Lugging pt. 4: Starting a LUG

What if you’re interested in joining a LEGO User Group (LUG) because of Part 1, but the tips in Part 2 let you down and you couldn’t find a LUG? Or what if the experiences described in Part 3 weren’t quite up to snuff? Then you have the option to start your own LUG. Since I have absolutely no experience doing that, I’ve gathered a sort of panel of experts to help describe how they’ve gone about organizing their LUGs.

Chris Piccirillo, Jeremy Scott, and Dave Shaddix are members of CactusBrick, a LUG in the Phoenix, Arizona area. They’ve recently begun formally organizing (they explain why) as a sub-group of AZLUG, which covers all of Arizona. Gary McIntire is currently a Master Model Builder at LEGOLAND California, but started off as a member of SEALUG in Seattle, then moved to Utah, where he helped revive ULUG, then moved to San Diego and helped revive SandLUG as well. Gary is generally acknowledged to be awesome.

I’ll let them speak for themselves first, but at the end I’ll add a couple editorial comments about what I noticed from the interchange and what I’ve gathered from my exhaustive and authoritative research (cough – BS! – cough).

The Brothers Brick: How did you go about organizing or reviving your LUG?
Chris Piccirillo: You need people and a place to meet. If you make it too complicated, everyone will run away screaming. Plan some fun things to do, research how other LUGs have fun, and hold that meeting. I gave a lot of my personal time to get that first meeting held. After that, it was easy. It was like watering a plant.
Jeremy Scott: Yeah, save the details for later. We didn’t want leaders, we wanted to have fun. Now that most of us are deeply into it one year later, do we find ourselves with the need for the details.
Dave Shaddix: We have a few things that we try to accomplish for every meeting, a speed build and parts draft, but its pretty chaotic and just down right entertaining most of the time. Fun is still our foremost concern, but we are realizing that we’ll need some structure if we are to become an active, viable member of the community.
Gary McIntire: Personal contact is key! When I restarted ULUG I first started scouring the internet for other LEGO fans out there. I sent out numerous emails and finally made contact with two guys who were doing the LEGO thing. Reviving SandLUG was much easier, since I was coming in contact with so many local LEGO fans at LEGOLAND. The main thing is to be outgoing and make friends with local people who are into LEGO and just start hanging out and talking LEGO.

TBB: Where did you find other members so it wasn’t just you talking to yourself in a mirror?
GM: The internet is awesome! Check out Facebook, Flickr, and of course LUGNET. Even a Google search can deliver surprising results sometimes.
JS: Some LEGO fans in Arizona had tried to organize a few times in the years before. A few of us were part of those failed attempts. We never got further because there weren’t enough people. I saved some names and email addresses of these people I found on LUGNET, etc, and hoped to try again one day.
CP: When I decided it was time for our LUG to finally form, Jeremy and other’s efforts had been long before my time. I told him about my plan, and he shared his mostly out-of-date contact list with me and said ‘good luck’. On my side was our upcoming LEGO brand store opening soon; local fans were in a buzz. I threw a few announcements out onto Craigslist and asked everyone who contacted me to pass around the news and soon we had a list of 20 or so people. From that list, six people showed up. From those six, 5 haven’t missed out since.
DS: Chris’s mom actually told me about group…

AZLUG R2-D2 BuildTBB: What was the key to the group starting to coalesce?
CP: For us, it was the opening of the LEGO store (photo, right). Not only did the upcoming opening have people excited, but LEGO needed its adult fans to help with it. Steve Witt [LEGO community relations representative] was very enthusiastic, calling me an answer to his prayers, and got me in contact with an ambassador to help me turn our spark into a fire. Having the group of us staff the master build and grand opening was awesome fun for us, and helped us new co-club members become instant friends.
GM: Pick a day that the club will always meet and stick to it! Try to find a day that works for the few people that are involved initially, say the first Saturday of every month, or every third Thursday night. Make it the same day every month and always meet on that day, roughly around the same time. That way everyone knows that every month on that day, rain or shine, there will be a meeting. sometimes not everyone will be able to make it, but have it anyway, even if it’s just two guys having a good time!

Gary Umbrella ManTBB: How is your LUG organized, if at all? Why is that?
GM (photo, left): I think that too much organization creates unnecessary politics. Every meeting the only points of business that are necessary to be addressed are where the next meeting is going to be and what, if anything, are we going to plan on doing there. Every LUG I have been part of has rotated meetings around to different peoples’ houses every month and most of the meetings feature a set draft or a dirty brickster of some kind, and sometimes have additional activities like games/competitions or parts trading.
CP: At first we all unanimously decided that we wanted nothing in the way of organization. No leader, no officers, no money, no rules, no nothing.
JS: However, we learned the hard way: we need it. Right now, we are writing the by-laws and such that will officially organize us. We have decided to pursue organizing as a US-charity (or 501(c)3) so we can be tax-exempt and also use our club as a community youth-outreach platform as well as a social hang-out for us dirty-mouthed adults.
DS: Yeah, we are pushing for some loose leadership right now, without some structure we will ultimately regress to trading our Garbage Pail Kids cards and random LEGO-centric conversations. There are a bunch of great guys (and even some females!) in the group, with a little direction we will be able to get some really cool stuff going in the future. And there is a real part of me that would like to somehow be involved in the direction of a bunch of dirty-mouthed adults …oh and LEGO stuff!

