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This is along the lines of my idea of a train exhibit that would accompany a retail store (of some kind). The track is 3-rail, leading me first to think it was O-gauge, but it very may be Marklin HO. It is the brain-child of the grandson of Ferdinand Porsche. Note how the layout benchwork is constantly curving, and the isles are blackened out.

Last edited by Paul Kallus

The demographic change is a factor, from parents being unable to afford or willing to pay the cost for a train set.  To kids that have never seen or grew up around real trains, so the desire to model that isnt there like it was for many of us.   All we can do is keep promoting the hobby in a positive light, keep the "doom and gloom" chat among ourselves as that hurts the hobby if a potential newbie hears all that.  Time to get back to enjoying model trains of all shapes and sizes.    AD

AD,

You have many good observations but I will take issue with two specific ones.

The situation financially, for store owners, hobbyists, parents and kids, is unusually difficult presently, but not any different than when I was a kid in the 1960's and 70's.  Financial crisis then; same kind of financial crisis now.  Stores made it through that period somehow.  Can they do it now?

I don't recall real trains disappearing at any time in the last say 50 or 60 years. Why would there be so many more kids now who've never grown up with them around?

Keep up the good conversation.  Maybe we'll figure it out.

Mike

Last edited by Mellow Hudson Mike

The difference in exposure then and now is kids are less exposed to trains in daily life.  With todays wizz bang tablets and gaming consoles, most kids have no interest in a train set.  There are exceptions to that as always.  But years ago, trains were much more front and center in a child's daily life. Locally there is very little rail traffic, most of the rail traffic in Indianapolis is in a rough part of town.  There are many places in Indiana you can grow up and seldom see trains if at all.  Other than Thomas the Tank, little to any exposure on TV either.  Trains, unless you live in certain large cities are much less a part of daily life in the USA than they were in the 50s and 60's.  If we are talking just kids, we are talking birthdays after 2010 for the most part.  I was born in 1973 and watched the decline in rail traffic locally to where there is very little left. As to the prices, if anything, most sets are more affordable than in the late 1940s(but of throwaway quality IMHO).  Back then my dad's set, 1423w was $29.95, which according to my grandfather was a weeks wages.  And he had a good union job with GM's Frigidare division.  And that was just a basic entry level set, not a Turbine, Berkshire or F3 set.   Its the change in daily life that more affects things that price, although most parents will complain about price of everything, be it a train set or tablet/gaming console.  I do know the "grumpy old men" issue has come up from newbies I have been helping put together a nice set of trains for their child or themselves.  I know I personally have seen this myself.  Newbies do not need to hear the negativity. One of my favorite things to do when asked, is to walk around with a buyer and help them build up a nice postwar quality set.  They have usually been bitten by the "cheapening" of todays starter sets compared to what they might have had or dad had when they were a child.  The sets of today really are mostly a throw away toy, just like most everything else these days.  Where as the older sets were designed to be fixed and maintained to last.  Helping these folks get a solid set made up within their budget or even stretching the budget and making sure they understand why is very satisfiying.   And many of these folks, I still see at shows buying and adding to their set.

Last edited by artfull dodger

I also find that many parents do not see the value in a train set anymore, with many dad's just not having the time to spend building a layout with their child.  Even in my child hood, my dad did not really participate in building my layout with me, he was a Dr and seldom home.  But we had the income that every Christmas and Birthday there were new items for my set.  It was my grandfather that spearheaded my train hobby.  But I was a train nut even without seeing them in daily life all that often(I am on the autism spectrum).  But with everything in life being so computerised, parents today seem to just look at buying tablets, cell phones or other devices for their children vs a train set of any kind.   Many have no clue to the life skills that building and train layout teaches a child, the mechanical abilities and problem solving.  The craft side that Lionel used to promote in its Model Builder magazine in ways to build scenery on a budget of next to nothing, using common craft or household materials.   These days we see high doller prebuilt, prelighted buildings for the "gotta have it now" society.  The modeling/craft side of the hobby has faded away sadly.  So parents, looking at those $100 or more buildings at Menards, get a false sense that this hobby is for the rich with extra disposable $$, when a nice layout can be built with very little outlay once you have the basic set.   Maybe Lionel needs to reach back into their past and revive that Model Builder magazine in an E format on their website.  With montly articles/projects for parents to build with their children to add to the train layout.  Lionel is still the name that comes to Americans mind when it comes to a train set in the USA.  They need to get back to what JLC was focusing on in the postwar era, the kids and convincing mom and dad to spend their hard earned $$.  Its those kids we reach today and plant the seed, that will be the collectors of the future and carry this hobby forward.   We will never get back to the brick and morter stores we all loved thru the years.  The online side of things have changed that forever, helped along with the covid lockdowns.  Between these stores, and the big compaines like Lionel, that we need to keep promoting the hobby to parents and kids.  Advertisements from Lionel need to be where kids are online today, facebook or whatever platform kids use.  Just as it was magazines, tv and the corner Lionel train store when we were kids.   

