Is the model railroad industry struggling?

Discussion in 'Getting Started' started by RobertInOntario, Aug 30, 2006.

  1. RobertInOntario

    RobertInOntario Active Member

    When I was having an eye exam this morning, I commented to my eye doctor that I'm into model railways. My eye doctor then said that one of his other patients is also a model railway enthusiast. Apparently, this patient had said that model trains is a dying industry because a local model train store was struggling to compete with internet sales of model railway items. (The patient probably meant that selling model trains via retail outlets was a dying business, but I didn't have a chance to ask further.)

    This triggered two questions in my mind. One is similar to our LHS thread, where I've already commented. Is Internet competition really cutting into the sales at LHS's to the point that many are struggling? As I've said elsewhere, I do try to support my LHS's because all of the ones that I visit offer excellent service and advice. Having said that, because my cash-flow is tight at the moment, I have to take advantage of good Internet deals, etc., if I want to expand my collection. I simply can't afford to pay the higher retail prices all the time.

    My other question is this: Is the model railway hobby declining because it cannot compete with other hobbies? Personally, I suspect that it isn't struggling -- it's just readapting to the times. I think this forum alone proves that model railroading is a vibrant hobby, but my eye doctor's offhand comment still got me wondering. If it's true that a major model train store is struggling, does this mean that fewer people are into model trains?

    Thanks in advance for any feedback -- I realize that these are loaded questions!
  2. LoudMusic

    LoudMusic Member

    I would think that because trains are relatively less important in today's society that the average connection to them is much lower. People aren't as interested in real trains so they're not going to see a hobby of modeling them.

    With that said, I think the hobby is going strong. What's missing for me is a good club atmosphere where I can go 'play trains' with the other MRR people in my community. Our local clubs are rather weak.
  3. N Gauger

    N Gauger 1:20.3 Train Addict

    I think it's a general statement.... In my personal experience... My friend that sells comics, is slowly losing business... The friend that owns a paperback book specialty store, sees business declining year to year. My LHS has said many times, that his modeling section is untouched, except for very old, or very young (in the store with Dad or Grandpa) and my collectables dealers.. The first, Franklin Mint, went out of business except for the internet sales, a few years ago.. the second, a collectable sword and knife dealer is struggling except for his regular, long time customers.

    As for a reason. your answer to your first question is, most unfortunatly, Yes.... The Internet, has tons of information, for anyone who has access, Books, Swords, knives, collectables, trains and all hobbies can most of the time, be bought cheaper. Adding to this, most everyone over the age of 8 can use a computer... when they get to their teenage years, they don't get into modeling any more, because they have "Tecchie" hobbies: Blogs, Text messaging, internet games... and internet voice. They don't need books anymore, except for newer novels, because most everything is on the net... Also, newer on the scene, is PodCasting, where they have even more information, to download to an MP3 palyer or I-pod and you can listen to it later (while jogging etc...) They have sites that have newer books too, soon you won't have to read... If you're a Star Trek fan, you might remember Kirk, getting a Gone With The Wind book.. Whan asked "why" he said, i like the persoanlity of the book, the feel of the pages.... Not the cold electronics of the computers". We're getting close to this now.
  4. RobertInOntario

    RobertInOntario Active Member


    Good points. I'd also like to get connected with a good club, or at least a casual group of model railroaders. This is where I currently benefit from fellowship at LHS's as well as at this forum. You can get in on some good conversations with fellow modellers at LHS's.

    Time is also a huge problem for me. I barely have enough time for my own layout, not to mention running off to clubs, etc. Still, it would be good to occasionally meet up with 1-2 model railroaders, even if it were sporadic.

  5. sumpter250

    sumpter250 multiscale modelbuilder

    A hobby shop has to maintain a variety of items on its shelves (inventory), which represents an investment of large sums of money.
    A hobby shop has employees, who must be paid.
    A hobby shop has to pay taxes(state and federal) on employee's salaries, Social Security, unimployment, health insurance,.......the list goes on.
    A hobby shop has to keep the lights on, keep the store warm in winter, cool in summer, and have a phone, so customers can call to see if what they want is in stock.(the smarter ones have a website)
    A hobby shop has to pay rent. If the store front is owned, then state and local taxes and fees, connected with "the business"have to be paid.