TBB: What were some of the challenges of starting the LUG?
CP: Getting people to come to the meeting. LEGO collecting is an easy-to-hide geek hobby. We aren’t known for our social geekiness, like the [Dungeons and Dragons] geeks and Pokemon collectors. So, getting the adults who aren’t afraid to admit their habits to come out of the closet is hard. What they learn when they join a LUG is that LEGO is more fun in public. Our hobby doesn’t have a Comic-Con yet, but we’re getting there.
GM: Finding the first few people and getting a day for the first meeting nailed down.
JS: Honestly, I feel the hardest part of getting the club together was finding people. With the large realignment of the online LEGO community away from the LUGNET-centralized community we had a few years ago, you have to go to every corner of the net to find people. It would be nice to have a general announcement board again. (*ahem*, LEGOfan.org)

TBB: What would happen to the LUG if you were suddenly raptured?
JS: They would breathe a sigh of relief.
CP: They would lose their best man.
JS: Seriously though, we have enough excited people in the LUG that it couldn’t possibly go away. We are more in danger of death by disagreement than by death through the loss of one of our members.
GM: Well, I kind of was, from ULUG. I was raptured away to LEGOLAND, and now the LUG is more than twice the size it was when I left. A fact of which I am very proud. If a club is centered around one or two pivotal members it can easily fall apart. That’s why I am happy to take credit for helping to organize a club and get it off the ground, but I don’t want to be the “leader”.

TBB: How does the group make decisions? How do you deal with drama/conflict if it arises?
JS: The drama so far has been minimal. What we have encountered so far led to our desire to formally organize. We determined that the things that bugged us couldn’t be addressed because no such rules were in place. So first we are going to write the rules. As for decision making, we haven’t had many to make. A yes-no vote on the next month’s draft has been the most heated debate yet. When we organize we plan to use online voting for all minor decisions, and in-person elections once a year.
GM: You’d be surprised how easily a group of like-minded people can make decisions. Majority rule and general consensus have always worked for me.

TBB: What’s your vision for where you want the LUG to be in a few years?
CP: We want to be one of those LUGs that people name by name when they discuss the “great” LUGs. We have the organizational manpower to do it, and we have a push to see it done.
JS: We want achieve this with a secondary focus, beyond our primary focus of club socialization, on outreach, both within our greater LEGO fan community, and within our local community. We chose to become a charity so we can benefit our local community in educational and youth support programs. Though not all of our members want to participate in that aspect, those who do will have wonderful personal reward from it. We also plan to begin the process of hosting a southwestern states convention for LEGO fans and the public, and intend to forge partnerships with other southwestern LUGs to have this convention travel around the southwest annually, with each lug taking a turn hosting every few years.
CP: Obviously some of this is in our longer-term agenda.
GM: I would love to see SandLUG big enough to host a LEGO convention in the next few years. I think it’s well on its way.

TBB: Thanks guys!

I sure learned a lot doing research for this series, and I hope it helped some of you out there. A few themes in the interview deserve bullet points and others didn’t show up in their comments, but could be pretty helpful so I’ll pass them along:

  • Find people. It’s hard, but kind of the whole point.
  • Wait to decide on the structure/organization until you have people. Come to some sort of consensus that gets buy-in from the core members. There are no formal requirements for the rules or structure. It’s up to the members.
  • If a dead LUG already used the name you want, you may be able to find the original members of that LUG and just ask nicely if you can resurrect it. You may even get additional members that way.
  • Keep a routine.
  • Don’t over-complicate things. Having a website or other infrastructure can be great, but sometimes free tools like Google groups or Yahoo Groups can be easier to use and meet all the communication needs of the LUG, especially early on.
  • If your LUG gets too big, covers too large an area or otherwise just isn’t doing it for everybody, don’t be afraid to reorganize or support and encourage members to start a new nearby LUG.
  • Be welcoming, try to avoid drama, and most importantly: PLAY WELL!

Comic-Con Barbecue

A lot of people have helped me in this project, especially members of SandLUG (Above: Comic-Con Barbecue at Monsterbrick’s house) as well as luggers from around the world who participated in my lugging discussion and group on flickr. They have have passed on a wealth of information to me that I’ve tried incorporated in the series, but can’t possibly do full justice. Thank you all!

3 comments on “Lugging pt. 4: Starting a LUG

  1. roguefx

    I’m trying to start a LUG on the central coast of California. If you’re interested drop me a line at [email protected]

  2. notenoughbricks

    Great work all who contributed to this artice. Yupa-sama. I have enjoyed your Lugging articles and group over on Flickr. Hopefully this will help others get new LUGs off the ground. Anybody up for a Long Island LUG?

  3. Garth D

    TwinLUG has grown to be a pretty active group in just over a year and a half. There’s a pretty solid core of people who come to most meetings. If you are in the Twin City area feel free to drop in on the third sunday of the month meeting. Check out our website for meeting notices. http://twinlug.com/ Aug 16 is next meeting.

    We do many of the group activities mentioned in this series and there’s a lot of building going on. Maybe you heard of Micropolis? Hard on the parts usage though. Luckily there’s no obligation to build and no membership dues. Each meeting someone usually brings a new set or two, or something original they built. Last month we watched For Love of the Brick. There’s parts draws 2-3 times a year for those who want to play. Occasionally there are snacks and we’ve had a couple of LEGO gift exchanges at Christmas for those who want to play Dirty Brickster. It’s superfunfantastic! End of plug.

    One thing I have noticed is a lot of people have stopped off for a visit or two, and we never see them again. I am guessing that is common in other areas. Perhaps the club wasn’t for them, or they just can’t make it on a sunday. We just recently stabized the meeting to the third sunday, mostly at the behest of the library where we meet, but I think that has made it easier to plan ahead for the meeting and peoples home lives.

    Good series of articles. I like the glimpse into other groups and their activities. It’s actually nice to have a bit of something to read at the BB. Keep that up.

    see ya
    garth

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