Sunday, 31 March 2013

A tale of two companies...


In addition to Lego, I’m something of an Apple fanboy, and it struck me recently that there are a number of similarities between the two companies.  Both are leaders in their fields.  Both have a fairly rapid turnover of their product lines - although while many Apple customers can’t wait for the next new thing, Lego customers often bemoan the fact that they can’t get a desired set because it’s gone end-of-life.

And while both companies sell their products through other retailers, they also have their own dedicated stores.  Although it’s fair to say that while Apple’s steel and glass design statements are destinations in their own right, Lego stores tend to be, well… shops with Lego in them.




The Apple Store, 5th Avenue, New York





A typical Lego Store

(Image (c) The Lego Group)


But as I found out recently, both companies make a big thing of their store openings.

Apple opened their 300th store - the 28th in the UK - on Saturday, August 7th, 2010 in Covent Garden.  At the time it was the biggest Apple Store in the world.  It might still be - I’m not sure.  Living, as I do, not far from the end of the Piccadilly line, I got up at some unearthly hour, caught the first train out of Cockfosters and got up to Covent Garden at some time before 7.00am (I’m not sure when exactly - obviously early enough for my brain to have considered it a traumatic event and wiped it from my memory), for the 10.00am opening.  Clearly I wasn’t as dedicated as many, as there were several hundred people ahead of me in the queue, including a few who’d camped out overnight .

Why drag myself out of a comfy bed at 5am?  Were there bargains to be had?  Was there something I desperately needed to buy?

No, not really.  It was just to be part of the fun.

As it was, because I was one of the first few hundred though the door, I did get a T-shirt proclaiming, in typically understated Apple fashion, that I had been there when the store opened.  Trouble is, Apple assume that their customers are fashionably thin, and so the shirt was several sizes too small for me, being, as I am, unfashionably fat.

The thing that struck me though, was that the queue, while consisting of hundreds (eventually thousands) of people, was remarkably quiet.  This was because almost without exception, everybody in the queue was hunched over an iPhone or an iPad.  Probably reading the tech news sites that were covering the store opening.  Indeed for the most part, the only time I saw people speaking was when they were being interviewed by TV news crews.

But it was fun, and we were cheered into the store by the typically zealous Apple store employees.  By lunchtime, it was business as usual.



They're opening a LEGO store!  In Watford!  Ain't it grand!

(Image (c) The Lego Group)


So when the Lego store at Watford announced their official ‘Grand Opening’ about eight weeks after the shop had actually opened for trade, and said it was going to be their (as I later discovered) usual three day extravaganza, I was curious to go along and see what it was like.  I’d already seen the shop when I went for the AFOL day, so I knew that it was small enough that you could walk round the whole place while holding your breath.  So three days...?

Really?  Three days?

Some nosing around the forums and all became clear.

There is little the Lego fan likes more than a freebie.  But if it’s a limited edition, exclusive freebie, well…

It turns out that when Lego open a store (in the UK anyway - might be different in other countries), they have three different goodies to give away, one on each day over three days.  They are (I think) usually the same three goodies, which consist of a T-shirt, a Lego model of a Lego store and a set of three minifigs in store specific packaging.

As these are only available to the first 300 people spending £25 or more on each day, and Lego only have 12 stores (so far) in the UK, these items are, while not super-rare, fairly hard to come by.  Judging by the chatter on the web, the Lego Store model was the thing that people most wanted.

But if you wanted all three freebies, you’d have to visit on all three days, and spend at least £25 on each occasion. (1)

Whereas previously, these events had run from Friday to Sunday, for some reason Watford were doing it from Thursday to Saturday.  And it was over half-term, so children wouldn’t be at school… (2)

I thought about it, and came to the conclusion that I didn’t want to book a day off work for a T-shirt that almost certainly wasn’t going to fit me. (3)  However, I was owed some time, and I did fancy getting hold of a Store model, so I booked the Friday off.

Remembering back to the AFOL day, I figured that I’d only need to get there ten minutes early and I’d be at the front of the queue.

What did I know?

On the Friday I arrived about 8.40am for a 9.00am opening to find dozens of people already queueing.  In fact there were several different queues forming, and in the end the staff had to come out and shepherd us into one line.

Unlike the Apple queue people, Lego fans are a chatty bunch, and I got talking to the girl next to me who turned out to be called Jo, worked for the Government looking at queue dynamics, and apparently had Lego minifigure replicas of all her ex-boyfriends.  She was also very into improving Lego Modular buildings, as she considered that most of the actual Lego designs were flawed.  I also met Drew, who was equally nice, but didn’t really say much.

As the queue grew longer, I could see people mentally counting how many others were ahead of them, although with 300 freebies, I figured that everybody there at 9.00am was probably safe. (4)

9.00am duly arrived, and the staff started letting us in to the shop, at which point I was confronted with a dilemma.  What to buy?  I had a birthday approaching, and had asked Mrs Boo for the 9396 Technic Helicopter, so I thought I’d pick that up as the Friday purchase.  However, having peered through the window when I arrived, there were no helicopters in sight.

