Model railway retailing

I'm trying to find out some information about various aspects of retailing model railway equipment, so if anyone on here is a retailer (or works for one) then I'd be very grateful if you could share your knowledge!

I don't have any plans to open a shop myself, so I'm not asking for competitive purposes - it's mostly just curiosity. I am familiar with retailing having worked in it as a bricks-and-mortar shop manager and setting up an online store, but in a totally different field (books and music, to be precise) and I'm interested in how that compares to model retailing - I want to understand how the back end of model railway retailing works so that I can understand it better from a customer's perspective.

With that in mind, I'd really appreciate some info on these points:

  1. Where do you buy from? Do you have accounts directly with all the various manufacturers, or do you use a wholesaler (and if so, who)?

  1. Typically, what retail margins do you get, and what are the usual trade terms and conditions regarding minimum order levels and payment terms?

  2. How often do you place orders with suppliers, and how much do you usually order at a time?

  1. How do you normally place an order? (eg, post, phone, fax, email, etc)

  2. How do you get stock/catalogue/pricing information from your suppliers? (eg, paper catalogues, electronic data, website, etc)

  1. How good are your suppliers at keeping you updated with new products?

  2. Other than model railway equipment, what other products do you stock?

  1. How do you think that most of your customers perceive model railways?

  2. Other than other model railway shops, what are your main competitors (eg, do you find yourself competing with toyshops that stock model railway products)

  1. How, in your opinion, could things be improved from your perspective? What could your suppliers do to provide you with better support and/or enhance your ability to serve your customers?


Reply to
Mark Goodge
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  1. Where do you buy from? Do you have accounts directly with all the

Bachmann items are bought from them, Hornby you can buy from wholesale or direct

quite often theres a first large order then £ 200.00 for free carrage normaly its around 25 - 35 % of rrp

monthly for me, but depends on availability ( each to there own for this )

Phone or email normaly

Via the web site or anualy on there catalogues and also from sales reps

not too bad but can always be improved

Airfix kits revell kits Faller fairground items slot cars ( seasonal e.g. Christmas )

they are happy doing it themselves but dont want workmates to know Also i have found that customers dont want reciepts so there wifes dont know how much they spend on there hobby !

Large catalogue companys like Argos and box shifters like hattons and rails sheffield

To be fair we do get good suport from both bachmann and hornby but if you are stuck eyebrows are raised, and they can distance themselfes from you

Kindest regards Simon Judd

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Reply to
Model Depot

(Lots of very helpful answers; just one or two follow-up queries...)

Who are the main wholesalers in the business? Are there any advantages to using a wholesaler over going direct to the manufacturer?

What would you do if a customer wanted a specific item that you don't have in stock, but know is available from your supplier? Would you place a special order so that they could come back in a couple of days and collect it (assuming they're prepared to put down a deposit, of course), or would you simply say you don't have it now but it should be in again next month?

Ha! On a related note, would you say that most of your customers are hobbyists buying for themselves (or long-suffering wives buying Christmas/birthday presents for their husbands), rather than parents (or other adults) buying what they perceive as toys for their children? In other words, are you perceived as a hobby shop rather than a toy shop?


Reply to
Mark Goodge

A B Geeof Ripley, and yes Hornby dont always have a perticular product in stock, A B Gee might have it in, and Vice Versa Another advantage with wholesalers is there is more in stock in general such as cars,board games, kids toys etc

I Can say you are correct in that, i only have a few kids come into the shop but they are at th 12 year bracket, and are just as adult as the adults, I dont sell mthat many train sets, and looking over the year its the " scale models that have been sold, not the toy type models e.g. the higher priced stuff like the hornby 08,31,50,60 etc not the hymeck`s 47`s / 37`s Kindest regards Simon

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Reply to
Simon Judd

Mark Goodge wrote: [...]

Depends: mass market product comes from distributors, small manufacturers prefer to deal direct.

40% discount from suggested retail price. Occasionally up to 60% on special promotion. Occasionally as little as 25% when the manufacturer has a superior product but must meet a competitor's lower price point.

No minimum orders, but shipping and handling minimums in effect impose a minimum of around $100 net. When I import from the USA, I also have to absorb import costs (mostly brokerage), which can be substantial.

Whenever requests from customers accumulate to $100 net or more, and/or when bread and butter supplies such as track fall below a minimum inventory level. Seasonally variable, ranges from several times a week to once a month.


All of the above.

Very good.

Some diecast models.

As a satisfying pastime. For a few, it's an addiction.

a) Online and deep discount outfits, who are usually distributors that have established a division that deals directly with the public. One manufacturer has recently set up such an operation - it looks bad for the hobby shop if this trend catches on.

b) WalMart and similar, who contract with manufacturers to supply cheaper versions of models, or for house brand models. Customers have trouble seeing the difference between a $1.98 '57 Chevy and a $4.98 '57 Chevy. Sometimes, so do I.

