Brick-work

As toys go, LEGOs are virtually timeless, even if the LEGOs you remember playing with as a child seem to pale in comparison with the variety available to today.

That’s an essential component to the business model (no pun intended) of a new store in Fitchburg dedicated exclusively to LEGOs — Bricks and Minifigs.

Bricks and Minifigs, located at 2960 Cahill Main, Suite 102B, right next to Panera Bread in the Hatchery Hill Mall on Fish Hatchery Road, opened Oct. 24 with a unique model: buying, selling, and trading used LEGO sets.

Storeowner Dan Jacobsohn didn’t consider himself a LEGO enthusiast when he hatched on the idea for a LEGO resale shop.

Jacobsohn worked in IT for more than 20 years. As he watched his sons grow — they’re now 9 and 11 years old — he noticed a disturbing trend: the amount of screen time they were consuming.

“That’s a competition every parent has now with their kids, in terms of their attention and trying to find something that will bring them back to the physical world,” Jacobsohn explains. In LEGO, he saw a toy that felt like a constant presence, and one that carried an educational component, too.

“I found myself playing with LEGOs again for the first time since I was in my early teens,” Jacobsohn says, “and I realized it was an enjoyable, it has an educational mission, you can build a community around it, and it competes with the screen time.

“I had this spark of an idea that nobody does aftermarket LEGO sales,” he continues. “It’s one of those ideas that comes and goes but then suddenly you realize you’re waking up with the same thought everyday for days on end. Finally I did a Google search and found that these guys in Oregon had created a franchise model for it. I talked with them and we got along really well and I realized at 42 years old I wasn’t really interested in starting a new business from scratch so franchising made a lot of sense for me. We’ve been at it ever since.”

Buy-sell-trade

While Bricks and Minifigs does stock new LEGO sets, that’s not its bread and butter.

“Our core business is around used sets, minifigures, bulk LEGOs — all things [big box stores and major toy retailers] don’t offer,” Jacobsohn notes. “For us this is our strategic differentiator, that we have a buy-sell-trade model.”

For LEGO enthusiasts of all ages, that’s a big deal. Jacobsohn notes in the couple weeks that the store there’s already been a tremendous amount of turnover in used sets and bulk bricks, which helps with the store’s repeat customer model. “I’ve got a number of people who have been in — LEGO aficionados — almost every day we’ve been open. They’ll stop in after work just to see what kinds of new sets we’ve taken in or new stuff we’ve put in our bulk bins.” Bricks and Minifigs also sells LEGOs online.

Jacobsohn notes Bricks and Minifigs has a wide variety of rare and old sets on hand for sale. “Just this week we took in a number of the original Harry Potter sets, a number of the old space sets, a big Jabba the Hutt set that’s been very popular,” he says. “There’s an architecture line where they replicate famous buildings and somebody brought in a Frank Lloyd Wright Robie House — the famous Chicago house of his. It sold in 24 hours. I just put it on our Facebook page and somebody just swooped in and got it.”

Jacobsohn explains that anyone can walk in with their old LEGOs to sell or trade, but there are some things that will help maximize the value of the transaction. “Anything people can do in terms of having the set built and bringing in instructions are always very helpful for us.” Older sets in good condition, and rare sets, are particularly sought after by collectors.

“We don’t have a fixed price schedule,” Jacobsohn notes. “A lot of people will ask us, ‘What will you pay per pound for LEGOs?’ The answer is, I can’t say. Like any other commodity the prices shift as my stock goes down or as a set is or isn’t available. Without seeing it in person, doing an evaluation, seeing what the quality of it is, seeing what our current stock is, I can never give a price over the phone.”

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Building a community

Buy-sell-trade may be the basis of Bricks and Minifigs’ business model, but Jacobsohn is proud of its commitment to creating a community around education and fun, as well.

To that end, the store features a party room that can hold about 15 kids at a time and is available to rent for parties or other gatherings. Kids coming in for parties can run through a bunch of different LEGO-themed activities, build their own minifigures complete with a little torso that says “Happy Birthday” on it, and get a T-shirt.

Of course, LEGOs aren’t just for kids. Jacobsohn has a number of adult-oriented activities in the works, including a presentation on Nov. 19 from Page Moreau, marketing professor and academic director of the Center for Brand and Product Management at the UW–Madison School of Business. Moreau recently published a research paper on creativity in children who follow instructions when playing with LEGOs versus free-form play.

During the store’s grand opening Jacobsohn also brought in an experienced LEGO builder who spoke about teaching STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) with LEGOs and did a bunch of activities with kids.

As for what draws him to LEGOs, Jacobsohn is honest that he hasn’t always been an avid enthusiast.

“Only two of the five [store employees] are, I would say, LEGO fanatics; the other folks are great ‘people’ people and great with the retail environment, but like me they’ve had to come back up to speed on the product.

“I do still have my old LEGOs from when I was young though,” Jacobsohn continues. “My folks were prescient about that and saved them. It’s been really great for my kids to see those. Obviously, none of those are on sale.

“My favorite sets when I was a kid were the space sets from the 1970s and 80s. They were blue and grey and just kind of had this mellow feel to them,” he adds. “Nowadays, while I’m fascinated by some of the really complex, huge sets LEGO has, what I actually really enjoy is seeing what people can do with small things. They’re called micro builds. LEGO doesn’t produce a lot of sets like that, instead it’s mostly people making their own creations where they say, ‘build a city where nothing can be taller than six bricks.’ Those kinds of constraints I find to be fascinating, how people can be creative in that regard.”

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