Once I was inside, I got talking to one of the staff who confirmed that while they could order most things without any hassle, they did have trouble getting hold of Technic.  And so no, they didn’t have any helicopters.

I scanned the shelves, conscious of the fact that the queue at the till was growing longer.  Common sense told me that there weren’t going to be 300 people getting to the checkout before me, but it didn’t stop me feeling slightly hassled.

Eventually I settled on the 9395 Technic Pick-Up Tow Truck.  I’d looked at it a couple of times previously and thought it didn’t actually look that interesting.  However, a short while earlier, Flying_Pig from Eurogamer had built it and posted some pictures, and I was struck that it looked a darn sight better ‘in the plastic’ than it did in the picture on the box.

At which point I found myself in the odd position of being herded out of the shop by the staff, with an unpaid for Lego set under my arm.  As mentioned, the store was fairly small, and there simply wasn’t room for everyone, and so once people had selected their purchases, we had to form a queue outside in the mall.

Not quite sure what the staff would have done, if 100+ people just decided to wander off…

In order to chat to customers (and presumably make sure that none of us did wander off), a couple of the staff walked up and down the line.  One of them had the new Palace Cinema set, which was wasn’t officially realeased for another few days, but was available as part of the celebrations, while another wandered around with a bag full of polybags and dished them out to queuers as a sort of ‘thank you’ for waiting so long.  Hence me being presented with a 30152 Mining Quad.

Thank you very much, nice Lego staff person!

Eventually I got to the head of the queue, picked up another free polybag (the City Police Helicopter, for spending over £25, which was the February freebie), and got my prized 3300003 ‘Lego Brand Retail Store’ model.




A Lego Store.  In Lego.  In a box.



I ended up rounding off the morning by going for breakfast with Jo and Drew, where we talked all things brick-y, and said we’d all be back the next day!

I headed home to show Mrs Boo my purchases.  Her attempts at feigning interest were getting better!



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(1) See my previous note about retailers, and how I firmly believe that they just want us for our money.  Radical I know, but there may be some truth in it.

(2) See point (1)

(3) See earlier point about Apple T-Shirts.

(4) In fact, I’ve just found out that the store still - at the end of March - have a few of the Minifig sets left, and might be persuaded to hand one over if you ask nicely.

Friday, 22 March 2013

The black sheep of the family...


‘And then I bought some more Lego…’  

Looking back, that’s pretty much all I seem to have written, thus far.  ‘I bought this, and then I bought that’.  ‘And then I bought something else.’  I’d just like to point out that I’m not some sort of wealthy eccentric.  I just have an ordinary IT job, not a huge amount of outgoings, and anyway,  at the beginning of a new hobby, everybody goes a bit nuts, right?

Right?

Anyway, until the second wave of new stuff for 2013 hits around August, there isn’t anything left that I want to buy.

Well, not much.

So normal ‘Look what I’ve bought now!’ service will be resumed at some point, but for now, I’m turning my eye towards Technic as a part of the Lego family.

As a bit of a noob, it’s entirely possible that I’ve got the wrong end of the stick, but I get the impression that the wider Lego community treat Technic a bit like your dotty Aunt.  

Sure, she’s family, but, she’s a bit… odd.

The couple of forums that I’ve hung out on do mention Technic.  One, which has specific sub-forums for specific topics, has lumped Technic in with Mindstorms, and you don’t see a whole lot about it elsewhere.  The other one (Brickset.com) (1), which tends to take a broader brush to the Lego canvas, does mention it.  The topic pops up now and again, but it tends to be the same hardcore few that gather to discuss the latest mechanical wonder.

In fact, the most enthusiastic group I’ve found when it comes to Technic are the bunch who inhabit the ‘Lego Lego Lego’ thread on Eurogamer.  They seem to love it!

On the couple of occasions I’ve met up with other Lego people at the Watford store, I got into a few conversations based around ‘What are you going to buy?’ or ‘What sort of stuff do you collect?’.  When I mentioned that I’m after Technic, I usually got a sympathetic smile and a ‘Right.  No I’m not really into that…’

On the AFOL day, I certainly wasn’t fighting anyone to get to the Technic shelf space.

I can sort of see why.  If you were brought up on ‘traditional’ Lego, then Technic is a whole different kettle of fish.  In the loosest terms, with regular Lego (which I shall simply refer to as “Lego’ from now on), you tend to build from the ground up.  If you’re making a house, you put down a base, build the ground floor walls, put in a floor, build the first floor and so on.  With a car, you build a chassis and then a body on top.

But with Technic, I’m finding that you have to build from the inside, outwards.  Because the internals of a Technic model tend to actually do something, rather than just be an empty space, you have to think about what’s going to be in there and then design the creation around it.

