Seth Godin Talks About What's Wrong With Hobby Stores

Discussion in 'Getting Started' started by Peter T Davis, Mar 7, 2008.

  1. Peter T Davis

    Peter T Davis Guy Behind the Curtains

    I thought this article was a pretty interesting read. Not about the hobby particularly, but a snapshot on how the local hobby stores are failing.
  2. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery

    Interesting (if short) read! :thumb:

    This point was made on the (non-hobby) show "Restaurant Makeover" on Canada's Food Network. The restaurant in question had even started selling sunglasses in an attempt to keep afloat. The point was made by the show's designer and chef that they should instead put their efforts into improving the restaurant and menu, not keep the same old dreck and add things that take away from the focus.

  3. Nomad

    Nomad Active Member

    I don't know. At first I thought, if people stop for coffee or lottery tickets, maybe they will look around and find a hobby. Then I thought, no, most people getting coffee are in to big a hurry to stop and look.
    I wonder if that hobby shop is rural and there are no coffee stands on every corner like around here?
    I can not see that being a trend, there are to many coffee stands as it is, at least around here.

  4. ezdays

    ezdays Out AZ way

    Years ago when a business we owned was a bit sluggish due to the economy, I was looking for another way to add to our bottom line. We manufactured electronics for security systems. I found a product that was not in my market that we didn't manufacture, but I thought we could possibly sell to restaurants. A friend of mine that was in marketing asked me if that was something I was good at. I wasn't, I'm an engineer, not a salesman. So taking his advice, I concentrated on doing what we did best and that seemed to work out over time. Gee, I never thought of adding a coffee bar and lotto and it's a good thing I didn't, I'd probably be still trying to sell lattes rather than being retired.

    I guess that's the message there, do what you do best and leave the rest to others, otherwise you will confuse everyone on who you are, and no one will buy anything from you. Good point.
  5. nolatron

    nolatron Member

    Similar kind of story.

    Back in New Orleans I worked as a service tech at Apple Specialist store (family owned business). Due to various issues with Apple, keeping stock of new items was tough, so our primary income was on service work, not retail sales.

    Even that was tough and the owner started looking for ways to supplement the income. We ended up probably becoming the first place where you can buy an ipod, get your mac fixed, and rent a Penske Moving Truck.
  6. nachoman

    nachoman Guest

    There was a hobby shop in the McCormick Railroad park in Scottsdale Arizona by the name of Gerry's Trains. It was a cramped store in a historic building in the middle of the park. Gerry was an older individual, and the store was cramped and dusty. But he had quite a bit of interesting stuff in there! Looking back, it was a pretty cool store.

    The problem was, Gerry wasn't open very much. He wasn't open on the weekends much, and generally wasn't open when the park was very busy. I don't think it bothered his business, because most of his customers were hobbyists who would come to the park just to go to his store - they werent the casual park patron who just stopped in.

    From what I hear, the city did not like this. They wanted a store in their park that would be open when the park was busy (weekends and special events) and that would cater more towards the general public. So, one day, Gerry was gone, and in his place was a branch of Roy's Train World (another LHS in the area).

    The main Roy's store is great. At first, the branch store in the park was 80-90% model railroad stuff. Roy's was also open during the summer concerts, and on the weekends. But as years went on, the store has sold less and less MR stuff, and more kids toys, candy, etc. I would say now, the store is 75% toys and candy, and 25% MR supplies.

  7. Mountain Man

    Mountain Man Active Member

    There is a lot to be said for purity of thought and action, but we all understand from experience that diversity is the key to survival. In times of rising prices for models and perhaps lagging interest in a particular hobby, the choice becomes: diversify or go under?

    The Cabbose in Denver survives on a very strong mail order business and a large repair and parts department, as well as general retail sales. The primary LHS in Colorado Springs, in contrast, doesn't have the high volume of mail order or repairs, and consequently has higher prices which has often forced me to buy elsewhere, despite my strong feelings about supporting the local LHS. When the owner retires in a few years, I strongly expect his store to close, a loss to the community and to modellers everywhere.

