Monthly Archives: January 2009

ChiefLUG Battlestar Galactica Viper Fly-In at BrickCon 2008

It was recently brought to my attention that we missed covering a major collaborative display at BrickCon last October. This was a major oversight on our part as this display was incredible. In fact, I think it was one of the best collaborative displays I’ve seen.

Ryan Wood, founder and namesake of ChiefLUG, organized the first ever BSG Viper fly-in. Ryan, Mark Sandlin, and Andrew Lee built 13 foot of hanger bay, which was filled to overflowing. So much so that there were Vipers covering all the tables around. The final count was 35 Vipers and other Battlestar Galactica-inspired craft. It was most impressive! I saw every imaginable Viper on display, from pink Pardisa-inspired to Black Fantasy-infected. I was amazed at the amount of time and effort Ryan and the ChiefLUGers put in to this. Needless to say, it spawned a huge bandwagon of Vipers online! You can check some of them in this post, by clicking on the pictures, or you can see the whole fleet in the ChiefLUG Flickr Group.

Way to go, ChiefLUG!

Breaking even: sustaining your LEGO-building hobby through selling on Bricklink [Essay]

LEGO is expensive; we all know it. For us builders, we always need more bricks to complete that big project sitting on our desk or in the back of our minds. More bricks cost more money, and that’s where the problem comes in. Luckily, we builders have an extremely valuable asset that only a few have begun to exploit. For the first time in the building community, I will show you the benefits of opening your own Bricklink store, turning that once cash-consumptive marketplace on its head to bring you a dependable supply of money and free bricks.

So what’s the trick? Sell minifigs. What if I told you that since December of just a month ago I’ve a grossed a revenue of $1,500? Would that be enough for you to buy every set on your holiday wish list and finally get the parts to complete those half-finished creations growing cobwebs on your desk? I would think so. I have operated a Bricklink store for a bit over a year now, and I have acquired the experience to confidently say to you that “yes, you could maintain your LEGO hobby at zero cost.”

Let’s get started. First and foremost, you are a builder who is interested in the noble effort of funding for your expensive hobby. If you’re not the aforementioned type, things could go very differently for you at suboptimal outcomes. Now that we’ve established our common grounds, you will need to let go of your sentiments for minifigures. See them as the livestock you must consume to fight off starvation. You can choose to remain a peaceful vegetarian, or you can start eating meat.

Why minifigs? Because they sell high and are easy and cheap to ship. Plus, you don’t need them to build a castle wall or the hull of a spaceship. Here are two enticing examples from my recent sales. 1). I purchased about 40 new 2009 Star Wars Battle Packs at $10 each, sold nearly all of the minifigures, made a $200 profit and kept all the bricks and accessories for free. 2). I also bought Count Dooku’s Solar Sailer for $50 (after coupons), had fun writing a review, and then sold the Count for $37 and put up the Magna Droids for sale at $10 each. In the end, you can see that I’m easily making a profit while keeping all the parts from sets for free.

At first, it’s hard to believe why minifigs fetch such high values, but if you think about it, it makes sense. In addition to the builders, there are also collectors – people who want to own their favorite minifigs but don’t want the building blocks. Thus, why should they buy whole sets when they can get the figs individually? Plus, LEGO costs a whole lot more outside the States as most of us know; thus buying minifigs makes perfect sense to collectors.

To start your Bricklink store, dig up your pre-existing minifigs and find their market values on Bricklink through the price guide for each fig. It is highly worthwhile to sell Star Wars figs and almost useless to sell your non-franchised Exo-Force or Power Miner dudes (Indiana Jones falls in between).

Next, and this is important, list your minifigs at the lowest prices! There is no shortage of competition on Bricklink from large scale sellers. If you don’t beat their prices, why should anyone buy from a small store like yours or mine? But do not despair, even at the lowest prices, your Darth Vader will still make you over ten bucks richer and Yoda can buy you a medium sized set. So how low should you go? Here’s what I learned from over the months: note the lowest sale price in the US (provided you live in the States), then note the quantity available and the store’s feedback count. If both are low, then you can price your minifig at near that price, but if both are high, you should start by pricing your fig at 50 cents cheaper. At the same time, you need to take concern the popularity of the minifig. Check the number of times the fig was sold recently; the lower the quantity sold, the cheaper you must go to tempt buyers to buy your unpopular figure.