It’s a different way of thinking, and while I’m sure that you could sit down with a box of Technic parts and just start putting them together, it appears that a bit of forward thinking brings better results.

Unsurprisingly, then, that most of the people I’ve come across who seem to like Technic are geeks.  The sort of people who like taking things apart, who build PC’s for fun and who are generally enquiring of mind.

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with Lego - I had years of fun with it as a child, but now, for me, the ‘plastic engineering’ aspect of Technic has the edge over the regular, ‘normal’ stuff. (2)

At first glance it’s a completely different medium, particularly given the way Technic has evolved into an almost entirely studless system.  And yet the two can be combined (for the most part) effortlessly.  It’s testament to the design, and the original ideas behind all the Lego systems and pieces that they’ve lasted as long as they have in a broadly unchanged format.

When you look at the products of today, which are constantly striving to be new and different (and as a result, usually incompatible with what went before), it’s probably Lego’s greatest strength that a brick from 30 years ago will still fit perfectly with a brick from today.

They clearly took heart from the old saying…

“Do it once. Do it right.”



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(1)  A word about Brickset.  I think I judged it a little harshly at first.  I’m used a to very laid back gaming forum where, broadly speaking, anything goes, and no subject is taboo.  I guess Huw (who runs Brickset) decided early on that he wanted his website dedicated to Lego and nothing else, and he’s encouraged that where he can, and enforced it where he has to.

At the end of the day, it’s his site, so good luck to him. 

Once you get used to the Brickset way of doing things, you find that the forum members are a friendly and intelligent bunch, and it’s a nice site to hang out on.  The database is undoubtedly the jewel in it’s crown, and certainly the aspect of the site that I use the most.

Ok, the forum has rather a lot of Americans who will insist on using the term ‘Legos’, which bugs the hell out of me (and many other people, by the reactions it tends to generate), but if that’s the worst we have to put up with, then there’s not really any cause to complain.

And don’t forget - it’s free! 

(2) Having said that, Mrs Boo bought me the 10220 Volkswagen T1 Camper Van for my birthday, and it’s awesome!  
More on that at a later date.

And I guess the UCS R2-D2 is mainly Lego...

Monday, 18 March 2013

It's not just for kids...


Not long after I’d joined the Brickset forum, I noticed a thread about the new Lego store at Watford.  It had had a low-key opening around Christmas 2012, and apparently their Grand Opening, a traditional Lego Store three-day extravaganza, was due sometime near the end of February.
However, somebody now mentioned that there was an AFOL event in the offing.  I’d been around long enough to figure out that AFOL meant ‘Adult Fan Of Lego’, but I wasn’t sure what this event was.

Turned out that the store staff were going to get to work early and open the store at 8.00 am rather than 9.00, specifically for adults.  Not only this, but there was 15% off all purchases!  I made a note of the date!

Interestingly, it seems that these AFOL days have varied over the years.  If I understand correctly, it used to be the case in the UK (and I believe, still is the case in the USA) that you have to be an identifiable member of a LUG, or Lego User Group, to qualify.  

Presumably you’d sidle up to the shop, give the secret knock and whisper the password through a crack in the door.

Here, it appeared that you just had to :

a) be an adult,
b) know about the event, and
c) turn up.

It wasn’t widely publicised, you had to hear about it ‘on the grapevine’, so there was still a clandestine element to the whole thing, but having phoned the store a few days earlier, they assured me that all I had to do was arrive between 8.00 and 9.00, and they’d let me give them money.

Anyway.  Not knowing whether it would be attended by thousands of rabid fans, hammering on the door at 8.00am or not, I decided to get there early.  The alarm went off at 6.15, shortly followed by Mrs Boo wanting to know why I could never get up this early on a Saturday when there was housework to be done.

At about 7.15 I was heading out of the door.

“So how much am I allowed to spend?” I enquired of my better half.

“It’s your money - spend what you like.” she said, and went back to bed.

This could be an expensive morning…

Unsurprisingly, there wasn’t much on the road, and I got to the Watford shopping centre at about 7.45 and headed in to find the Lego store.  ‘Should be easy enough to spot,’ I thought. ‘It’ll be the one with the long queue outside.’

In actual fact, the long queue consisted of two people, a nice couple who had arrived just before me, and who I later discovered were long standing Brickset members.  By the time the staff opened up, there were probably a dozen people waiting, and getting funny looks from the shopping centre security staff, who were slightly puzzled about a group of adults sitting on the floor outside a toyshop, seemingly over an hour before it was supposed to open.

I got talking to a couple of people.  Some had come armed with lists of what they were after.  Some had been waiting for today so they could pick up high-priced items (1).  Others, like me, were going to just see what caught their eye.  Several people seemed to be members of on-line communities and were taking this opportunity to meet up with fellow forum members, either to catch up, or to complete swaps without having to incur postal charges.

All in all, Lego people seemed to be a pretty sociable crowd.

