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    Apr 2007
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    BRICK WARRIORS: Building a Business

    Interview With Founder and CEO Ryan Hauge...



    By C.J. Stunkard

    I took the bus from downtown Wilmington on an overcast spring day, then walked two blocks to a suburban corporate park. From the street, one would never know what kind of business was conducted in the unlabeled offices, and you’d never expect that one suite tucked in the back of the complex housed one of the LEGO community’s most popular third-party manufacturers, Brick Warriors.




    Brick Warriors (brickwarriors.com) offers LEGO enthusiasts a variety of parts in several independent themes including fantasy and modern warfare. The parts are not intended to replace LEGO accessories but rather supplement them, allowing customizers new items to make their kitbashed figures unique. They enhance the LEGO experience fans already embrace.

    I had reached out to Brick Warriors via their website after finding that their offices were less than 5 miles from the area where I worked. I asked if I could have a cup of coffee with their founder and CEO, but he recommended I come straight to their offices and look at the operation firsthand. That doesn’t happen often, so I was ecstatic.




    I was waiting at the front desk of the corporate park when Ryan Hauge, head of Brick Warriors, came to greet me. The unassuming entrepreneur wore a long sleeved tee and basketball shorts - the kind of outfit that says, “I’m my own boss”. He led me through a labyrinth of hallways back around another building to the nook where their office resided.




    From the start, I was impressed. The operation was efficient, organized, and without airs; I could describe it, but I’ll let the pictures say the thousand words for me.

    Without much ado, Ryan and I sat at a sorting table in the storage room to chat about Brick Warriors’ history and operations, and I quickly learned what you may have already guessed: his company is not merely a profitable business, it’s the realization of a dream.

    Ryan Hauge grew up like many other children playing with LEGO products. “I would buy the expensive sets because they always came with the best minifigs”, he tells me; but due to LEGO’s limited element library at the time, he “always wanted more” - weapons, armor, and unique pieces.




    Fast-forward a ten years through his “dark ages” (the era in a LEGO collector’s life when they abandon the bricks before returning to the hobby), and the seeds of Brick Warriors were being planted. Ryan found himself back in the hobby and had the benefit of working for both of his current main competitors (at separate times, of course). The exposure to the business allowed him to see what they were doing right and what he felt might improve; plus, the process provided good insight as to his potential market. Ryan was “pretty active in the community... online” and “had a good feel for how to advertise and reach people”, which gave him the confidence to go on his own in order to produce the unique accessories he wanted that were still not in the marketplace.

    Ryan built Brick Warriors one part at a time, though he admits, “mainly, I just designed things that I always wanted.”.In 2011, he and his girlfriend, Amanda Taylor, started operations out of his mom’s basement, then they moved it into their apartment until it grew to a point in February 2014 when they needed an office.




    The lifespan of each of Brick Warriors item provides a crash course in manufacturing. Ideas come from films, books, and Google images - anything that “catches [Ryan’s] eye”. He spends anywhere from 2-8 hours designing the item in CAD software before sending the design to a 3-D printer. He uses a a 3-D printed model early in the design process because “it’s different to hold the piece than see it on a computer.” Given that some pieces that looked great onscreen needed to be “scrapped” once in-hand, one can understand why he'd use this process. Based on the 3-D print, he will adjust the original design if necessary before sending a different file to an overseas manufacturer. After 2-3 months, samples will arrive, and Ryan returns to the manufacturer with adjustments. This continues for 2-3 rounds of samples until the piece is correct. Brick Warriors places the mass production order, and a month later, bags of 1000 or more of each of part ordered will arrive.

    That’s a fair amount of time, effort, and energy for an improved battle axe or a fedora. When I asked if any specific designs were retired, Ryan assured me, “everything that we ever made is still available on website in some color.” This is the beauty of having the design perfected on the first round of production. If a given color sells exceptionally well, they will continue to produce it; if a given color doesn’t move, then they let the initial order run its course.




    When I ask Ryan about the most rewarding part of his job, he can’t help but smile. “Having the finished pieces and playing with them”. He also tells me of a recent trip to a local Five Below - a novelty shop with locations from the east coast to Texas - where he and Amanda took pictures with their packaged and displayed parts. Ryan admits, “It’s a lot of fun going into a store and seeing product.“




    Fan reaction of course is also rewarding, but that can be a double-edge sword. Positive reviews on Amazon are nice, but Ryan has released more than one piece he thought was cool that simply has not sold, a slight for any businessperson or artist. Fortunately, he assures me that “the fans are pretty nice to [the company]”, meaning that he does not find himself getting the personal attacks that some creators in the geek community receive.




    Since we were discussing the industry, I asked about the most difficult aspects of running his own toy business. Ryan has a laundry list. “If you want something to get done, I kind of have to figure it out, you know.” Whether it’s accounting, payroll, or working with partners, each week has it’s challenges, and Ryan says it’s “been an adventure” learning to negotiate. Regardless of the difficulty, however, Ryan keeps reminding me, “it’s been a lot of fun.”




    For those curious, I can confirm that to the untrained eye, Brick Warriors parts will integrate into any LEGO collection. At a closer look, they have their own feel. “All the pieces look good together and fit in the same catalog”, Ryan claims. Over the years, the site has also branched to releasing a board game “From Chains to Champions”, which utilizes some Brick Warriors parts but does not require LEGO to play; and in fall of 2014, Ryan and Amanda both released debut novels (available on Kindle and Print on Demand, via Amazon or the Brick Warriors site).

    When looking to the future, Ryan assures me that more parts are on the way, and he plans to continue working on his other product types as well. The most exciting parts on the horizon are a run of glow in the dark, which I am told are coming soon! And I am looking forward to seeing them!


    Special thanks to Ryan Hauge, Amanda Taylor, Cori and Dillon for their time! You can connect with Brick Warriors via a variety of social media outlets:

    Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/thrashq4g/
    Flickr. Brickwarriors Pool: https://www.flickr.com/groups/1734969@N21/
    Site: http://www.brickwarriors.com/

    By C.J. Stunkard




    To buy action figures, take a look at BigBadToyStore.com, TheToySource.com, Toynk.com, BriansToys.com, ToyWiz.com, MonkeyDepot.com, and EntertainmentEarth.com.

    For hobby miniatures and all your gaming needs, visit MiniatureMarket.com.


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    Last edited by JeffSaylor; 06-03-2015 at 03:40 PM.

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