I'm a third grade teacher. No business acumen. I can tell you this: There is tons of STEM value in model trains. We always say as a collective hobby: "We have to turn these kiddos on to the hobby or it will DIE!" But the excuse is always, "All today's child wants to do is on the screen of a device." That's crap. I have so many kids that absolutely cannot learn or focus if the activity is not tactile in nature. Build me a store with a bunch of cool Science, Tech, Engineering, and Mathematics stuff. Leave a Build Zone where parents can accompany their children to explore some STEM activities. The attitude among some hobbyists is, they're too far gone, why even try?"  Nah. The Hi-Rail portion of our hobby intimidates some kids and parents. Just spark these kids' imagination with some late 80's MPC stuff on display that can be handled. Communicate the educational value involved in basic, low voltage electronics. Host 15 minute workshops with children and families in mind. This would be a helluva store. You can cross your fingers that enough individual hobbyists will cram into a niche. Or, you can invite entire families into a hobby-centric environment. With the latter, you will eventually see return on investment.

I think Menards is our best hope for the current situation.  I  just wish they would take the ball and go for a touchdown.  Do more than just a simple isle of trains, lets make a whole dept trains.  Stock Lionel, MTH and such, at least thru the holiday/winter train season.   Many shops in the golden years of toy trains were not just a hobby shop, but a TV shop, hardware store, bicycle shop.  Basicly places father's and son's might frequent.   Menards is sort of the modern day version of this.  If only they would expand on the concept quicker and stock much more than they do.   

I absolutely would love to open a train store. Right now I only sell NOS & Used items between Ebay & my website. I would love to get into buying New inventory from distributors. However, the research I've done shows that the distributors want a storefront to be considered to order from them. I would love to have a storefront but I am very weary of making the jump to get a place. With today's day & age of people ordering most things online, why do distributors want you to have a storefront?

I'm going to chime in on this as well. Some time ago, I thought about purchasing an existing business - or possibly opening my own. Some considerations that I ran through were:

Location - where was the retail operation, where was it postioned? Having it on a Main Street instead of a side street was a plus. Had to consider customer parking - was there public parking or own lot.

Store - I was told it was better to OWN your property rather than rent/lease. Landlord could pull the rug out from under you and force you out, sell the property or increase rent year to year.

Diversification - Better to have several 'interests' or product lines rather than one, due to each hobby having its own 'season of interest' Think R/C- both surface and air models, slot cars, model kits (especially kits like Warhammer, Military etc.), Die-cast, ancillary supplies. I would also have to carry multiple manufacturers of one product line - i.e. Atlas, Lionel, MTH etc to effectively meet the needs of my customers.

Internet presence - Needs to be strong, simple with up-to-date stock information.

Suppliers - As I found out, unless you sold over a certain amount, I would never be able to buy direct from some manufacturers - I would have to go through distributors, negotiate invoice pricing which would determine consumer pricing in order to make a profit.

Inventory - On-hand stock vs. 'Pre-order' or Ship-to-store orders. And then gauging interest in certain products to keep stock on-hand and available for walk-in traffic or internet orders.

Marketing - In general, it's great to market to your hobby customers specifically, but you also have to create a presence and market to a general audience to drive that foot traffic and internet traffic reaching beyond your circle of customers.

Rather than opening a train store to sit around and talk to other guys about toy/model trains I have adapted to another model.

When I was a kid computer were huge machines that resided in Huge air conditioned rooms and were made by a company called IBM.  On Saturday Mornings I would watch cartoons and see ads for the latest and greatest toys.  And if I was very good and worked hard in school I might be rewarded with going to the LHS and get to look at all the neat stuff to spend my allowance on.   BTW I wasn't booked 24/7 like my grandkids are, with a schedule on a small handheld device maintained by my Mom.  Point is times change!

So rather than "spending" my retirement nest egg on opening a LHS I decided to join an online forum to discuss toy trains.  BTW you need to own a computer or some other device that connects to a thing called the World Wide Web or Internet.  Seems to be working OK for me so far, although wish we could do this with conversation rather than typing everything.

Just my 2 cents.  Let me know if you agree!

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