Not compete with me for the retail dollar.

Reply to

I noticed Simon declined to answer this one. As a customer (I had a rant about this a few weeks ago) the atitude of my local MR shops (Motor Books, Headington and Transport Treasures, Aylesbury [1]) seems to be "that's all we've got" and "We might have some coming in the next delivery". Neither offered to special order and I got the impression it was once a month when the man from Peco came and that was it.


[1] Anyone experienced this place? Prices for Peco N track are good but anymore than you and the proprietor and it gets "cosy" with all the boxes piled high. I always wonder what the local fire officer would make of it.
Reply to
manatbandq said the following on 22/03/2007 14:56:

I used to love going around Max Williams' shop in Bristol years ago - my school was just around the corner. That's one where you had to shuffle sideways around the backs of some of the display stands, and you were served through a gap in the goodies hanging all around the counter! A real old-fashioned shop that had everything a teenage model basher could ever need :-)

Reply to
Paul Boyd

I wouldn't necessarily criticise a retailer for taking this attitude, as it depends a lot on things like minimum order quantities and the reliablity of supplier deliveries. If a supplier imposes an unreasonably high carriage charge for orders below the minimum, or can't guarantee delivery times, then sometimes it simply isn't practical or financially viable to do special orders for customers.

That's also one of the things I was hinting at when I asked about how things could be better for retailers. In my line of work, I expect that a) if I place an order with a supplier before lunchtime then it will be with me the next working day, b) minimum order levels for free delivery are low enough that I can bulk up an order to the minimum at pretty much any time without needing to worry too much about having too much stock, and c) even if I do need to pay for carriage costs then I'll still make a profit on selling the products, no matter how few I order. Simon's comment about ordering once a month suggests that he doesn't have that flexibility from his suppliers, which in turn means that he can't offer it to his customers. That's bad for everyone - it means a dissatisfied (potential) customer, it's a lost sale to the retailer and possibly a lost sale to the manufacturer as well.


Reply to
Mark Goodge


Well, I'll order anything that's available. I also give a discount, as it's an immediate turnover. If I can't get it, I refer customers to shops that may have it. As I'm the biggest model railway shop between Huntsville, Ontario and Winnipeg, Manitoba (more than 1,500km by road), that means a phone call or a road trip for them. :-)

I also have giveaways, such as pens with the shop's address and phone number on them. Occasionally, I'll drop a small scenery item into the bag, too, eg, a boat, a package of oil drums, or an outdated magazine, whatever. Cost it as advertising & promotion. People just love freebies.

Keep the customers satisfied, and they'll be back.

Reply to

"Model Depot" wrote in news:vYsMh.10964$


Changing the subject slightly, I do buty quite a lot of 2nd hand stuff from Rails of Sheffield and whilst they may fall in to the catagory of "box shifters" I am obliged to say that their customer service is very good indeed. I know you weren't suggesting it but I thought that it may be misinterpretted that they could be compared to a catalogue type operation having no interest or knowlage in the hobby.

Reply to
Chris Wilson

"Mark Goodge" wrote

Mostly direct from the manufacturers, but we do source general items (glues, paints & similar) from a wholesaler, and some of the smaller modmanufacturer's ranges we source from Peco.

Standard trade discount is 33.33% from RRP with some manufacturers offering small additional discounts for rapid payment of invoices (often within 7 days).

Varies enormously. Peco we order most weeks, Hornby & Bachmann sometimes on a daily basis, others such as Slater's Plastikard perhaps once or twice a year. Minimum order probably around £200 up to several thousands.

Email & phone mainly. Bachmann have an extremely retailer friendly website and we use that all the time.

Mixture of all of these, we even occasionally get visits from manufacturers' representatives who take orders, but to be honest they are generally surplus to our needs.

Very poor generally.

We're 95% model railways these days but we stock general modelling gear such as glues, paints, scenic material etc.

I don't understand that question.

eBay and mail order specialists, but also stores such as M&S, Argos & Toys R Us mainly in the run up to Christmas.

Better use of email and internet by the manufacturers would be useful. I find it irritating when we find out information from third parties rather than our suppliers.

If it's possible to order it immediately we do so, but some manufacturers have fairly high minimum carriage paid order levels. If we're not able to order immediately because of the latter, we would give the customer the option of meeting any carriage cost and if he/she agreed then we would order straight away - often whilst they are still in the shop.


53A Models, Hull.
Reply to
John Turner

Pity they can't have one that is a little bit more end user friendly.


