The Lego podcast Beyond the Brick (previously A Look at Lego) interviewed Siercon and Coral in their latest episode. We’ve featured several of their recent creations on the blog such as Invert Island and The Faerie Forest, and now you can hear directly from the builders about these creations and more.
UPDATE (June 14, 2013): Stephen’s LEGO Curiosity Rover will be the next LEGO CUUSOO set!
The Brothers Brick has featured the Mars Rover Curiosity CUUSOO project before as one of the more original and stand out projects on LEGO CUUSOO right now. But here is a surprising factoid, the creator of this model, Stephen Pakbaz, aka Perijove, was an actual engineer for Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and worked on designing the very same Mars Rover in real life! The Brothers Brick decided to interview Stephen.
TBB: Tell us about your background?
Perijove: I received my Bachelors Degree at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Indiana, majoring in Mechanical Engineering with a concentration in Aerospace and a minor in Electrical Engineering, and then a Masters Degree in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at UC San Diego in California.
TBB: What was your position at Jet Propulsion Laboratory?
Perijove: My position at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory was a Mechanical Engineer in the Structures and Configurations Group. I also sometimes took on the responsibilities of a Cognizant Engineer.
TBB: Can you tell us about your work on the Curiosity Rover?
Perijove: The Curiosity rover was the first spacecraft I ever worked on after I finished with school in 2007. Even back then, the rover development was well underway, but there was still a lot of design, assembly, and testing left to do. I took part in all of these activities. I designed parts like brackets and covers and was responsible for their development all the way through delivering them to the technicians that would put them on the rover. Other tasks included writing procedures, assembling, and testing things like telecommunications systems and antennas. Types of testing included vibration, shock, and thermal-vacuum to simulate the different environments that would be experienced by the rover. One particularly fun test was bolting an engineering model of Curiosity to a 50 foot diameter centrifuge and spinning it up to over 20 g’s in order to simulate the forces the rover would experience during entry into the Martian atmosphere.
TBB: How long have you been a Lego enthusiast?
Perijove: I have been a LEGO enthusiast since at least elementary school. My own collection, at the time, was mostly pieces like simple bricks and wheels, but I would often play with friends and their collections too.
TBB: What experience did you have with Lego as a kid?
Perijove: My collection began to include more complex pieces just before middle school. I mostly built minifigure-sized robots and spaceships. Play scenarios often including using all my pieces to build a massive spaceship to move my entire minifigure population to another habitable planet before their current one was destroyed by a huge asteroid or a rogue robot. (Wow, that just brought on some powerful nostalgia!)
TBB: Did LEGO play a role in your chosen career path?
Perijove: LEGO absolutely had an impact on my career path. In high school, I spent much of my free time designing things like manned missions to the moons of Jupiter in graph paper notebooks. I often drew the designs with LEGO pieces so I could eventually create real models. This was also a great way to learn everything I could about space travel from interesting destinations and past missions to new forms of propulsion and radiation protection. LEGO has also been a great tool for quickly making quick prototypes of various mechanisms and other ideas to see how they worked.
TBB: What were your favorite sets/ themes as a child?
Perijove: Most of the space themes, of course, were my favorite, like M-Tron, Ice-Planet 2002, Exploriens, Roboforce, etc. Technic and Trains were great too, but those kinds of sets were often too expensive for me. I would have to say one of my favorite sets was 6338 Shuttle Launch Pad.
TBB: Did you ever experience a dark age?
Perijove: I never experienced a total dark age, but more like a dim age, while I was at school in Indiana. I couldn’t bring my entire collection with me form California, but I did manage to keep a few choice models and pieces with me. During this time, I also satisfied my LEGO habit as a volunteer and mentor for kids in the First LEGO League, a popular nationwide LEGO robotics competition. I had a lot of fun teaching kids about the mechanical possibilities of LEGO and seeing their robots compete and cooperate with eachother.
TBB: Did having first hand experience on the real Curiosity help with the design of the Lego version?
Perijove: I learn best by seeing and touching, which perhaps explains my affinity for mechanical engineering and LEGO. The rocker-bogie suspension system on the rover was just so cool, that I needed to make a LEGO version that I could play with. Being so close to the real rover all the time, designing a few small parts for it, and working with larger assemblies certainly helped me to understand its features, what they did, and how they worked. I’m hoping the LEGO Curiosity rover does the same for others.
TBB: Did you follow the progress of the rover’s trip to Mars?
