If you’ve been a LEGO builder or collector long enough, chances are you’ve bought from Bricklink or at least heard of the website that’s been referred to as the eBay of LEGO. You may have also wondered what it’s like to be one of Bricklink’s many big-time sellers. In this article we invited four of the biggest sellers in the US to answer questions about their selling experiences. We’ll kick off this Q&A with a self-introduction by each seller on the panel.
Plastic Bricks Direct (BL PBD): Plastic Bricks Direct is a privately held company with one mission, to bring LEGO brick products direct to your door. We pride ourselves on friendly customer service, and having one of the largest selections of parts to choose from.
Missing Brick (BL MB): My store on Bricklink started in March of 2001 initially to sell used surplus pieces I had no use for. A few years later, I also started selling new pieces from sets I bought for my own use, and again later I started also selling sets. About 2 years ago, I almost completely did away with selling used pieces, the only used pieces I am selling nowadays are either rather rare pieces, or minifigure/minifigure-related, as well as some old used complete sets.
Toy Brick Brigade (BL TBB): We are a family-run business, our inventory and the main part of the operation is in North Texas. Payments are processed in Idaho, so it can be confusing for customers sometimes, but it works well for us. We are grateful to be able to make a living from home, working for ourselves, and doing something we enjoy.
Brick-A-Thon (BL BAT): Brick-A-Thon, Inc., is a Florida based business comprised of Tracy & Chris Dale who are both AFOL’s. Tracy loves Fabuland, Star Wars and Technic sets, primarily, while Chris really likes the Exo-Force line, Sponge Bob and minifigs (and loves the new Collectible Series). They also collect shot glasses, baseball cards, baseball memorabilia, are avid Tampa Bay Rays fans, and Chris was born and raised a Cheesehead (Packers fan). They are hoping to attend at least one LEGO Event this year, but haven’t determined which, yet.
How did you decide to become a Bricklink seller?
BL PBD: I originally came to Bricklink as a buyer to complete some old sets. I was extremely frustrated to have to buy a minimum of $5, $10, or $20 worth of parts when I only needed one 5 cent part, even though I was willing to pay shipping/handling to get it. I knew I was not the only one who was willing to spend a few bucks on shipping to get a 5 cent part. I opened our store with that basic premise of letting people purchase what/how much they want, and the rest is, well, you know.
BL MB: I started out as a LEGO train collector. I was buying lots of unsorted parts on eBay to complete my childhood models. Once I stumbled on Bricklink, I mainly used Bricklink for my purchases, and after a few months, I signed up to sell the pieces I did no longer need or want. I started building MOCs, and needed more bricks, so I bought more, and had more leftovers, and my store grew.
BL TBB: Lego is fun, and seemed to sell pretty quickly. It seemed like a great business to get into, so we gave it a shot.
BL BAT: I came out of the “Dark Ages” at the age of 33 and discovered BrickLink. I started buying and then realized I could sell off the parts I didn’t need on BrickLink to help fund my hobby – that’s how it all began, and it snowballed from there. Chris joined the store officially in 2007.
Is it your full-time job? Do you hire others to help you?
BL PBD: Yes, I spend about 60-70 hours a week staying on top of it, and it is also a full time job for a handful of other people. After a year of begging, I was able to convince my wife to leave her full time professional job with a nation-wide employer to join me as our COO. We have two other full time employees and a handful of part-time staff. By the end of 2011 our goal is to have 10 full time staff running various functions throughout our organization.
BL MB: No, this is purely a hobby for me. I have a great regular job. I spend nearly all money I make from selling LEGO on Bricklink (unlike most other big Bricklink sellers, I only sell on Bricklink, nowhere else) to buy more bricks, I primarily sell to make money to buy the bricks I need for my models. I work alone, but have friends that do some sorting now and then.
BL TBB: Yes, it is our full time job. We have had hired help in the past, but not right now.
BL BAT: Yes, this is a full time job for both Chris and me, and we have employed “Contract Workers” (friends) to assist at times with sorting and odd jobs, but we don’t have anyone full or part time that we keep on staff.
Where do you get your inventory?
BL PBD: LEGO, and a handful of other distributors. You’d think one could go straight to LEGO and be constantly supplied, and I guess if it were that easy then there would be much more competition.
BL MB: The bulk of my inventory comes from buying sets on sale at local stores, such as Target, Meijer, Toys’R’us, and Walmart, or when LEGO Shop at Home has good deals, I buy there too. In addition, since last year we have a LEGO store in Columbus, and I often buy inventory from sets on sale or Pick-a-Brick items.
BL TBB: Wherever we can. People email us wanting to sell their collection, or we find them on eBay.
