By Melissa McGraw
Special to The Freeman Lake Country This Month – May 2011
HARTLAND – Amy MacLean admitted she was only half listening to her then 9-year-old son, Greyson, vent his frustrations about the manufacturer’s stickers for his brick toys. He wanted a way to customize his builds with designs that were removable and wouldn’t ruin the bricks when they came off, or while they were on.
They were talking in the upstairs hallway of their Hartland home, and Amy agreed, “Yeah, there should be something.”
Grey continued, “And they’d be called Brickstix.”
“Yeah, that’s right, BrickStix,” Amy said as she began down the stairs. And then she realized, “That is kind of a good idea.”
It was during the MacLeans’ annual summer vacation that Grey discovered the solution. A new pair of sunglasses had a cling decal on the lens, which didn’t leave behind a residue and stuck to Grey’s bricks as well as the lens.
Overcome with excitement, “We bought everything we could find that was a cling material, and all the differ- ent bricks,” Amy said. “We just started sticking.”
Starting a toy company was not the family plan, Amy said, but, “We saw an opportunity and decided to give it a try.”
Two years later, BrickStix are now available in more than 100 stores across the United States and are even shipped internationally. Themed designs are sold in two-sheet packs of 84 stickers for $5.99 each.
BrickStix are removable, reusable designs that are compatible with most brick toys, including Lego, Super Blox and Mega Blox. When the MacLeans launched the company in January, they offered three themes: metro, space and transport. Grey decided on these first because of existing brick themes and general appeal.
“Who wouldn’t want a dent in your car or a bug on your windshield?” he asked. Recently, the latest designs were released: rescue, splats and shops.
On May 14, the BrickStix was at the grand opening of the Mequon Learning Shop. Grey demonstrated how to use BrickStix and invited other children to bring their favorite builds. They held a contest: Grey’s favorite builder won a scholarship to the Ultimate Lego Experience class at Marquette University’s College of Engineering. Runners-up received free BrickStix.
The BrickStix team is Greyson MacLean, dreamer and inventor; Uncle Nate Vrabel, chief stix maker and visual linguist; Aunt Christa Vrabel, social butterfly and Web spinner; dad Matt MacLean, legal guy; and mom Amy MacLean, idea maven and go-to-gal.
Grey’s friends and his younger sisters, Lily and Annie, help with design ideas, and Amy’s college roommate, Ann Kienzle, serves as toy consultant.
Amy described the business as “organic.”
“It all came together with the right parts,” she said. “We had these specific talents, that put together, allowed us to do it. We’re really lucky.”
But luck only gets them so far. Matt said the family has invested “sweat equity” into BrickStix.
“It’s been lots of late nights and always on the weekends,” Amy said. “It has changed our family in a big way. BrickStix has taken over the MacLean house.”
The early days were full of testing, from searching for the right cling material that was childsafe and printable, to checking durability in the freezer and through hockey practice on Grey’s goalie mask. Matt checked patent records, and later, worked with the International Trade Administration and U.S. Department of Commerce to serve the international market.
They intentionally selected a local manufacturer to print the BrickStix so “we could stop in and check quality. We wanted to be part of the process,” Amy said.
The MacLeans did their own photo shoots, packaged the stix and even handdelivered more product when a local store sold out.
One thing they haven’t needed to do is their own publicity. They take advantage of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and their website, but only sent a single press release before BrickStix appeared at the Toy Fair buyer’s convention in New York City in February. Since then, retail stores, bloggers, Adult Fans of Lego and media around the world have been abuzz about BrickStix.
Now that they have the process figured out; the MacLeans outsource packaging and retail shipments.
But Web orders are still filled by the family, Amy said, because “the kids enjoy seeing all the places they get shipped.”
“I never expected that we’d get as far as we are,” Grey said. He still has a sense of amazement and excitement when another order is placed.
And by his own definition, “Success is waking up every day happy where you are.”
At a glance
What: BrickStix LLC
Phone: (414) 502-7849 Webstie: http://www.brickstix.com Etc.: Local realtors include Board Game Barrister, Glendale; Hobby Town USA, Delafield;The Learning Shop, Brookfield, Fox Point, Greendale, Mequon,Wauwatosa; Learning Express, Brookfield; thinkTOYS,Wauwatosa; Winkies, Milwaukee