Building my Swedish lego dream brick by brick

James Gill was working as a chef in the UK when he one day decided to combine his two passions in life: Sweden and Lego. The Local's reporter Bobbie Carlson visited his shop in Stockholm - and discovered that there is far more to the famous children's toy than meets the eye.

Building my Swedish lego dream brick by brick
James Gill in his lego shop. Photo: The Local/Bobbie Carlson

Hidden amongst the old stone buildings on the backstreets of the popular Södermalm area of Stockholm is a mysterious little Lego shop selling the famous Danish construction toys.

Outside you do not see any large, flashy signs boasting the name “Lego”, simply strategically placed colorful letters spelling out the name “Mr. Gill”.  

Mr. Gill is an independent Lego retailer recently opened by British native James Gill.  After many years of long, difficult days working as a high-end pub manager and later a chef, he decided it was time for a change.  

“When I first came up with the idea for the shop, it seemed stupid enough that it might actually work,” Gill said with a laugh.

Gill decided on Stockholm after falling in love with the country after visiting friends in  2013.  

“The people and the city are just fantastic,” he says.

“The fact that Stockholm didn’t have a lego shop is just crazy because Sweden has one of the largest Lego markets in Europe."

And so began the two-and-a-half month process of fulfilling his dream to open a shop in Stockholm. But it was not without challenges.  

“It was a bit difficult to find a bank that would help me out because I have no credit history or work history in Sweden,” he explains. 

The Swedish language was of course another barrier.  

“I spent a lot of late nights simply translating documents using Google Translate,”  he adds, “but luckily the government also puts a lot of information in English.”

READ ALSO: "We drink our way through Swedish history"

Next it was just finding the shop location, which with the competitive real estate market in Sweden, was not the easiest of tasks.  

Gill explains that he wanted to find a location on a back street, “I want people to be surprised when they find the shop".

He added that the estate agent was a bit discouraging because of the location, but Gill himself thought it was ideal and in January he began creating his brand through various social media outlets.  

“I started taking photos of the Lego, photos of myself, and things I was doing in Stockholm.”  He adds, “ I also did lots of reviewing of sets and such.”

On March 21st, the store was open for business and had more than 400 customers the first day.  

“It was just crazy!” Gill describes, “It was greater than I could have ever imagined.”

The concept of an independent Lego retailer is still a rather unique concept and some people have found it confusing.

“I get a lot of people come in and don’t understand the concept of a lego shop,” says Gill.  “A couple of times per day people come in and ask why I’m here and how I’m here, they just don't get it!”

Another unique aspect of Gill’s business lies in his marketing plan.

“I don't do expensive advertising campaigns, it’s strictly word of mouth and social media.”  He explains.

For Gill, owning the shop is about more than the money. Creating a friendly atmosphere where customers feel welcome is just as important.

“I want people to come, not just to buy Lego, but to talk about Lego and be involved.”

With this in mind, Gill has began hosting “speed-building” competitions on Sunday afternoons, and hopes to host a variety of other lego-centric events in the future.  

READ ALSO: "There were no good brunch spots in Sweden"

Although he has only been in business just over a month now, Gill has already created a base of loyal customers. 

Currently the shop sells more than 650 different products, including about 500 sets, but Gill estimates that it will typically have around 1,000 different products at any given time.  

“I'm not trying to be the cheapest or have the largest range of products, I just want to be the coolest!” Gill says with a smile. “A place where people can go to feel happy.”

Gill explains that he has long term goals of opening multiple shops of multiple different types, not just in Sweden, but all throughout Scandinavia.  

“I would honestly just be happy if this shop was successful and I can just be happy and doing something I love.”

To those wanting to start their own business in Sweden, Gill offers the following advice: don’t be afraid to ask for help. 

“I think a lot of people try to do a lot of things on their own instead of asking for help. A lot of mistakes are made when people think they know what they are doing but they don't and they are afraid to ask for help," he says.

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Reader question: When am I eligible for a Swedish pension?

A reader got in touch to ask how long he had to work in Sweden before he was eligible for a pension. Here are Sweden's pension rules, and how you can get your pension when the time comes.

Reader question: When am I eligible for a Swedish pension?

The Swedish pension is part of the country’s social insurance system, and it can seem like a confusing beast at times. The good news is that if you’re living and working here, you’ll almost certainly be earning towards a pension, and you’ll be able to get that money even if you move elsewhere before retirement.

You will start earning your Swedish general pension, or allmän pension, once you’ve earned over 20,431 kronor in a single year, and – for almost all kinds of pension in Sweden – there is no time limit on how long you must have lived in Sweden before you are eligible.

The exception is the minimum guarantee pension, or garantipension, which you can receive whether you’ve worked or not. To be eligible at all for this, you need to have lived in Sweden for a period of at least three years before you are 65 years old. 

“There’s a limit, but it’s a money limit,” Johan Andersson, press secretary at the Swedish Pension Agency told The Local about the general pension. “When you reach the point that you start paying tax, you start paying into your pension.”

“But you have to apply for your pension, make sure you get in touch with us when you want to start receiving it,” he said.

Here’s our in-depth guide on how you can maximise your Swedish pension, even if you’re only planning on staying in Sweden short-term.

Those who spend only a few years working in Sweden will earn a much smaller pension than people who work here for their whole lives, but they are still entitled to something – people who have worked in Sweden will keep their income pension, premium pension, supplementary pension and occupational pension that they have earned in Sweden, even if they move to another country. The pension is paid no matter where in the world you live, but must be applied for – it is not automatically paid out at retirement age.

If you retire in the EU/EEA, or another country with which Sweden has a pension agreement, you just need to apply to the pension authority in your country of residence in order to start drawing your Swedish pension. If you live in a different country, you should contact the Swedish Pensions Agency for advice on accessing your pension, which is done by filling out a form (look for the form called Ansök om allmän pension – om du är bosatt utanför Sverige).

The agency recommends beginning the application process at least three months before you plan to take the pension, and ideally six months beforehand if you live abroad. It’s possible to have the pension paid into either a Swedish bank account or an account outside Sweden.

A guarantee pension – for those who live on a low income or no income while in Sweden – can be paid to those living in Sweden, an EU/EEA country, Switzerland or, in some cases, Canada. This is the only Swedish pension which is affected by how long you’ve lived in Sweden – you can only receive it if you’ve lived in the country for at least three years before the age of 65.

“The guarantee pension is residence based,” Andersson said. “But it’s lower if you haven’t lived in Sweden for at least 40 years. You are eligible for it after living in Sweden for only three years, but it won’t be that much.”