Just thinking out loud this morning. In this age of the internet where everyone can price shop everyone else in a matter of moments and preordering has become a race to the bottom on price, is there really anything else an O gauge dealer can do to give them a competitive advantage? These folks are all selling the exact same product, and it seems the only places where you can win are on price, easy of ordering, and customer service should an issue arise. Am I missing something or has it really boiled down to these factors?

Original Post

Customer Service.

 

You can have the best price but unless you can deliver superior service price may not mean a hill of beans.

 

Competitive pricing is fine but I'll pay more knowing that I'll be taken care of.  And I do.

A LHS has the problem that maintaining an inventory and a store adds to overhead cost. Let's face it, in today's world, items are bought on the basis of price alone.  I'll be honest:  that's how I buy, subject to the exception that if the would-be seller has a lack of integrity, or demands I agree to arbitration in South Podunk (as one model train seller does), I won't deal with him/her

 

One aid might be to have a crackerjack tech--not merely one who has attended a training course, but one who really knows the details.  While this wouldn't have an appeal to me, it might to other buyers.

 

Personally, I wouldn't want to invest my money in opening a train store.  Too much cutthroat competition for what is essentially a surplus-money market.

Originally Posted by MartyE:

Customer Service.

 

You can have the best price but unless you can deliver superior service price may not mean a hill of beans.

 

 

I agree 100%.

 

 

 

I'd like to know what everyone's definition of good customer service is?

 

You pre-order a new loco from a local dealer and it's dead when you get it home.

What level of service can you expect from this local dealer that may not have any extras in stock to allow for an immediate swap. At that point, you're shipping it yourself back to the MFG and the dealer is out of the picture. Yes, they can pre-test it at the store but again, if they have no extras, it doesn't really help. 

 

To me if the dealer makes every possible effort to correct the issue then that is customer service.  If the dealer doesn't have a replacement, offers to ship the unit back for you. Now in some cases it may make more sense to ship it directly to the manufacturer.

 

If a dealer does everything within their power to satisfy then that is great customer service but the customer also must be aware some things are out of the dealer's hands.

SERVICE SERVICE SERVICE!!! You can never do too much for your customers but most of the time its the little things that count

Originally Posted by graz:

I'd like to know what everyone's definition of good customer service is? 

  • Good communication. Shipping updates are very welcome. Actually shipping the pre-order. Call if there is a question about a credit card #.
  • The option to test the customer's new locomotive prior to shipping. A video such as JDS Ltd does after an upgrade is excellent.
  • Capability to repair the new locomotive if there is an issue. As a customer, it is frustrating to receive an item that is BIB (Broken-In-Box).
  • Fair pricing. Don't have a pre-order price and then blow-out on an auction site for less money the week after receiving a new item.
  • Employee honesty. One employee can give an otherwise good company a very bad name. Don't sell me something you don't have, or tell me you've shipped it when you haven't. Lie to me; count on losing my business forever!
Last edited by Gilly@N&W

Customer service, of course, but how far do you live from your dealer or LHS?

 

If your dealer is close by, then the customer service has a large impact.

If you live a considerable distance from your dealer, then how much benefit can he be to you?  You will probably end up dealing directly with the factory any way.  This then reduces the choice of dealership to a price and delivery question.

 

In other words if you live in Pittsburgh, Baltimore, or Philadelphia your access to the dealer/LHS is very close.  His ability to help/service you is much better.  If you live in Kansas, West Texas or Wyoming its a completely different situation. 

 

If you plotted the dealers on a US map with dots of the dealers, where the size of the dot represents their sales volume of Lionel you will see what I mean.  Do the same thing for MTH dealers, Atlas dealers, Weaver etc.  There are huge areas of the country where the dealer has little to no impact.  You need to ship it back to them, so they ship it to the factory?

 

Move the discussion back up stream from the dealer.  If the product is high quality with very little defects then . . .   Wow what a thought.