    An internet business....most, need only something to sell, and an internet address.
    It doesn't take much figuring, internet businesses are thriving, hobby shops are going out of business. I have internet business, and those who support it, to thank for being unimployed again!

    On the subject of "hobby".....Most hobbies do not provide Instant Gratification!!
    Model railroading was a predominately scratchbuilding hobby when I got into it, and it will be that way again before I get out of it. Hobby, as an industry, needs a large population to support it. The boom in population, that drove the current industry, is aging, and approaching "the age of departure". The younger population.......needs too much instant gratification.
    If you want a "tree ring" analogy, look at the content to advertizing ratio, in today's hobby magazines, as compared to what it was even ten years ago. It reflects the advertizing revenue to subscription revenue ratio changes, brought on by the decrease in hobby population, coupled with increased access to information on the net.
    Enjoy the things that are available now, but learn to do for yourself, so you can enjoy the hobby, when the "industry" is no longer there.
  6. RobertInOntario

    RobertInOntario Active Member

    These are all interesting comments. Thanks for your feedback.

    Here are a few quick but very rambling responses:
    -- I work for a magazine myself, and our magazine printer's sales person said recently that the growth of websites has actually fueled the printing industry (rather than the opposite). Magazines promote websites and websites promote magazines.
    -- despite the convenience of small palm computers or ipods, people still often prefer the "tangible" feel of a book or magazine (see the Star Trek reference above). There is also still a convenience factor to carrying around a magazine or book with you as opposed to an electronic device.
    -- I'm not completely sure that the model RR population is getting older and dying off. (There are also lots of young people on this forum & on the British one that I also belong to.)
    But even as the population ages, there are still newcomers entering into the hobby in middle age. That's exactly what I did -- I enjoyed trains and model trains with my Dad as a kid, but then I got "bitten by the train bug" again just as I turned 45!
    -- yes, model railroading is certainly a "gradual" hobby, i.e. you seldom suddenly start with a fully-developed layout. I've enjoyed starting & running mine at first on a bland, undecorated piece of plywood. Then I gradually added scenery and buildings, all the while still enjoying operating sessions when it was only partly finished.
    I think this is a selling point of model RR's -- you can go at this gradually and be motivated as you watch your empire grow. In other words, you can kind of be "instant" and gradual at the same time!!
  7. shaygetz

    shaygetz Active Member

    That pretty much covers it for me. I do not slobber for the latest BLI treat nor do I quibble when another mainstay goes belly-up. My hobby is just that, a hobby, a pretty good one at that for all that I've learned from it that applies to real life and all the different folks I've met along the way.

    As for the LHS, "Improvise, adapt, overcome" ---or--- find a comfy chair between the guy who made buggy whips for a living and the guy with a warehouse full of Rubik's Cubes and Pet Rocks. There is nothing secure in this temporal life. The wise one looks ahead and prepares for it.:thumb:
  8. Will_annand

    Will_annand Active Member

    I find that clubs are only as strong as their members. The usual trend is for 20-25% of the members to be doing 80-90% of the work while the rest just go to watch and talk.

    Of course a strong leadership can delegate chores to members and get every one involved.
  9. jetrock

    jetrock Member

    I would argue about the point that trains are less important than they used to be in people's lives. We definitely reached a low point in the past few decades, but the use of trains, both for freight and passenger service, is definitely on an upswing. More people use commuter rail and light rail, 25 million a year take Amtrak, and rail freight is at a maximum, so trains are starting to take a bigger place in people's minds. And yes, the computer is a great distraction, but TV was a great distraction to the baby boom generation but plenty of boomers enjoyed playing with trains too.