    OTH, I have noticed that hobby shops themselves seem to expect the customers to come in and provide the earnings, and for the customers to actively generate the next generation of modellers. I spoke to the owner in the Springs about this, and asked him if he had ever considered a kind of "outreach" program for new modellers, or holding frequent how-to "clinics" He had not, and had no plans to do so. He didn't really see that as part of the process, opting instead to refer new modellers to a local MRR club. I thought he was missing out on a possible opportunity to generate new customers and rejuvenate the hobby...:confused:
  8. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery

    I think there's diversifying in any fashion for the (potential) of short term gain, and then there's focussed diversifying.

    Moving a LHS from bricks and mortar to include a mail order/internet component makes sense. Even trains + toy trains (to groom the younger crowd ;)) is good. But for a restaurant to sell sunglasses (my example above)makes no sense.

    One thing that MM notes above that I see very little of in model railroading is customer retention. As above, the hobby is expected to be self-sustaining, or at least to be the responsibility of the local club, operating group, or even the individual. That's fine, but it should come as no surprise to the store then that they are subject to forces outside of their control. If on the other hand, they make themselves into a resource (not just a plcae to buy stuff) then they can influence their own future, as well as that of the hobby.

  9. scubadude

    scubadude Member

    This sounds familiar to me. I own/operate a scuba dive store in the DFW area. An industry very similar to the hobby shop business. We both are an expensive hobby to most participants, depend on retail sales, are looked to for expertise, depend on discretionary income, compete with not only ourselves, but with other 'activity' based there are a zillion different hobbies and a zillion other outdoor activities (skiing, etc), and with the growth of internet-based competitors.

    Many of the local dive shops have added "coffee and lotto" to their inventories. One competitor several years ago expanded into snow skiing equipment. For the short run, it looked like it was the smart move. Eventually his ski business overtook the diving end of his store. He found himself way over his head because he was a diver, not a skier. Had to hire 'experts' to staff his store. A huge cost initially. Soon the divers found themselves shopping in a ski store. Some of them were long-time customers who felt they had no "home" to hang out in and spend money. He eventually got completely out of the scuba end and focused on skiing without the years of experience that made him successful as a dive shop. After a couple of years, he lost them both.

    Diversification is a tricky thing. A good thing if it fits in with your existing business, a really bad thing if you do it just for the sake of doing it and hoping it increases revenue. It is only garunteed to increase your expenses.

    I guess my rant's point is to support your LHS and expecially your local dive shop! :mrgreen:
  10. Mountain Man

    Mountain Man Active Member

    How far would you go?

    I have already explained to my local LHS that I am willing to drive all the way to Denver, despite the price of gas, because the prices up there, even with the horrendous sales tax, are still cheaper than his.

    I want to asupport him, but I have a limited budget and can't afford to simply do it out of the kindness of my heart. He has to realize that he is in a competitive business which requires him to actively compete for my discretionary income or go under.

    So, how much "support" should I give him, because from my POV, it's not about him, but about me, the consumer, the guy he's in business to serve. Or, to put it the other way, how far should he go to get my business?

    I recently had a conversation with a sales rep at the Caboose, got him to show me some stuff, he talked it up, and then we got to price and I declined, saying I could get it cheaper elsewhere. He seemed miffed, and pointed out that I had taken advantage of him to tell me all about the product, demo it and so forth but never intended to buy. My response:

    "I didn't say I would buy, or that I came here to purchase anything from you. I am the customer, and you were given an opportunity to make a successful sales pitch for one of the products you stock, which is your job. However, you failed to close the deal because you do not compare favorably with another shop selling exactly the same thing.. but your biggest problem is that you think you can blame me, the customer, for your failure."

    He had nothing further to say, although the expressions of some of the other potential customers would have been a great Kodak moment.

