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.
(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.