Author Topic: Are hobby shops now more depressing than inspiring?  (Read 2418 times)

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Rossford Yard

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Are hobby shops now more depressing than inspiring?
« on: October 28, 2020, 09:24:24 AM »
I almost hate to post this, but I have been struck by how depressing I find the LHS these days.

On one hand, most have dwindling stock, especially in N, my area of interest.

On the other, at the best (or largest) stocked shops, I now recognize most stock as unsold models from years back, which adds to "eye candy" but truly, if I didn't buy most of it (yes, we all have a few "must have items" that we missed, but are not likely to drool over yet another Sante Fe boxcar, or whatever.  I can't help but think of how much capital those poor LHS owners must have invested that is now close to worthless......

And Covid contributes - while the decline of the LHS started in the 1960s with mail order outlets, and increased with the increased ease of internet shopping, it has (IMHO based on a limited sample size of just one modeler (me!)) really increased with COVID, which will also impact shopping malls, office space, etc.   With so many closed, it just seems a matter of time, where even purchasing there would do little to stem the decline, no matter how much you like your guy.

Lastly, and really a separate topic from the post above, years ago on various forums, I argued that at some point, the mfgs would have to transfer (out of necessity) their loyalty to brick and mortar shops to their customers, who for a host of reasons, really need to keep their hobby dollars to a minimum, by eliminating the middle man.  You would think that might be wholesalers, but it turns out that shops like MTS, who are both and worldwide thanks to the net, basically eliminate the LHS.  And oddly, perhaps the LHS savior could be the same delivery technology - order across town and have the LHS deliver that last piece of flex track via drone!   

thomasjmdavis

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Re: Are hobby shops now more depressing than inspiring?
« Reply #1 on: October 28, 2020, 11:02:28 AM »
I don't mean to make like of your post, but I'm the guy who walks into the hobby shop of any town I visit and asks "do you have any Santa Fe boxcars in N scale".

Personally, I think the LHS is another victim of the "pre-order" system and the modern, no inventory "supply chain".  When I was a kid (50-60 ish years ago), I could walk into the local hobby shop and order anything that was in a manufacturer's current catalog.  Manufacturers ran things in batches, and occasionally things were out of stock, but whether it was a 30 cent Airfix model of a P-51 or an Athearn boxcar or AHM locomotive (I was in HO until the mid 70s), if they did not have one in stock (those 2 things usually were in stock), they put it on the list for their next order from their wholesaler- who kept inventory.  It would be there waiting for me the next Wednesday.  If the wholesaler did not have it, it would be there a week or 2 later, after the wholesaler received their shipment from the manufacturer- who also kept inventory.  If it was out of stock at the manufacturer, the hobby shop owner put my name on a list, and the next time there was a rerun, asked me if I wanted to order one, or just let me know that he had ordered some for stock.  I might occasionally have to wait for the next time such and such loco was run in the paint scheme I wanted, but track, switches, undecs, always seemed to be available, and seldom more than a few days away if the LHS did not have them on the shelves.  Living in Chicago, there were multiple hobby shops, and there would be occasions where one shop would call the other to see if they had "X" in stock, and either send me over there, or work out some deal between the two shops for whatever I was looking for which would appear in the original shop the next time I was in.  Modern JIT inventory makes that level of customer service impossible.

Let me note in the above, I was being treated as a customer of those shops when I was 12.  The one in my neighborhood gave me a discount because I was a "regular customer", even though I was likely only spending $1 for a couple model airplanes or an AHM freightcar that week (maybe $15 if I had saved up for an Athearn locomotive).  Honestly, I think that the whole hobby benefited from the LHS owners and employees who were interested in bringing kids into the hobby that way.   

For my present circumstances, the closest LHS is 65 miles away, carries MTL (fairly good selection of current MTL, plus whatever did not sell from the past 10 years or so), and lots of basic supplies like glues, scenic supplies, and any paint from companies still in business, and I can usually find a way to spend $100 bucks there.  But haven't been down that way in the past year, and content myself with orders from online sources (I keep to those that have a brick and mortar presence, and MBK).

The problem that I find is that if I go into a LHS (other than one of the few very large ones) nowadays, I am lucky if can find an F7 and caboose in the same roadname- or for that matter, an F7.  The response from the owner or clerk is likely along the lines of "Manufacturer X has some on their pre-order list, but I don't see Santa Fe listed for this run"- and even if Santa Fe is listed, delivery is 12-18 months out.  I've encountered shops that don't want to take pre-orders for items from some manufacturers, because that manufacturer has cars and locos on its "pre-order now" list for a decade, and then cancels them for lack of pre-orders (and the shop owner has tired of dealing with disappointed customers that result from those cancellations after waiting years). 
Tom D.

Dear manufacturers,
If you don't make it, I can't buy it.

Rossford Yard

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Re: Are hobby shops now more depressing than inspiring?
« Reply #2 on: October 28, 2020, 11:12:49 AM »
Tom,

Of course, the first guy to replay is a Sante Fe fan.  That road is so ubiquitous which is the reason I chose that particular example off the top of my head.