BL BAT: We buy primarily from retail stores, LEGO Shop at Home, the LEGO Store in Downtown Disney, eBay, BrickLink and individuals looking to sell their collections.
Where is everything stored and how are things organized?
BL PBD: We currently have a completely stuffed 2,500 square foot warehouse, by the end of January we will have double that space! Sealed sets are stored in isles of Gorilla racks, and all of the parts are stored inside plastic bags or drawer liners, and then stored inside drawers. It’s like a hardware store stocked with LEGO.
BL MB: I have all items for sale stored in my basement. I have parts in zip-loc bags, stored in stackable drawers. Sets I have on storage racks. Nothing is labeled, so I rely on memory, and somewhat of a system, to find the parts. I keep related parts together, so all tiles are closer to other tiles, all bricks close to other bricks.
BL TBB: We have a 1,200 sq ft shop building next to the house. We have our own inventory system, and custom shelves to store everything.
BL BAT: We have product in our house in 3 rooms at one end which are the Office, Pulling Room and Sorting Room. We also have a storage unit on our property to hold sets and overflow product. Most everything we need for orders is in one room (in bins/bags) with some items (sets, mostly) in the office. There’s also product being sorted in the “Sorting Room”, of course. We’re thinking as we keep growing we’ll need to get another storage unit since we can’t easily expand the house.
What’s the most time-consuming aspect of selling?
BL PBD: Picking and packing. Sure, you could just throw all of the pieces in a bag or two and call it good ala LEGO Online PAB, however we take a more meticulous approach. Parts are organized and packaged neatly so that when you receive your order you can go right to building, not more sorting.
BL MB: Most time consuming is picking the orders. Especially those high lot counts with large variety, I have to go all over the basement to pick 1 here, 1 there. Because the large variety of buyers and orders, and the occasional inability to swiftly locate a part, I spend 80% of my time on 20% of the orders, and often within an order, I’ll spend 80% of my time on 20% of the order. Parting out sets for sale takes time too, so I only do that when I have at least 10 of the same set.
BL TBB: Most time consuming? Probably either the sorting process, or pulling orders that have many many lots.
BL BAT: Parting out sets, sorting product and counting/preparing it for sale – and then listing it all; that and the bookkeeping.
What do you think makes your store successful?
BL PBD: Friendly customer service, expeditious processing on every order, no limit purchasing, and having a large inventory with very competitive prices.
BL MB: Reliability, and a serious attitude. I ship orders quick, because that is how I would want my own order shipped. I pack my order well, because that how I would want my own order packed. I hardly ever have a backlog, I ship 99% of all orders out within 24 hours of payment. If you look at my customer base, I have a low percentage of first time buyers, but have a very high percentage of seasoned AFOLs. I am not always the cheapest, but consider myself one of the fastest and most reliable sellers, and that gets me much repeat business (that and that all repeat customers always get a coupon for use with their next order).
BL TBB: We try to have a great selection, a big variety and quantity of parts. We also try to be as quick as we can.
BL BAT: Two words: Customer Service – That’s what makes any business a success, is good, solid customer service. If you don’t make sure you have happy customers, you won’t have any coming back. We back that up with continually adding new and different items which is essential to draw people in.
Do you build with the bricks you have?
BL PBD: Not with anything that is kept at the warehouse as that is property of the business. I have a room at home that is used for play. If I want parts to use I have to buy them!
BL MB: Absolutely. I sell mainly so I can buy bricks to build with. As a builder, I like to build large structures, like skyscrapers, and I have build several in which I used over 30,000 pieces. I recently finished my largest MOC ever. Once I have that completely finished, and populated, it will be over 1 million bricks (actually mainly plates and tiles)
BL TBB: Not with our actual inventory, but yes, we do build occasionally, either with the kids or on our own.
BL BAT: Yes! I try not to take too much from store stock, but sometimes I see something and my brain gets going and I decide that not only do I need what we have in stock but I also have to go and buy a ton more on BrickLink. I have at least 4 projects in the process of being built right now. Chris has a passion for making up new minifigs with the parts we have and displaying them in the office.
What is something that you think most people don’t know about being a big-time Bricklink seller?
BL PBD: The amount of time that needs to be devoted to run a successful operation. Contrary to popular opinion it is NOT a get rich quick scheme.
BL MB: Particularly for me, for all my LEGO related activities, I would say I am an AFOL first, and Bricklink seller a distant second. Most probably see me as a seller that does this to make money, but if you see what I build, you know my true passion is being an AFOL.
BL BAT: That we really don’t make very much money. A lot of people think that we’re making hand over fist but we’re just scraping by, and we do it because we love the product. People don’t realize just how much work it takes to make a store like this function on a daily basis. I know I didn’t have a clue when I started and if we weren’t passionate about this then Brick-A-Thon wouldn’t still be in existence.