 

Consider what Honda, Toyota, Nissan and Mazda did to the US automakers.  High quality usually beats good customer service every time.  It only takes one manufacturer making high quality products that the consumer wants, to force everyone else to improve their quality.  Look at the consumer reports issue of automobile frequency of repair.  You can quickly tell which pages have Honda, Toyota, Nissan etc on them by the color of the low repair dots.

 

Remember when Sears tools were guaranteed for life?

 

Originally Posted by MartyE:

Competitive pricing is fine but I'll pay more knowing that I'll be taken care of.  And I do.

I agree 1000% (if that's possible).

 

On principle I try to buy from one of my two LHSs when I have the opportunity and I check their stock for what I am after before I look elsewhere. 

 

However the best service has come from a forum sponsor who posts info on shipping dates, is clearly enthused about the products we crave and answers my email inquiries the day that they are written - I probably don't need to name him.

 

This definitely sets him apart - even or perhaps especially in the era of internet shopping.

The term "good service" sounds nice but I'm not seeing anything that really amounts to a reason to sway someone away from price being the primary factor.

Not many dealers have a guy on staff to repair the modern stuff. Mercer Junction comes to mind as the exception with Brian as a former Lionel tech.

The system seems to now be built on sending it to the mfg for warranty repair.

A good site search engine and up to date inventory always helps me.(Presentation first impression)

I'm not a buyer of high end things but if I can't search your site and believe your inventory, why should I trust you to handle problems and large dollars orders correctly.   

I have had a lot of poor experiences with online dealers because either their search function blows, or they list things in stock they don't have. Get those issues straight, and it's a way to set one's store apart.

Customer service is the most important of the three criteria mentioned. (with the caveat that pricing is also competitive)

 

Another area under customer service where some Dealers excelled was proactively remaining in contact with past customers. Many companies look at past clients as the best new prospects. This is as simple as a email to every past client that hasn't been heard from in over a year. The cost of regaining a lost client is far less than the cost of gaining a new client.

 

This should be a private email and not a part of a blast.

 

With that said I would add two more rules:

 

the Fourth Golden Rule - Personalization to each customer. This means thank you notes with orders, pertinent emails on known areas of interest. and taking the extra effort: Jim Sutter comes to mind in this regard.

 

the Fifth Golden Rule - Social Media: Like it or use it, this is critical to the success of any business. You must have a presence on all the sites. (FB, Twit, blah blah blah). The greater your use of social media, the greater your incremental sales. FYI, I say this as a non user of almost all social media save a couple.

 

Paul - stepping off his marketing platform

Don't make me do the work... on several occasions, I've had to do the follow up.

 

I'll see people here on the boards receiving an item I ordered from the same vendor I ordered from, but no sign of mine. Wait a week or two, send a note, and "oh, yeah, it's on the way" and I get a shipping notice. Heck, an Excel spreadsheet can do basic order tracking for you.

 

Other than that, no deposits, EVER... I have been burned three times in the last five years with vendors that went under while holding my pre-order dollars, and I was only able to recover my money on one of them. No significant amounts, thankfully, but I've learned my lesson.

Last edited by ams

Just look at the best LHSs out there and what do they have in common? A knowledgeable staff, decent inventory, ability to order an item they don't have, repairs or replacements, test run an item before you leave the store with it, web presence(I don't count FB as a web presence but a full blown website with up to date inventory is), competitive pricing and a policy of making it right for the customer if there's a problem. If you don't have these than your best way to get me in your store is a free locomotive of my choice every third Thursday of the month.

 

A lot make a big deal out of not having to ship their trains back to the manufacturer themselves, I found this prewar box on another discussion...

 

service

 

Meet the new boss same as the old boss!

 

 

Jerry

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quote:
A lot make a big deal out of not having to ship their trains back to the manufacturer themselves, I found this prewar box on another discussion...




 

I am fairly certain that that box was printed prior to the creation of the Lionel service station network. Plus, I'd guess that items that were defective out of the box went back to the store.

