In a shop tucked away in the busy Kiulap area, a battle is raging between the Rebel and the Imperial fleet for the fate of the galaxy far, far away.
Standing on each side of the table, two friends are enjoying a game of Star Wars: Armada, attacking and maneuvering ships and squadron across the battlefield at the Kitsu Models Hobby Shop.
Across from that table, armed with a brush and a Citadel acrylic paint, another customer is seen intensely focused on highlighting the ridges along the helmet and armour of the Space Marines miniature.
The sense of community and enjoyment that comes from playing tabletop games and painting miniatures is one of the reasons why Yapp Giem Eing, the founder of Brunei’s very first online miniature store decided to open a brick-and-mortar shop at Setia Kenangan I in Kiulap.
On most afternoons you can find Yapp teaching his customers the best way to prime their miniatures or challenging them to a duel game of Star Wars.
For the former police officer turned certified financial planner, the smallest pleasures in life brings him the most joy.
The fascination for miniature has been a part of his life since childhood. Growing up in the early 2000s, Yap would spend most of his time building Gundam kits to grow an army of Space Marines.
“When I built my first Gundam model, the feeling was amazing for a kid. In front of me was a robot toy, I made with my own hands, and it was very articulate; a rarity back then,” he shared.
There is a different kind of satisfaction from model building, whether it is straight from the box or creating something from scratch, it is always rewarding seeing the finished product, Yapp added.
For years, Yapp would assemble and paint figurines but had stopped as he grew older and had other commitments.
Twenty years later, it was a trip to Tobu World Square, a miniature theme park in Japan that displays famous architectures and historic relics around the world on a 1:25 scale where he picked up the hobby again.
With no prior experience in business, the 33-year old also decided to roll the dice and turned his hobby into a business.
In 2019, Kitsu Models launched its first online store in October with a vision to be a one-stop shop for miniature modelling.
Yapp came up with the inspiration of opening a craft and hobby store after being impressed by the variety of hobby shops on his travels around the world.
He also said that with the closure of Justoys Castle in Gadong in the early 2000s, he felt there was a lack of community and event spaces for miniature modelers to meet-up and just enjoy building, painting and playing together.
“We have the usual retail stores where you walk in, buy and leave. There were pretty low to zero chances of interacting with fellow community members. So with a physical shop we can actually cater to this gap,” he added
According to Yapp the name of the store comes from the Japanese word meaning, “Prosperity” and also ‘Fox”, which happens to be his favourite animal.
Kitsu Models Hobby Shop began its soft opening in January while Yapp initially wanted to get things up and running early last year, but the COVID-19 outbreak has put those plans on hold.
“The pandemic was definitely a huge challenge but was also a blessing for Kitsu Models,” Yapp said.
“Our initial plan was to open in February 2020, but that was when Covid-19 first started and it delayed most of our plans from manufacturing to logistics,” he explained.
The challenges of the pandemic taught him that patience is key, adding that it took determination to overcome the obstacles and that every day is a new lesson for them.
However, during the pandemic Kitsu Models also saw a blessing in disguise.
“Last year, a month before Brunei announced the COVID-19 restriction, we almost signed the lease for February but dodged a bullet,” he shared, adding that last year Kitsu Models also saw an increase in online sales.
What’s in store?
The 1000 sq ft store is divided into two sections; the main retail space, and a community space that can accommodate up to 30 people.
It is currently stocking more than 1000 varieties of items from leading international brands in miniature model crafts including quality scenic materials from Woodland Scenic, paint and brushes from Vallejo and Citadel, and many more.
Kitsu Models sources its materials from regional distributors and where possible directly from manufacturers.
The store also offers a range of miniature kits from Warhammer to Star Wars, which can also be played as tabletop games from Age of Sigmar, 40k, Warcry, Kill Team, Underworlds & Bloodbowl, Star Wars: Legion and Star Wars: Armada, among others
The new space also boasts several tables, which host table-top gaming events where guests will start their journey into the Mortal Realms or a space combat between the Galactic Empire and the Rebel Alliance.
Not only that, but Kitsu Models also hosts painting demonstrations where guests will get a free miniature to paint and learn about basic miniature painting.
“Anyone can simply walk into Kitsu Models and play the demo games and paint for free, said the 33-year-old.
Kitsu Models is also a place for collectors and hobbyists to showcase their finish products.
The floor-to-ceiling glass cabinets display a wide range of their projects including a Gundam Wing Zero, the Sukhoi Su-27, a Brunei-inspired diorama and many more.
Yapp shared that customers’ reception into the store to the store has been positive.
“My favourite part of the day is seeing both new and familiar faces come through the door whom we welcome wholeheartedly and talking to them on the projects and models they were up to,” he said.
When asked about future plans, Yapp said that he wants to focus on growing the business and for Kitsu Models to become a prominent brand in the hobby world some day.
Not just that, but Kitsu Models also eyes to develop their own brand of products and tie-ins from tools to even model kits itself.
“Kitsu Models also aims to host a huge hobby convention where we hope to invite modellers from all over to showcase not only our local talents, but Brunei itself,” he concluded.
The Bruneian | BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN