Tag Archives: Sorting

Q&A with Bricklink sellers

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.

The roles of research, critique, and community in improving LEGO models

WW2 Medic (1)Like many LEGO builders, I spent the first decades of my life building in isolation, lucky to get suggestions or critique from a sibling or rare friend who also played with LEGO. But in the last 10 years — particularly the last 5 — the LEGO fan community has grown to include a critical mass of people who build in just about every possible genre.

People with shared interests who spend time together online will inevitably run out of solely positive things to say, and as a result, a culture of constructive criticism has emerged among LEGO fans. Balanced against this impetus to critique everything are the planning and research that individual builders put into what they create. In contrast to the solo building those of us in our 30s did 20 years ago, builders today have a wealth of sources right at our fingertips.

What effects do research, critique, and discussion among community members ultimately have on the quality of the LEGO creations we build and share? Since I’ve been on a bit of a building spree lately (amazing what you can do when your LEGO collection is sorted), I thought I’d step back and share my experience.

Read on, and share your own thoughts in the comments…

Before I set out to create a Dodge WC54 ambulance from World War II, I spent a couple hours finding the best pictures and determining where and when they were actually used during the war. Given that many World War II photos were taken by service personnel and are therefore in the public domain, Wikimedia Commons is a great place to find historical photos.

Historical re-enactors and scale modelers also run dozens of sites that pull together vast amounts of careful research. For both my ambulance and later battalion aid station diorama, I turned frequently to the WW2 US Medical Research Centre.

Originally planning to broaden my D-Day beachhead diorama, I confirmed that WC54s were used at Normandy, and even found a photo of WC54s sitting on Omaha Beach. Good enough to start building.

Targeting 1/35 scale, I translating the real vehicle’s length, height, and width into studs and bricks. Remembering what I’d learned from my wildland fire engine, I built from the top down. I struggled with the front, since I had to combine half-stud offset for the three/five-wide hood with SNOT for the grill and bumper, plus tiles (with no studs to sturdy connections on top) for the fenders.

I figured it out, though, and pleased with my results posted pictures to Flickr:

Dodge WC54 Ambulance (1)

Checking back a while later, I saw a stream of notes from our very own Tim, whose windscreen I’d reverse-engineered for the original ambulance. I gritted my teeth and clicked through. (Honestly, I hate taking criticism, especially when it’s wrong. I’d vented a week earlier that too many of the suggestions to “improve” my M4 Sherman tank took it in more interesting but less historically accurate directions. That’s just plain annoying.)

Tim had seen the mini-rant I’d posted in a Flickr group we both frequent, and his critique was spot on. He made specific suggestions based on the source material I’d used myself, providing solutions where I hadn’t thought the model could be improved. The result is the version I included in my diorama, posted separately below:

Dodge WC54 Ambulance - V2 (1)

The story arc (if you will) started with research, moved through community discussion and critique of the creation itself, and ended with a substantially improved LEGO model. This same story plays out every day in the LEGO fan community today — something that would have been nearly impossible 20 years ago and highly unlikely 10 years ago.

Side note: Looking to future World War II vehicles I might build, I’ll be relying on a copy of World War II AFV Plans: American Armored Fighting Vehicles by George Bradford. I was pleased to discover that I ended up almost 100% to scale (1/35) for my M3 Half-track, even without the book.

American Armored Fighting Vehicles by George Bradford (1) American Armored Fighting Vehicles by George Bradford (2)

Nearly all of the book’s schematics are printed at 1/35 scale, which avoids eyestrain from the WIP-held-against-computer-screen method I’d been using before the book arrived in the mail.

So, what’s your experience with the balance between research or sources of inspiration and constructive criticism?

Sorting LEGO – how do you actually get it done?

Dunechaser's sigfigHaving a consistent system for sorting and storing your LEGO collection makes your pieces much more accessible while building. Most LEGO builders eventually figure out a system that works for them. In fact, it’s something we discuss at length among ourselves, both at conventions and on the web. Most people seem to sort by element rather than by color, for example.

What I don’t hear a lot of talk about is actually how to go about sorting one’s LEGO — other than sustained frustration about its necessity. At what point do you know you need to sort? When do you sort? How long do you spend sorting at one sitting? Where do you do it — in a dedicated LEGO space, sitting on the couch, at the dining room table? Do you have anybody to help you?

As I mentioned earlier this week, I’m going through a major sorting phase, largely because my collection had outgrown the system I’d been using, and any creation not based entirely on a pre-sorted Bricklink order became painfully time-consuming.

Well, I started by taking apart the LEGO sets (and any models I don’t want to keep) that I’d built but never disassembled over the past three or four years, and dumped it all in bins. Next, my wife and visiting mother-in-law kindly volunteered to pre-sort what I’d taken apart into bricks (“Aren’t they all bricks?”), plates (“flat bits”), slopes (“slopey bits”), and “everything else.” (World Cup soccer and Seattle Mariners baseball have been good background entertainment for all of us.) When we had enough of each of these, I then “sub-sorted” into finer categories, like regular, inverted, and curved slopes.