Perijove: I kept up on every piece of information about the rover that was available to me. This was the first project where I was finally able to put my years of engineering education to use, so I really wanted it to be successful. I saw the landing live and ate plenty of peanuts beforehand for good luck, a tradition at JPL before critical mission events.
TBB: How did you feel about the landing?
Perijove: The landing itself was a conflicting conflagration of emotion. In my mind, I was confident of the success of the landing. My heart and other organs were filled with excitement, fear, nervousness, anticipation and, of course, curiosity. I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep afterwards and spent that time calming down, talking to family and friends, and watching all the events that happened shortly afterwards.
TBB: Any thoughts about the historical significance of this achievement?
Perijove: The landing itself was quite historic. The ability to land such a large payload so precisely will be extremely important to future efforts. Though it’s still too early to be sure of the historical significance of the scientific returns of the mission, I’m sure it will be something wonderful. As for the significance of my own involvement, I think it’s kind of cool to think that long after the Great Pyramids on Earth have perished over time, it is possible that the rover I worked on will still be preserved on Mars (unless, of course, it becomes a victim of space looters).
Josh from A Look at Lego takes us on a visit with Dan Brown of the Toy and Plastic Brick Museum in Bellaire, Ohio. You may have heard of this unofficial Lego museum in LEGO: A Love Story and wondered what the place actually looks like. This video shows a glimpse of the largest private Lego collection in the world.
Mihai Mihu completed a series of creations depicting the 9 circles of Hell. While staying true to the theme of poetic justice served to the sinners, Mihai portrays the punishments through his own interpretations. The recurring architectural elements and portrayal of the sinners tie the scenes together in a way that’s easy for the viewer to transition through. In this short interview, the builder talks about his project and the individual circles of Hell.
TBB: Tell us about your 9 circles of Hell project.
Mihai Mihu: It all started last year with a contest on MOCpages (The 2011 MOC Olympics) where I was challenged to build a MOC in just two colors. I decided to approach an architecture theme for the entry as it was in my comfort zone. While building and the things progressed, the lack of colors made the MOC look lifeless. It was then when I had the idea to transform it into an underworld scene and I named it Limbo.
After the many positive comments that I received, I thought and then decided that it would be great to continue this MOC as an artistic series and I saw a great opportunity to display my skills and my love for design and architecture.
The whole project took me 7 months to complete, with about 2 to 3 weeks for the development of the ideas, design and building of each circle.
TBB: What is your approach to depicting each circle?
MM: The concept of the 9 circles is the work of maybe the first true master of fiction Dante Alighieri. It’s such an interesting idea, and I’ve been meaning to make a re-imagining of the hell depicted by him.
I didn’t read the Divine Comedy, only the small descriptions of the circles I found on Wikipedia and on other websites. I didn’t want to be much influenced by the original descriptions because I wanted to give a whole new fresh approach for each circle. I thought more about the significance of titles and from then on it was only my imagination.
TBB: Tell us about each of the creations.
A place of monotony, here the souls are punished to wander in restless existence while they moan helplessly in echoes between the ruins of a temple.
Surrounded by erotic representations, those overcome by lust are forced to watch and experience disgusting things, ultimately being condemned to drown in the menstrual river.
This pompous place is reserved for the punishment of the greedy ones. The hands of the damned are popping out of the walls and are trying to grab the riches around them or to drag the new arrivals in and feed on their lust for wealth.
In this depressing place the souls are trapped in the swamp, they can’t move and they cannot manifest their frustration which is making them even more angry. Here I wanted to approach a theme more about feelings and emotions. The weeping statue represents those who turned their sadness into anger.
The giant demon watches closely over his fire pit, dwarfing the damned that are dragging the new arrivals in the boiling lava. Those who committed the greatest sins against God are getting a special treatment inside the temple where they are doomed to burn for eternity in the scorching flames.
A place of intense torture where the horrific screams of the damned are eternally accompanied by the hellish beats of drums. There are lots of elements here to convey violence like the suicide statues on top of the ruined citadel, the hanged souls or the river of blood.
In Fraud the Demons enjoy altering the shape of souls, this is how they feed. In this process, the soul manifests its true fraudulent nature and reveals the cheats and tricks that it has committed in life. This is also the place of the cries and lament of a chained Titan who betrayed Zeus.
Lucifer lies here chained by the Angelic Seal which keeps him captive in the frozen environment. All the souls who are cast in Treachery are first processed by the flying demons at the temple where the Judas coins are.
