(Written by William)
As I have mentioned in some of my previous articles (see links at the end of this post), I sell LEGO fairly regularly on BrickLink.com to support my hobby. While originally I only sold sets, recently I started adding individual pieces to my store as well. Selling LEGO sets is fairly easy, as all the information about the set is right on the box, so it is hard to make mistakes. Sure, a set could get damaged in shipping, but if you take some precautions and pack properly, that shouldn’t be an issue. Parts, on the other hand, are a much different story…
Selling LEGO by the piece requires that you are very knowledgeable about each element. Pieces can have small moulding and color differences, which means that they could look nearly identical to the untrained eye, but the price difference between these variations can be huge. LEGO pieces also require an efficient sorting and storage system to make the order fulfillment process easier, and to protect them from damage.
Not yet being familiar with all the nuances of LEGO elements, I recently made a fairly large blunder while fulfilling an order, mistaking a newer part for an older one. The color was right, as well as the functionality of the element, but the small details clearly showed that I had a newer version. This made a big difference in price. Thankfully, the buyer was very understanding and a seller in his own right. After issuing a full refund, I got a chance to talk with the buyer about selling. During our discussions he gave me some tips for new sellers to consider when they start up their own store. The list below is based on his advice. So special thanks goes out to Florida Brick Shop for inspiring this article. 🙂
➡ SELLING LEGO – SETTING GOALS
Opening a store – even a hobby business – requires a clear goal to thrive. Whether you are looking for a bit of additional income, saving up money for a big ticket item, or considering to start a full-time business, goals will help you form a plan.
As an example, establishing a business that can eventually provide significant income requires finding ways expand. So a good amount of the initial profits will get reinvested into the business to make it grow. Additionally, a new business owner will want to research methods of obtaining and processing products at a much higher volume. Even taxes will be handled differently.
In contrast, a person running a BrickLink shop just to support their LEGO hobby is more concerned with keeping their shop easy to operate. Hobbies are meant to be fun. So meeting and helping out other LEGO fans, while making a little bit of money on the side, is just fine for hobby sellers. No need to worry about expansion, managing a huge inventory, or making big money.
So goals are your road map. They don’t need to be written in stone, but they can give you a sense of what success means to you. Goals also can suggest ways to deal with problems and provide direction when you feel lost. And best of all, if things change for you, your goals can also change.
➡ SELLING LEGO – SORTING & STORAGE
As you begin selling LEGO, you will quickly discover that your store is as good as your storage system. Having product scattered throughout your house is a recipe for losing or misplacing items when you need them. This is why figuring out a good centralized storage area is best.
A storage system will also help gauge the amount and types of products you can sell. If you have an entire room dedicated to selling, you can probably handle extremely large LEGO sets or massive bulk amounts of bricks. A small area may guide you towards small intricate parts with a high resale value – like for example minifigures.
Whatever your storage system turns out to be, it is good to have an arrangement that can quickly locate the items you have available. This can be very simple like storage units with items sorted by type and color. Or you can also have a more involved system with your own numeric filing and detailed labeling. If you combine your method with the note section on Bricklink listings, you can have a built-in sophisticated reference system. Ultimately, you want an organization method that you can rely on to keep things from falling between the cracks.
➡ SELLING LEGO – GETTING EQUIPPED
You may have the sets and pieces to sell, but do you have the equipment? Let’s start with a strong light and a good magnifier. These are tools that can let you read the part numbers on the pieces themselves to avoid mistakes. Sorting-trays and a clean and clear surface can also be big aids in counting and sorting out an order.
When it comes to packing things up, a postal-scale is your best friend. However packing materials is the real expense. If you are only selling occasionally you can get supplies locally, or even recycle packaging from your own orders. If you are running a larger store you can get shipping supplies online from various vendors. PackagingSuppliesbyMail.com is one great resource. They have baggies, mailers, bubble-wraps, shipping-tape, and anything else you may need. Remember, bulk is your friend when you plan to sell a lot.
On the technological side you may want to look into BrickStock. Those who handle medium to large inventories find the versatility and features of this program invaluable. You can try it out for personal use for free. It won’t have all the features you probably want, but it will get you acclimated to the program.