The two major lessons I’ve learned so far from my ongoing sorting are that every extra pair of hands helps, and that the pre-sort/sub-sort approach gets pretty much everything but the “fiddly bits” where they belong fairly quickly. It’s also clear that you can never have enough clear storage bins…

So, dear readers, how have you overcome that mountain of unsorted LEGO?

Pardon the dust while we sort and build

Me, Circa 1977Regular readers will likely have noticed a bit of a decrease in the frequency of our posts the last little while. That’s because summer has arrived — at least for the 86% of us who are here in the Northern Hemisphere — and that means less TV shows to distract, good natural lighting for pictures, and a whole bunch of LEGO conventions to attend.

In other words, the bloggers at The Brothers Brick are feverishly building rather than blogging.

So, bear with us over the next little while as we try to keep pace with all the great LEGO creations people are posting for the same reasons that we’re building ourselves.

We’ll still keep things fresh (or not), but if you’re itching to see a great LEGO creation that deserves to get blogged here on The Brothers Brick, get out your LEGO and build something awesome!

Personally, I’m starting the summer with a bit of sorting…

Sorting, organizing, and storing your LEGO – the second hobby [Essay]

As I started building my second major creation (more on the first later), it became quite obvious to me that I was paying the price for over 10 years of nonexistent or half-ass sorting. It was almost impossible to build because I couldn’t find anything. So I got sucked into covering my entire living room with 25 years of accumulated LEGO in an effort to make some sense of it. Hopefully the lessons I learned from my mistakes and the help I got from my friends can help some of you who are struggling through the same process or paralyzed by the mere prospect (that was me for 10 years).

Model Shop BinsTo begin with, there is no single perfect way to organize a LEGO collection that will satisfy everyone. The closest thing is a receptacle for every element in every color ever made. But even The LEGO Group can’t have all the elements in all the colors up at any single time (thus a common [silly] complaint about Pick A Brick). There’s no point setting an impossible standard for yourself. And if you’re anything like me in the early stages of hobbying, you probably don’t have enough pieces to justify hyper-organization. (Photo at right, LEGOLAND Model Shop bins, courtesy of Tim Inman)

Broadly, the two most common ways to sort are either by color (yellow, gray, pink, etc) or by type of element (wheel, tile, brick, plate, etc.). Josh has also reviewed the Box4Blox, a device that allows you to dump unsorted elements in a box and then sift them down by size, after which you can sort those sizes into appropriate colors or types.

I’ve found sorting by type and size works best for me. It’s easier for me to spot the blue 2×4 plate among the other 2 x n plates, rather than finding the 2×4 plate among the other blue pieces. If taken to it’s crazy logical conclusion, both systems will result in sorting everything by color and element, but in the interim, I find sorting by type easier to both do and use for building.

That brings us to one of the other truths about sorting and organizing your collection: It will depend on your personality, patience and what you like to build. Sorting isn’t a must either, some people don’t do it. They just break down sets and keep them separated in boxes or baggies, then use Peeron or other resources to find the pieces they want, then dig out the set and find the piece they want. Some of the best builders out there have such huge collections that it’s out of control.

Sorting UnderwayDuring the actual sorting, I used 16-quart tubs to sort into plates, bricks, Technic, slopes, minifigs/accessories, vehicle parts, vehicle elements, and large building elements. As a tub filled up, I split it further, for example separating my 1 x n bricks from my 2 x n bricks. I also bought a couple 39-drawer hardware units to put all the smaller elements into. Lots of people use craft trays, drawers or they recycle yogurt/margarine containers.

Once you’re going for a fairly permanent home for your bricks, here are four broad characteristics of a good permanent containment system:

  1. Transparent. Clear containers are my choice, but others use labels or double-sided tape to stick an example element on the outside of the container. It’s just nice being able to look at a container and know what’s inside.
  2. Diverse, but compatible. Lots of drawers or boxes of various sizes. Hundreds of a small element will only take a tiny drawer, while a few dozen big pieces can take up a pretty large space. It helps if the types of containers you use are in some way compatible with each other. (Below, Alyse and Remi’s building table is a good example)
  3. Stackable. Use vertical space well by having boxes, drawers and/or shelves that stack on top of each other, or by just using tall units with lots of drawers.
  4. Expandable. As a collection grows, it’s good to have a system that you can just buy more of the same containers to expand. It’s also important to start a containment system that will be around for a while, so during a later round of expansion you’ll actually be able to find more of the same.

