Knipper finds a niche selling farm toys

Collin Knipper standing in the basement of his family's Dyersville home, next to a wall filled with hanging toy John Deere tractors.
Collin Knipper, senior in agricultural business, converted the basement of his family's home into a storeroom for his inventory of small farm toys, which he sells to customers all over the world.

By Amber Friedrichsen

Whether it’s tiny tractors, collectible combines or miniature semis, Collin Knipper has found big success selling small farm toys. As the owner of FarmToys4You, Knipper sells scale models of farming machinery to customers near and far.

FarmToys4You was originally the name of the Instagram account Knipper, a senior in agricultural business, made to show off his personal farm toy collection in 2017. As fellow farm toy enthusiasts began following his page, he received inquiries about buying items. Knipper decided to list some of his unwanted inventory for sale, and he was surprised by how quickly it sold.

“I realized I could make money from this, so I started buying farm toys for the purpose of reselling them,” Knipper said. “Then, I got a dealer account with a manufacturer so I could buy new products at a discount and sell them at retail price. That’s when the business started getting bigger.”

Knipper contracted with Ertl Company, which is located in his hometown of Dyersville, Iowa. Ertl makes farm toys for brands like John Deere, Case IH and New Holland, and the company primarily sells merchandise to retail stores. Knipper said one advantage of his agreement with Ertl is that he can turn inventory over much faster than it would sell off the shelf. 

“Manufacturers’ main outlet for farm toys are equipment dealerships, but not everybody has a dealership close by,” Knipper said. “That’s where I come along. I have all the toys of all the brands in one place, and I ship to anyone, anywhere.”

FarmToys4You grew even larger in 2020 when Knipper bought out another farm toy vender and combined both of their customer bases into one. He also acquired the previous owners’ website, which is where the majority of his revenue comes from today. He advertises new inventory on Facebook and Instagram with links to his website where customers can browse products and make purchases.

To keep up with supply and demand, Knipper transformed his basement into a storeroom. When an online order comes through, he fetches the farm toys from downstairs, boxes them up, and sends packages from his front door in Dyersville. He has sent products to every state except Hawaii, and even to other countries like Canada and Australia.

In addition to online sales, Knipper attracts customers at trade shows. He annually attends the National Farm Toy Show and the Summer Farm Toy Show in Dyersville, as well as the Heartland Farm Toy and Diecast Super Show in Altoona.

Even though he frequently makes trips from Ames to Dyersville to fulfill orders and prepare for trade shows, sometimes Knipper has to rely on his family for help.

“One of the biggest challenges of being a student business owner is not being able to be there and do things myself,” he said.

Knipper is making the most of his time at Iowa State University by bolstering his entrepreneurship skills through Start Something College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Knipper initially joined the Change-Maker Academy as a freshman and more recently became a part of the Student Incubator Program.

The most inspiring aspect of the Student Incubator Program to Knipper is that each member’s business is at a different stage of development. Some members simply have startup ideas, whereas others already have established enterprises. No matter the situation, he believes everyone benefits from engaging in group discussions and listening to guest speakers.

“The Student Incubator Program has opened my mind to different business opportunities,” Knipper said. “We really focus on the entrepreneurship process, and we bring in industry professionals to gain their insight on our specific needs.”

This is also why Kevin Kimle, director of Start Something CALS, invites outside sources to Student Incubator Program meetings. He hopes hearing from successful small business owners will introduce students to new ways of thinking and boost their creativity in their field.

“It’s one thing to be an entrepreneur, but it’s another thing to be entrepreneurial,” Kimle said. “I hope that from having participated in this program, students take their first steps on the same metaphorical escalator other entrepreneurs have to make the world a better place to live.”