What might look like nothing more than tiny pieces of artwork pinned on a lanyard or to a jacket has become an unexpected livelihood for Jenn Nickols and her Kansas City-raised family of Disney fanatics.
“We went to Disneyland and we discovered pin trading in the parks,” Nickols said of the unique hobby. Over the course of more than a decade, it’s become a bippity, boppity boon on her entrepreneurial resume.
“We spent a lot of our time buying and trading pins while we were there, but as you could imagine, when you get home you can’t keep doing that.”
Frustrated and eager to expand her collection despite the geographic limitations, the serial entrepreneur and her husband, Chris Nickols, found a way to bring the magic to Kansas Citians through Pin & Pop, an online pin trading platform, specializing in meet and greet events that aim to capture the same spirit found within the Disney parks.
“I started to explore if there were people that loved this as much as I did,” she recalled. “In the summer of 2018, I’d just do a little test run and host an event here in Kansas City. We went to a park in Edgerton, Kansas, and three people showed up.”
And they came with plenty of collectors’ gold, Nickols added.
“One lady came with boxes and boxes and boxes of pins. I was like, ‘There’s someone else who’s just like me,’” she said, noting Pin & Pop’s quarterly meetups amassed an average of about 60 people before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic last year.
Click here for information on Pin & Pop’s Virtual, Royal Pin Trading Ball, set for April 10.
“We were really encouraged to see [this hobby] expand in our local community and it seemed like people were coming out of the woodwork to find us.”
Click here to join the Pin & Pop trading community or to browse more than 3,000 pin sets.
Because of its online trading platform, Pin & Pop has managed to continue cultivating its whimsical community despite the pandemic, Nickols said, eager to gather the collectors community together once again as COVID cases decline and vaccine roll outs continue across the metro.
A contributing factor to the platform’s success: the Nickols experience in tech, having created the Whobaloo graphics design platform through their company Upside Down Design.
“We owned it for 16 years. … We eventually found [our niche] with these companies that earned $300,000 to $10 million and needed custom solutions, especially around their shopping cart systems, but also their backend management pieces,” Nickols explained.
“It always makes it hard when you’re like, ‘I’m trying to run a business,’ and all these cool pins come in. … Tinkerbell and Peter Pan are kind of my main collections in the pin world and then Halloween pins as well. Anytime those come through I get a little jealous.
— Jenn Nickols, Pin & Pop
Creating personalized customer experiences continues to be the couple’s niche, as a similar ideology drives Pin & Pop and its protected trading platform.
“We can provide transparency on the backend so people know exactly where their trade is in the process of everything,” she said, detailing the inner workings of the trading platform which sees all pins sold hand sorted and accounted for by the Nickols’ and a team of volunteers.
The process includes verification of all items traded — helping eliminate the trade of fraudulent merchandise.
“For the last event we did, we had like 150 pins come through and we have to make sure those get all sorted and to the right area. But it’s super fun! And luckily they don’t all come at the same time,” she laughed.
Building the business — and its corresponding community of Kansas Citians — in the hometown of Walt Disney has been an additional dose of magic for Nickols.
“He had these ideas of bringing fun and joy to a broad audience,” she said of the legendary animator.
“It’s really cool to have that connection and to identify with his struggles as an entrepreneur. … He didn’t give up on what he wanted to bring to people. He kept pursuing it and finding new ways to present it to people.”
A similar sentiment is now true of Nickols’ entrepreneurial story.
“Hopefully we can build something in the same way. Let’s build something, let’s continue to improve it, let’s continue to get new ideas, listen to our customers, and — hopefully — be as successful.”
Click here to learn more about plans to restore Walt Disney’s Laugh-O-gram Studios to its former glory, the future home of a Plexpod coworking space and digital media lab.
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.