Apologies in advance for the long post.
People can be funny. One of the discussions that pop up here with some familiarity is the future of the hobby. We hear about the fact that O gauge manufacturers don’t advertise or have the same conventional retail footprint that they used to have, that the product is too expensive at the entry point and for kids, etc. These are all factors referenced as reasons for the decline of the hobby, together with demographic factors. Then Menards comes along with accessories and then rolling stock and now locomotives that it can sell at the holidays in its large number of home improvement stores. At a reasonable price. In other words, it directly addresses the concerns that many people here have raised. And then people pan the product because . . . it is an entry level product that is perfect for those that want a holiday display or for kids at a reasonable price. Frankly I have never understood why people on this forum have been so “into” the Menards product, and quick to buy it and then criticize it, particularly the critics who also probably operate Lionel Legacy or DCS layouts, because the product is not aimed towards them. It is for the less serious hobbyist that wants a nice, reasonable well performing and good looking locomotive that he or she can use, and let the kids use, without raiding the college fund for the purchase price. With a remote, because that is what kids and many adults expect today. And if it breaks, it can get returned to the store and replaced (eventually when we are past beta versions) without a multi week or multi month saga. In other words, it’s a normal toy.
As far as competitors to it, frankly in my judgment most of those comparisons are, with all due respect, not convincing.
Lionel has done the best job of trying to maintain the entry point with its entry level sets - in fact they are really the only game in town - and the LC remote is clearly part of that strategy. That being said, Lionel is today a niche product and its starter sets, even if perfect from a marketing perspective, are not generally seen outside of specialty store and hobby shops. Plus, a store like a Menards, I would guess, would not do business with Lionel if they cannot get a conventional return policy worked out. No big box retailer is going to tell the customer that if the product is defective they have to get an RA and wait 8 weeks etc. or get a refund because there is no replacement available, so little Billy is disappointed come Christmas morning. From a business perspective, the only customers who tolerate this kind of thing are on this forum. People expect stuff to work or they get it replaced quickly.
Secondly, the availability of Legacy, DCS, or TMCC on the used market at this price point is irrelevant for this part of the market. No parent, and no kid, wants to fuss with the set up involved with any of those command systems, and certainly the cost of the command system itself is a relevant factor. I think set up of these systems is simple but “normal” people do not. And operating conventionally with a transformer is not where the market is. See Williams for what happens when you try to appeal to this end of the market and offer zero technology or upgrade for the interface. Kids in particular expect a remote or a phone. Our DCS remote sits unused (unless I use it) since we got the DCS app. Plus, we hear again about the outrage of parts availability, particularly boards, for Legacy and DCS locos. The late and great Marty Fitzhenry one told me to avoid command control “eBay queens” because many of them need work, and when one factors in the price of potential electronic repairs that could be needed, assuming they can be made given the availability of parts, he said they were to be avoided. I take his advice and it has proven sound. So telling the average “normal” consumer that they can find a 12 year old Lionel Legacy / TMCC or DCS locomotive on eBay is kind of irrelevant unless you are a pro who can fix them and take that risk at reasonable cost. And certainly almost no parent is going to buy a used locomotive for a kid, for precisely this same reason - too much potential aggravation.
All that is a long way of saying that Menards’ entry into the motive power segment of O gauge is probably the biggest and best news for the hobby in a long time, even if the product is not aimed for you or me ( and it is perfectly fine if some people here are into that product). So the criticism of the micro aspects of the product, while missing the big picture, seems pretty odd to me. Forest for the trees so to speak.
If Menards reads this forum, I hope they read this and keep up the great work. I hope it proves a viable business for the company and that it gets more people into this terrific hobby we have.
Have a good day everyone.