    Changing? Yes, but it has always been changing. Dying? I doubt it. I have old copies of Model Railroader from the 1940s where letter writers decry the imminent death of model railroading due to the advent of "shake-the-box" kits, ready-to-roll equipment and high-tech distractions like radio, movies and that new-fangled television. I'm sure that model railroaders of the 2060s will probably still be having the same discussions.
  10. LoudMusic

    LoudMusic Member

    I wouldn't say that that is necessarily a bad thing, so long as 100% of the members are paying dues. The 25% of them that are doing work are the ones that really want to, the rest are there to fund the others' hobby :)
  11. RobertInOntario

    RobertInOntario Active Member

    Jetrock: These are all excellent points. I think you really hit the nail on the head.
    First, increased train use is a partial solution to many of our environmental concerns & traffic problems (both passenger and freight), so I wouldn't be surprised if we see an increase in train use.
    Secondly, those are also great comparisons that you make about the 1940s MR magazines! There always has been & always will be cool new gadgets and technology to compete with. I think you've summarized things very well.
  12. RobertInOntario

    RobertInOntario Active Member

    Shaygetz: I agree with your points above. I think Jetrock (below) also summarized things very well.
    BTW, I really enjoy and personally agree with your quotes from Luther, Tozer & others!
  13. eightyeightfan1

    eightyeightfan1 Now I'm AMP'd

    Lets not forget Mikey, Captain Picard also kept a book of Shakespere Works in his ready room, and when he went on leave, he always had a stack of books with him. The message conveyed was, somedays, we have to step back from today's technology, and step back into the "technology" of days gone past. Think about it. Imagine that guy in 2060, using an I-Pod, or even a Walkman, instead of the multi-media implant in his brain."To re-live the good old days".

    As far as model railroad industry dying. I don't think so. There is more stuff available in every scale, detail is getting better. Its a matter of economics. With gas prices on the rise, as well as other consumer goods, its a matter of "Gas to get to work, food on the table", or that brand new "Athearn SD80MAC".
    Sure...a lot of "Storefront" LHS's have closed because of the internet, but those that are still open have changed with the times, and offer internet sales as well as a storefront.
  14. shaygetz

    shaygetz Active Member

    I think I'm following that line of thought as I remove the DCC chips from most of my locomotives, keeping a select few chipped for club and DCC equipped home layouts. There is a quaint air to an open frame 5 pole Pittman DC-71 motor that won't be tamed with a decoder. The smell of ozone from a 40 year old model clanging and buzzing like a small appliance down the tracks, the scent of the basswood from an old Campbell kit, with its original $6.95 price tag, a string of nicely weathered freight cars upgraded with new wheelsets and Kadees that were once forgotten toy junk under a vendor's table...this has been the hobby to me for 30+ years. The last couple years saw me almost losing that as I'd long for yet another set of chips or some other unreachable new something (as the sound of another chip whizzes towards the round file).:thumb: :thumb:
  15. Russ Bellinis

    Russ Bellinis Active Member

    I don't think the industry is struggling. Everytime I go to the hobby shop I see more $$$ BLI steam engines. I haven't been getting the model railroad magazines like I used to, though. With the current trend towards r-t-r everything, are companies like Fine Scale Miniatures still in business? The complexion of the hobby seems to be changing. There is plenty for the folks who want to buy everything ready to run, and just plug and play. The scratch builders here on the Gauge have shown us that scratch builders will always be able to practice their craft, but are kits going to continue to be available to those who want to build something, but haven't tried scratch building yet?
  16. spitfire

    spitfire Active Member

    With the first of the Baby Boomers turning 60 this year I think the hobby is about to get a lot more members. We've all seen the incredible technology boom in the hobby - that's fueled in large part by sales.

    But later, as the boomers gradually pass through to the big roundhouse in the sky, I expect the hobby will go back to more of a niche thing - as it was before. As Jetrock mentioned, Gen Xers and younger rarely even see real trains, so the fascination is just not there.

    Manufacturing seems to be up, up, up thanks to cheap production costs in Asia (that's a whole can of worms right there). The modelling aspect seems to be down - with more people wanting to buy things that are already built, painted and even weathered. It may be due to people having less free time, but personally, I think it's the industry's effort to de-mystify, or "dumb down" the trickier aspects of the hobby and make it more accessible to more people. Think "World's Greatest Hobby" campaign.