I’d never been in a Lego store before, so it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to find that it’s a shop, chock full of Lego.  I guess it’s because whenever I’ve seen Lego before, it’s been in a department store with a multitude of other toys.  This was just a medium sized shop, but stuffed full of Lego!

Cool!

As I entered the shop, the first thing that caught my eye was a display case with the two current Star Wars UCS models, R2-D2 and the B-Wing fighter.  The R2-D2 was cool.  The B-wing was big!

I did a sweep of the rest of the store, mentally adding things to a ‘possible purchase’ list.  The VW Camper Van was great, but I knew I could get that from John Lewis.  The Architecture series appeals.  I’ve had my eye on the Solomon R. Guggenheim museum ever since Mrs Boo and I visited it in New York a few years back.  I put it back on the shelf though, as for what it is, it’s pretty pricey.

I had a loooong look at the Star Wars stuff.  The X-Wing is neat.  Trouble is, if you buy an X-Wing, you really need to buy a Tie Fighter.  The Death Star MkII is great, but huge, and at £275, definitely not an impulse purchase.  Also, if I bought one Star Wars set, I’d want to buy some all of the others.  Although I draw the line at the Original Trilogy stuff.  I’ve never seen the ‘Clone Wars’ cartoon series, which much of the current SW line is based on, and so wouldn’t have any problem walking past that.

Eventually I got to the Technic section, via a couple of visits to that UCS cabinet. 

After a fair amount of dithering, I settled on the 9393 Tractor, the 9391 Tracked Crane, and the 8293 Power Functions Set, which I’d be able to use with the Excavator that I’d picked up a few weeks earlier.  I also grabbed a couple of brick seperator tools and was just about to join the back of the queue for the till when I decided to have one last look at the UCS stuff…

R2-D2 found his way into the pile of boxes in my arms and I joined the queue, looking resolutely ahead, ignoring all other possible temptations.


9393 Tractor

(Image from the indispensible Bricket.com database) 






9391 Tracked Crane

(Image also from Brickset.com)






The cute yet awesome UCS R2-D2

(Image, as ever, from Brickset.com)



In addition to the 15% off, the February offer was a free polybag if you’d spent more than £25, with a choice of either the 30222 Police Helicopter or the 30103 Friends Car.  The staff were kind enough to say that as I’d spent the thick end of £200, I could have both! (2)

When I arrived home, my wife was fascinated to see what I’d bought, and admired my purchases.

No, sorry, my mistake.  She said “It’s not staying down here - it’s going in the loft.”

To be fair though, when I told her how much I’d spent, she raised her eyes to heaven briefly, shook her head and left it at that, which is just one of the many reasons that I adore her.

I think she figures that if this is as bad as my mid-life crisis gets, then at least I'm not trying to kill myself on a motorbike...



~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~


(1) And let’s be blunt.  Some of this stuff is expensive.

(2) This is not meant to be sarcastic at all.  The staff in the store were, to a man (and woman) great!  Friendly, chatty, helpful, not pushy, and considerably more awake than I was.

Monday, 11 March 2013

The little people...


Back in the olden days, when I last had any Lego (the 1970’s), it was, for the most part, just coloured bricks and plates.  I think the only ‘unusual’ thing I had was a motor set.  It was a block with holes for wheels, and you could either push a regular set of wheels on, a set of train wheels, or a set of bare wheels and then put caterpillar tracks on them.  It attached, by way of a short, plug in lead, to a battery box that had a simple ‘back / off / forward’ lever.

It looked like this.  Probably because this is a picture of the same set.


The 901 Lego Motor Set.  I had one of these.

(Image, as ever, borrowed from Brickset.com)

My sister didn’t really have much Lego as I recall - she stuck to more the traditional dolls house, dolls and doll-related paraphernalia.  These days she lives in the middle of Wales with a dog, some chickens and a husband but, if memory serves, a distinct lack of dolls.  When we were small, however, there was one Lego set that I do remember her having, and it was the set: 200 Lego Family.


The 200 Lego Family.

(Three guesses where this image originates)

It was a set of people - Mum, Dad, Granny and two children - that were mostly made from standard Lego bricks with the exception of articulated arms, round heads and clip on hair.  The only thing I recall about them was that you could clip their hands together and dangle them in a long chain.

Presumably they weren’t a roaring success, and in the late 70’s, Lego went back to the drawing board and introduced the minifigure.  They were included in any number of sets but always (1) as part of a larger set, never on their own.  That changed in 2010 with the release of the Collectable Minifigs Series 1.  At the time of writing, Series 10 is on the horizon. 

Obviously, what with concentrating on Technic, I wasn’t going to be interested.

However, I reckoned without the subtle and wily ways of the modern retailer.  As we have previously discovered, while they pretend to be helpful, jolly people who are there to make our lives easier by providing us with life’s little essentials, they are in fact out to make money!

