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    The Whole is Greater: Is The LEGO Group Battling "Parter-outers"?


    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?

    The Evidence

    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.  

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    Great one! I'm collecting Star Wars figures, just started with 9499 and also had the figures spread among 3 out of 5 bags IIRC. Good points made DNIIM

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    The angel whispering in my ear hopes that new packaging policies are more to avoid minifigs being swiped easily from in-store products, but the devil on the other shoulder says TLG doesn't mind making bagging more complicated to deter parter-outers. Nice article!

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    The minifigure parts being in separate bags has nothing to do with trying to prevent parting out. People walk into LEGO stores all the time claiming their minifigures were missing from the set. With various pieces being in different bags, it makes it much more difficult for someone to be able to make that claim. This doesn't prevent people from resealing sets after they've taken the minifigures, but that's an entirely different issue.

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    There is no grand conspiracy. It's just as Mos Eisley says. Go into a Walmart/Target and you'll see LEGO boxes ripped open because people/kids are looking to grab the minifigures and having them all in Bag #1 made it too easy. Look on the Goodwill site and you can see the salvaged/damaged/opened boxes that Target gives them being auctioned and they almost always have bag #1 missing or opened. It's rarely bags 2-9 that are missing.

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    Well Mos Eisley mentioned the different pieces of the minifigures in different bags within the same large bag - not minifigures being in different bags in general. There was more than just that - and it also doesn't mean Lego doesn't have alternative motives to go right along with this. It definitely helps both causes - that is obvious. What I am curious about - do you all have actual statements from Lego showing this? I tend to lean in that direction as well, but could never find anything confirming it.

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    Funny enough, I have come across tons of minifigure parts missing or broken, but only once two in the same large bag (different small ones). I just took the loss, didn't bother asking about it. Most of the time I just bricklink them as losing 3$ or so is worth it to not piss off TLG.

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    Interesting article. I'm guessing the main reason is to stop people from stealing the minifigures from the box in stores. I have seen too many Lego boxes with holes punched in them at grocery stores :(

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    No, I am saying that the minifigure pieces are spread throughout multiple bags, not just one large bag. I don't think TLG would ever come out and say why they package items the way they do. My main reason against this having anything to do with reducing parting-out is that it essentially has no impact on it whatsoever. It adds maybe 2 extra minutes to the process and takes nothing away from your ability to sell the remaining bags that you had to open to retrieve the parts.

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    Lego has do be doing this to cut down on theft. Lego sets are huge targets for theft, for a reason we're all very familiar with- those minifigs can be worth a lot of money. I can't imagine how many sets retailers and lego get to write off because they've been opened and pieces (usually minifigs) have been taken. Splitting up the minfigures into different bags is at most a minor inconvenience to resellers, only adding a couple of minutes to the parting out process; however, adding a couple of minutes is pretty major to someone slicing open sets on the Lego aisle, hoping to get some minifigs before a store worker or the eye in the sky catches them. I'm sure that just how this forum has people reminiscing about the good ol' days of flipping and investing, there are groups of thieves who talk up the times when they could make easy money by snatching bag #1.

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    I think the minifig separation in bags actually helps honest part outers because it may dissuade an unscrupulous part outer from stealing the minifigs and becoming my competition. Only the thief wins in this scenario as he can undercut my prices without the cost basis I have from purchasing the set.

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    I see what you are saying. Its a fair point. But it does make it take longer and is irritating. But you are absolutely right in that it may just be a side effect of the overall goal. I do agree they would battle that way before battling people who part out sets.

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    LEGO does care about the minifigures, especially the licensed ones. When I have contacted LEGO about missing/replacement pieces, all of the replacements pieces arrived without issue or any other further contact. LEGO has only contacted me back regarding replacement minifigures and the customer service rep I talked to specifically said that licensed minifigures are especially looked into, perhaps because LEGO has to pay some royalty.

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    I just received the LOTR Tower of Orthanc set 10237 for Christmas, which includes four mini figs, a Great Eagle and a subset to build an Ent (Treebeard) - a big walking tree. Three of the mini figs were spread out in bags #3+; interestingly, these three mini figs are the human creatures that belong in the Tower (Gandalf, Saruman and Wormtongue). Bags #1 and #2 contained the Ent tree and the fourth mini fig, an Orc - both of which go together, since they are locked in battle. This was great for me, because I'm primarily interested in LEGO structures, not mini figs or vehicles. I immediately sold the two unopened bags on eBay for $50 - 1/4th the cost of the whole set!! The Great Eagle was in it's own little bag (which I found very strange packaging for such a large set) and sold for $9! So, in this case, TLG (intentionally or not) made it very easy to part out some of the "non-Tower" elements in this set.

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    I have been on the receiving end of 3+ sets with no figs bought new from the store...the theft is outrageous and despicable...I am glad Lego is taking steps to make it harder. One box actually had all the parts gone and was replaced with elbow macaroni so it would still make the right sound...

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    No con s piracy here! Simply to make theft more difficult, mostly on "open box" returns - missing one bag easily missed by store staff (especially larger sets) - multiple open bags... well there it is. You would be surprised to find out how many tried (and mostly got away with) the "it was missing the bag of figures" line - EVEN at a LEGO brand store! … makes it more difficult for eBay'ers? - that's a bonus :)

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    so parting out is all about the minifigs? then what about the rest of the set? do you try to sell it separately? or keep them? or depends? i guess if you buy a set for 100 bucks and sell your minifigs, for sure you can make that 15-20 bucks, then would you sell the rest separately? that would then worth a lot less without the minifigs, right? and if you are keep it to build yourself, I guess it makes sense. but then without the minifigs, it's not fun anymore.

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    Have you ever considered maybe TLG is putting all the minifigs in separate bags so kids cant steal it as easily. Say for 9449 all the minifigures are in 1 bag its alot easier to steal bag one .. than to open all 6 out 9 bags for example and sit there and go through the random junk to find the minifigure parts. OR say you buy the set bring it home its easier to take bag 1 out and return it .. its alot harder to return or deterrant to people if they have to open almost all the bags tape it back up. Just my 2 cents.

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    A nice read, but I think it's more likely than anything that this is either theft deterrent and/or keeping the build interesting. To my knowledge, TLG has never concerned themselves with the secondary market. I remember reading somewhere (can't find the source now) a comment from a Lego rep stating that the secondary market does not influence their production decisions.

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    I'm probably gonna get a lot of heat for this but I personally don't like people who part things out. Even with your argument of why they do it, it personally doesn't make any sense to me. I have been collecting since 1978 and I have never wanted a "certain" piece. That being said, whatever TLG does to combat this is fine with me.

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    I don't think there is a conspiracy, the 2014 released 75040 set has the newer General Grievous all in one segmented bag, making it easy to pull out for those unscrupulous Walmart/Target shoplifters. It could be why I see some people selling 4-5 of them in one auction.

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    Parting out to me involves actually opening all the bags and breaking a set down to individual pieces. It is irrelevant how Lego packages their product. I prefer the sets with unnumbered bags because they are easier to part out. I agree with others that say this policy is just to help prevent Minifig theft.

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    Hi, I just lost the first 2 bags of the Ewok Village set...I don't care about the mini figures I just require the other pieces to build the village. Do you want to sell parts from your set or do you have any suggestions for me? Thanks, Sari

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