Could you make a living selling LEGO? With worsening economic conditions, rampant layoffs, and companies going belly-up, more than a few people have been looking around for alternate sources of income. Traditional retail isn’t really an option; besides the fact that retail sales have been plummeting, stocking, staffing and paying the expenses on a retail store is far beyond the means of most people.
But one of the things that eBay and other sites has taught us is that there’s good money to be made from collectors. Those people who find a way to justify a purchase because they need that one item to complete their collection. Or the casual users who lost one part of a particular set of something and need to somehow replace that missing piece to make the set useful again.
I had a first-hand view of this last week when I realized that December is approaching and I had better get around to ordering some additional straight track for the LEGO electric Christmas train I bought last year. The starter track set I had purchased turned out to be a really tight fit for setting up underneath the tree, so I’d made a mental note that I needed to order some extra straight pieces to expand it a bit. At that time, an 8-pack of track was selling for under $15 at the LEGO store. As typically happens, I got busy and put off the purchase, expecting to be able to buy it at any time. LEGO had been making and selling 9v trains for better than 15 years, after all.
I quickly discovered that LEGO has since discontinued their 9v train systems in favor of an RC version train that doesn’t require powered tracks. Burn! There are still curved tracks available; as a matter of fact, they’re seriously discounted to less than half the original price. But straight track is another story. Anyone who wants to expand a train set wants straight track. Smart people bought up all the stock they could get their hands on. Once I realized that I wasn’t going to find any in stores, I spent the better part of a week lurking on eBay and BrickLink. Only months after it was available at retail stores, the average price had more than doubled to the tune of $4.00 per piece, plus frequently significant shipping and handling charges were being tacked on. Many people were taking full advantage of the situation and selling only mixed sets loaded up with the common curved track and a few straight tracks thrown in, for an even bigger profit. I ended up biting the bullet and buying a dozen used pieces at $2.95 each.
What really caught my eye during this experience wasn’t the killing to be made in LEGO train track, though, it was the prices that some of the minifigs were commanding, especially the ones from the various Star Wars sets. On BrickLink, as of Sunday night, there were 357,590 minifigs for sale. Of that total, almost 78,000 were Star wars versions. I counted about 3,500 active auctions for LEGO minifigs on eBay at the same time.
A few weeks ago, I picked up an Imperial Dropship set to stow away in the gift closet (handy to have for short notice kids’ birthday parties and to build up a stockpile for our own birthdays, Christmas, etc…). It was roughly $13 and included 3 stormtroopers and 1 shadow stormtrooper pilot. Looking at the minifigs for sale on the usual sites, I found prices for the shadow stormtroooper (new) ranging anywhere from around $4 to $18. New condition stormtrooper minifigs were fetching anywhere from $3 to $18, with the average being somewhere in the $5 area. So, if one were to purchase the Imperial Dropship LEGO set, even at full retail price, and part it out, the net take would be at least $20 for the four minifigs alone, then probably a couple of bucks for the ship itself. That’s a pretty decent profit margin considering that you can just auction these off without having to bother with retail space or staff and buyers pay for their own shipping. Plus you may get that determined collector who starts bidding the price up. Start adding in the much beefier prices for less common figures and it becomes even more compelling: Snowtroopers, AT-AT Drivers and Ewoks going for $20 each, Count Dooku at $25, Greedo at $45 and Jango Fett at $75. Even Jar Jar Binks will get you at least $7 and no-one likes him… Of course you can usually pick up Star Wars LEGO sets on sale on any given week, so full retail price is not something that you would typically have to pay for your stock.
Then again, I enjoy playing with LEGO with my kids and I’ve always made a point of not bringing work home with me. And I can’t really come up with a business plan that would convince my wife, or the pesky bank that owns my mortgage. Instead, what I should get out of this whole experience is that if I need or want a particular LEGO set, it’s better to buy it now than to procrastinate. If not, there are hundreds -if not thousands- of LEGO entrepreneurs out there who would be more than happy to help me out.