In which I attend a preview event at Melbourne’s new LEGO Certified Store in Doncaster and have a talk with the Alceon Excutive Director about plans for rolling out future stores, in Victoria and interstate.
On Thursday, October 3rd, we saw the opening of Melbourne’s FIRST LEGO Certified store at Westfield Doncaster. I was fortunate to attend a preview event the night before, attended by media, AFOLs and many more. But Wait! Did I say first? More on that later.
As I approached the new store, located on the upper level, opposite the Nespresso Boutique, and in close proximity to the Apple Store, I came across a brick built fireman…promising something special coming Very Soon. Hoarding was still up, outside the shop, and on arriving inside we were greeted by the features that would be familiar to anyone who has visited a LEGO Brand Retail store anywhere in the world: Bright yellow livery, pictures of giant minifigures around the walls, shelves stacked with practially every set that is available, a giant mural and some strategically placed interactive experiences.
Dominating the rear wall of the store though, was the Pick A Brick. One of the largest that I had seen, it measured 8 x 16 cells. With 2 rows duplicated (and I didn’t have a problem with that, because I couldn’t reach them), there were 96 unique elements on the wall. The store manager tells me that they are planning to roll the elements around relatively frequently, At this stage there are lots of basic bricks, plates and tiles, as well as plenty of foliage and floral elements. A few other interesting parts are there too.
In his opening remarks, Richard Facioni, Executive Director at the Alceon Group, described the new store as fitting their ‘Premium Model’. The store is about 30% larger than the recently opened store at Robina on the Gold Coast, but does not have the prominence of the Flagship store at Bondi.
There are a number of sculptures located around the store, and they are just the right size for children to interact with.
The models include a fire chief’s car, right for a child, and a bit too small for myself, and also a policeman with has an animated face, as well as a ‘build it yourself’ wanted poster.
There was also a quintessentially Melbourne sculpture unveiled on the night: depicting two Australian rules football players, with a spectacular mark in progress. In order to avoid fallout from potential off the field scandals, and other issues (probably related to licensing), no official AFL team colours are represented by the players involved.
But, despite popular belief, Melbourne is not only about football. There is also a huge mosaic featuring over 88,400 elements. Running from floor to ceiling, the mural features a W-Class Tram travelling route 42. (This route is now defunct but, in times gone by, ran from the City, eastwards along Victoria Street, Richmond and terminated in Mont Albert, on Whitehorse Road. From here you could catch a bus to Doncaster Shoppingtown, as it was called back then. Of course, astute readers of Douglas Adams would realise that this number is also the answer to the ultimate question of Life, the Universe and Everything. If only we knew exactly what the question was.
The mosaic and sculptures were built at the studios of Ryan ‘The Brickman’ McNaught. Being the only certified LEGO Professional based in the Southern Hemisphere, they have been extremely busy preparing installations for the certified stores opening around the country. Jordan Hocking, a contestant and finalist, on the first Australian series of LEGO Masters, is now working with the BrickMan, and was happy to demonstrate part of the mosaic that he worked on…
There are a number of opportunities for customers to have a more interactive experience in store too, including the Build-A-Minifig station as well as a station which scans the box of a LEGO set, and shows a 3D rendered version of the model on screen.
The Build-a-Minifigure station has some interesting parts, including plenty of wizard’s hats and rabbit ears. Torsos included a few that appeared in the recent update (1.4) of LEGO Tower including Unikitty and Pirate prints.
There is also a ‘stand in’ city display, with lights and sirens and action (Oh my), but a certain degree of flexibility, and a lack of claustrophobia are required to enter it.
The future rollout for LEGO Certified Stores in Australia.
After the formalities, I had a chance to catch up with Richard Facioni, an Executive Director at the Alceon group. We spoke about the location of the store, and why a definite time line could not be given for future plans – it all comes down to real estate availability. The commercial space in Westfield Doncaster, where this store is located, is close to some luxury brand stores, including the Apple Store, Nespresso Boutique and L’Occitane. The spaces are not always readily available, and negotiation is required with the landlords, to ensure an appropriate location in the centre is available.
From there we went on to discuss the current rollout of stores. This is the third LCS that Alceon has opened around australia during the year – the first was in Bondi, back in April, followed by Robina, on the Gold coast last weekend. There are a few more stores scheduled to be opened before the end of the year, including Broadway (Sydney, NSW), Chermside(Brisbane, Queensland) and Newmarket (Auckland, New Zealand). Initial plans to open a store in Penrith have been put on hold, as no suitable properties have been available.
The rollout will pause over the Christmas trading period, and depending on the availability of suitable real estate will start to get underway in the new year.
What about Western Australia and South Australia, which have not seen a store open during the first year? “We are keen to extend our footprint to SA and WA as the fans there are very keen to see stores open” In 2020, we can expect more stores to open in Sydney and Melbourne, as well as in several locations in both WA and South Australia.
Richard told me that there are a number of sites under consideration for the next 12 months, and whether they can go ahead or not will depend on the appropriate commercial premises being made available. Of course, location is everything, and in the absence of the right shop in the right place in the right centre, the process can all fall through. That said, I think we can expect a number of these sites to be up and running during the course of the year. If the right properties become available, we can potentially expect multiple stores within the each state as time goes by.
Western Australian locations under consideration included Garden City Karrinyup and Joondalup. There are a couple of sites being looked at in South Australia for next year, including Marion and Rundle Mall. Future sites being considered in Melbourne include High point, Fountain Gate, Southland and the CBD. Geelong and other regional centres could also be potential locations in the future. Further expansion into New South Wales and Queensland is also likely, although I didn’t get specific details. [Apologies also to Tasmanians…I failed to ask about the likelihood of expansion in a southerly direction.]
Any and all of these locations are of course subject to appropriate premises being able to be secured, but there is no doubt that Alceon are keen to bring the LEGO retail experience to the masses of LEGO fans around Australia and New Zealand. Either way, I don’t expect to hear about anything specific before the February next year.
Meanwhile, back at the event, it was great to be able to have a look around the Pick a brick wall, as well as the new models. It was also great catching up with contestants from LEGO Masters Australia – including out-of-towners (and overall winners) Cade and Henry. The evening also provided an oppourtunity to catch up with other LEGO Fan Media, including jaysbrickblog, cheepjokes and llworld.
I’d like to thank LEGO Australia for the invitation to attend the opening, and Richard Facioni for his time during the evening. The store is in a great location and I am sure will have a lot to offer Melbourne’s LEGO fans community. And who knows, by this time next year, we should be able to expect simlar stores in all mainland Capitals…and more.
The next LEGO Certified Store to be open in Australia will be in Sydney, at the Broadway Shopping Centre, on October 12th, 2019
What are you looking forward to seeing at a LEGO Branded store? Pick-a-brick? Build-a-minifig? A comprehensive range of hard to find sets? Why not leave you comments below, and until next time…Play well!