    As for the impact of internet sales on the LHS's - it has been devastating. In my area, those that survive do so by having massive, buy-it-now inventory, plus an internet presence. Gone are the days when a store owner could offer to order anything you want and you wait for it to come in. Sorry, not when I can do the same thing for myself on the net and get it sooner AND cheaper. That said, I do support my LHS because the internet will never be a substitute for helpful knowlegable people, and the "fondle factor".

    The hobby is definitely going through a transition. We have more choice than ever before. For the hobby shops, and the manufacturers as well, as Shaygetz said, it's a case of adapt or die.

  17. jetrock

    jetrock Member

    Speaking as a member of Gen-X, I can vouch for the fact that I do see a certain number of my age demographic interested in trains, precisely because trains are starting to come back on the scene. Interest in trains will get more ignited as their kids discover trains--in many cases, it already has, as I see in frequent new Gauge users in their 20s and 30s who logged on because their kid is wild about Thomas the Tank Engine. Millenials (those born from 1980 on) may be more interested in trains because they have seen them working and carrying people in recent years. The generation born in the early 21st Century will definitely see lots of trains, and they will have fond memories of our quaint light-rail vehicles and charming module-carrying cars in 50 years or so.
  18. alexander

    alexander Member

    I say yes and no.

    I live in a town of 6000 people, and maybe out of that, 50 may have any interest in trains.

    I'm quite possibily the only one under 18 years of age that is into trains (i'm 14)

    At my "LHS" (dont feel comfortable calling it that" N scalers have some choice, a few Bachmann Spectrum locos, Atlas, and what not, i've never looked.

    HO currently has some Atlas, LifeLike, and some other European manufactures kits, Peco, Lifelike, Atlas and Hornby track, one Atlas loco, one i said. an Undecorated SD24. There are numerous Bachmann "Silver Series" rolling stock. some "Blister Pack" Lifelike Scenery items, farm implements and what not.

    There are a few LL sets, a couple of Bachmann sets, etc.
    Thats pretty much what my so called LHS is. the nearest with any real inventory would be at Brisbane. thats 200 km away, from the sign 10 km down the road

    any wonder there arent people into trains now?

    But, there is hope. there is a group of about 5-10 people who every Monday Night meet, and do whatever needs doing. then there is the Run days, every month. that gets more people out

    Yes, the hobby is changing. But i for one will still be here untill my 2 locos stop working.

  19. Scott7891

    Scott7891 New Member

    I myself am a member of the new generation. I was into trains all of my life. For a while though I got bored of them and almost gave up on the hobby. Five years later when I turned 19 again I realized how much I missed out and vowed to myself to never give up on the hobby again. It sickens me that most people in my age group are not interested in model trains or trains in general. Their ignorance on the importance of real trains even anger me. Without trains modern society or even this country wouldn't exist and I wouldn't be sitting here typing on this computer which was probably transported by train to get to the store. What really pisses me off is when somebody says, "What are trains good for, they are stupid and boring." Something like that makes me want to punch them in the face for their ignorance:curse:. Luckily I do have a small group of my friends my age who are interested in trains and model trains in particular. I hope that together we will create a great layout and throw off the myth of our generation's lack of interest on this wonderful hobby.:D
  20. Jim Krause

    Jim Krause Active Member

    I see a difficulty for LHS's. Especially in markets like the one where I live. Lower wage areas, like Montana, leave a narrow market for hobbyists. The younger family folks are using most of their money for necessities or they have other interests like hunting, fishing etc. The primary customer's for the hobby shops seem to be retirees like me. I try to patronize the local shop but when I look at the prices that he must charge compared to what I can get the same item for online, its hard to justify buying locally. Most of my local purchases are scenery supplies, magazines and an occasional car. As a price comparison, I recently purchased a On30 Bachmann passenger car locally for $30.00 US.
    I could have purchased it for $21.00 online.

Share This Page