Behind the Counter: Great Yellow Brick

It’s impossible to walk into Great Yellow Brick and not smile − this LEGO® Certified Store in South Africa is all about making people happy. Unlike traditional toy stores where all the toys stay in boxes on the shelves, LEGO come to life at Great Yellow Brick.  Shopping here is especially unique, with an augmented reality (AR) and unique play experiences. We talked to two of the founders, Hayley and Rob Greenstein, about how they run extraordinary retail.

Tell us about Great Yellow Brick and how your store started? What makes your store special?

Great Yellow Brick started four and a half years ago as a partnership between Hayley, myself [Rob], and another partner, Gregg. We’re a LEGO Certified Store. It’s been such a fun project, it’s a really fun brand and everyone loves it. Everyone walks into the store and tells us they are big LEGO fans.

We’ve got a strong history in retail and we’re very passionate about what we do. We have two young boys who are very much into LEGO and we both played with LEGO a lot as children, we have a lot of love for the brand. It’s great seeing it through our children’s eyes now, seeing them experience and play with different sets and what’s available today. In our store we have a lot of models and play tables where you can come and see, touch, and play with LEGO. We are literally encouraging people to come into store and play with LEGO. It’s very different to the rest of the market which just has boxes on shelves. That’s the whole intent around the world of LEGO stores, for people to come and play and really interact with LEGO.

What’s the customer experience like at Great Yellow Brick? Tell us about how you use AR (Augmented Reality) in your store.

At Great Yellow Brick you get the full LEGO experience with a full product assortment and exclusive items. You get a unique play experience where kids can interact with different items − they can build many figures, pick individual bricks, play with the latest components. We bring LEGO to life in our store.

We’ve got beautiful play areas in our store where people can engage with the product including unique experiential touch points, like the Build a Mini-figure Station. At the mini-figure stations you can pick different heads, bodies and accessories, and take them home with you, which is very special.

Another brilliant experiential part of the store is the Digi-Box which is an Augmented Reality (AR) experience. We’ve never seen a piece of technology like this in any other store – not in South Africa or oversea. It’s huge screen that you can walk up to with a box of LEGO, hold the box up to the camera, and it will animate what’s inside the box in front of you. The immediate response is a smile – everyone’s like “Wow! Am I really watching that happen?” – it literally animates the LEGO in 3D in front of you.

It’s a really nice way to engage with customers and kids, sometimes the kids need help holding the box or slightly at the wrong height, so we do things like the Digi-Box dance! They think you’re crazy but once they’ve done the dance it starts working. It’s a great point of interacting and engaging with customers in a really fun way, it’s quite a fun element in the store.

How’s it going using Vend? Tell us a bit about how your staff and how they’re using it in store.

Vend is a terrific point of sale – we really enjoy the software. Vend allows us to use roaming iPads, we bought really nice iPad holders with a sling. The staff also have a mobile payments terminal because of Vend’s integration with our payment provider [Yoco].  

We’re very big on structuring staff positioning in the store. There should always be someone on a greeting position. The staff really make coming into the store a great experience, they’re fundamental. It’s all about the staff creating engagement, we are very big on motivating the staff to engage with customers in the store.

We’ve recruited staff that can really play, engage, and interact with kids and adults. We’ve got drama students, musicians, teachers, those are kinds of people we’ve looked to recruit, which is very different to your typical store. When the store is quiet, the staff are expected to curate the play areas and play in them. What ends up happening is within a few minutes a kid will walk up to them and sit down and play, and they’re building ships, buildings, barnyards. The staff have a lot of fun doing this!

What’s the retail landscape like in South Africa?

There are a lot of of shopping malls in South Africa. You don’t have to drive more than five or ten minutes to find another regional shopping centre. We’ve got a lot of multinational big retailers in those shopping centres. While your spoiled for choice, these malls start to look the same and it can become boring.

With the recession in South Africa, I [Rob] think people are more nervous about spending. Shoppers are becoming more and more wise to where and how they should spend their money. We use our unique selling points and customer experience to draw people in to our store.

How can independent retailers differentiate themselves from chain store retailers?

I [Rob] think what independent retailers can do differently is treat their customers more like people and not just feet through the door. It’s really nice when you walk into a store and the staff member asks how you’re doing, remembers what you bought last week. People want to have a personal relationship with retailers, that’s what we’re creating, relationships with customers.

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt in retail?

The biggest lesson we’ve learnt is having really strong stock control and inventory management. The logistics around stock control and management – ordering, receiving, holding, counting stock – is really important and something we’re actively looking at while considering new store locations. We’ve got two storerooms already and just took on a third because of the volume of boxes we need to keep.

How easy was it to get started with Vend? How does it help run your retail business?  

Peter and the team at Iridium helped get us setup and trained us. It was a very quick, painless and simple process. It only took about 45 minutes to train the staff on Vend.

Getting setup on Vend also had a low-cost barrier to entry. It’s not expensive to get started on Vend. All you need to get started is an iPad, you don’t need big servers. The local integration with Yoco [payment providers] was also fantastic. It makes the daily cash up and daily reconfiguration very simple.

The fact that Vend works on a desktop browser and iPad is fantastic. It’s given us the ability to be mobile which is enormously important. We’re planning on going away after Christmas, at the same time of a big new product launch. We’ll be overseas and we’ll be able to follow exactly what the store is doing, make product updates, all completely remotely.

About Lucia Afanasy

Lucia joined Vend in New Zealand in 2017 before flying across the world to join the London team. She works on all things marketing across the UK, Europe, Middle East, and Africa. Her passions and work experience include retail, production, and social media. When she’s not in the office, Lucia loves exploring London, planning trips, and trying to keep her plants alive.