Shipping – it’s not as hard as you think and definitely cheaper than you’d imagine. Minifigs ship in tiny bubble mailers, which cost you a little over $1 to ship in the US and around $2 to ship internationally. You can buy the smallest bubble envelopes from Walmart at $4.44 per 10-pack. However, I recommend buying 100 from Amazon for $16. When it comes to charging your customer, you will not receive complaints if you start your shipping rates at $2 for domestic and $3 for international orders. Find that balance and you’ll end up actually making a profit on shipping that will compensate for your 3% Paypal and 3% Bricklink fees.

Fortunately, time is not an issue. As a minifig seller, it takes no time to package an order of just a few figs in contrast to an order of hundreds of parts. And since you’re already sorting your pieces as a builder, taking out the minifigs from sets should be no problem. However, the largest time consuming factor is shipping; you must be willing to make trips to the post office unless you are adept with shipping from home.

Last and most importantly: be aggressive in buying sets to supply your inventory. Once you target a set with minifigs that sell well; don’t hesitate to get it. The worst that can happen is you end up selling the minifigs but still fall $20 short to fully pay off your 1000-piece set (for example the Republic Gunship around the time of its release). But “oh my god,” $20 for 1000 pieces, what a bummer!

There is one major caution to be on the lookout for. Minifig prices dip fast and then rise fast once the set is out of production. Thus, you should strive to be among the first to sell a minifig from a new set (that’s when no one in the world has it and everyone wants it). Once people have gotten their hands on new sets, prices for new minifigs drop significantly by up to 50%. If you have not sold your figs yet, you may consider holding onto them until the set goes out of production in a year or two (and that’s risking re-releases of the same minifig). Unless you’re very patient, your biggest bet is to sell fast, or you’ll send up selling low.

These should be the basics. It is now up to you to spend a few hours to open your store and get acquainted to the procedures of selling. At first, things may start low (especially when you have a feedback count of less than 30 and not much in your inventory), but be patient and invest when the next wave of Star Wars and Indy sets come out (yea Taun-Tauns!). Wait for it like your birthday, and then go all out on the party.

Here’s a list of do’s and don’t’s to wrap things up.

• Sell low – or you’ll be driven into oblivion by large scale competitors.
• Sell minifigs – especially Star Wars and franchised ones.
• Sell fast – you have a small time frame when new minifigs are released until their prices drop.
• Sell internationally – approximately half of your buyers will come from outside the US.
• Sell new – new minifigs are more likely to be sold and fetch higher values. Displayed minifigs can pass as new, but played-with minifigs should be marked used.
• Become best friends with the price guide – although it’s not possible to actually do so, nevertheless you’ll be relying on the price guide for every minifig you plan on selling.
• Frequently adjust prices – market prices are dynamic, and you should keep up.
• Be kind to your customers – and grant their requests for small discounts if they ever contact you before ordering. A small bit of pocket change is worth an order and a satisfied customer.
• Buy now, think later – I have abided by this simple axiom on purchasing sets and it has paid off. I suggest you do the same because LEGO does not depreciate in value.

• Don’t sell parts – there are plenty of large Bricklink stores that do that, and besides, you’re a builder, you need the parts.
• Don’t sell sets – they’re a hassle to ship and are also costly and space consuming. Shipping a large set outside the US will cost you nearly $50. Selling minifigs give you cheap or free leftover parts. Selling sets don’t.
• Don’t offer free shipping – buyer’s aren’t much more tempted to buy from you if you offer free shipping. I have done this for several months without increases in sales.
• Don’t sell if you’re underage – Bricklink requires you to be at least 18 years old to be a seller.
• Don’t worry – it takes time to build the experience from selling and gain the confidence to invest. I am just experiencing both after a whole year. Nevertheless, any income at all is better than no income.

With these tips and advices, you’re off to start a new adventure, one that will someday break even the income and expenditures on your LEGO hobby. I have almost reached that point, having sold $290 in the past week and $350 the week before. It is then that you truly appreciate your capability to buy bulk parts without damaging your wallet, to build large scale creations as a student or without upsetting your wife, and perhaps to have some leftover cash to go partying with friends.

See it like this: when you spend Paypal cash like Monopoly money and see Bricklink as just a board game, you have found your way to a self-sustaining hobby limited only by the breadth of your imagination.

Questions? You can contact me via Bricklink.

Bye bye BV 2009

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Shannon Sproule (Ocean) has posted the first set of pictures from Brickvention 2009 in Melbourne. They’re big pics but you can see we had fun. My camera is awful outside of macro mode and my skills are similar so I’m considering Shannon the official TBB photographer. I’ll try to add some more links from other people here as I see them but I’m still on holidays for a while so… time will tell.

On a personal note I’d like to thanks everyone for making it so much fun and say a big hi to all the people I finally met in real life. Top notch bunch of blokes and sheilas.

More pics