Tales of a BrickLink Vendor: Life on the Coattails

Since the earliest days of the Manifesto I’ve been trying to find willing BrickLink vendor to write a column for the blog, without much success.  Either they said yes and never followed up, or provided me with content that was so short and/or bland that I didn’t see the point in publishing them.  Happily, all that changed recently when I happened to make a purchase from the store Bricks on the Dollar, only to receive an email a few days later from long time crony Carter Baldwin saying “Dude, what do you need with 200 of those dark tan helmets?  What are you up to?”.  It turns out Carter was good buddies with the vendor and through that small-world contact I found my man for the article.  As I would soon find out, the vendor in question put out a personalized regular newsletter and seemed to be more involved and excited to help his customers than anyone on BrickLink that I’d encountered over the years.  The guy really knows how to take care of his customers and more importantly for my agenda, he has something to say.

This purpose of this lengthy preamble is to remove any bias you may have towards the author, Chris Byrne.  Chris didn’t seek me out to pimp his store, I asked him to write the following article and I hope it won’t be his last.  Chris was even kind enough to include a discount for you guys, even though I told him it was a terrible idea and begged him not to.  So if you have any burning questions you’ve always wanted to ask a BrickLink vendor, have at it in the comments.

Use the phrase MANIFESTO at checkout to get 10% off your BrickLink order at www.bricksonthedollar.com

Without any further ado, take it away Chris!

 

Hey constant readers, my name is Chris Byrne and I have created for myself my own LEGO Life. No, not the app. No, not TLG’s internal newsletter. But a flesh and blood life. In 2009, coming out of my dark ages, I started Bricks on the Dollar, a store on the BrickLink marketplace. Oh do you remember the auctions, the grassroots feel, and Rolf in the chat room? I do. Since then I worked for Brick Fest Live for a two years (“boo! hiss!” eh, shut up, you have no idea what you are talking about), started a LEGO Artwork subscription called the AFOL Poster Subscription Service, curated the Brick Builders Club monthly LEGO mystery box subscription for a year, launched my own LEGO-themed mystery box called Clutch’s Secret Stash, put over a thousand videos on my YouTube channel, and opened an independent LEGO consignment retail store called Warminster Brick Shop. I’m probably forgetting something in there, perhaps I should write a resume so that someone like me could hire me in the future.

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But that’s just it. I have come to learn that I just cannot work for anyone but myself. Riding the coattails of The LEGO Group like so many do, and leaning heavily on the platform of BrickLink, I have made a name, a career, and a life for myself. It has been no easy path and I am not out of the woods yet, but every day is a new adventure with many surprises. I feel that working with LEGO as a business is the only monotonous, day after day activity I could do which would somehow always feel new and exciting. Even when I am doing the same thing every single day (no weekends here), it is still a thrill to take a step back and see what I have created. That thrill keeps be going.

In September, I spontaneously decided to open a brick and mortar Lego store called Warminster Brick Shop. And that’s no exaggeration. It was early September when I left the job I had behind, cleaned up the lobby at the warehouse I rent for my BrickLink store, painted the windows, and opened up shop on September 16th. I filled the store with local LEGO vendors who consign in the store, giving it a very wide variety of items. Warminster Brick Shop features LEGO in every form. New sets, retired sets, vintage used sets, bulk bricks, loose Minifigures, build your own Minifigures, polybags, posters, and more. I have been growing the store over the last 3 months with the intention of someday hiring an employee to watch the counter so I can return my full attention to BrickLink and my other ventures. At this very moment, I am busy with my work and helping customers when they come in. The store has some regular customers which is fantastic. I want WBS to be like Cheers but with LEGO. Maybe, in time, the store can host events and even stock some crazy sodas for purchase.

