As mentioned in other blogs and some of my forum posts, I have begun a Lego business online using an Ebay Store. A large part of my business is from parting out sets; The practice of of selling the minifigures and certain desirable parts of a set (like a vehicle or building) separately to make money on the set. This is a very common (but time consuming) practice for many different people ranging from businesses to people like me. On the outside, it seems like a fairly understandable, and even helpful, practice. Let's say a giant new set comes out, like the Jabba's Sail Barge 75020 at the $120 price point. This is a refresh, so there may be people who already have the original and don't care for the new one. However, this one has an exclusive Max Rebo figure in it. So, they jump on Ebay and pick one up for 15$, not having to purchase the whole set they don't want to get that figure.
In the same manner, a kid sees the 70505 Temple of Light set and loves the Golden Mech, but does not want the full set nor do his parents have the money for it (70$). So the parents get on Ebay and grab it for $20. It is not hard to see the benefit here. So why would The Lego Group(TLG) be against it?
In the last year, we have seen TLG tremendously crack down on re-sellers not using their reselling program, investors, and most other types of Lego Business. The obvious reason for battling people who part out sets is they want people to buy the full set. However, past that it just seems as if TLG does not like other businesses making money by "rearranging" their products - which is somewhat understandable.
So, why do I think this?
It took me a short while to start coming to this conclusion. When I started my parting out business, I picked up a lot of the newer star wars sets to start with. I got used to a minifigure in 3/4ths of the bags, separated for the most part. After a while, I picked up a few Ninjago sets, specifically the Epic Dragon Battle 9450 and UltraSonic Raider 9449. These were released a couple of years ago, and well before the Star Wars sets. In these sets, the figures were all in the first bag! This made it incredibly easy to part out as you weren't opening 4 or 5 more bags each set.
I got a little curious about it, and decided to pay attention as I started to open more sets. All of the older Ninjago sets had their minifigures all, or mostly all in the first bags. This would serve as a control. In December, new Ninjago sets came out which I knew would tell me what I needed to know: Mainly if I was just being suspicious for no reason, or if something is actually happening. Sure enough, the three sets I have parted out so far - 70723, 70724, 70725 require the opening of 3, 4, and 4 bags respectively.
I do not have a ton of older sets to compare it to now, since most of them are now retired or not worth parting out - but I did notice some more: The 9468 Vampyre Castle does not require more than one bag opened nor does the 10228 Haunted House. The newer set results are impossible to ignore. Here are a few of the interesting sets showing this point that are more recent:
- The three Ninjago sets mentioned
- The new Hobbit Sets 79011, 79012, 79013, 79014 all require multiple bags to be opened - 2, 2, 3, and 4 respectively.
- Arkham Asylum Breakout - 7 of the 9 bags have to be opened.
- 75021 SW Republic Gunship - 6 of the 9 bags must be opened.
- 10236 Ewok Village - Somewhere near 100 have to be opened.
I have also noticed that the minifigure parts inside each bag have become somewhat randomly placed. For example, the Black Gate 79007, requires all 4 bags be opened. In bag 3, you must put together a simple 5 piece orc. Normally, torso and legs are in the main bag and the head, weapons, and small pieces are in the smaller inner bag(s). In this bag, the legs to the orc are in the smaller parts bag. This is somewhat peculiar, already because there are two close-to-identical orcs in different bags, but the legs for the other orc are not in the smaller parts bag.
On top of this, a lot of larger sakout.ets with tons of minifigures now have more than one bag with the same number on it. This means you may have to open more than one bag...just to open one bag! This is the case with the Ewok Village and Arkham Asylum Breakout.
Why would TLG do this besides a Conspiracy?
To be fair, as a builder I really like this. It is definitely fun to have a minifigure in each bag and I think that opening all the minifigures in one bag can sometimes make the rest of the set seem duller - especially if the minifigures are the main draw. As far as for younger builders, I think this keeps them interested through the whole thing.
It is possible as well that this is just a process/manufacturing thing for TLG and the minifigure placement, and part placement inside the bags is just becoming more efficient, and for some reason the current configuration lends itself to that.