Bolt of Blue Desk

If you want to strive toward even greater perfection, here are a few specific things that I and others have found pretty helpful:

  • Hardware drawers that have anywhere from 6 to 40 small and medium sized drawers for holding bolts, screws and nails are ideal for smaller elements and specialty pieces.
  • Fishing tackle or craft boxes with lots of little dividers are also pretty handy. Be careful with any container that has removable dividers, if flimsy, they just result in everything spilling together when bumped.
  • Rubbermaid, Sterilite, Plano and other companies make a variety of stackable plastic boxes and 3-drawer systems that are exceptionally versatile.
  • Especially for sorting and building, drawers/boxes/bins with rounded bottoms and corners make it easier to scoop pieces out.
  • In a pinch, zip-loc bags, recycled margarine containers and the more solid LEGO boxes are great for both sorting and sub-diving within other bins.

Stacked BruceywanOddly enough, I find contrast is quite helpful, both in shape and color. For example, I keep my black and white 1×1 square plates together, I can see with my own eyes easily enough which is black or white, that way I can keep those elements that I have in huge quantities together. (Photo at right, Bruce Lowell does something similar). My 1×4 tiles and 2×2 tiles are also together; I’m not going to get them mixed up very easily and I really only have enough tile to justify 3 small containers. For me, the point is to be able to find something, not have a perfectly orderly universe.

Right now I don’t have enough of most of my large specialty elements to justify separate containers for them. Though I’m not 100% satisfied with the results, I’ve dumped them in boxes by general categories, such as architectural, vehicular, printed, tires, big ugly rock pieces, maritime, etc. Which brings me to one of the most important things: It’s an ongoing process. As needs, interests, patience and size of collection change, you’ll modify the system. Because of that, flexibility is good. Finding one or two compatible containment systems will help you adapt as time goes on and make sorting easier down the road.

Fortunately or unfortunately, because of BrickCon I now have a huge cardboard box packed full of unsorted LEGO, which has set me back a bit. My wife and I are also still in the process of the complicated marriage negotiation of where/how to make room for my LEGO amongst her Barbie, pottery, sewing and scrapbook collections. Thus my stuff is stacked in the living room:

My LEGO as is

Box4Blox: Sorting made Easy [Review]

Recently Box4Blox sent us a couple sets of their sorting system to review. First off, if you aren’t familiar with Box4Blox, it is a series of stacking trays. Each tray has openings in the bottom, much like a seive. The openings in the trays get smaller as you continue down the stack. This has the effect of sorting your pieces by size.

As my kids have their own collections, I let them use one of the Box4Blox sets. It sorted their pieces by size and made it easier for them to find those small pieces that get lost in among the larger ones. They had a lot of fun with it and I was happy that it worked as advertised. But now was the time to try it out on my own collection.

I was intrigued to see if this system would be of use in my own, more complex, sorting arrangement. I started off with my bin of green plates. I use these a lot for landscaping but had never taken the time to sort them by size. I figured this would be a good initial test. At first I dumped the whole bin into the top tray. This clogged up the tray and it took a lot of shaking before the pieces began moving down. So I dumped it all back into my bin and I used a large Pick-a-Brick cup to dump smaller amounts into the tray. This sped up the process and I was able to run the entire bin throught the Box4Blox in sort order. As each tray filled up, I dumped them into seperate piles.

After I was done, I shuffled throught the piles and was happy to see that each pile was made up a distinct group of pieces. So, while the trays didn’t sort out the pieces into each individual kind, they did make the job much easier. I only had to sort out the 3 or 4 different kinds in each pile, instead of tackling the entire bin. That was most satisfying.

Next, I decided to give the Box4Blox a real workout. I have a large 18 gallon tub where I throw everything that needs sorted. I’d been lazy and hadn’t sorted it for quite a long time. The tub was almost full and the job was overwhelming. So I put in a movie and started dumping cupfulls of pieces into the trays. I did run into a couple of problems. Pieces that were long and thin tended to fall through to the bottom, but remain standing straight up. This blocked the flow but after I discovered this, I would grab those out before I dumped the pieces in. After that, I didn’t have much trouble and I made good progress. After about an hour, I hit bottom.

Unlike the plates, when the trays filled up I dumped them into plastic bags. I had stacked the full bags into seperate piles, based on which tray the pieces came from. After I was done, I took all the bags from one pile and I dumped them out on the table. I spread the pile out and could see that each of the bags had the same kinds of pieces in it. The Box4Blox basically pre-sorted my 18 gallon tub in a little over an hour and greatly simplified the rest of the job. Now, when I have some spare time, I can grab one of those bags and quickly sort it out. I don’t have to take on the whole heap and I know that each bag contains specific kinds of pieces.

Overall, Box4Blox easily surpassed my expectations. Not only is it a good product for keeping the kids’ bricks sorted, it also has a definite place in the Adult hobby as a pre-sorter. I recommend it.

Dave Lartigue discovers a Mega Blok in his LEGO collection

What would you do if you found a nasty old Mega Blok as you were sorting your LEGO collection? Dave Lartigue experienced just such a terrifying situation and took drastic measures.

Isolating and disposing of the offending (offensive) brick seems like a short-term solution, however. As a long-term solution, I suggest we invade Canada.