TBB: Which build is your favorite and which circle would you least want to be in?
MM: My favorite build is Greed, because it has a really special feel to it. I like its majestic look and the powerful emotional contrast it expresses. It’s beautiful but sinister at the same time.
Gluttony is the circle I would least want to be in. It’s always freaked me out, it’s disgusting, chaotic and vital, definitely not a place to get stuck.
A Look at Lego podcast recently posted interviews with two builders we feature quite often on the blog: Bruce Lowell and Legohaulic. This is a great opportunity for you to get to know both builders and their backgrounds beyond pictures of their works. Click on the banner below to access the podcasts.
Whether you are familiar with Lego podcasts, they provide unique knowledge about the hobby. LAML Radio and A Look At Lego Podcast are two sources I’m aware of that regularly post new episodes and interviews.
I want to highlight the most recent show from LAML Radio containing interviews with Andy Hung and Schneider Cheung, two of the most well known AFOLs in Hong Kong whose works are also familiar to many of our readers. Even though our interactions with the active and talented Hong Kong AFOL community are limited by the language barrier, we seldom cease to appreciate their works in the instances they were featured on the blog.
Click on the image below to download the episode of the podcast.
One of the things I love about BrickForge is that they seem to be just ahead of what LEGO ends up producing — from cows, pigs, and crowbars a few years ago to 1×1 round tiles and park ranger hats in the upcoming 2012 LEGO City sets. Does The LEGO Group have a spy in BrickForge world headquarters?!
Anyway, I always like to learn more about the LEGO vendors and custom accessory makes who populate the brick “ecosystem,” so it was great to run across an interview with Kyle Peterson on one of my favorite non-LEGO blogs, MAKE.
I hear some 3rd party manufacturers of Lego accessories recycle old bricks in their ABS, grinding them up and adding them to the molten plastic. Can you talk a little about this?
Obviously the ABS has to come from somewhere. BrickForge deals with very large production runs – thus we use specifically dyed ABS pellets during the self-contained, automated injection process. Other vendors may use a smaller, lightweight injection press for smaller production runs. This requires a manual feed of plastic into the hopper. Either the artisan has to purchase pre-mixed pellets (that match the LEGO color palette) or simply grind up and smelt existing LEGO brick. The first option is expensive, the second option is time consuming (not to mention having to deal with toxic fumes).
Read the complete interview on the MAKE Blog.
A couple years ago, we ran a series of three interviews with LEGO Designer Mark Stafford, covering his journey from LEGO fan to set designer, as well as what it’s like to work as a designer and the distinction between being a fan and being a designer.
The online community has been a bit overdue for an update, so I was very pleased to receive a link to this interview by the Portuguese-language Comunidade 0937. They’ve asked a lot of great questions, and Mark has included several prototype design photos in his answers.
Most of the “spacers” of 0937 are advocates of a more peaceful approach to the theme than space-based conflict…. We also think there is a market for products placed in a more exploratory theme. Is there any chance of the LEGO one day to embark on a theme such as this?
First I want to point out that LEGO space has rarely been peaceful, talking to the original designers of the classic space sets during its concept phase they envisioned it as a competitive ‘space race’ between astronauts in white and cosmonauts in red. Those probes and radar dishes looked a bit like weapons because they knew exactly how most kids would play with them!
That said, I understand your point, and of course LEGO City has just released a space port line with vehicles inspired by today’s peaceful space explorers and their space agencies.
Read the full interview with Mark Stafford on Comunidade 0937 website.
Gerard agreed to sit down with me and answer some questions about the ship and how he builds.
TBB: Thanks for taking the time to talk with me, Gerard. Tell our readers a little bit about yourself. How long have you been into Lego and what themes do you build in?
GJ: I have been into Lego since just before my fourth birthday, when I got 1464 Pirate Lookout. I have never been into a dark age, and my older brother said I’m the biggest AFOL in my family of 7 kids. I mostly build in Pirates and Space, with Castle a bit behind those. Though I dabble in almost anything, except for Steampunk.
TBB: You have two older brothers who are adult Lego fans. Do you feel that their influence and your early exposure to the online Lego fan community has had an impact on your builds?
GJ: They certainly had an influence. Dan built a ship in 2008, a bit before the pirates line came out, that really opened up my love for Pirates. Dan has also pushed me into doing more realistic stuff.
TBB: So why no Steampunk?
GJ: I am just not a fan of steampunk. I think the idea of spaceships and mechs powered by steam to be silly.
