It was only a matter of time. Our son had been happily building bulky garages and towers with DUPLO for a couple years. Until his fourth birthday. He received his first real LEGO set: two race cars with a podium (complete with flames, of course) and trophy. There was no going back. It’s all real LEGO now.
I’ve now joined the ranks of the parents who marvel, “Wow, they sure don’t make LEGOs like I remember them!” And they don’t. LEGO has become a behemoth toy manufacturer, beloved by children and adults. Their partnership with Star Wars was a stroke of brilliance. They’ve got their operation down. The sets come attractively packaged, with easy-to-follow assembly instructions and extra pieces for when that tiny red taillight inevitably goes missing. Each tiny piece is manufactured to exacting standards, and they always snap together satisfyingly easy.
Until a few weeks ago.
My son was building the red jeep from the tiny “Desert Racers” Creator set with my wife. They reached the crescendo of the build, that magic moment at which you click on the wheels and the completed truck is ushered crazily around in circles and haphazardly over any nearby obstacles. The four wheels went on, but when the jeep took its maiden voyage, ONE OF THE WHEELS WOULDN’T TURN! Horror of horrors! My son, who shall be pitied for inheriting the curse that is my perfectionism, could not accept that the jeep would not roll freely. I was not present to witness the tantrum, but I could certainly recreate it in my mind by piecing together past performances in similarly unjust circumstances. To be clear, I am not blaming my son for this. I can assure you that a four-year-old me would have lost my mind over something like this that didn’t work as intended. To be honest, I haven’t improved all that much…
Thankfully, this story has a hero, and its name is LEGO. In the back of each assembly booklet is a listing of each part with an associated part number. We had heard that if you “misplace” a part, you can order a new one from LEGO using the exact part number. No way. All those tens of thousands of parts, and they’ll find you the exact one you need? Well, it was time to find out. My wife found the part number of the slightly defective part (I mean, the defect was so minimal as to hardly be visible, though it did prevent the attached wheel from turning) and sent a request off to LEGO.
Fast forward to today. The replacement “bearing element” arrived in a bubble mailer with an extremely apologetic form letter. The letter expressed regret that there was an issue with the LEGO set and assured us that they take quality control seriously and go to great lengths to assure the perfection of their sets. I couldn’t believe it! They were apologizing to us for having to send one tiny replacement piece, for which the shipping costs were likely close to the price we paid for the entire jeep! I already had tremendous faith in their quality control. In fact, with the volume of sets they are producing, I can’t comprehend how difficult it must be to ensure each piece is perfect and that each set contains a full complement of pieces. I’m amazed they do as well as they do!
I was so impressed that a company as big as LEGO, with so many parts to produce, offers such an individualized service. Perhaps it contributes more to their loyal following than I know. However, it made one four-year-old incredibly happy. Our entire family is grateful for LEGO.
Image: The desert racer, with four rolling tires.