Keith, who is this guy and why isn’t he talking about cool MOCs?” Ever since I started selling individual pieces on BrickLink, I have been transfixed by the idea of helping AFOLs build their MOCs. I’ve attended a decent amount of LEGO conventions between 2010 and the present day and I have seen some wonderful, wonderful MOCs. While AFOLs are very resourceful and many of them have no need to turn to the ABS dealers on BrickLink, I would like to think that some of these creations would not have been realized without the work that myself and other sellers do. Sure, there’s LUGBulk (black bag drops over my head), Bricks & Pieces (ban hammer falls (read: fell)), or just buying enough LEGO on your own to get what you need, but sometimes it is just easier and quicker to order parts from someone just like you, but who actually enjoys sorting, inspecting, and counting. I have found this to be true even for myself. While I have a decently-sized BrickLink store, I would wager that no single BrickLink store has every part you need at a specific time to fully assemble a specific project. And while I am actively trying to change that fact, I myself have been placing orders on BrickLink of late for my collaboration with Carter Baldwin to product his own line of “Brickmania-esque” LEGO kits called [CARTERINDUSTRIES]. No matter how sorted your LEGO collection is, sometimes it is easier to just order parts from BrickLink in order to get what you need in a realistic time frame. I don’t think any of us would complain about having more LEGO, especially if it is something that you have shown a need for. In selling on BrickLink, I have shipped to all 50 US states plus some of its territories, 55 countries worldwide last time I checked, and to over 9,000 customers. I don’t often hear from my customers about what they are building or if their order in my store helped them in a time crunch, but I definitely live vicariously through the names on the orders received. Some standouts would be Angus Maclane from Pixar, some orders from Billund itself, as well as orders from Adam Reed Tucker, countless orders from Brickmania, and an order from someone who works at LEGOLand California.

Though my building skills are stuck in the late 90s, I pay very close attention to all of the new elements, new colors, and new techniques that I see from sets I part out, even if I don’t ever build them. Though it it purely theoretical, I can often visualize a LEGO build solution from my knowledge of elements in existence. My monthly mystery box features a brand new element which has been released within the last few months as well as an element that is long since retired. The goal is to, hopefully, surprise the recipient with real LEGO elements that they have never encountered. I do collect Blacktron I sets as well as old Samsonite bricks, Citizen Brick customs, sprues, original variants of elements that have seen updates, and non-production parts (when I can afford them). It is certainly a strange collection, but they all have significance to me. Aside from LEGO, I collect art, Beast Wars Transformers, and 1/100 scale Gundam kits. I also fancy myself a Soda Connoisseur, trying every new soda flavor I can find, live on my YouTube channel.

So now you know a little about me. I’m a LEGO-centric entrepreneur, I collect some LEGO fringes, and I have dedicated myself to helping AFOLs get the parts they need. Feel free to ask me any questions! Next time, I’ll talk about my LEGO Artwork project.

 

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10 thoughts on “Tales of a BrickLink Vendor: Life on the Coattails

  1. Well, I think I know where my next stop on cracklink will be tonight. So let me thank you for your generosity with that deal in addition to a welcome to the Manifesto. I think the perspective of the “dealer” will have prominence here.

    Curious as to what got you venturing down this path and what sort of capital you needed to start up. Did you start out with a collection of your own to part out? Consignments? LUGbulk (even though we’re not supposed to. I won’t tell)? Are you the sole proprietor there? Does the Brick Shop provide avenues into more stock? Do you hunt down garage sales and other shops on BL to fill bins? Are you basically a commodities broker in that respect buying low and selling high? This is the sort of thing that we as addicts/purchasers probably shouldn’t be privy to.

    We have been lately hammering out a couple of issues here that your view would be extremely interesting. First is the downsizing of collections and the parting out of sets as discussed in the Andrew and Ace B&B episode. As a seller, I can only assume that you consider Lego more as product than what the builders may consider more as reusable paint, but does it hold a more personal status in your eyes or do you have to separate that from the commodity? And is there any difficulty in doing that if you hold some sort of nostalgic feel for Lego? And do you build yourself or do you have to refrain from doing so for the business?

    Second is the exclusives market discussed in the latest Fire For Effect. Do you even come across the market like the SDCC exclusives and do you find it an investment opportunity more than a sale? Then, of course, how do you price them?

    My final question is do you know who the hell is hoarding all the parts over in Germany/Austria somewhere that has stupid fucking ridiculous prices and ungodly amounts of Lego?

    Great to see a seller speak out, it seems that we consider them the men behind the curtain and talking with them is somehow verboten. Thanks again for the discount but more importantly for the read!

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    1. Great questions, Matt. Those are some of the things I was wondering. Are bricklink owners the ones emptying the shelves every time one of the big box stores puts things on discount to clear out the inventory the day after Christmas, Black Friday, etc. or is that a waste of effort for a few bucks?

      I’m kind of curious what the hours are and how monotonous counting bricks all day can be? I’ve tried to wrap my head around how I would sell my bricks if I ever wanted to and it sounds like way too much work.

