Melgar, what you are saying makes total sense. Last year I went to a Greenberg show in Edison, NJ and there was a gentleman there selling scratch built structures in O scale. They were super nice, very realistic and very well detailed. His display was generating a lot of attention. No doubt a extremely talented guy but the prices were in the neighborhood of $600 to $1,100. While on one hand I understand how much labor he must have put into each structure I don’t have a problem with the price but on the other hand with my budget I just can’t justify spending that much money on one structure. I agree it is very difficult to make a lot of money building structures due to the amount of labor involved. 

After retirement from a 30-year career working for the worst/best largest company in the country (Bell System) I went into business for myself. I started two, one-man companies. One installing phone, data, and alarm wiring as a subcontractor and the other selling a few specialized after-market enhancements for one type of military vehicle.  I was happy, and successful, because like you, I was enthusiastic and knowledgeable about my subjects and was confident in my skills.  After 15 years and through no fault of my own, both businesses faded away, and I went back to "work" at the local government.  I now make, in round numbers, only about the same money that I was making 20 years ago, when I retired from a union job. But it beats climbing poles and sitting in manholes.

During the time that I ran those businesses, I had a small office at home. No big overhead to speak of.  I had fax machines, credit card machines and linked bank accounts.  I did all the paperwork myself, including accounts payable and receivable.  To this day, an "800" number seems to be desirable, even though long distance calls are free, and most transactions are done over the 'web. Some older folks (in our hobby) still see the world the way it was a decade or so ago.

I created my own websites and printed my own advertising, made print-ready art work for magazines, and answered the phone 24/7/365. I realize that my experience in a small office just a decade ago is now a lot different from the present technology, but the theory is the same. There is whole bunch of tedious "back office" stuff that needs to be tended to. It's almost as bad, I would imagine, as owning a farm with animals that need daily attention. Fixing the trains will probably still be enjoyable, but you will feel like you need an extra set of hands and brains to do the parts buying, inventory, mailings, shipping, taxes, taxes, taxes, insurance, phone calls and other business stuff.

The good experiences were meeting and speaking to customers (in the case of the military truck business) from all over the world, and exchanging stories. The not-so-good experiences were the ones that involved trying to get paid, (occasional attempts to defraud me) explaining the facts of life to customers who didn't quite understand what they were really buying, dealing with USPS, UPS and FedEx -- er, shall we say -- "experiences,"  trying to get paid, dealing with cheatin' lyin' schemin' suppliers, trying to get paid, and trying to get paid. I would advise you to speak to some of your friends who run their own businesses, and pick their brains.  Ask the guy who runs his own repair garage how many hours after "work" he spends "working."  I'm not cynical, just trying to be realistic and practical.

Trying to be practical here:  Think about, as an example, a day when you fixed a train and it took an hour, because you knew exactly what to do to get it fixed.  You need to bill the customer, get paid, post the payment, wrap carefully, prepare the shipping labels, get the package sent off via a shipper, and pray. Those tasks just took about an hour. So, if you are getting $60 an hour for your actual work, and it took another hour for the miscellaneous stuff, you just made $30 before taxes. After taxes, you made $15.  Paying for light & power, insurance, shipping materials, and all the little expenses, figure you made $12. 

If you're a fan of freedom, nothing beats BEING your own boss.

When the household bills are due, nothing beats HAVING your own boss. 

Whatever you decide, I sincerely wish you the best of luck and happy experiences!!! 

After reading the many thoughtful comments and informed experiences on this thread, it would probably be best to "test the waters" by doing this first on a small scale before making a full-blown commitment. Maybe doing some repairs for some close friends? At any rate, good luck with your venture!

Last edited by Tinplate Art

1st. Get and keep a good job that pays the bills and lets you save enough to be able to retire at nothing less than modest comfort.

In the middle. Have a good life, career, family, fun, etc.

Last. Start a business working on trains.

If you're a fan of freedom, nothing beats BEING your own boss.

When the household bills are due, nothing beats HAVING your own boss.

While in reference to doing model train repairs, this is probably true, it's certainly not universally true.

I spent most of my working life as an independent consultant, and I had no problem paying the bills and having enough left over to indulge in a number of frivolous activity like boats, airplanes, and gun collecting.   The key is working in a field where there's significant demand and the clients expect to pay well to get the talent they need. 

However, I agree with most of the comments about working on model trains.  With my hobby business doing... you guessed it, train upgrades and repairs, I make a fraction of my former consultant income.

 

General repairs to toy trains is a less than necessary and mandatory service and will always be a labor of love not one to depend on for ones sole livelihood.   If you can preform special services like custom painting and decals you may be in a somewhat better position however you are still selling a service which is not mandatory to your customers life and will always come after paying the mortgage, keeping food on the table, and gas in the tank. If you have talents in a range of areas like the folks at TrainWorx and others who build and manufacture products you may find a niche.  The troublesome part of your question is that you have to ask.  Build a layout and see if you can sell it.   However don't quit your day job just yet.  I quit a job designing protection schemes for AC distribution lines and substations back in the early seventies to chase a passion for photography and ended up working at least twice as hard and living through at least ten years of what could be referred to as "paying my dues".  Eventually I did get my feet back under me and earned a living about equal to what I could have expected working at the power company but oh what a price.    Oh yes I think everyone needs a hobby.  What are you going to do for a hobby once you turn trains into a JOB ?                   j

Last edited by JohnActon

I agree with many of the posters here about self-employment. You may think you have more freedom, but in practical terms you have less. If you are not working, you are looking for work. I was self-employed most of my working life and it wasn't until I took a corporate job that I had a clear delineation between work and time off. A paid vacation is a wonderful thing. Not to mention paid sick leave, holidays and personal days. 

The self-employed hobbyist model is a significantly different paradigm from other business and industrial models. Furthermore, I believe it is very unrealistic to view another new train repairman being any kind of "threat" to the existing cadre of service folks.

Last edited by Tinplate Art

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