Reply to

"Kevin" wrote

What's unfriendly about the Bachmann website? It's much easier to navigate around than some of their competitors.


Reply to
John Turner

"John Turner" wrote in news:

It's unmitigated c**p, the pictures are to small (on the product listing) and sometimes missing, no technical info, updates are few and far between. And that scrolling window sheesh!

Reply to
Chris Wilson

"Chris Wilson" wrote

I agree about the scrolling window, it's dreadful and they've been told about it repeatedly, but it's not the end of the world, although it is inconvenient. Pictures are irrelevent to me as products are mostly illustrated in the various catalogues, although larger images of band new products would occasionally be useful

On the other hand I spent a good fifteen minutes the other day trying to find service sheets on the Hornby website (which I'm assured are there) and failed abysmally. I also tried to find 2007 product prices on the Hornby site too and couldn't, although they seemed to be happily trying to sell

2006 products which I'd previously been told were sold out - 2006 released M7s for instance.

Your needs may well be different from mine Chris, but at least with the Bachmann site I can (usually) find out whether they have items in stock and what the recommded retail price is, and place a trade order. None of that seems possible with Hornby's website.

I can also usually get a quick personal reply to an email from any of the departments at Bachmann, whereas with Hornby you're lucky if you get an automated response and only time will tell whether they act on those emails. This is particularly important when trying to order spares as their Customer Care telephone line is almost always busy and I don't have time to hang around in a call queue for 10-15 minutes only to get cut off.

I exclude Simon Kohler from the latter comments as he is usually *very* good at responding to emails.


Reply to
John Turner

"John Turner" wrote in news:


Horses for courses though, as a "consumer" I wish to see the available products, I want to see the technical specs, I want clear images of what's available, what else in the range is compatable with each other. I wnt to know if things are available now or at some point in the future (and when).

To be frank I have no real idea of what's in the Bachmann range at the moment, I do not have a catalogue and the website puts me off looking. When visiting retailers websites I have no idea of whether they are showing what they have in stock, on back order, what is anticipated as a delivery, last years remaindered stock or even the entire range. Consequently my attitude is - Bachmann .. who cares?

I don't like buying catalogues, why should I pay for the privilage of finding out what someone wants to sell me? (The little Hornby posters are great BTW)

Consequently I tend to plan my buying around Hornby products and kits. If I buy Bachmann it's on an impulse or as a consequence of a posting here (for instance the G8 if/when it becomes available) and as I very rarely have to time to actually visit shops impulse purchases tend to take place only once every few years.

OTOH if you as a retailer have a queue of folks walking in to your shop asking to buy the new "SuperTrains" "Cannonball Express Set" you'll make the effort to find out if and how you can get hold of the requisit stock to make you that little bit richer. If the "SuperTrains" website is S H one T it's no big deal to you, so long as they supply you at a reasonable price and within a reasonable time you're happy.

Anyway, the nxt time you speek with one of Mr Bachmann's minions you may tell him that his company's website is loosing them business.

Heck even Peco are getting on board with this new fangled inter-web thingie and if they can manage it anyone can ...

Reply to
Chris Wilson

In message , Chris Wilson writes

Such a shame their product is such sea are a pea!

Reply to
Jane Sullivan

"Chris Wilson" wrote

I passed your comments on to Bachmann's sales manager and here's his reply:-

< quote >

So, we have thumbnails which open into a large image We have the availability shown as it is, or when it will be delivered if that date is known, We have the item number and description We have the era system to match stuff together.

Oh, we produce the "little posters as well" Please ask Steve for some next time he is with you.

Not sure what a G8 is?

Traffic is increasing in the Bachmann website all the time. (not just bandwidth, individual users)


< /quote >


Reply to
John Turner

But did not Minion from everso humble Bachmann want to know most important question of all - why user wasnt impressed with site ?

Well at least theyve fixed the RSS feed.

Cheers, Simon

Reply to

"John Turner" wrote in news:

G8 = G2 admittedly me being brain dead but should have been an easy spot for someone in the trade, arrogant git.

Anyway you can give him mine ...

"Purchases from Hornby over the last 18 months = £380 approx

Purchases from Peco/Guagemaster/Expo(tools)/sundry electrics etc = around £700 (you know how much my last order with you was so you can be fairly confident I'm not spinning a line)

Purchases of kits = around £250 (including some plastic models) with around another £150/200 to spend over the next 3 months.

Puchases from Bachmann = 1 second hand Patriot at an exhibition

... and a few years ago I bought a Class 20 and Class 8, new at an exhibition"

£1300+ over the last year (albeit some of the tools are far from single function railway items) with another £200 or thereabouts available to spend over the course of the current domestic budget and none of that to Bachmann. Lets see if he likes those figures.
Reply to
Chris Wilson

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