TBB: Fair enough. You said you’ve been into Lego since you were four. So how many years have you been into Lego now?
GJ: 15 years and it doesn’t look like I am going to slow down at all.
TBB: So is Pirate your favourite theme?
GJ: Pirates and Space are always competing for first, but I think Pirates has a bit of an edge, simply because I build better sailing ships then spaceships.
TBB: You are becoming well-known for your large, detailed ships. How is this one different from your previous builds?
GJ: Well, this is my second time using reference material, and my first time basing it on a real ship. Also, this is the first time I have built a ship in minifig scale, and used proper cloth (As opposed to paper) for the sails.
TBB: Did using reference material make this build more difficult?
GJ: Somewhat. Using reference material meant I couldn’t be as loose as I normally would be. The hull especially took a lot longer since I had to match it up with something.
TBB: Is this your biggest ship so far?
GJ: It isn’t my longest, but I think it might be the tallest. The HMS Brunswick was 124 studs long, but a bit heftier. But the Lynx is wider and that has to count for something. I would have to say this isn’t quite my biggest, but it is close.
TBB: What was the most difficult part of this build?
GJ: I dunno. I think making the sails, since my scissors sucked. Can’t really say if any part of the actual build was harder then the rest.
TBB: What part of this ship turned out exactly how you envisioned it?
GJ: The angle of the masts. I got the idea how to do it, and it worked perfectly.
TBB: They do look really good. One thing that stands out on your ships is the custom sails and rigging. What do you use to make them? How much string went into the rigging on the Lynx?
GJ: In this case, I used cloth that I bought at Walmart. I usually use paper, but since the sails on this were larger then your regular sheet of paper, and since I wanted to raise the bar for myself a bit higher, I went with cloth. As for how much string, I don’t know at this point. By the time I dismantle this, I’ll know.
TBB: Are you going to start using cloth on all of your future ships?
GJ: I already converted one of my old ships to cloth sails, so I think it looks like it could happen, though paper is cheaper, and I am a bit of a mizer.
TBB: Where do you get inspiration for your ships?
GJ: Generally I just feel like building a ship, and I build one. In the Lynx’s case, Caylin challenged me to build a minifig scale tall ship, so that’s what I did.
TBB: As far as I can tell, your rigging is very accurate. How important is historical accuracy to you?
GJ: It is important whenever I feel like being historically accurate, which is happening more and more often these days. And since this ship was based on an actual ship, it was pretty obvious that I would have to make the rigging accurate.
TBB: Is there anything you want to mention that I haven’t asked about?
GJ: Whenever I build a sailing ship, I like to compare it to my first sailing ship I got, 6250 Cross Bone Clipper. In this case, there isn’t even a comparison.
TBB: I have to agree! Thanks for taking the time with us.
GJ: No problem!
Ben Caulkins (Benny Brickster) built a life-sized costume of the Master Chief from Halo over the past six months. Those who have followed his Flickr postings have seen the suit develop from the helmet down. Now that this epic project is finished, Ben shares his thoughts on the process and techniques behind the build.
Some of you may have noticed by now that over the past six months, I have constructed a full size Lego costume of the Master Chief from the Halo series. It was by no means easy, and I had to put a lot of time and effort into completing it. It required more thought and patience than any of my previous LEGO projects, not that I have done that many anyway.
But I didn’t decide overnight to build a Master Chief costume out of LEGO bricks. The very base of the idea was probably inspired by Simon MacDonald’s (SIMAFOL) Boba Fett costume. Then it was after I saw some really amazing LEGO creations at my first LEGO convention, Brickworld, that I really seriously started thinking about it. At first it was just a fantasy, which is reasonable enough, I mean, come on, a full-blown LEGO Master Chief costume? It is pretty ridiculous. But when I started to take it seriously, I finally realized that it was possible, and I committed myself to it.
I put a surprising amount of thought into which part I would construct first, and I finally settled on the helmet because I thought that if I could do a convincing MOC of the Master Chief’s helmet, and be able to wear it, I could do the rest of the suit.
The helmet took more planning than any other element. I started in late October and spent many hours getting the necessary resources and devising what size to make the helmet in order for it to be proportionate with the rest of my body. I think that if I hadn’t done so it wouldn’t have looked nearly as good as it does. But after much planning, I finally started building. I’m generally a pretty slow builder, and I went through a lot of experimenting with parts while building it, particularly for the vents on the “cheeks”. I had decided to use a non-LEGO piece for the visor long before I started building, and I had already purchased a sweet looking motorcycle helmet visor with a nice gold sheen to it, and with a few modifications, it fit like a glove.
