the moment our BEL-001 Peugeot 207 S2000. This is normal because we are the only manufacturer of this kit. Before the story of Belkits, we had big demand for Lancia Delta Integrale and the Subarus. In their time, legendary cars!
What sells great in Belgium are the Nascar-cars, but they are harder to get because we have to import them. I think they are so wanted here because Nascar racing is so far away, and yet so close. (Thank you tv and internet.)
If you had to pick one favorite model, which would it be and why?
My favorite rallycar is the Lancia Delta Integrale with the Martini colors. Just looking at it makes me want to buy one.
My favorite roadcar would be a Shelby GT500 Eleanor from ’67. *TILT*
We wanted to share this story with you because we think it’s pretty cool to see how gearheads have driven this business since WWII, going so far as to design their own models, and get so heavily involved with motorsport.
If you visit Domino.be, you can choose to browse their EPIC selection of model cars, OR their tobacco, whiskey, and cigar offerings. We can only imagine what it’s like to assemble a scale model whilst sipping a Jameson and smoking a Cohiba.
What do YOU think, gearhead?
- How many models have you had?
- What’s the coolest thing you found on Domino.be?