For Business

Merchant spotlight: Stylin Online

Learn how this pop culture brand turned nostalgia into an online business.

Star Wars Mandalorian Stylin Box image

How do you grow your businesses after spending 28 years selling products at in-person conventions? You create an ecommerce store fueled by a Prime shopping experience millions of customers already love.

Meet Stylin Online, a brand focused on building emotional connections with customers through nostalgia. James Cucchiara, CEO of Stylin Online, started his business by selling pop culture clothing adorned with images from his favorite cartoons, video games, TV shows, and movies.

With 28 years under his belt, James has built a nostalgia empire offering over 250,000 items ranging from t-shirts, hats, jewelry and footwear sure to hit the heart strings of the “inner geek” in all of us.

Until 2023, Stylin Online products were exclusively sold at one of the more than 60 pop culture-related conventions his team attended, like ComicCon. Ahead of 2023 ComicCon season, with the help of his agency partner and fellow GenXer, Eric Yonge, the founder of EYStudios, James discovered Buy with Prime.

“We saw an opportunity to help Stylin Online expand its sales channels by using Buy with Prime,” Eric said. “We knew establishing trust with shoppers was paramount to realizing the full potential of selling online, and the Prime shopping experience that gives customers free shipping and a convenient checkout experience was the right strategy.”

Eric and his team honed in on the brands’ Stylin Boxes that are filled with mystery gifts relating to a specific theme, such as TV shows or anime characters. For Stylin Boxes, Buy with Prime is the exclusive method that shoppers can use to purchase its nostalgia-filled mystery boxes online.

The Q&A below captures James’ journey as he built a brand around selling products that help people stay connected to their personal version of nostalgia.

What was your inspiration for starting Stylin?

James: I was meandering around a flea market in my early 20s when I bumped into this person selling these cool (at the time anyways) Surfstyle windbreakers. I bought one and wore it for a bit. Through my work travels I got a bunch of compliments and realized many of my friends wanted to buy one as well. I went back to that stand at the flea market and inquired about buying and selling some of their stock from them. That was the defining moment when I realized the inspiration that would start me down the path of my business.

I had the opportunity to offer these pop culture t-shirts to what I was already offering to my customers. As time went on, I developed this model into a popular mainstay business at many of the fan conventions around the country. We’ve been going strong for over 28 years and we’ve established ourselves as the go-to spot for many customers that love virtually anything relating to pop culture.

Where did you get the idea for mystery boxes and why did you think consumers would buy into the concept?

James: We were at a comic convention and running really short on time before the show opened to the public. I laid down a bunch of boxes that had some colorful art on the outside, and pop culture merchandise inside. I instructed one of my employees to take the contents of the boxes out and display them, but they got busy with something else. The show started and I’d forgotten about the boxes. A couple of hours later, it dawned on me that the boxes were never unpacked, but I realized that they were gone! When I asked my employee what happened, she explained that customers bought the boxes without even knowing what was in them. It was then that I realized not every customer had to know what was in the box if they loved the theme. The mystery itself—not knowing what was in the box—added another layer of excitement around the theme or characters customers already loved.

Tell us about your brand story. Why is it unique? How do you want your customers to feel when they buy your products?

James: Growing up an 80s kid, I’ve always enjoyed the coolest cartoons and toys that came out back then. I think I watched them all and collected many of the toy lines as well. Being such a strong influence on me, I wanted my brand to showcase everything about pop culture that made us feel good. When you get one of our products, not only do you get a quality licensed product, but more importantly, you get something tangible that makes you feel good or nostalgic. Our products bring back good memories for most of my customers.

What does success look like to you? What is the North Star for your business?

James: Success is relative. What I mean is that to some, success is a financially sound business, to others it could simply be doing something you love and for others, just something that lets you get by and enjoy life. For me, I guess it’s all of the above. I’ve experienced a life changing tragedy recently and it has put everything into perspective for me. Having said that, I’ve come to realize that my drive to achieve success comes directly from my parents’ influence and only recently it dawned on me that I simply wanted to make my parents proud. To me, they have been my North Star all along and I find that to be how I define my success.

What are some of the key challenges or pain points that you faced throughout your business journey?

James: Since I have been doing this for over 28 years, I may have a hard time remembering all the pain points and obstacles I’ve had to overcome. I would say my company has been through some distinct eras that have helped me pivot from one direction to another. Back in 2001 I added fan conventions to my retail business model. In 2002, we launched our website and changed our brand from Stylin to Stylin Online. Who knew, online brands back then would become so much of a staple in our collective lives. In 2004, I was urged to expand into Canada by someone I would now call one of my best friends. Then we had to weather the financial crisis and recession in 2008-2009. In 2013, I ended up doing my first overseas convention in Germany. And my expansion into officially licensed mystery boxes around 2016 was my most recent era of our Stylin brand. Each and every era became a specific expansion or pivot point that we had to learn from and endure. Every era of my business carried different pain points that we learned from and resolved in order to continue to move forward.

What interested you in Buy with Prime? What role do you see it playing in the evolution of your business?

James: I saw Buy with Prime as the ultimate solution for a shipping problem I was facing. These Stylin Boxes were a bit bulky and that made standard shipping options not all that reliable, affordable or trackable. Using Buy with Prime’s functionality together with the efficiencies of Amazon’s Multi-Channel Fulfillment network, allowed us to be able to offer fast and free shipping to our customers which our customers have come to expect. To tell you the truth, I don’t think we would have even come to the online market without Buy with Prime for another couple of years. I would even say that has been a critical step to the long-term future of our “Stylin” brand which includes StylinOnline.com and StylinBoxes.com.

What are some of the results that you’ve seen so far from Buy with Prime?

James: In just a short time, we’ve seen sales explode with our customers. The Buy with Prime logo ensures customer confidence when they are purchasing from a new website like ours. Sure, we get a few people that seem leery in the beginning, but once they get that order confirmation email with a familiar Amazon logo, all the fears go away. Then there is the guarantee for returns through Amazon, which helps convert the sale. This whole Buy with Prime program is a definitive no-brainer.

We use social media as a key way to raise awareness about the mystery boxes. During a two-month time span since we made Buy with Prime the exclusive way people can purchase mystery boxes online, we’ve seen a 4.1% click through rate from ads to the site, and have grown the number of new users coming from social media by 67%. These efforts have resulted in an average purchase conversion rate of 10.5%, which I find very encouraging.

What excites you most about the future for your brand and business?

James: The fact that we were able to bring our Stylin Boxes to the digital realm brings me more excitement than anyone can imagine. This proves to me already that the future of this online endeavor has so much upward growth that I can’t even fathom how much bigger it can be.

When your customers talk about your brand – their experience, your products – what do you want them to say?

James: We would like them to feel that we love these pop culture brands and characters as much as they do, because that’s the truth. We are able to promote these products with a sense of authenticity, because we know the passion that fuels their popularity. We speak the same geek language as our customers, and we ultimately want to present them with a surprise that will bring a smile to their faces.

Explore the mystery boxes from Stylin Online. Who knows, you may find a surprise that brings back those amazing memories from your childhood!

Learn more about Buy with Prime.

Kelby Johnson