So, I had at last finished the first part of my suit, and it managed to garner a lot of attention. I had never really been blogged about before so I was overwhelmed. It was one of the most memorable moments in my LEGO building “career”, and I jumped for joy when I saw I was on the Wall Street Journal’s blog, and then GIZMODO, and a host of other websites including the good old Brother’s Brick.
After the initial reaction died down and all the bloggers finally stopped, I got to work on the most time-consuming part of the project: the torso armor. It was one the most challenging in that it had to be able to take a lot of punishment and look good at the same time. I tried strengthening it where I could, but it still wasn’t enough. After many catastrophic accidents, in which many naughty words were uttered, I decided that I had to use glue. Yes, it was a lazy thing to do, but I just thought “screw it all” and went ahead with it. But it worked, so I don’t see a problem!
I then managed to squeeze the belt in before Christmas break, but I still had a problem: how was I going to achieve the concave shape of the thighs and forearms? It was one day on the bus back from school when I had nothing to do that a solution came to me, and boy was I pleased when it did. It was actually really simple: construct two rings, but make them different sizes, and then construct supports between them that I could put different aesthetics onto. This would achieve the proper concave shape, as it causes the shape to narrow. But before actually building the thighs, I built the arms first and applied my newly devised technique on them.
I’m not entirely satisfied with the upper arms, as they appear a little small when compared to the Chief’s. But I couldn’t make them any bigger, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to flex my arm (plus I couldn’t bear the extra weight). And besides, it still looks good as it is.
The forearms actually came out surprisingly well, though they were prone to coming undone. The reason why was that I had made them a little too small, and so whenever I flexed they would come undone. To solve this particular problem, I attached three rings of Velcro to the inside of one section that could wrap around my arm, keeping the section in place. But, it also would squeeze my arm together, so it wouldn’t bulge as much when I flex, and the other section now stays snuggly attached.
Afterwards I bought a pair of nice Master Chief looking gloves, glued some plates to them, and then built the thighs. The thighs ate up more tiles (smooth plates) than I can count!
At this point the suit was getting pretty close to completion, although there were unexpected delays (Spring break, a small LEGO convention, me getting sick). But in between I managed to get some work in. I always knew that the legs would be difficult on account of their odd shape (take a look at them and you’ll see what I mean). The Master Chief’s leg armor bulges in the back in order to shape itself around the calves, and this was something I had feared doing since starting the project. An idea that I had thought of but didn’t believe would work was to first build a frame for the legs that would follow that actual shape of the Chief’s. Although it appeared crude, I had no other good ideas. So I went about building this frame, and realized that it could work. Yes, it took me several variations, but that was what I ultimately settled on.
It was the next week that the suit’s first trial came: the “LEGO fun at Lyndhurst” festival, a small local event organized by Arthur Gugick, which I have been attending for quite some time. I originally planned to just display the suit and not wear it. Not only did I wear it, I walked around the entire event. This proved that I could move in it without too much damage occurring (one lost piece and one part that came undone). Also, it stood up pretty well against LEGO’s main adversary, the hands of small and curious children. Also, the helmet went through quite an ordeal, having to be placed on the heads of around 100 children.
Now, there was only one thing left to do: the feet, the least interesting part to look at. But I still wanted them to be of the same quality as the rest of the suit, so I went about making the toe look nice and curved by using segmented plates. But you can’t expect me to not loosen up a little bit. If you look closely you can see bits of red and yellow showing through the gaps between plates. Also, for the rest of the foot, I seriously lowered my quality standards, but you can’t really tell because, like I said, who looks at the feet?
I have to say finishing it was sort of anti-climactic, especially considering I had built the coolest part of the suit first, and was finishing with the feet. I’m actually a bit relieved it’s done because I was getting pretty tired of it, and I’m not sure how much longer I could have gone on. But I am glad I did, because now I can say that I’m the only person to (successfully) build a Master Chief costume out of LEGO. :)
For more pictures, visit Ben’s Flickr gallery.
Marcos Bessa interviewed Mike Doyle, the builder who recently created the abandoned Victorian house. Ever since seeing Mike’s masterpiece I’ve wanted to interview him to learn how a new member of the AFOL community can create such stunning works. The interview by Marcos answers my question and provides further insight into Mike’s design process and more. I highly recommend this great read.
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.