I’ve seen several fascinating programmes on the subject of ‘How shops make you spend more money.’ which are usually put on when somebody’s gone on strike, or someone’s died and the TV schedule is thrown out of kilter and they need to pad out the evening’s broadcast by a couple of hours.

“Quick.” someone high up will say.  “Dig out ‘An audience with Ken Dodd’, one of those shows with clips of animals doing daft things, and a ‘How shops make you spend more money’ documentary.”

One particular trick is to put cheap (or as the shop would have it, ‘affordable’) items very close to the checkout.  These items are often aimed at children.  The thinking being, people have to queue to pay, and many of these people will be accompanied by their offspring.  Said young people will get bored within 0.3 seconds of having to stand in a queue, start looking around, spot the cunningly placed toy / comic / confectionery and then spend the rest of the queueing time bugging their parent to let them have the aforementioned item.  

It is known, unsurprisingly, as ‘pester power’.

Such techniques clearly only work on children though...

So I was waiting to pay for something in a department store (another one of the ones I work for), and I happened to notice, there by the register, a box of Series 8 minifigs.

“Only £1.95,” I thought. “plus discount.  I wonder what they’re like…”

Not having a parent in tow to get the puchase approved by, I arrived home with four.



My first Minifig

(Also, I would point out, this is my photo, rather than having borrowed it from Brickset!)

We are now going to take a slight detour.  Bear with me.

Imagine the following scenario.  My wife and I have decided (or more likely, my wife, and me just saying ‘Yes, dear.’) to buy a new sofa.  So we go off to the department store (I’m fed up with typing Department Store - we both work for John Lewis) and head for the furniture department, where we are met by a nice sales assistant.

“Good morning.  How can I help you?”

“Hi.  We’ve decided to buy a new sofa.”

“Certainly.  That’ll be £799 please.  If you’d like to come over to the register.”

“Er, hang on.  We haven’t told you which one we want yet.”

“Oh, you don’t get to choose.  There are 16 different ones over there and we’ll just pick one out for you.”

“Umm, what?”

“You buy the sofa and we pick one out for you from that range over there.”

“But we only like one of them.  Several won’t even fit in our house!”

“Well you could always try and find some other people that have bought sofas from us.  Maybe one of them will have got the one you want, and you could buy it from them.  Or even swap it for the one you get, if you don’t like it.”

It’s not just me, is it?  That would be crazy, right?  You choose what you want to buy, and then go and buy it.  You don’t choose what to buy, and then hope you get lucky after you’ve paid your money.  That’s not shopping - that’s a raffle!

Anyway.  In 2010, Lego launched the first series of minifigs.  There were 16 in the range, and they were sold in sealed packets.  This meant, as you’ve probably figured out, you don’t actually know what you’re buying.
And more to the point, as far as Lego are concerned, if you want a complete set, you’re probably going to have to buy considerably more than 16.

It’s almost like they planned it... 

I come across as righteously indignant, but you can hardly blame Lego - people have been doing this for years.  When I was young, it was cards and stickers.  Panini Football stickers were the first I remember, although not having much more than a passing interest in football (then or now), I didn’t try too hard to collect the set.

Things changed a bit in 1977 with the arrival of a certain sci-fi film.  Among the millions of pieces of Star Wars merchandise was a set of trading cards.  There were 66 in the set, plus 11 stickers.  Each packet contained (so the internet reminds me) seven cards and one sticker.  This led to lots of small boys gathering in school playgrounds going through their swap piles… ‘Got, got, got, need, got…’

And much the same thing happens today with minifigs.  You can get a complete set if you buy enough, but for most people it’s easier (or more fun) to swap with fellow collectors.

Some people don’t like to leave it up to chance, or being able to find someone who wants to swap or sell that missing minifig though, which leaves you with a couple of options.  

‘Feeling’, or ‘bulk buying’.

Lego release details of an upcoming set, and as soon as they do, the feelers start studying the images.  Minifigs are made up of similar parts : a pair of legs, a body, a head and a base.  However, they usually come with one or two accessories.  A businessman might have a briefcase.  A Knight might have a specifically shaped shield and so forth.

And to those with deft fingers, this is a major clue to the contents of the packet.  Soon after a set is released, ‘feeler guides’ start appearing, telling people what unique parts they should be feeling for, and if there’s anything similar they need to be aware of.  Otherwise you may walk away from the till, happy that you’ve got the Pirate you need to complete your set, because you felt his rapier, only to get home and find that it was in fact a fairy’s wand!  So if you see someone standing by a box of figures, going though them one after another, that’s probably what they’re doing.

The other route that some people go down is to buy a complete box.

There are 16 in a set, and 60 in a box (2), so in some ways, it’s a bit of overkill, but it does guarantee that you get a set.  You can’t officially buy a box, but there are plenty of ‘grey’ avenues to go down.  And when people started doing this they found that contrary to expectation, distribution between figures was not equal.  For any given series, there will be a couple of figures that are plentiful, most will be average in number, and one or two will be considerably harder to find.

