Tales of a BrickLink Vendor: The Starving Artist

Welcome back to the Manifesto’s irregular feature by the highly irregular BrickLink vendor Chris Byrne.  Please recall that Chris didn’t seek me out to pimp his online store, I asked him to write the following article and I hope it won’t be his last. What you’re about to read is as close to advertising as you’ll ever see on this blog of blogs. Chris was 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!

I bet you thought I was dead. Nope, just worked to death. Last we spoke, I had opened my retail store Warminster Brick Shop and was pulling myself out of debt caused by an all-too-comfortable BrickLink path. Opening the store was just what I needed to turn everything around. I now have a steady stream of used parts from the store which are going into my BrickLink store, several ongoing consignors for my Fulfilled By Clutch program selling your parts in my BrickLink store, and I am living debt-free. There is one reckless path that I am still following though, and that is the subject of this post. My LEGO Artwork passion project which has not, and may never pay for itself. The AFOL Poster Subscription Service.

Every month since January of 2017 I have commissioned artists from around the world to produce an original piece of art that I can sell in poster form. The prompt is simple, “pick a LEGO set and re-imagine it in your own style.” I have released 25 posters from 19 different artists and there are many more to come. Unfortunately, my tallest hurdle in this project has been getting these posters in front of the right eyes. There are plenty of AFOLs, but how many of you would really buy a very nice piece of paper instead of just buying more bricks? But perhaps I am being to harsh. Who has wall space for 25 different 11″x17″ posters? I tend to produce goods and services that I myself would enjoy as a customer. While I would buy (almost) all of these posters for myself, I can’t expect every AFOL to love or even like most of them. If I am to settle for AFOLs buying their favorites, then I just need a wider range of buyers being aware of the releases.

Something interesting happened about a week ago. I was feeling proud of my latest poster release and I was feeling the crush of MailChimp’s monthly fees weighing on my lack of motivation to send out emails. I sent out an email to my list with a simple message: here’s my October 2018 poster and here’s a link to buy it. It was either the art itself, the direct, in-your-face way of presenting a call to action, or a combination of both. I sold a bunch. I’ll be doing that more often. I’m also signing that artist on to do a suite of posters in the next year.

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I started this project because I had always been fascinated by the artwork of the Surma Brothers. They were featured on The Brothers Brick & The New Elementary a few years ago and they later had a spread in Bricks Culture Magazine. Marcin and Przemek Surma of Poland have created over 100 pieces of art following the same prompt. In 2015 they went on a hiatus from their LEGO-themed art. I craved more. In starting my poster series, I managed to book Marcin to do my March 2017 poster for Sail N’ Fly Marina, cementing my place in the LEGO art selection…as far as a google search goes.

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To be honest, I really don’t know how to make this project turn a profit. I would definitely have quit by now if bringing new LEGO Art to the world on a monthly basis wasn’t so thrilling to me. What was there before I started having these created? The Surma Brothers, the art of Guido Kuip, and the Ice Planet 2002

artwork that I know you saw at least once by Blizzard artist Luke Mancini. If there are more artists who have been creating artwork like this with a LEGO theme, please let me know, but I found there to be a real lack of choices in late 2016. All of my posters are available individually or through a monthly subscription. I would also like to put out a coffee table book which would feature all of the artwork to date, the rough drafts, info on the artists, and depictions of the original LEGO sets. I have a feeling that the book will sell better than the posters and may quite possible be the thing that pays for the art, making the poster sales the supplemental income for the project.

So now you know why I do it. All there is left to do now is to check out the artwork that has been released so far and provide me feedback. What do you like, what do you hate, who would you like to see create my next poster? As always, all can be seen at bricksonthedollar.com or more specifically for this article, afolposter.com.

When next I write you, it will be about the LEGO T-shirt subscription that Kevin Hinkle and myself have been producing for 5 months now.

Chris Byrne

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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