Robert Johnston sells Legos online as a full time job. Yes, you read that correctly. “Most old people think I am making my business up because they don’t understand the internet,” he explains. “Basically I have a store online instead of right down the street in a shopping plaza.”
I’ve been friends with Robert since 2007, when we met in college. By then, he had already started “selling vintage clothes on the sly out of [his] dorm room,” significantly contributing to the 90’s being alive at Milligan College and filling my tiny closet with other people’s family reunion and Bible camp t-shirts.
Before he started Vintage Nashvegas, Robert was training to be a manager at a local restaurant and selling various things online, sometimes scavenged. “One month I made the same amount selling stuff as I was making at the restaurant, so that, combined with the upcoming 60+ hr/week management role, changed the course of history forever,” he says. “The next month I quit the restaurant and started slowly building my online business.”
Now, six years later, Robert sells a variety of retail merchandise “through eBay, Etsy, and Amazon.” Robert describes this transition as “a continuation of a lifestyle.” Vintage Nashvegas officially started in a spare bedroom in his house, and is now run from a West Nashville warehouse, adjacent to a meditation studio and below a restaurant wholesale supply store. The walls of old windows and distressed brick, lined with color-sorted legos, Western shirts, mom jeans, flannels, and Members Only jackets, agree with Robert’s brand and personal interests. The name Vintage Nashvegas covers Robert’s “desire to incorporate [his] love of all things vintage, but still valuable,” into his brand. It is organically him. “I have been living ‘vintage’ for many moons,” he says. “I've never wanted to separate my business from who I am, thus the focus on Lego and vintage clothing. Even most of the Lego items I sell are considered vintage and are unavailable in any new market.” Robert discerns that when “people hear ‘antique’ [they] think about their memaw,” but, when they “hear vintage [they] think ‘Give it to me,’” something any reseller wants his customers to have in mind.
Robert spends his work days shipping orders to customers, photographing new items, submitting new listings online, and testing out strategy. “Unlisted inventory is basically wasted money,” he says. His business thrives off of a bit of space, a computer, and an internet connection, but requires a good online business planning to be successful. Robert describes his online presence as “eclectic, wide, and deep.” A Summa Cum Laude Business School graduate, he analyzes his strategies constantly and “tweak[s] future actions based on their performance.” His first love is eBay but says, “Etsy and Amazon are newer marketplaces for me to ply my wares.” Robert found that Etsy was the marketplace for vintage clothing and “a few custom Lego items for the discerning hipster.” A Ron Swansonesque Lego from his Etsy shop was featured on BuzzFeed this past Christmas season (#19). “My eBay store is big and getting bigger all the time, as it is a worldwide market where anything can be sold,” he says.
Small businesses come in all kinds of boxes. Robert’s is one that helped inspire to me to start my own. I’ve been able to see Vintage Nashvegas grow from a dorm room to an upstairs spare bedroom, and then to a large warehouse space, and it is still growing today. Robert is an example of what a person can do with a good idea, serious dedication, support from family, and enough time.