This annoys a lot of people, who simply want to collect a set of 16.  Or maybe want half a dozen of a specific figure for a scene they’re building.

But judging by the sales figures that Lego have just released, while their customers may be annoyed, they don’t seem to be annoyed enough to stop buying!

Me, I’ve just about got enough.  I have a complete Series 9, I need three more to complete Series 8 and one more to complete Series 7.  By the time I’ve finished, I reckon I’ll have about 30 extras, which represents about £60 that I didn’t, in theory, need to spend.  Or to put it another way, that would have got me an X-Wing Fighter plus a down payment on a Tie Fighter.
I’ve got a good variety if I want to use them in stop motion videos etc, but I don’t really like the ‘blind buying’ aspect, and my fingers aren’t deft enough to let me feel with any degree of accuracy, so once I’ve tracked down those last four, I won’t be buying any more minifigs.

Somehow though, I can’t see The Lego Group losing any sleep over it.




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(1) I’m a bit wary about saying ‘always’ as someone more knowledgable than me has probably just read that and thought ‘That’s not right!’.  I’ll freely admit that my information comes from ‘The Lego Book’ and a few minutes on the internet.  
Science-grade research this is not. 

(2) The gossip says that there will be boxes of 30 in the future : one complete set plus 14 random spares.

Friday, 8 March 2013

“Where’s all this stuff coming from?”

As Tom Sawyer found, when he managed to get a stream of Mississippi children to paint a 30-yard fence for him, if you tell somebody they can’t have something, they want it.

Whether or not they wanted it in the first place.

To a lesser degree, making something difficult to get ramps the need-to-acquire up from ‘Hmm.’ to ‘I want.’  At least it does until you think about it a bit.  But usually by that point you’ve spent the money. (1)

So when I looked through the Lego catalogue that dropped through my letterbox, I was interested to see that there were ‘Exclusives’.  Items that could only be bought from the Lego website, or Lego stores.  

Nowhere else. (2)

One such item in the catalogue was a 42006 Technic Excavator.  £49.99, and not available anywhere else.  As it happened, I’d just signed up for the Lego VIP programme, which was a variation on the points-for-purchases-which-can-later-be-redeemed schemes that just about every retailer runs these days.  For every £1 you spend, you get a point.  100 points = £5 that you can either save to your Lego account or use against a purchase.  So this would be an opportunity to grab a rare item, plus start my points account off.

Plus!  For a limited time only (until the next time), free Postage & Packing!

Oh.  Hang on.  It’s only free if you spent more than £50.  So I’d need to buy something else.

Wait a minute...  Could it be that retailers, whether they’re selling toys, cars or military hardware, secretly want us to spend more money?

Surely not.

Anyway, I ordered the 42006 Excavator and bumped the order over £50 with a 42004 Mini Backhoe Loader.  Clearly I felt that there was some digging to be done.

And it would appear that a lot of the time, Lego operate a ‘spend more than a certain amount this month and get a free polybag’ system.  When I placed my order, I receieved a free (deep breath) “Lego Legends Of Chima, Ewar’s Acro Flyer”, which probably has more letters in it’s name than it does parts in the bag.
Anyway, it’s free, and as we’ve seen previously, I like free stuff.


A shiny and new 42006 Technic Excavator.





Equally new and shiny 42004 Mini Backhoe Loader.


A few days later, the box arrived, to be met with a withering stare from my better half.

“What’s all that?”

I explained about the exclusivity.  I expounded at length about the free p&p.  I waved Ewar’s Acro Flyer (carefully - don’t want to split the bag) under her nose.  In a move that, on reflection, was clutching at straws, I even pointed out the useful sized cardboard box that the things had arrived in.


"Look dear!  It's Ewar!  He was free!"


Mrs Boo simply pointed to the slowly-but-surely growing pile of Lego in the corner of the living room, made some comment about ‘ebaying the lot when you’re not looking’ under her breath, and generally made it clear that she was not about to have the house turned into a Toys R Us satellite warehouse.

In case my beloved is reading this, the rest of this entry is a work of fiction, for entertainment purposes only.

The Technic range isn’t huge - around 20 sets at any one time, and they seem to have two waves of new releases a year, around February and August, give or take.  And when new sets are released, then others have to make way for them.  So acquiring my collecting habit in the New Year, as I did, meant that there were several lines that had recently gone EOL.  Even if you couldn’t find these on the Lego website, you could usually find them in high street retailers.  So eschewing the sets that had only come out recently, and so would be around for a while, I began to familiarise myself with the recently departed. 

It seemed that I’d fallen into Technic during something of a golden age.  There had been some fantastic sets over the last couple of years.  

I started making a list.

The range is fairly well balanced, with usually a small, sub £10 set, a handful of sets under £25, another, larger batch in the £50 - £100 range, and one or two flagship models, like the Unimog, which tended to hover around the £150 mark.