    Too many store owners believe that they merely have to be there in order to succeed - the "if you build it they will come" syndrome. I, on the other hand, belond to the "sell me or lose me" consumer club. Very elite membership, because we have all the money and they want it. :cool:
  11. iis612

    iis612 Member

    This is a very interesting thread.
    I frequent 3 LHS's in the Chicagoland area. I go to Walt's in Crest Hill, Al's in Elmhurst, and Leisure Hour in Joliet. Each has it's good points as well as it's bad points.
    Let me take up some space and examine each of them.
    Walt's has a good selection that covers a wide variety of hobbies. They have decent prices on most of there inventory. The train selection in particular seems to heavily favor a few manufacturers, mostly Bachmann and Athearn. The owner, a nice enough guy if you frequent the place. However, if you are a rare face, or just stopped in, he is a jerk. The store has a demo layout that features several guages, some buildings and a bit of landscaping, but it looks TERRIBLE. The track is all dirty, it is all coated with heavy layers of dust, the secenery was very poorly done. If I were new to the hobby and I saw that, I would be seriously turned off.

    Al's hobby shop is a decent place with a huge selection of anything you want (hobby related). They are all very freindly, very knowledgable, and willing to help in any way they can. That is what I call value added service. They don't favor any particular manufacturer. The downfall to this place is, it's location is an area with money, so the prices reflect it. The store is rather large, and the train section has been relegated to it's own area, the smallest area. They pack alot of stuff into an area that is not large enough to properly house a drive-through only coffee shop.

    Liesure Hour caters to an even larger number of hobbies, but they favor the macabre. They feature "Magic" and other such card based games. They have a good selection of cars, airplanes, and the like. The train section is dismal and heavily favors Lionel. The store has a layout that measures 3x6, and never works. The employees are clueless about trains, and are generally unwilling to help.

    None of them have a real internet business. Al's has a website, but it is VERY hard to navigate and only shows a very small fraction of the inventory available. Al's tries to recruit new faces to the hobbies by holding open houses and demonstrations on various subjects and various hobbies. They even offer a "Recruiter Discount". When you buy something there, they give you a few cards to give to potential customers. If the person you gave the card to turns it in with a purchase of there own your name is entered into the computer, and you are given a discount with your next purchase. If the person presenting the card is new to the hobby, they get a discount (with the card) as well as a well written small booklet that gives them a primer in the hobby.

    If money were not an issue, I would do all of my buying at Al's.
  12. Dick Elmore

    Dick Elmore Member

    Mountain Man, by "The Caboose", I assume you're talking about Caboose Hobbies. I've heard several bad stories about them. Fortunately I have had no bad experiences in there. I used to work for Intermountan up in Longmont so I was in there about every weekend for quite some time and I still go there several times while out there on vacation. I don't usually ask very many questions but when I do I guess I've always aked the right person at the right time and recieved a friendly answer. I thought maybe it was because I was a familiar face. Maybe not.:confused: I do understand what you're talking about though, as I've had the same type of experience at other hobby shops.

    Texas Chief
  13. Sarge_7

    Sarge_7 Member

    My lhs seems to be ebay. The closest real one is 100miles(one way) and $5 in tolls away, and wasn't all that great either:cry:
  14. Russ Bellinis

    Russ Bellinis Active Member

    I'm responsible for keeping a craft shack supplied with crafts for a children's camp in the summer in our local mountains here in So Cal. Some of our most popular crafts are leather craft kits. I have bought all of the leather craft kits from Tandy Leathercraft in the past. Tandy used to have stores in most any large city or town, and the managers of the stores taught leathercraft classes. Tandy rightly understood that if they did not teach leather crafting, the hobby would disappear. A few years ago, some bright guy at Tandy decided that having all of theses company owned stores was a drain on company resources, so they closed all of the retail stores and fired all of the managers. Some of the managers retired, some started their own stores, some went on to other things. Tandy is no longer an independent company, it is now a division of their former chief competitor, the Leather Factory. If a hobby based business doesn't train the next generation hobbyist, the hobby will disappear.
  15. Mountain Man

    Mountain Man Active Member

    That's the one. Great store, but apparently not "newbie" friendly. Did you know that they do not know what a "scale ruler" is? Nor do they carry one. :rolleyes:
  16. tetters

    tetters Rail Spiking Fool!

