When RAAF pilot Flight Lieutenant James Tockuss designed his own personalised stamps to send his aviation sticker orders, his enthusiastic following took their collections to new heights. Here he shares his obsession with customer experience, and why the little details matter for his creative side hustle.

Key points

  • James started Retropilot as a creative side hustle to his RAAF career, designing collectable retro-themed aviation stickers
  • By personalising every aspect of the customer experience, James has built a loyal fan base
  • Using MyStamps added another layer of collectability to his designs, with customised aviation stamps on every Australian delivery.

By day, James flies a C-17 Globemaster, a 128-tonne1  RAAF transport plane, across Australia and to the Middle East, Europe, and even Antarctica. At night, he designs and produces unique stickers – sending retro-style illustrations of modern aircraft to a growing fan base of collectors around the world.

“I love flying, but it’s a highly regimented profession that doesn’t allow for much creative expression,” James explains. Looking to balance this discipline with a more imaginative outlet, he launched a small range of Retropilot aviation posters in 2014.

“The idea was to take modern aircraft and illustrate them in a mid-century ‘retro’ style – and hopefully make a bit of pocket money along the way!”

It was when James started experimenting with simpler designs on stickers in 2019 that his side hustle really took off. “They sold out incredibly quickly, so I decided to stop making posters and focus solely on retro aviation sticker designs.”

Today, he mails out around 400 sticker sets every month to customers across Australia, the US and the UK. “Not surprisingly, a large proportion of my customers live near airports and military bases,” James says. And he loves seeing how his sticker designs are always on the move – decorating laptops, cars, suitcases and even planes.

The right first impression

James admits he’s obsessed with customer experience. “I try to find areas other businesses neglect, and then focus hard on making those as memorable and personal as possible.”

When he saw a Facebook ad for Australia Post MyStamps, he immediately knew it was the perfect way to make a great first impression with his customers.

Retroflight stickers fit in regular envelopes, so James always ships via standard mail service. With MyStamps, he can insert an image directly into a stamp template and create a customised sheet of 20 stamps to attach to orders.

“I couldn’t believe it was even possible,” he says. “I placed my first MyStamps order in June 2020, knowing that if I could make my customers smile before they opened their envelope, I was already winning.”

His first stamps featured his face – adding a very human touch to a digital transaction. But he was soon putting his graphic design skills to great use, creating a range of collectible retro aviation stamps.

“I figured customers would probably want a bit more variety,” he explains. “My latest batch of custom stamps are created as a pair. Using two $1.10 stamps, when they are placed together on the envelope you get the full picture. I wanted my customers to say “How cool!” before they even got to their purchase.”

There are currently six designs in limited-edition circulation, and every order delivered across Australia features customised Retropilot-designed stamps.

Retropilot’s customers love it, with online reviews regularly including feedback like “It's the little details including plane stamps! Definitely recommend Retropilot.”

“Many customers collect the stamps alongside their stickers,” says James. “They post pictures of which stamps they received.”

Engaging customers, from the envelope up

James says his customer base of “aviation geeks” is not a “cult,” but they certainty feel like an enthusiastic community. And that’s partly thanks to his ability to make them feel invested in the brand.

Some of the MyStamps created by James using the Australia Post MyStamps service.

“I ask my audience to help pick the next round of custom stamp designs,” he says. “This gives them a sense of ownership in the business, especially when they see their choice on their order a few months later.

“It’s such a unique way to get people involved in the business, and they love being part of that experience.”

Customers can also specify which stamps they would like to receive if they have a particular affiliation to an aircraft by replying to their order confirmation email. “If I can, I will also try to match the stamp with their stickers,” he adds.

By investing in a seemingly small detail like a stamp – for some, an afterthought – James is making a major impact on his customer experience. And it’s helped his Retropilot business take off.

You don't need graphic design skills either. Just visit the MyStamps website, upload your photo or image, select your stamp shape and denomination and complete the online checkout process.

Want to make your mail stand out before this financial year ends? Try MyStamps before July 4, and enjoy an EOFY discount of up to $10 on a sheet of 20. That’s $22 worth of stamps, fully personalised, for just $25. Terms and conditions apply to the use of the MyStamps service.

Learn more about how easy it is to create your own stamps with MyStamps

Philatelic Team

Author

This content was produced at the time of the interview and will not be updated.

1 C-17A Globemaster III, Royal Australian Air Force