 

 

I would like to see some manufactuerers who set themselves apart...Weaver and Williams and K-Line once did...poof!   Every time this discussion comes up, I think of the train store I was in, with empty shelves.  Every thing was on order.  And that was before "made-to-order".  Everybody goes into a store with the thought, "Whatcha got that's new?".  The answer is almost always, "Nothing".  Hind sight makes me wonder

how the heck did K-Line keep ginning out all that stuff, there for a while?....must have

had a fantastic credit line.  If they have nothing to sell, dealers are not important.

Best price.

 

If there is an issue then I'll take it up with the manufacturer. I don't need a dealer for that. In fact, I'd rather speak directly with the manufacturer than have a dealer do it on my behalf.

 

If there is a problem with a new purchase then it will get resolved by me and either MTH, Lionel or Atlas. That's how it's worked in the past and how it's working now.

"Fast, Good and Cheap" pick any two guys because you can't have all three.

 

From my seat we have all picked cheap, so....

 

The real question is do you want it "good" or "fast"?

 

That seems to be a problem based on this forums rants/raves.

 

Charlie

Originally Posted by Charlie:

"Fast, Good and Cheap" pick any two guys because you can't have all three.

 

From my seat we have all picked cheap, so....

 

The real question is do you want it "good" or "fast"?

 

That seems to be a problem based on this forums rants/raves.

 

Charlie

An old adage from the car world that equally applies in most areas of life

I agree with catnap.  There is a better chance of MTH having more a skilled repair staff than a dealer.  Plus, if the dealer were to get it, good chance they'd send it to MTH.  I'd rather communicate directly with the repair staff, even at the price of a few bucks postage.

 

About a year ago Just Trains fo Delaware had a good sale (with free shipping) on an MTH PRR MU set.  I ordered one and it came in.  I found that the sound Chinese engineering had resulted in a headlight bulb at the wrong end of one of the cars.  I called MTH as a courtesy so they could track down any problems.  They told me to send it in but I thanked them and said it was siimple and I'd do it.  I mentioned this to Jule of Just Trains at York, and she said why didn't I send it to her and she's have had it fixed.  That's good service.  However, knowing what her shipping it to me would have cost, and what she had paid for the set, I could determine her margin and thus I told her that, given the margin, I decided to take care of it myself.  If a dealer gives an excellent price, why saddle them with shipping charges back to the manufacturer if there is a problem.  If an item was damaged in shipment, I would contact the dealer because then they have other recourse.

 

I have bought many locos by mail from Sidetrack in southern Maryland.  I was always satisfied with them.  But when there was a minor defect in one loco about 6 years ago, I elected to deal directly with the manufacturer.

 

If a dealer gives an excellent price, why saddle them with shipping charges back to the manufacturer if there is a problem.  If an item was damaged in shipment, I would contact the dealer because then they have other recourse.

 

A few years ago I needed a LIonel part.  I traveled 30 miles to a large dealewr, who said he would only sell parts on a weekend, even though there were no other customers in the store.  I went back that weekend, bought the part (a roller), and never went back again.

Last edited by RJR

There aren't any good 3-rail train dealers in my area.  I order nearly everything online.  A good website is critical with a good return or repair policy if the item doesn't work.

 

NH Joe

Marty, hit the nail on the head. Nothing beats good customer service. Today, we need that more than anything. You find a dealer that stands behind every he sells, you have found a pot of gold.

 

P.S. George Harritos Thank you.

Wow - lots of interesting responses here, and from various points of view.

 

The old school approach where the dealer holds all the responsibility from inventory selection to pricing to returns/repairs seems to have fallen by the wayside. 

 

On on the other extreme, the new approach of " I don't really need the dealer, just give me the lowest price and I'll go to the manufacturer with any problems " seems to be growing.

