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Here’s why people are investing in Lego, haunted houses and bull semen

Diversify, diversify, diversify.

Lego sets are more than child’s play. Since the Danish company started reaching out to adults in the noughties, a huge secondary market has evolved, with fans splurging on out-of-production sets.

What is the appeal of the plastic brick? Barring a period where it neared bankruptcy, Lego’s popularity has shot through the roof since it first started selling wooden toys in 1932. The simple ingenuity of how the blocks can be stacked to create just about anything has everything to do with its appeal. Plus, the sets span an extensive range of themes and interests, so there’s something for everyone.

Why Lego sets appreciate revolves around a combination of factors – their rarity (sets tend to be discontinued after two years), detailing and whether they are based on a movie franchise. Most of all, they feed the main reason for why anything increases in value: demand. And that is an inexact science.

Collector Wu Guohong, a civil servant, says, “I thought Lord of the Rings sets would become quite valuable after they were discontinued, but prices didn’t go up that much. So, as with all forms of investments, it’s a judgement call.”

Risks aside, the rate of returns can be astonishingly high. Some adult fans of Lego have turned into full-time investors. A study, The Toy of Smart Investors, by assistant professor Victoria Dobrynskaya of Russia’s Higher School of Economics that was published last year revealed that Lego sets yielded a return rate of 11 per cent, with some going as high as 613 per cent.

Take, for instance, one of the most valuable collectibles – the Star Wars Millennium Falcon released in 2007. According to Lego expert Gerben van IJken with auction platform Catawiki, its price rose from U$500 (S$700) to a high of US$5,700. Although a re-release in 2017 affected its price, the resale value of the original at U$1,679 was still profitable.

Among the collections that have seen appreciation in value are themed ones, especially exclusives. Last month, Lego released the exclusive Ultimate Collector Star Wars A-wing Starfighter. This model is highly detailed, with pivoting laser cannons, a removable canopy and a pilot mini figure. Investment-worthy? Possibly.

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Bull semen

Bull

In the dairy and beef cattle business, having top sires is crucial to breeding – and that’s why bull semen is such a valuable trade. According to a National Public Radio report, exports of dairy and beef cattle semen hit a record US$170 million (S$240 million) in 2017, in data provided by the US Department of Agriculture and US Census Bureau on Foreign Trade. Investing in bulls is lucrative and ranch owners know it. In February last year, a hefty black Angus named America was auctioned off for a staggering US$1.5 million, the latest in a line of world records that have been broken in consecutive years.

His pedigree was assured – his mother had produced over US$5.5 million in progeny sales. By the end of that month, the bidder, Herbster Angus Farms, had already pre-sold about 10,000 semen straws at US$80 apiece – twice the normal charge, reported The Associated Press. (Consider how a single ejaculation can yield as many as 500 semen straws.) The bull likely earned at least US$800,000 in its first year and would be able to pay for itself in three years or less. At the time of print, Herbster’s website stated that “semen orders have been accumulating since last summer”.

The risks are there, though; an illness could wipe out one’s investment. So, these animals will live like kings, in return for their prized spermatozoa.

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Haunted houses

Haunted house

With Halloween being a billion-dollar industry in the US, haunted houses can be a profitable investment. It is a niche segment, though; this business is generally open only over several weeks, which heightens the earning pressure.

Putting aside the considerable capital outlay (for instance, property leases, compliance with fire code, hiring makeup artists and actors, and getting props), operating horror shows is akin to running an entertainment business – making solid branding and a compelling experience crucial. One successful enterprise is the famous Netherworld located in Georgia, which pulls in an estimated 75,000 visitors a year, according to a Fundera report, at ticket prices spanning US$20 (S$28) to US$60 depending on dates; speed passes cost more. Its strength? Fresh gruesome concepts every year, elaborate sets, detailed costumes, even the use of animatronics.

Today’s haunted house caters to the extreme appetites of visitors, who are willing to pay to be scared out of their wits. They also view such events as a night out with friends. Standout haunted houses know this, creating realistic sets for multiple horror themes, combining them with activities like laser tag, escape rooms or paintball battles, even extending the season and offering couple scares on Valentine’s Day.

For this industry, the path to profit must be paved with creativity.

(Related: Colourful furniture to brighten the home (and spirit))

Feature image by Lego, background by Jeremy Perkins on Unsplash