Bobblehead magnate has customers nodding in approval and wanting more

Photo by Laura Williams

Photo by Laura Williams

ALBANY, Ga. -- Warren Royal has always been a risk taker. When he acquired bobblehead.com in 2007, he thought he could build a business off a seemingly generic Internet domain name.

He was right.

In the three years since buying bobblehead.com, his brainchild has developed into a major player in the collectibles market. And what a long strange trip it's been.

After graduating from Valdosta State with a degree in finance and a minor in economics, Royal spent nearly 10 years in the mortgage industry before dipping his toes into the nascent world of the Internet in 1990.

"Around 1990 I created and managed a large bulletin board system (BBS) as a hobby," Royal, a native of Camilla said. "I ran it from my basement and based it on technology I'd picked up in the mortgage industry.

"I've gone back and forth between the Internet and corporate America. When the web bubble exploded in the early 2000s, I went back to the mortgage industry. But in 2007 the sub-prime industry imploded and almost all of the companies operating in that segment disappeared

overnight -- including the ones I'd been working for."

Searching for something to do, Royal wound his way back to the Internet. He purchased bobbleheads.com and bobblehead.com.

Intrigued by the simplicity of the domain name, Royal decided he would sell bobbleheads online and see what happened.

"It took off right from the beginning," Royal said. "It exploded and really surprised me. I knew then I was onto something. Now it's my life's work."

Two years ago, Royal said in an interview his goal was to make bobblehead.com the number one source of bobbleheads in the world. Did he do it?

"We're pretty close," he answered, "but we'll get there before it's over."

Royal has expanded his bobblehead business into three distinct channels -- a standard retail store, custom bobbleheads and his own specialty products.

"The retail store sells your everyday bobble heads like sports figure and stuff," Royal said. "The custom end has really taken off. We've made custom figure for wedding cakes, birthday gifts, and golf buddies. It now represents a large percentage of our business."

The third channel, specialty historical figures is Royal's favorite -- bobbing figures of Winston Churchill, King Tut, Ronald Reagan, Gen. George Patton, Benjamin Franklin Sarah Palin and Michelle and Barack Obama have resulted in brisk sales.

"My favorite is Churchill, he has spunk about him," Royal said. "We pay great attention to detail and quality. That's what separates our bobbleheads from the rest. Churchill was a portly man, so we made his body a bit larger than a normal bobblehead. We also gave great detail to his watch chain and his bowler can be removed.

"For Sarah Palin, we had small glasses made for her. Most are painted on. Our quality is really noticable."

Royal's little figures are good enough to grace the White House Gift Shop. Museums across the country are clamoring for his products.

"We sell a lot of product in the Washington D.C. area," Royal said. "Once museums and gift shops see our bobbleheads they want them. The response has been overwhelming.

After spending most his life dealing with intangible things like numbers, bandwidth and domain names, Royal said he's happy to actually be able to hold his work in his hands.

"I really enjoy the creative element of this business," Royal said. "I like creating something out of nothing. To start from scratch, then in a few months be able to hold something in your hands.

"I've always dealt with intangible, high-tech things. This is very low-tech, and I love it."