 

If this is the direction the hobby is headed, which manufacturer will be the first to abandon their dealer network, sell direct to the customer and control their own pricing?

 

 

 

 

Gramps, the problem is that the complexity of train controls is growing, but unlike a car dealer, the train market can't bear $125/hour labor charges so that its worth a tech's time to learn all the details.

I agree that customer service is at the top of the list. However, I have something to add and not sure if it falls into these same criteria. However, the two things that turn me off the quickest is arrogance, and pushiness. I was on vacation last week and went into a train shop and the arrogance was so obvious that I almost walked out.

 

However, not having a store close to where I live, I decided to stay and look around. I bought a tinplate car  only because it was a good price. While I was looking I was approached every 3-5 minutes asking if I needed help.

 

I explained that I was from out of the area, and just wanted to see what they had, and they did not take the hint. It was almost like my wife and I were being followed!!

 

JoeG

Originally Posted by Lionel Grandpa:

On on the other extreme, the new approach of " I don't really need the dealer, just give me the lowest price and I'll go to the manufacturer with any problems " seems to be growing.

 

If this is the direction the hobby is headed, which manufacturer will be the first to abandon their dealer network, sell direct to the customer and control their own pricing?

Part of the issue is that for an increasing number of us, we live in area that were really never served by a local hobby shop that carried trains.  If there is one, O-Gauge is an afterthought.

 

I really have no choice but to shop online.

 

So, that being the case:

 

My comment on the topic is that if a business is going to have a web presence, then do it right.   Don't let it go stale.  It's the new paradigm.

Originally Posted by Trainlover160:

 

However, not having a store close to where I live, I decided to stay and look around. I bought a tinplate car  only because it was a good price. While I was looking I was approached every 3-5 minutes asking if I needed help.

 

I explained that I was from out of the area, and just wanted to see what they had, and they did not take the hint. It was almost like my wife and I were being followed!!

 

JoeG

There's a thin line between being helpful and annoying, and it sounds like they crossed it at the place you visited

Customer service is at the top of the list for sure.  Customer service means genuinely having the customers best interest at heart. If I have a strong sense of this from a retailer, I'll be back time and time again... thats for sure .... even if I have to pay a bit more in price for trains or whatever the product may be.  Take total care of your customer be it a first time novice to the hobby or a veteran hobbyist.  The value of excellent customer service is absolutely priceless!  You want your store to be known as the go to place for trains!

 

 Part of the customer service equation, for me, is having a staff that isgenuinely passionate about trains and model railroading...  a staff that will happily help the customer by answering questions, demonstrating, helping the customer with problem solving.  

 

Creating a retail space where the sales staff is authentic & genuine, passionate, deeply knowledgeable, and enthusiastic about the hobby of model railroading is paramount to success.  A staff that takes a personal interest in their regular customer's ( and new first time customers as well ) experience with the hobby.  Having a staff that understands the vital importance of " creative play time" and how play is a healthy activity and a great anctedote and stress reliever  to our every day busy-ness of life.    A staff that is all ( or most ) of these things will be most infectious and therefore most effective in bringing customers back to the retail space be it brick and mortar or on line.  Face it, we all love positive experiences  ... connecting with people who are passionate and joyful about what they are doing in life ...  be it at a train shop, doctors office, auto repair facility, banking, home repair person, etc.  When we have experiences in making connections with these kind of folks they gain our trust and we always come back for more.  

 

The customer service experience  begins as soon as the customer walks in the door.  A friendly greeting with a smile, making the customer feel special and welcomed is important.  Offering assistance and not overdoing it is also important.... don't make the customer feel uncomfortable as if they are being pushed into buy something ... let the customer browse leisurely ... if they have questions you have already made it clear they can ask you... again allow the customer to feel comfortable in your store ... this is your opportunity to win them.

