Today the world’s largest LEGO store opens in Leicester Square, within the bustling heart of London. The Brothers Brick were invited to an exclusive pre-opening event to take a tour of the new store, preview an exclusive set, and talk to Glenn Abell (LEGO’s Vice President of Direct To Consumer) about the future of LEGO’s retailing.
The London flagship store is the largest in the world, covering 914 sqm over two floors, and features a number of signature brick sculptures — all themed to the City of London. The doors open onto an archway with the classic London Underground sign stating “Leicester Square” and a map of the London Underground lights up one wall.
There’s a life-size brick-built Tube carriage, 2m high and 5m long, made of over 600,000 pieces where you can have your photo taken seated between a Grenadier Guard and William Shakespeare.
A stunning 6.5m model of Elizabeth Tower and Big Ben dominates the main window. This huge model is made from over 350,000 bricks and tips the scales at over a ton. The model features a working, backlit clock which chimes with a replica sound of the real Big Ben.
Upstairs there’s more sculptural fun with a giant version of Brickley the dragon weaving his way through the wall, and a life-size classic red telephone box with larger-than-life telephone inside. Tantalisingly, the phone rings but the receiver cannot be picked up. A huge London skyline mosaic also adorns the wall of the store staircase (which apparently took over 90 hours to build).
The new Architecture skyline set 21034 is exclusive to this store for the rest of 2016, and will undoubtedly be a popular set along with the 40220 Creator London Bus, 21029 Architecture Buckingham Palace, and 10253 Creator Big Ben. TBB were kindly given a copy of the new London skyline set from LEGO and you can find out more about it in our forthcoming review.
The store also features a Pick-a-Brick wall with Pick-a-Model section, a brick play area, Build-a-Minifigure station, and a touch screen catalogue. One press of the ‘Assistance Required’ button on the screen and a helpful Apple Watch-wearing LEGO store employee comes scuttling over.
The London store is also the first in the world to offer a completely new experience — Mosaic Maker. This offers the opportunity to purchase your very own, one of a kind, personalised LEGO mosaic portrait. The machine captures your image and in under ten minutes printed instructions and the bricks required to complete the LEGO portrait are supplied to the customer. This new technology essentially looks like a photo booth but rather than a photo, a 48×48 stud baseplate and a couple of bags of 1×1 plates come out of the slot. Mosaic Maker costs £90 a set.
Lester, that quintessential English gentleman, a tea-drinking, bowler hat-wearing chap appears throughout the store as a slightly eerie talking minifigure, and a larger-than-life sculpture ready for his photo opportunity. The Lester minifigure has been released as a scratch card prize with only 275 made — rather disappointing for those who expected the minifigure to be available as an in-store purchase.
During the buzz of the pre-opening event we caught up with Glenn Abell, LEGO Vice President for Direct-To-Consumer for Europe, Middle East and Africa. We quizzed him about the importance of brick-and-mortar stores, the theatre of good retailing, the Daily Mail, and his fondness for the 2×4 brick…
TBB: Here we are in your new flagship retail site in the centre of London. How important is this sort of store to LEGO?
Glenn Abell: It’s very important to us to present the LEGO brick in a different way. We have 131 stores around the world and the retail side of our business is very important. A store like this offers us the opportunity to build a 600,000 brick Tube train, or a 350,000 brick Big Ben. These are unique features to London – we always want to be part of the community wherever we open. And these big stores allow us to present innovative new ideas like the Mosaic Maker – a booth that takes your photo and prints it out in a LEGO mosaic pattern, then you can buy a set and create your own personalised brick portrait. This store is special, it’s our largest store ever, and it’s an engaging place for people to really immerse themselves in LEGO bricks. We have building opportunities, big “wow” models, and the largest assortment to choose from. And a lot of exclusive models you can only find here. We want this to be an experience for our visitors and fans, and that’s why the retail arm of LEGO is so important – walking into a store like this makes you feel like you’re part of the LEGO brick, which is cool.
TBB: There are obvious profit margin differences between in-store and online sales. Does LEGO believe the theatre provided by brick-and-mortar retailing will always be worth it?
Glenn Abell: There’s a balance to be struck between the commercial side and the experience. We have to be mindful of that – we need to pay the rent and keep the lights on to make sure people can come here. But most importantly, the money we’ve invested in this store is designed to delight people and to give them an experience they can’t find anywhere else.
TBB: What’s the most important element in giving people that experience?
Glenn Abell: Our staff. The people we have in this store, their passion and knowledge about the LEGO brand, the brick, and our products. If visitors see and feel that they’ll leave with a positive experience and they’ll come back. Maybe they come back to this store, maybe they buy online, they may even buy somewhere else – but they’re buying bricks and enjoying building with them. The staff in our stores are crucial in that recipe we’re trying to get right here.
TBB: LEGO has been in the news in the last week, particularly in the UK, regarding its ending of the promotional relationship with the Daily Mail newspaper. Like with the Shell campaign, this seems to show LEGO changing policy in response to online pressure. Where does LEGO draw the line? There’s always someone complaining about something online. At what point does the company decide to respond?
Glenn Abell: It’s difficult to get the balance right in these things. These sorts of decisions are taken very thoroughly, and at very senior levels in the company. I can’t add anything beyond what’s already been said in the media on this particular issue.
TBB: I notice you’ve been holding a red 2×4 brick all the time we’ve been talking. What’s that about?
Glenn Abell: I’ve been with LEGO for 14 years now and I find myself carrying a brick around with me a lot of the time. I’m sure you know the stats about how many ways a couple of regular bricks can be connected. It’s a good reminder. When I talk to people who sometimes ask me if LEGO is really making sets which drive creative building any more – this brick reminds me of the amazing things people build, particularly the amazing models I see when I attend fan events.
TBB: Thank you for your time. And good luck with the London opening!