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Lego aims to woo adult superfans with instore ‘storytelling tables’

The Guardian logo The Guardian 24/06/2021 Zoe Wood
a truck is parked on the side of a building: Photograph: Cindy Ord/Getty Images © Provided by The Guardian Photograph: Cindy Ord/Getty Images

Lego is to create “storytelling tables” at its stores for adult superfans where they can have virtual meetings with set creators and pore over early product designs and prototypes.

Adult brick fans, called AFOLs (adult fan of Lego) in Legospeak, are an increasingly important demographic for the Danish toymaker, as – freed from the constraints of pocket money – they spend hundreds of pounds on kits ranging from technical builds, such as supercars and space shuttles, to ones based on TV shows such as Friends and Stranger Things.

The new feature makes its debut in Lego’s new flagship store in New York, which opens on Thursday. The 666-sq-metre (7,175-sq-ft) two-storey shop on Fifth Avenue also has an interactive ticketed attraction called “the Brick Lab” which promises to bring “physical Lego builds to life”. Models made by visitors are scanned, enabling them to appear in an animated space or New York-themed adventure.

a truck is parked on the side of a building: A display at the Lego store on Fifth Avenue, New York. © Photograph: Cindy Ord/Getty Images A display at the Lego store on Fifth Avenue, New York.

The storytelling tables would allow older fans to “get up close and personal with our Lego designs”, said Simone Sweeney, the company’s vice-president global retail development. “We have seen a turn towards Lego for a lot adults, particularly during the pandemic. This offers them a chance to learn a bit more about a particular set or theme, or how it was designed.

Lego has been operating stores since the early 90s but Sweeney said it was “reimagining” them to make sure they appealed to brick fans of all ages. “The consumer isn’t always the same person,” she explained. Its shops needed to appeal to both “a six-year-old with a birthday coming up” as well as adults with a “passion” for Lego.

a person sitting at a table in front of a store: Inside the New York store. Photograph: Cindy Ord/Getty Images © Provided by The Guardian Inside the New York store. Photograph: Cindy Ord/Getty Images

In a sign of Lego’s incredible pull over the imagination of both children and adults, the company revealed the number of visitors to its online store doubled to a quarter of a billion in 2020, with that growth continuing this year.

But even with online sales booming, Lego said its stores continued to play a “critical” role as fans had “missed personal and tactile interactions” with its bricks during the pandemic. Shoppers wanted “hands on brick experiences” but also new digital ones, Sweeney said, as the worlds of on and offline play increasingly collided.

The New York store’s design took two years to perfect and Lego says elements of it would be introduced in more than 100 of its stores in the coming months. The group has 731 stores in 50 countries with plans for another 120 new ones this year. The UK is one of the toymaker’s most successful markets, Sweeney said, with a new store also opening in Edinburgh on Thursday, taking its UK store count to 18.

This week Lego also unveiled its first bricks made from recycled plastic bottles, which it hopes to be able to include in sets within two years. At the moment the company makes billions of bricks a year, most of them from a plastic called ABS.

The prototype 4x2 bricks are made from PET plastic from discarded bottles and are the result of three years of experiments with 250 variations of materials.

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