Have you ever thought of starting your own Bricklink store? SBLUG member, Kas Modra, has been able to do what many dream about. She’s turned her passion for LEGO into a buzzing business. Recently listed as one of the Top 5 Bricklink stores in Australia with over 110,000 parts for sale, Itty Bitty Bricks has become a popular spot for local and interstate LEGO builders to source spare parts.
Read on as Kas shares her story and how she managed to start her very own LEGO store!
My Dad was/is a model railroader, and I have many fond memories from a young age of sitting next to him and watching as he painstakingly cut individual shingles from cardboard to make lifelike roofs for his buildings. No surprise then, that my first LEGO set as a child was a train. Set 7710 ‘push-along passenger steam train’ from 1980 to be precise. I was 5 years old and I was VERY excited! Dad also organised a track, controller, and motor, so it could run by itself rather than just being push-along. I was a spoilt child 😉
Add a few years, and three siblings, and our LEGO collection grew. I’m pretty sure I know why I am now OCD – no bag of random parts for us, but a hand crafted box with compartments for different parts so they could be easily located when required.
While our LEGO collection was decent in size, with four of us there were constant fights over pieces, so a rule was implemented that once something was built, it could stay ‘complete’ for 24 hours, but then needed to be pulled apart and sorted into its correct compartment in THE box, ready for the next project. Surprisingly this did not cause massive childhood trauma, and in fact taught me the joy of using and reusing pieces for different builds.
Like most people, my teenage years were relatively devoid of LEGO – the so called ‘dark years’. There was way too much socialising, studying and other hobbies to focus on, but every once in a while the trusty LEGO box would come out from under the bed, and an enjoyable afternoon would be spent creating.
When I moved out of home, the LEGO came with me. My siblings enjoyed it, but didn’t have he same affinity for this plastic toy as I did, so I got dibs. Best. Decision. Ever. It means I still have my push-along train, track and controller to this day, even if it just sits on a shelf most of the time looking ‘pretty’
So why am I telling you all this? Well it probably explains why, when my hubby asked me the eternal question around six months ago ‘if you could do anything in the world and know that you would succeed, what would you do?’ My immediate response was ‘Run a LEGO store’.
As a side note, I married a man just as addicted to LEGO as I am. Most AFOL’s who hear this are jealous that I have someone who ‘understands’ this money draining addiction and doesn’t question every LEGO purchase I make, but let me tell you, there is a down side… No one to curb the spending! There is no such thing as ‘disposable’ income in our household, just another line in the budget labelled ‘LEGO’ – which is pretty much anything left over after paying the bills! As a result we have what I would consider an ‘extensive’ LEGO collection. Our passions are trains (hubby) and modular buildings (me) – which are, of course, two of the most expensive series produced by LEGO. And as I like to tell anyone that will listen, if you love these two series, not only will you spend your life’s saving purchasing the sets, there is no such thing as a ‘small’ layout. It’s not enough to have just ONE train track running around the table, you need room for multiple tracks, and switching yards, and a city for it to run through (this is where I am allowed to place my modulars, but not TOO many as it takes away from the room for the trains), and a port, and a mountain with a tunnel, and and and… To have a good train layout it simply must be massive. So we built a 5m x 8m rumpus room to accommodate the layout, and our collection. That’s right, we have an ACTUAL, purpose built, rather expensive, LEGO room. Anyone want to tell me again how great it is having a partner who understands your hobby?
Anyway, back to the point. For some reason, after our ‘anything’ conversation, I got to thinking. While it’s always been something I would love to do, the concept of opening a retail store, and working silly hours, and having to pay overheads had never appealed to me, but with the advent of the ‘online’ age, suddenly the concept appeared far more manageable. We had been users of Bricklink for a number of years while accumulating our collection, so it seemed like the obvious place to try an ‘experiment’.
You know all those people who say ‘if you fail to plan, you plan to fail’? Um, yup. I know that most ‘normal’ people do extensive research on the best sets to buy, how to organise your parts, what fees you need to cover, etc. My planning was ‘I wonder what would happen if I took that spare Detective’s Office I have sitting in our collection and put it up as inventory in a store’? I didn’t even bother parting the set out before putting it up… Yep, that sort of planning!
Surprisingly, to me at least, I got an order. And that’s when the panic hit. All the parts were still in the box! And I had no idea what to charge for postage! What the hell were my bank details so I could get paid! Why had I thought this was a good idea? Aaaaaagh!
I must have winged it somehow, as the parts were successfully located, posted within budget, and I got positive feedback. Nice! This was a little bit addictive. So I bought another set, and added it to my inventory, and I got another order, then two, then three, and before I knew it I was running a Bricklink store.
Six months down the track, I like to think we are a LITTLE bit more organised than when we received our first order, but I tell you what, it has been one hell of a steep learning curve. At some point during the process I did some research to see if I could find information on how this process SHOULD work, but to be perfectly honest the information appeared limited at best. It’s probably out there somewhere in the ether – I just haven’t managed to find it!
As a result, just about everything we know about this process has been a matter of trial and error. Lots and LOTS of error! I have spoken to people along the way and gained some valuable insights on how things could be done better, but I can’t help thinking that it would be nice to put everything I have learned in one place on the off chance it helps someone else decide if this is a road they would like to travel.
In case anyone is interested, in the past six months we have completed 452 orders, sold over 63,000 parts, turned over $17,000 via the store, and have a 100% positive feedback rating. I would like to say that we are rolling in money, but every dollar we have made (and more!) has gone into purchasing more stock. I’m sure you CAN make money out of this gig – other people have – but at the moment we are focussing our efforts on bringing our inventory up to around 100,000 parts (we are currently up to 80,000, and that’s been a pretty hard slog). So if you are looking for a ‘get rich quick’ scheme, I’m not sure I am the person to advise you.
What I can say though is that at this stage I am enjoying the ride. The business is now registered, we have insurance in place, and I’m enjoying being able to say that I own my own business. My reasoning is that if worst comes to worst and the LEGO market slumps, well, it just means we have another 80,000 parts to add to our personal collection.
Anyone who know me, knows I am an open book – I don’t hold my information close to my chest. I believe there are more than enough AFOLs in this world to allow any number of people to enjoy running their own store. Feel free to comment, ask questions, and interact. To me, running a store is simply an extension of my love of LEGO, and if by doing so I help someone find that elusive part at a reasonable price, well that just makes me happy. If I happen to make some spare change along the way? That’s just a added bonus. And if my insights help someone else make a decision on whether running an online LEGO store is right for them? Great! The more the merrier I say.
Things to consider
What does LEGO mean to you? Is it a passion, a means of making some extra money, or something else entirely? Think long and hard about your answer as this will strongly influence (a) whether running an online store is for you, and (b) if so, how you go about running your business.
This article and photo of Kas’ first ever LEGO set was originally published on the Itty Bitty Bricks Facebook Page as part of her series on running a Bricklink store. It has been republished with permission.