(Written by William)
As a LEGO fan, have you ever wanted to tell LEGO exactly how you feel about one of their products? Perhaps about the way it was packaged, or the way it was designed. No matter what’s the issue, wouldn’t it be great to have someone listen to you who could actually do something with your feedback and ideas?
Well let me introduce you to your new best friend - or at least most awesome acquaintance – Kevin Hinkle. His job involves being a bridge between LEGO-fans in North America and all the different business units in The LEGO Group. This may involve getting feedback from LEGO-fans, supporting LEGO User Groups (LUGs), or getting LEGO-fans excited about programs that TLG is responsible for. So lets start by getting to know Kevin a bit better. You may be surprised how easily it is to relate to his background.
KEVIN’S RISE TO POWER
Kevin is like many adult LEGO-fans; he went through his Dark Ages only to discover a deeper appreciation for LEGO later in life. The major difference is that he ended up working for LEGO. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Kevin grew up in Austin, Texas. This probably predisposed him to gravitate towards LEGO’s Western line, but he spent some time with LEGO Space and LEGO Insectoids to name a few LEGO series he enjoyed. To this day he’ll tell you; Western can’t be beat.
Between the ages of twelve and thirteen life changed for Kevin. He let go of his attachment to LEGO and passed the collection down to his younger siblings. The massive LEGO-tub, complete with manuals and LEGO baseplates was forgotten…
Time passed and Kevin moved on. More specifically, to Denver Colorado, to pursue a degree in animation. While there, he had to find a job. Lucky for him there was a LEGO store. The prospect of having a store solely devoted to LEGO was mind-boggling to him. The awesome potential that it offered made him ask for a job. Sadly they were not hiring and he had to work in a shoe-store for four months. Then one day his manager came in and told him that the LEGO store put up a hiring sign. When he showed up, the sign was only up for thirty minutes.
This brings us to 2005; Kevin is not yet fully indoctrinated into the LEGO world yet, but he is out of his Dark Ages. He thought it was cool to work at a LEGO store, but it was still just a job. It took him four years working at the store to get fully immersed in the world of LEGO.
Kevin was approached a number of times by LEGO-fan club CoWLUG to join. Finally he did. Once there he spent much of his time observing and lurking around the club meetings. But still; building with LEGO seemed a bit beyond him. By now he had already tracked down his old LEGO collection during a holiday trip back home. He also collected a fair bit of new LEGO along the way. The material was there, but still he resisted the urge to create something original. When he saw the skyscrapers by other LEGO-fans, the task to build something like that was intimidating.
It wasn’t until one of the big LEGO mall-displays that CoWLUG got Kevin to build. It wasn’t easy. He attempted to work on something for nearly a week trying to build the right thing. Many times this kept him up until four in the morning. The mental block didn’t get lifted until someone suggested that he build a model of the LEGO store. He updated the model several times since then, but will always remember it as his breakthrough moment.
By now Kevin was an assistant manager at the LEGO store. He was also a senior in college and still trying to pursue the animation career. He was faced with a difficult decision of what career he wanted to pursue. To make matters more difficult, LEGO was looking for a store-manager in Arizona. Ultimately the need to eat outweighed his artistic ambitions. Of course, it helped that when you’re close to LEGO, you’re never far from art-supplies. Soon the offer came to become a store-manager and Kevin’s answer was “yes”.
It was now 2009 and Kevin was hunting down the Arizona LEGO Users Group even before he secured an apartment. It’s safe to say he was bleeding bricks. He even had his picture up in several places so that when he walked into the LEGO store he was going to manage, the fans swarmed him before the employees even knew who he was!
He even showed up to AZLUG (now Cactus Brick) and avoided telling them that he was the new store-manager until the very end of his introduction. It was a good fit for nine months until the news came; LEGO was opening a brand new store in Kevin’s home town of Austin, Texas.
Leaving was a no-brainer, but he didn’t just pick up and leave. He made sure there were no hard feelings. He talked with his staff and LUG members to let them know how much this move would mean to him. He found nothing but support and his family once again packed up, and this time went home. Once more he found his local LUG. In this case, the Austin chapter of TexLUG was like family. This was a place where he felt he could put down roots. He even saw the construction of the actual store. TexLUG was asked to help build the store models to be displayed. This meant Kevin got a chance to be on the LEGO-fan side and the management side of things at the same time.
It’s now 2010; six months went by at the Austin store and then a new position opened up. Steve Witt, the former community engagement person, had retired. Kevin had been working in retail for about five plus years and it was beginning to take its toll. He also had to decide if he really wanted to move his family again, this time to Enfield, Connecticut? Would Brand Community be the right direction? Did he really want to leave the city he grew up in? Despite all these reservations, Kevin decided to inquire about the position.
To Kevin’s surprise, he talked with Jim Foulds. This was a bit of a shock since Kevin knew Jim from CoWLUG when he first started his interest in LEGO. At that time Jim was working with the LEGO Universe project and later transferred to Community Brand. Jim even went as far as offering the position to Kevin. At this time Kevin said no since things didn’t feel settled from his last move. Four more months went by and Kevin’s curiosity got the better of him. He had to see if that job was still available. To his surprise it was still there waiting for him to take it and run with it. By now things had settled and he really needed a change. The application process was started.
Two months and three interviews later Kevin got the call. He had 24 hours to say “yes” or “no”. The answer was yes, but he asked for extended time. He really didn’t want to break another lease-agreement. Fortunately, it worked out that Brick Fiesta was being held in Austin, Texas. This made it possible for him to complete his lease-agreement and attend his first LEGO convention in the new position. His stay in Austin lasted exactly one year before moving on to the next chapter. After getting his feet wet with Brick Fiesta he unfortunately missed Brick Fair because of moving. Once that was out of the way, he began the settling-in process.
As always he looked for his local LUG. This time he found NELUG. This was a bit different than other LUGs. It covers the entire New England region. Their main meetings take place in Boston which is a bit far from Enfield. Therefore, Kevin worked with Jim to form LUGOCT. They are currently at seven members and growing. Many of their members are part of the other, larger LUGs in the area. They are planning their first display at their local Four Town Fair in September of this year.
This wealth of experience gives Kevin a unique perspective for his job; no matter what stage your LEGO group is in, even if you’re trying to start one, Kevin is the perfect person to get help from.
You now have a good understanding of where Kevin comes from. He has a passion for both LEGO and the LEGO-fan community. It is fortunate that he is in the position he’s in. By understanding who he is and what he does, it’s my goal that fans find out how truly easy it is to connect with Kevin. I’ve only met him once in person which led to a two hour conversation over the phone just to write this post.
I believe, given his background, Kevin is the perfect mouthpiece for LEGO-fans when speaking with LEGO. But before you make your full opinion, read the next part of this post to get a sense of what Kevin currently does and how to get in contact with him: Your Bridge to LEGO: Kevin Hinkle – Part Two.
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