Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
Every employee at San Antonio Plastic Bricks (SAPB) in Olmos Park first entered the store as a customer. Trinity University sophomore Christopher Mitchell Knecht, SAPB lead creative specialist and head camp director, said, “The third time I walked in[to SAPB] I had a job.”
“Chris would come in and tinker around at the parts table and build the most amazing things,” said co-owner Ron Luvisi. “At the time we needed help so we offered him a small job [as a set verifier].” When pieces are traded in to SAPB, set verifiers make sure every Lego piece is accounted for.
Knecht’s first name is now on the shared SAPB business card, along with Ron, Jenny, Shelby, and Jenn. This gesture is characteristic of the store, where owners Ron and Jenny Luvisi treat employees and customers like family.
A majority of the SAPB business model has formed around customer demand. The store started hosting birthday parties and camps because customers asked for them. Now, according to the store manager, about 50 percent of SAPB revenue comes from birthday parties.
On a Tuesday afternoon, the back party room of the shop was busy with young campers building everything from a dance hall to fruits to a lion with Lego bricks. Abby, 11, has been attending SAPB camp for a few years and prefers to make “any animal and any bird.” Abby has also made her own versions of Lego BrickHeadz, like the ones of Winnie the Pooh and Toy Story characters displayed in the store windows.
What started as an online Lego shop has since expanded to a retail store, a place to host birthday parties and camps, and a popular team-building company – a platform for connection and community.
Brick by Brick
In San Antonio, there are four stores that sell Lego products: one official Lego store at North Star Mall, two Bricks and Minifigs locations, and one SAPB location. SAPB is not affiliated with Lego in any way, but it was the first store in San Antonio to exclusively sell Lego products.
The journey began in 2009, when co-owner of San Antonio Plastic Bricks Ron Luvisi was on active duty in the Air Force in Germany. He was supervising a young man named Kevin Soucy who became a good friend. Soucy sold Lego bricks online in his spare time. They parted ways when Luvisi was on terminal leave from the military before his retirement on September 1, 2011, but in February 2012, Soucy returned to the United States and they reconnected.
Soucy asked Luvisi if he would help him expand his online Lego business, and Luvisi agreed to help his friend, even though he was not interested in Lego products. “Kevin is the idea man. When he gets a good idea he can convince you. He could talk a fish out of water,” Luvisi says with a laugh. “In a few conversations he had me excited about the business.”
And SAPB was born. It was incorporated in September 2012; the vision at that point was to solely do business online. Its first physical location was acquired in July 2012: a 400-square-foot space near the San Antonio International Airport with an architect next door and a city councilman’s office across the hall. As the business grew, SAPB moved three times in one year, each time to a larger space, eventually settling on a 1000-square-f00t room in February 2013.
Business dipped in 2013, when the online market became oversaturated. Lego pieces that had sold for a 22 cent profit were bringing in only 8 cents. Luvisi considered leaving the business altogether for an office job, but was approached by an avid customer: Edward Briggs.
Briggs’s wife is a landlord in Olmos Park, and Briggs insisted she had the perfect space to house SAPB. Luvisi was not convinced at first; however, Briggs was persistent. He presented a Lego replica of the building in Olmos Park and convinced Luvisi. The current location of SAPB opened on November 24, 2014.
Soucy and Luvisi parted ways about a year before the Olmos Park location opened. “He decided to move on. My wife offered to buy his shares, and he took it. We’re still on great terms. I use him as an advisor from time to time,” Luvisi said.
Toys for Team Building
Ron Luvisi says that he learns from his customers on a daily basis. An 8-year-old customer once showed him a trick. Instead of placing Lego pieces flush with one another, the child placed two pieces in a perpendicular formation. This allows for speed in stacking, which is great for building tall towers. “You’re never too old; there’s always something to learn,” Luvisi said.
This moment motivated him to want to use Lego bricks as a way to teach, connect, and inspire. Using his experience as a former Air Force instructor and executive MBA, he transformed Lego products into a team building tool, creating Bricks Team Building, an extension of SAPB.
“In Bricks Team Building we work on frustration, communication, and listening. We use Lego bricks to help self-awareness,” Luvisi said. Clients now include a wide range of high profile clients such as Whataburger, USAA, the City of San Antonio, and Rackspace.
Booz Allen Hamilton lead associate Chris Scism met Luvisi when they completed their executive MBA program at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Scism remembered Luvisi’s presentation to his class about Bricks Team Building. When Scism realized he had to manage a team of interns for a 10-week internship, he contacted Luvisi and set up a session.
Scism noticed a difference with the interns afterward. “They’re college students, so it helped break those barriers and allowed them to be a bit more themselves. The difference [to other team building programs] I saw was that Ron encourages building something with Lego bricks that has meaning and you talk about that. It goes a long way to help facilitate the building of relationships.”
Celine Williams, a regional property manager at Lincoln Property Company, had a similarly positive experience. She was also in Luvisi’s executive MBA program, but initially approached him about a birthday party for the 9-year-old boy she fostered.
“[Ron] wouldn’t accept any money because of the situation and what was going on in the little boy’s life. He basically donated the party. He’s a really good person,” she said.
She came back to SAPB for a Bricks Team Building session in her previous role as Alpha Barnes Real Estate Services regional supervisor. “It was very motivating. We got to learn about each other on a personal level which helped us relate better at work so we weren’t so jaded,” she said.
SAPB is constantly changing and adjusting to the needs of customers. Though unclear what direction it will take them, the SAPB team expects business to continue growing.
Luvisi has a few goals for the future. “We want Bricks Team Building to be up and running better. I want a second speaker. I eventually want to see a second location that is similar to the first,” he said.
For now, the store remains lively with excited campers dreaming up new Lego creations. Knecht weaves through eager children, encouraging them to build whatever they imagine and helping them do so.
Though he plans to follow a career in communications when he graduates from Trinity University, he still intends to design Lego builds for SAPB in his free time. “Ron’s been too good to me to say no,” he says.