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      1. I don’t think BrickLink sellers are to blame fully for stock clear outs. Sure, I have cleared out some deals, but never would I claim to have cleared out an entire metropolitan area. Look how many stores in and around a city sell LEGO. I think it is more often resellers of sealed sets. Amazon has made it very easy to be an armchair reseller. If you have the capital, buy em up and ship em to Amazon. Simply by the fact that it is much less hands-on than BrickLink, I would say more clear outs are from people who have never seen the inside of a LEGO box.

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  2. Mr. Byrne,
    Welcome to El Manifesto and thanks for that excellent article. As others have already mentioned, your perspective is unique on this blog, and hopefully we will hear more from you.

    So naturally, I have a Bricklink question as well. Do you know what happened to all the commercial airline decals? Lego did this generic airplane model, and airlines could get their own graphics put on the decal sheet. Air Iberia, El Al, and Aroflot were all companies that did it. Oh, and Emirates!

    https://www.bricklink.com/v2/catalog/catalogitem.page?id=66213#T=C&C=0

    So many rad options for making Legogitimate space craft! An Emirates space shuttle? Get out! Impossibly cool!

    But then… about, oh… I don’t know… 4 years ago, maybe 3 years ago… BAM! The ALL disappeared from Bricklink! Ok not all, I think there are still a small number of the Air Iberia listed for sale… but ALMOST ALL simply vanished!

    Think that was somebody dropping serious coin to corner the market? Some kind of legal thing?

    Your active in that market place (Absolutely a corner stone of the AFOL hobby by the way). What do you think happened to those parts?

    Again, excellent article and thanks for the discount man!
    gonna nag you with other questions latter… hope you have the time to answer! Curiosity is killing me!

    Attack!

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    1. I would ask Bret StarBeanie about that. He seems to be, at least to me, an authority on sticker sheets and hoarding them. It is hard to say if it was a legal issue as they would have no problem with LEGO producing them, but they might not appreciate the aftermarket making them available. Perhaps the contract was for LEGO to be able to make them available for let’s say 2 years. ANYONE selling them after that 2 years would be against the contract. Perhaps.

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  3. Chris, thanks again for taking the time to write for the blog, and for the discount. I have to admit that I’m very surprised by the lack of turnout in the comments because the stats say that people are definitely reading it. I really appreciate your perspective on a side of the hobby most builders don’t really have an opportunity to understand. Congratulations on finding/developing a gig where you are the boss, and your product is actually something you love, that’s no mean feat and I wish you every success with the store.

    How did you and Carter meet and how did that friendship alter your trajectory with the hobby, if at all. I’m a big fan of Mr. Baldwin as a builder and a good dude but I don’t get to chat with him as often as I’d like to. I’d also love to know more about your experience with BrickFest Live either here in the comments or in a separate article, how you got involved and what you thought of the whole enterprise.

    I’m also very curious what Billund ordered from your shop.

    Cheers!

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  4. “I’m also very curious what Billund ordered from your shop.”

    I second that emotion! I was to gutless to ask. Didn’t want to pry… but yeah man! What did mighty Rome order from your small station out in the provinces? Just in case it escaped you (maybe because your not arrogant or petty for example) that is TOTALLY BRAGGING RIGHTS!

    Lego ordered Lego… from YOU?

    Hive five on that one brother! That’s like Santa asking if your going to leave toys for HIM on Christmas!

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  5. This is some interesting stuff! I’ve been surprised how often good sellers with good part counts and prices become repeat vendors for me. I think your store will soon be on that list! Frankly, reading about your entire life, not simply the Lego selling, is quite fascinating. Especially with that storefront this year, congratulations! It sounds so cool! I would love to hear a bit more about that.

    You mentioned there are a variety of vendors that call your building home, giving your “product line” a breadth that few stores online should be able to rival. Super cool. Did you actually contact these sellers and invite them to join your business, perhaps paying some form of rent, so they can profit from your foot traffic and visibility? Do any of the sellers literally inside your store compete with each other? Or did I understand your storefront gig wrong?

    I do hope you’re able to enjoy the brick as a building tool and hobby, but I am very happy to hear that there are people like you who, indeed, enjoy the number crunching and sorting “behind the scenes”. I recently placed an order with a store across the country because they had no lot minimums. Average was probably 8 cents a lot, and I felt very guilty. Hopefully I didn’t cause them too much trouble (although I know I did). At what points does your experience feel like a drag? Do you actually like counting all the pieces?

    The one upside I can see to running a storefront is it gives you more outlets and opportunities, e.g. interacting with customers. So that is a cool side of the hobby that not many of us have the opportunity to appreciate! You’re just a jack of all trades. Thanks for the article, and your time as well! Welcome to the Manifesto.

    Like

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