When Jared Whisenand and his fiancé Lauren Lamb were on vacation in Tokyo, they came across some hobby stores that sold model kits.
When finished, those models were large action figures based on characters from popular anime shows (Japanese cartoons) such as Gundam, Kamen Rider and Dragonball Z.
In the past, he was in charge of selling similar models that were sold at Barnes & Noble, his previous employer. However, they normally didn’t have very many and were often out of stock.
“I always had it in the back of my head that this market existed, but it wasn’t being taken advantage or focused on,” said Whisenand, a longtime anime enthusiast. “We already knew there was a crowd for it, so why isn’t there a store specialized for it?”
After coming back to Blue Springs from his vacation, he did some research on how other Japanese hobby stores did in other parts of the United States and monitored the market for them. He and Lamb later decided to open a store similar to those he saw in Japan. It became a reality on Dec. 13 when he opened Build Up! Import Hobby and Collectables at a shopping center at 1003 E. 23rd St. in Independence.
His store focuses on selling models, but also sells snacks, candy, clothing, keychains and other items that are imported from Japan.
There are tables and chairs in the store for customers who want to build models. The store also offers classes on how to build and paint the models. Whisenand also has cabinet space for builders to sell or display models they’ve finished.
“Gunpla, which is a combination of Gundam and models, is generally what we focus on,” Whisenand said. “It’s what I call our bread and butter. It’s the largest model market in the world.”
“(The models) come in numerous grades, and there’s all kinds of age groups for them. They build into cool action figures. There is no glue required. They are all snap build. We even have a group come here called the Kansas City Gunpla Builders ...”
Whisenand said that there some stories like his on the East and West coasts but none that specifically focus on models in the Kansas City area.
He’s even had customers travel from St. Joseph and Topeka, Kan., to check out his store.
“I did a lot of research on this. There are hoards of Japanese hobby stores along both coasts where there is direct immigration,” Whisenand said. “Austin, Texas also has a lot of stores in the same vein as this.”
“I was monitoring the stock of Badai (the parent holding company of the Japanese models), and also found out that in 2018, they made a huge push into North America. I saw the market, and noticed there is little to no competition, and found out this was a proven model in a number of other American markets, but hasn’t been tried in this specific market.”
Whisenand initially looked into opening a store in Blue Springs before he discovered that Independence is a Japanese sister city to Higashimurayama, Japan. In fact, there is an annual Cherry Blossom Festival, which will take place on April 28 this year, a Japanese style event supporting the Independence Japanese Sister City program.
“Opening the store in Independence is the best decision we made,” Whisenand said.
So far, business has been better than expected, Whisenand said.
“I am incredibly happy with how things have turned out so far,” he said. “We still have a long way to go. We are still only three months in. The community has been supportive of us.”
Whisenand plans on adding new items to the store, including manga (Japnese graphic novels and comic books) and potentially arcade games. For more information on the store, call (816) 709-3342.
“I thought this was the best way I could serve the culture that I thought was here,” Whisenand said. “I could handle this, while the culture could come in here and benefit from it. I am trying to do my best to fit in a culture that has served me for so long.”