One of these flagship models, the 8043 Technic Motorized Excavator, had recently gone out of production, and judging by the reviews and comments of the on-line community, it had been a terrific set.

I got a bad attack of collectivitus…

A common behavioural trait that a lot of Lego forum people demonstrate, is that of sweeping the local area.  Pretty soon you get to know all the shops in a 20 mile radius that stock Lego, and it becomes a habit to ‘just pop in’ if you’re in the area.  Just in case there’s a bargain.  Or a member of staff has priced something incorrectly.  Or someone’s found an old, discontinued set in the warehouse, and put it on display, while it’s currently going for twice the RRP on ebay…

And so it was that I happened to be passing our local Toys R Us, which tends to have a pretty good Lego selection, but is notorious for having rather inflated prices.  Nosing about the Technic section, I pushed aside a Unimog, and Lo!  Not one, but two 8043’s. 
At the RRP of £142.99.

On one shoulder, a small me was yelling ‘Buy it!  Buy it now!  They’re going for £200 on ebay!’

On my other shoulder was a small Mrs Boo, arms folded, tapping her foot and giving me the sort of look that says ‘Don’t even think about it...’

I left the store empty handed.

And then sought some independent, unbiased advice from my new friends.  
On the Brickset forum.

A couple of days later, I went back and grabbed it.  And in the interests of domestic harmony, stashed it in the loft before my beloved got home.


This is not in our loft.



It’s fiction dear, fiction, remember?  No need to get that ladder.

And that would have been the end of that particular episode, except…

About a week later, I was in the department store just round the corner from the office.  The one in the chain that I work for.  The one that gives me 25% discount.

And there, on the shelf, was a mint 8043…

The shouting on my shoulders started all over again.

In the end, I reasoned it thus.  If I buy something with discount, I’m not allowed to resell it.  But the one from TRU?  I can do what I like with that.  And it’s already worth about £60 more than I paid for it.

I bought the second one, took it home (and owned up to buying it), and have now decided that the one in the loft will be sold at some point in the future for cold, hard cash. Potentially I could make enough on it to actually pay for the second 8043, but let’s not get carried away.

I am not getting into this as a reseller.  
Apart from the 8043.

Well. And the Imperial Shuttle.

But that’s it! (3)




~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~



(1) See ‘Limited Edition’ cars for example.  A stripe down the side and the knowledge that there’s only another 299 like it on the road.  Really worth an extra £500?  
Probably not.

(2)  I’ve later discovered that most of these items aren’t nearly as exclusive as you’d think.  Sometimes they’re exclusive to Lego for a limited time, and then they’re available in the wider world.  
Sometimes I think Lego just make it up.

(3) It is, actually.  Having had a few attempts at selling things on ebay, I think it’s an awful lot of hassle, so I’ll probably end up selling the two sets above privately to another forum member.  Reselling sounds like a lot of work.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

“That’s no toy. That’s an investment!”


“Music was my first love, and it will be my last.”

So said John Miles, by way of a fairly cheesy song.  But it was 1985 and we can forgive him, because pretty much every other song released at that time was cheesy too.  And with the possible exception of Mrs Boo, it holds true for me too.  I’ve had dalliances with juggling, anime and manga, a serious affair with cookery and an on-and-off long term ‘thing’ with videogames, but when it comes down to it, music has been my number one passion for most of my life.

“What’s he talking about?  I thought this was a Lego blog?”

“Leave him.  He’s on a roll.”

This morning, I grabbed the iPod and dialled up ‘The Wild Heart’ by Stevie Nicks.  Great album.  30 years old this year. (1)  If I remember correctly I’ve got a copy on CD (two copies on CD actually - never figured out where the second one came from) and another copy on vinyl.

But if something were to happen to those three copies, I could go and get another one just like that.

/snaps fingers to emphasise how easy it would be

Amazon - less than £7.00, and it would be with you in a couple of days.  If HMV hadn’t gone bust, you could walk into one of their larger branches and almost certainly pick up a copy today.  If you’re not attached to the physicality of the thing, you could probably download it digitally and be playing it in under two minutes.

It’s a great album, like I say, but it’s not a classic.  ‘Revolver’ it is not.  It’s no ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’.  It won’t be challenging the sales figures of epics like ‘Thriller’ or ‘Back In Black’.  
But if you want it, even though it's three decades old, it’s yours.

On the other hand, if you want a videogame that came out 5 years ago, then you’re looking at ebay or car boot sales.

So what’s all this got to do with Lego?  Well it seems that Lego is more akin to Pacman than Ms Nicks.  Sets are available for a period of time, after which they are withdrawn from sale.  Which has led to the slightly odd situation of ‘Lego as collectible’.