    I just bought one from my LHS a couple weeks ago. Looking forward to scratchbuilding my first structure with it.
  17. Mountain Man

    Mountain Man Active Member

    Yep - the LHS in Colorado Springs has some really nice steel ones - but no less than three employees at the Caboose did not know what one was, and no one was able to find one anywhere on the premises.

    I thought maybe it was a personal policy since Gary Coleman was so short himself. :cool:
  18. Go Big1

    Go Big1 Member

    iis612, you should check out Des Plaines Hobby Shop if you ever get up in the area. I would be interested to see what you think about it.

    It is only the 2nd hobby shop I have been to in the Chicago area, but it seems FAR superior to the first one. The first hobby shop I went to was in Park Ridge, and I just really didn't get a good vibe there. I guess I would say that your desciption of Walt's reminded me of this place.

    However, this hobby shop in Des Plaines (located on Lee Street) is probably about 85% ALL ABOUT TRAINS. If I remember correctly, the only other hobby I saw in there was model kits (airplane, ship, etc). The had a great deal of N and HO scale stuff, and to a lesser extent S and O. I haven't bought much there yet, and I really don't know if the prices are good or not :oops:. If any other Chicago area Gaugers have been there, I would like to know their thoughts on this place, because to me it seems like it could a promising first LHS for me.
  19. nkp174

    nkp174 Active Member

    I've thought about creating a local narrow gauge shop. We used to have a place with a narrow gauge section almost as impressive as Caboose Hobbies' ng section, but the old owner (an HOn3 guy) sold the business and the knew owner has no interest in NG (but a nice guy).

    The NG specialty shops seem to be in the Mountain time zone (imagine that)...and they typically seem to think that a discount means that they'll sell you it at 99% of the full list price.

    I'd like to open up a narrow gauge discount store...Sn3 and On3 stuff at the sorts of discounts Fn3 scalers, N scalers, and HO scalers are used to seeing (50% of list price). I'd also have an internet mail order business. But then I remember that this is my hobby...and I don't want selling stuff to become my hobby.

    I can understand why a store would long as they knew what they're doing. I view a trip in most hobby shops to be equivalent (for me) of going into a heavily diversified store (the O sections are always Lionel it's completely worthless to are all the modern N-scale pieces). Ironically, my primary LHS is a large toy store with a substantial train section staffed by helpful, friendly model railroaders.

    I could easily see myself running a fine restaurant with Viennese Coffees, a narrow gauge hobby shop, and a bookstore all rolled up into one. I could make it work...I certainly couldn't sell scuba gear too!
  20. lester perry

    lester perry Active Member

    I love the lhs cloest to me. But Iam cocerned about his future. he bought out another LHS about 5 miles away when the owner died. he has all of that shops stock and most of the cutomers . He has 2 problems. 1 he doesn't have set hours. I live a mile from him so it is no problem for me. but others who live further away have to call him to make sure he is open. he is a part time shop with a full time job. 2 He started out buying some high $ locos expecting them to sell but every one is not into PRR. I am into C&O and he knows it . I told him I am not realy buying much right now. so he got 3or4 C&O Locos all of them $300-$400 each. I kinda feel bad but I told him I am not buying much right now. I have 300 plus cars, around 50 Locos and a complete layout. I am afraid he has purchased a lot of stuff he will never move. We have an open house schedule here every November with 104 layouts last 4 years. I help put it together, I don't know all of the layouts but I know many and only a few model PRR. I told him that but he didn't listen. He thought this is PRR area so it will sell. yesterday he told me he made some mistakes and they have hurt him not killed but hurt. I think he is talking about $2000 worth of locos that are collecting dust.

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