Another very plausible explanation is to guard against theft. We have all heard the stories about people punching out corners of the box and removing the minifigures. It is obviously much easier to do this if you can just swipe a whole bag rather than having to open 7 or 8 of them in a busy store.
How much worse can it get?
In the current sets, while I prefer the older configurations with all minifigures in the first bag, things are not too bad. After you open a set a few times, you get used the set and remember where each piece is in each bag. I timed myself opening two similar sets to prove this out: 9449 UltraSonic Raider and the Dol Guldur Battle 79014.
- 9449 took 5:46 (this is building all minifigures and packing up the raider)
- 79014 took 10:23 (building all minifigures and packing up the rest of the set)
Definitely a considerable difference. 79014 took almost 2 times longer to separate. As we know, in any business, time is money and this is definitely a huge toll on anyone looking to part of sets. But can it get worse?
In a word... yes.
- TLG can easily continue to separate minifigures even more inside the packages themselves.
- A lot of bags contain 2 smaller packages. TLG may start putting a piece of each minifigure in each bag.
- They could start individually wrapping each part of the minifigure in the bag itself (they do this in certain cases now) meaning that each part would have to be unwrapped.
- New minifigures may end up showing up in multiple sets meaning less exclusive minifigures that command high prices. They could refrain from changing minifigures expressions or outfits in different sets.
- Instructions and parts for different pieces (like one modular from the minimodular sets) could end up in different bags or in a abnormal arrangement making it almost impossible to part out sets in that manner.
- Selling minifigures separately themselves.
Would they do this? I think there will be a point where this would hurt their business more than it would be deterring people from making money from their product. For that reason, I only see them continuing to play games with packaging the minifigures in weird ways. I really doubt that TLG would make it harder for builders just to keep a few entrepreneurs from making a little by being creative.
Other problems to consider
There are bigger concerns than a set just taking longer to part out. With different parts in different places, I routinely find myself missing a part and having to go back and figure out where it is. On the more complicated sets, I have definitely had more Ebay Buyer Protection cases opened because I left a small piece off a minifigure. In reality, I forget some pieces because I get so frustrated trying to find every little piece. The worse this gets, the more vigilant we will have to be to make sure we get everything correct.
If TLG decides to go an even more drastic route, like limiting exclusive minifigures or even selling them separately themselves, the business as a whole is in jeopardy. I will attest that there are certain sets, like the Funhouse, that are very tough to part out just because so many people are doing it. If minifigures are now found in more and more different sets, you may have to get a set at 50 or 60% off to make parting out a worth while venture. Just look at values for figures like Harry Potter, Frodo and Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf the Grey, etc. and you can see how these values are killed because they appear in so many sets. Not the same as the values for figures like Azog, Pre Vizsla, Max Rebo, etc.
How can Parter-outers fight back?
First off, there is not too much we can directly do - it's TLGs product and they certainly have a right to package things and organize them how they want. However, there are some ways you can cut down on the pain this causes you.
- If you already have a set parted out, have it handy (or pictures) as you part the next one out
- In addition to the above, doing the same set a bunch of times in a row really helps as you get in a grove and cut down on your time significantly. My wife helped me one day with 10 of 3 different sets. By the time she got to the 4th or 5th of each one, she was flying and didn't miss a piece.
- Have an extra of each set you part out consistently on hand so that if you miss something, you will have an extra to resend out to a buyer while you try and find it.
- If you get tired or frustrated - TAKE A BREAK! I have noticed this really helps me. I actually will sometimes work out and part out sets funny enough. I do a set or two of weights, then open up a set. Gets me in a groove and I relieves the stress.
In conclusion, it is very possible that all of this is imagined and I am just pushing a conspiracy that is not really there. But, either way, we can't ignore that newer sets are getting harder and harder to part out quickly - that much is clear. If you do and do not stay vigilant towards these concerns as TLG possibly takes more and more drastic steps, it could be your Lego business that is in parts.