Soon after you get bitten by the Lego bug, you start to discover that - like most hobbies - it has it’s own language.  There’s the language of actually building the stuff - SNOT, I discovered, means Studs Not On Top, and it’s a building technique that leaves smooth edges because… well I’m sure you can figure it out. LURP - Little Ugly Rock Piece. SHIP - Seriously Huge Investment (in) Parts.  (Bit of artistic licence there, I think), and MOC - My Own Creation.

But in addition, there’s also MISB, NISB, BNIB, EOL and so forth.  Which, in order, are, Mint In Sealed Box, New In Sealed Box, Brand New In Box and End Of Life (when a set is discontinued).

These are some of the acronyms of the collecting and reselling world.  If you’ve got a MISB when it goes EOL and you can find a loaded AFOL (2) who’s prepared to shell out on that set that they missed, then there’s big bucks to be made.  

And big is right.

In the world of Lego there are many discontinued sets that command a premium, but one rises above all others.

10179.



10179.  It is spoken of in hushed terms when Lego collectors meet.

(Image taken from the fantastic Brickset.com database)



Back in 2000, after (presumably) two sets of lawyers had sat in a room for a very long time indeed, Lego struck a deal with Lucasfilm and launched the UCS series.  These were detailed Lego models of iconic 'things' from the Star Wars universe. (3)  Mostly ships, these are sets with (mostly) high piece counts and (mostly) high prices.

Back in 2007 I remember seeing 10179.  It cost £342.99, and while I thought it looked pretty cool, it never crossed my mind that anybody would actually spend that much on a Lego set.

What did I know?

These days, a mint, sealed box (and do not underestimate the importance of the factory seal-edness and the mintiness) of 10179 will set you back somewhere between £2,000 and £2,500!

Don’t get me wrong - not every Lego set increases in value when it EOL’s.  Some attract a bit of a premium for a while, some just about hold their value and yet more just become second hand toys, with the same price drop as anything else.

All of which was irrelevant to me, as I’d decided early on that I was only interested in Technic, and I was just going to buy stuff at reasonable prices.

Right?  Right?

Not quite.  

On Jan 11th, I was on one of the Lego forums, and found myself reading a thread that was basically watching a set go EOL in real time.  While most of the UCS sets since the Falcon had been pretty good, in 2010, Lego launched the 10212 UCS Imperial Shuttle.  It was, as I’d discovered in the few weeks that I’d been participating in my new hobby, generally regarded as something akin to ‘son of 10179’.  


The 10212 Lego Imperial Shuttle in all its glory.

(Image also taken from the Brickset.com database.  Sorry Huw!)

This was going to be a good one.

It was huge, for a start.  Beautifully detailed - an undoubtedly iconic ship.  And while it seemed to have been out of stock just about everywhere since Lego stopped production in December 2012, someone had spotted that Amazon.com had about 100 in stock.
And everybody taking part in the discussion had convinced themselves that this was it!  This was the last of them.

Only 100 left!

I watched with interest as people bought one. Or in some cases two.

70-odd left.

People were trying to guess what time the stock would run out.

50 left!

I looked over at Mrs Boo, sitting next to me on the sofa, who would obviously kill me if I spent a week’s salary on a Lego set, and dismissed such foolish thoughts.  I mean... it’s not even Technic.

40 left.

Some people were not just buying their first, they were adding to their collection.  A couple of guys (and when it comes to spending large amounts of money on Star Wars Lego, we usually are talking about guys) had double-figures numbers of sets.  I later discovered that one chap had bought 50 of them over the course of it’s two year lifespan, and had them stashed away for resale in the future.

30 left.

Slowing down a little bit now.

20 left.

Only 20 in the world left to buy (so it seemed).

19 left.

Hang on!  Where did that last one go?

Hmm.  I appear to have bought it.  How did that happen?

To her credit, Mrs Boo, when she finally found out about it took it fairly well.  But by that time I’d made a decision on what to do with it.  

Most people (I reckoned), would sell next Christmas, for a modest profit.  The hardened reseller would hold on for four or five years, which is pretty much the age of the Falcon now, and sell for a big chunk of moolah.

Me?

10 years.

It arrived a few weeks later with, considering how far it had travelled, very little damage (a small 1” rip in the bottom edge of the box, so not quite MISB, but not far off), I inspected the box, wrapped it carefully and put it in our loft.  And that’s where it’s going to stay until 2022.

Why?

Well first off, I thought I’d sell it for pots of cash in a few years time and we could have a holiday on the proceeds.  Then it occurred to me.  2022 will be the 10th anniversary of me losing my Mum, and the 25th anniversary of losing my Dad.

So I’m going to sell it (hopefully for a tidy sum), and split the money between the Stroke Association (Mum) and Cancer Research (Dad), which Mrs Boo thoroughly approved of, hence me getting off lightly.



Wish I’d bought two though...  

Really fancy building one.   



~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~



(1) The album.  Not Stevie Nicks.
(2) Adult Fan Of Lego.

(3) For the most part iconic.  There have been, in my opinion, a few clunkers.  Life sized Darth Maul head, anyone?