If you find yourself looking to expand your market visibility, you might also want to sell on BrickOwl.com, a site similar to BrickLink, but much newer. However, if you do, another program that is a must is BrickSync. This software lets you synchronize your inventory between the two sites. After all, you can’t sell the same pieces more than once!
➡ SELLING LEGO – FINAL ADVICE
When you create a store, it can be really easy to forget that there are people just like you on the other end of the transaction. You may have a screen that feels very impersonal when you type in prices and quantities, but the way you learn and grow is by engaging with your buyers.
A good example is from my own mistake. I could have given the buyer the run around, but I know I don’t want to be treated that way. So when I saw his message and realized what the problem was, I issued a full refund before I even started talking with him by email. Now, this might not be the best or most appropriate way to deal with every situation, but I sold him parts he didn’t want and it was my error. I was not going to waste more of his time by arguing the fact.
From that experience, the buyer felt more than willing to open up to me and give me some helpful advice. He even offered to ship back the parts at his own expense. But I found the knowledge and experience I gained more than enough compensation for the loss of a few parts.
This brings us to the last bit of advice. If you have a problem, or want to look for other ways of handling a situation, try talking to other sellers. You are not the only person buying and selling LEGO elements in this world, so there is no reason to feel alone. Markets like BrickLink have forums where you can discuss and discover new ways to be successful in your efforts. Because in the end, we’d all prefer to be that seller we always want to buy from…
I hope this article will help you to avoid some of the common mistakes when running an online LEGO store. If you have other tips that you would like to share, or questions you would like to ask, feel free to add them in the comment section below! 😉
And you might also like to check out the following related posts:
Great info! I would add that selling sets also have some minuses. Packing large sets is a pain. Finding suitable boxes and packing materials is not easy and not cheap. And if the set is sealed, you have no idea if the content inside is complete. I have heard so many horror stories of pieces or instructions missing from a sealed set, or even the entire content being replaced by either the buyer or by someone at the store.
And as you pointed out, selling parts have their own challenges. Dealing with thousands of tiny pieces, colors, etc. only to make a few bucks is not for everyone. Selling minifigs can be quite profitable though, it is fairly easy to do, and they can pay for your sets. So you basically own your LEGO pieces free and clear.
Still a lot of work goes into running a Bricklink shop. Not everyone realized that. And I know you talked about this separately, but keeping good records is a must. You don’t want to scramble at tax season to try to find records of your purchases and sales.
Good points. The thing nice about BrickLink is that you can always close your shop temporarily when you are overwhelmed with the number of orders or you are out of town, or something else happens in your life. So you do have some ways to regulate the flow of orders.
Dealing with shipping and packing does take time though. So is bookkeeping. But if someone is at least moderately organized, it can be handled fairly easily once a routine is established. Owning your LEGO free and clear is a huge plus! 😀
When I first started I went to the UPS store to grab some boxes to have on hand and ended up shelling out $18 for a hand full of boxes.
Since then I recycle boxes as much as I can. Amazon and the LEGO store provide good packing materials in addition to nice boxes. Of course you need to remove all labels from the boxes.
I have heard of many people going the minifigure route where the rest of the set becomes their own building fodder. I haven’t gone that route, but considering how easily I off loaded a whole lot of Collectible Minifigures it is pretty easy to see how viable of an option that is.
I like the risky parts you brought up about set selling. It is rare, but when it happens it is a nightmare. I will say if you ever question the price of an item try asking a question or two to the seller.
There have been multiple questions I’ve answered which involved having me take extra pictures, say where I got the item, and even an explanation of where I got some items. I know I try to be as helpful as possible and it never hurts to ask.
I’ve always sold the minifigs from large sets when I’ve got them at less than retail. Was lucky enough to get two helms deeps at 50% off and selling the figs from both sets actually made me a profit (as well as over 3k bricks free)
However I MOC, so the figs generally are less important for me. Having said that, agree completely that good customer service is key. I’ve been selling on ebay for almost 18 years and I’ve always been up front with any issues etc. Fortunately all bar one customer have been reasonable.