 

Brick and mortar stores can also offer family days where parents and kids can come learn about model trains and layout building, basic maintenance, etc, run their trains on the store layout. Allow customers to run the store layout ( supervised of course ) ... there is no substitute for hand on experience!    Put up a big screen TV and play train DVDs of all kinds ... have a few seats in front of the screen for folks to sit down ( space permitting ) Perhaps offer some classes in various aspects of layout building & loco maintenance, have a local railroad historian, railroad official, locomotive engineer,  come to your store and give a talk.  Offer free coffee on Saturday mornings, perhaps some free pastries as well ( donut holes ).  Create an environment of well being.... if people have this experience at your store they will come back.  Have a clean clear up to date website.  Use social media to the max.  Find free ways to advertise your store every time you have an event.  Keep your store clutter free.

 

  If you are an internet store, the same applies as for a brick and mortar stores .... staff

need to be authentically genuine, personable, passionate about trains and model trains, have the customers best interest at heart, have deep knowledge of the products you sell and the hobby as a whole, be honest, and enthusiastic.  Ask the customers about their experience with the hobby .... let them know that you genuinely care about them.  

From "What they don't teach you in Harvard Business school"

 

"1.  All things being equal, People buy from a friend.

 2.  All things being un-equal (read as cost a little more) People buy from a friend.

Folks

 

I certainly don't want my comments to be taken that the online dealers shouldn't be your LHS.  In a lot of cases they are your only option.  But when choosing an online retailer, again maybe costs shouldn't be the only factor in your decision.

 

Now fortunate for us we have some online retailers that can offer both a good price and superior service.  We also have some LHS with online and call in service that offer both.  My primary point is, if you like who you are dealing with and they treat you well, is the $5 savings worth it to you to change every catalog?

 

Sometimes though because of inventory you may have to go elsewhere and that's not a bad thing either but don't forget the folks that worked the last time to get you what you wanted with the service you expected.




quote:
I agree that customer service is at the top of the list. However, I have something to add and not sure if it falls into these same criteria. However, the two things that turn me off the quickest is arrogance, and pushiness. I was on vacation last week and went into a train shop and the arrogance was so obvious that I almost walked out.




 

LOL, reminds me of another experience I often have.

 

I keep a fairly low profile, so I am often in situations where the person on the other side of the counter (at train shows or train shops) doesn't know me. Many times, that person will start a sales pitch that is full of misinformation that either betrays their lack of knowledge, or may just be an attempt to make a sale at any cost.

Not a way to grow a business or the hobby.

 

When I worked retail, my manager instructed me to do no more than greet the customer, and offer assistance when someone walked in. Then leave them alone!

99 percent of the time, the customer declined. Some would ask for help after they looked around a bit.

I have two issues. One is our local hobby shop that has been open since the late 40s, is run by grandfather, father, son. They are rude but yet seem to have a loyal core. The have some 3 rail but are mostly an HO shop. I am a 2 railer but am building a 3 rail for our local railroad museum. I have made this argument before that, let's say, a dealer makes $1.00 per year. $.60 cents of that will buy merchandise (some companies make that number $.70 cents. You now have 30 to 40 cents to pay everything else like taxes (WOW) insurance should a little kid go home and open a jar of dad's paint and drink it. Rent, big factor. Oh, you want to increase your inventory, well now you have 10 cents left. Contributions to the local High School band fund, payroll if you have any workers. Last of all is your own pocket book. You might get 5 cents for you. I know as I had a store in the height of the mail order craze in the 70s.

 

It boils down to the fact if you want to make, let's say $40,000 a year (I will be generous and say you make 10 cents after everything is paid) that means your sales have to be at lease $400,000 a year. I very much doubt our crabby local hobby shop has that kind of volume.

 

#2, One mail order business took my prepayment a few weeks ago and now this esteemed forum tells me that they have sold their business to some one else. I have 9 Atlas Zephyr cars, have paid for the 10th, waiting for the the arrival of #11, and told him to order the last two cars. He won't answer my email or has the company that bought his business. Now what?

 

Dick

Last edited by CBQer

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