The Lego Group, the company behind the interlocking toy bricks known just about around the world, “sells more than a building toy,” says Ammon McNeff, president of Bricks & Minifigs. “They sell nostalgia and memories and experiences.”
Most people have played with Lego. What’s more, the Lego pieces that kids (or their parents or grandparents) played with over the past six decades or so will fit the Legos sold today.
In fact, some early Lego pieces have become collectors’ items, creating a brisk secondary market. That’s driving the expansion of Bricks & Minifigs, a chain of bricks-and-mortar stores that buys, sells and trades a wide selection of Lego pieces and accessories. (The word “minifigs” refers to Lego’s people figures.)
Bricks & Minifigs’ first store opened in 2009. The company began franchising in 2011 and now boasts 42 locations across the United States and one in Canada. Two are corporately owned; the rest are franchised.
As Bricks & Minifigs has grown, its leadership team has worked to keep the lines of communication open and maintain a family feeling within the company. It began by holding regular online meetings and conference calls, but synchronizing everyone’s schedules quickly became difficult. The company switched to a group text messaging system, but its lack of search capabilities proved cumbersome. “You would have to scroll forever if you wanted to try and reference something that somebody posted,” McNeff says.
Moreover, as the company continued to expand, the need to communicate information on things like marketing tactics, best practices in handling employee issues or pricing unique and collectible Legos across all franchisees became even more important. In January 2017, Bricks & Minifigs began using Slack, an online communication and collaboration tool that brings conversations, documents, files and other resources into one searchable system.
“Slack is a collaboration hub for teams,” says Christina Meng, customer success manager at Slack. In many organizations, employees turn to multiple tools such as email, texts, messaging and software applications to connect with their colleagues and others. Without Slack, employees frequently must switch between the different tools, she says.
Slack brings many of those tools together. Users can carry on conversations and privately message their colleagues or partners. They can create longer, formatted texts or posts — say, for meeting notes — within Slack, complete with bullet points, checklists, emojis and similar features. “It really does allow your personality to shine through,” Meng says.
McNeff says he particularly likes the fact that a user participating in a conversation can upload a file such as a marketing plan while a conversation about marketing is underway. Everyone can download the file from within the conversation, without having to exit the app. “You can share documents immediately in the same, searchable thread while you continue the conversation,” he says.
Searchability is one of Slack’s most significant features, McNeff says. Participants in a thread about hosting store events can easily search and review the information, going back as far as they like. That’s particularly helpful to store owners and employees who are getting ready to host their first event.
Conversations can proceed within different channels, which keeps topics focused. Companies can create groups, such as a Bricks & Minifigs’ group for stores in the Pacific Northwest, whose members can tailor conversations to their own concerns. Channels can be public or private.
Slack also can accommodate simultaneous side conversations — a thread on store events might eventually add a conversation on hosting brick derby nights, events at which participants build and race Lego cars.
Bricks & Minifigs doesn’t transmit confidential information through Slack, though McNeff says he and his colleagues feel comfortable with the security measures in place, including the encryption level. And if someone happened to post something with sensitive information, they could easily remove it, he says.
Most Bricks & Minifigs users access Slack on their phones, although they also can use it on the desktops and tablets that connect to the internet.
COMMUNICATING AND COLLABORATING
Customers of Slack range from organizations with several dozen employees to those with thousands; the tool is available in French, German, Spanish and Japanese. New users can start with a web browser version that doesn’t require them to download anything, Meng says, or they can download the Slack app. Organizations don’t need to install software or invest in new hardware to use Slack.
New users rarely need training since the software is so intuitive. Its user-friendliness also means the deployment of Slack typically grows organically within organizations, Meng says.
A growing number of retailers and consumer brands are using Slack to communicate and collaborate. One large retailer uses Slack at its distribution centers: Employees use it to send updates and flag issues in specific Slack channels; supervisors are then alerted to the problems, reducing the time employees must spend hunting them down.
In another application, the digital marketing team at an international cosmetics company is using Slack to coordinate product launches across 40 native-language websites around the world, Meng says.
The intuitive nature of Slack “enables us to spend our focus and our time on the customer experience,” McNeff says. “It allows us to talk with one another, to communicate, to share experiences, to ask questions and really keep that family feel.” In turn, that helps store owners and employees “make their stores a welcoming place for other people to come and feel comfortable as well.”
Karen Kroll is a business writer based in Minnetonka, Minn.