I really debated posting the second part of the post, knowing that it would probably turn into the same old lament about how the hobby shop and model train world are currently going (which is really nothing more than how it has been in the at least recent past.) I mean, the pre-order system has been in place since at least 1997 (I recall pre-ordering Kato SD70 Macs, and not even getting one because I was too slow to do so).  While we all miss aspects of that "always available" I personally don't think we need to look back 23 years.  I also recall the pre-order process seems to have jumped up in use after both big recessions (2000 and 2006-8).  Atlas reps, among others, have told me that there is just no way they can implement a broader manufacturing system, and I can believe it.

But, back to my main point, are you more depressed now when waking in an LHS (LOL< meant to type walking in an LHS, but for some of us, maybe waking in an LHS is the dream.....).  I take it you are, maybe not for what you see or don't see, but what you remember?

mu26aeh

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Re: Are hobby shops now more depressing than inspiring?
« Reply #3 on: October 28, 2020, 11:25:26 AM »
I am lucky in that my LHS is a mere 25-30 minute drive up the mountain.  Half of the staff are modelers and they're all likeable.  N scale is stocked in 5 display cases at the front counter and an entire row.  HO takes up about 40% of the store, along with tools, scenery, some Lionel/MTH for the O scale/guage crowd and even G and Z scales can be found.  If they don't have something and it's in stock, no problem, we'll order it for you.  N scale is well stocked with the monthly MTL releases and an entire case of old stock, as well as 2 for Atlas freight cars.  2 cases take up their engine inventory, from Atlas, Bachmann, Intermountain, Kato and BLI.  The aisle contains numerous structure kits and freight cars from Athearn/Intermountain/Bachmann/Rapido etc. 

Philip H

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Re: Are hobby shops now more depressing than inspiring?
« Reply #4 on: October 28, 2020, 11:35:12 AM »
My two closest "LHS" are in Pensacola and New Orleans.  The former has great trains but is over two hours away at Interstate speeds.  The later is an hour and change but has little MRR.  The only brick and mortar I visit anymore is in Green Bay - which I use twice a year when I visit the in-laws.  Otherwise I order across about a half dozen shops some having bricks and some not. The Green Bay shop is well stocked and I'm the only guy on their mailing list who lives in Mississippi, so most of the staff know me.  Which is amusing. So they remain inspiring. The guys in New Orleans are plastic military modelers, so if I venture there I do get a lot of jazz about weathering effects.  And they do stock the basics thoroughly.

I haven't looked for inspiration in a LHS since Peach Creek Shops closed 4 or 5 years ago.  I used to drive up their once a month to restock and shoot the proverbial sh!t with John, as him being retired NASA and me being NOAA we had a lot in common.  Once they closed I moved to the internet for inspiration, and buddy there's plenty out here.

I agree there are several recent forces that have driven the LHS to the edge.  COVID won't help.  But frankly I haven seen the manufacturers uniformly move toward more customer loyalty.  Some of the old guard has, and some of the new guard started out that way. But a lot of them are still trying to drive to distributors who have fewer places to distribute to.  Frankly if that layer would just die off we might save a few others.



Philip H.
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"Yes there are somethings that are "off;" but hey, so what." ~ Wyatt

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Rossford Yard

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Re: Are hobby shops now more depressing than inspiring?
« Reply #5 on: October 28, 2020, 11:35:51 AM »
Mu, sounds like your shop has the right mix. 

My post was actually thinking of some of the shops in these threads, like Grayland Station, as well as Hiawatha Hobbies in MILW.  While it's fun to walk through Grayland, in a way, it just seems depressing to me that most of the stock is years old, some of it (like Con Cor autoracks) have been there so long they have been superceded by newer models from MT, IM, RC, Kato, etc.  So for me, excessive eye candy is actually somewhat a downer.

Of course, I realize I really don't need to buy anything, having been in the hobby so long, and newer hobbyists are probably just as thrilled as I used to be to see a well stocked LHS.   The only products that entice me these days are the MT weathered cars or any new rolling stock or loco body style that fits my era (my cross era buying days having also died a merciful (but slow, LOL) death.  New structures entice me, and I love all Walthers does for us, but my city heavy layout is already populated, and until I get the ROW to expand into the next room from the CEO (wife) after retirement, I am not in the mood to pre-buy much for the just in case she says yes scenario. Of course, using the same logic, I wouldn't have brought a ring to my marriage proposal.....

Phillip, you may have hit on another thing I generally miss in the best shops - the interactions.  Maybe its hard for the owner to stay optimistic, especially now, but a spirited model railroad discussion in person beats all discussions here.  Separate point, but how many of us participate here simply to avoid boring our friends?
« Last Edit: October 28, 2020, 01:00:22 PM by Rossford Yard »

djconway

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Re: Are hobby shops now more depressing than inspiring?
« Reply #6 on: October 28, 2020, 12:53:26 PM »
I have 3 shops within a reasonable dive (30-45minites)

Shop 1 closest.  Has a very small selection of N scale items, most have been sitting on the same spot on the shelf for 4 years or so (when he opened).  There is a fair amount of used stuff (Bachmann, Model Power, Micro Trains and a little Atlas.  He will order anything I can find in the new releases and will search his suppliers (East to West coast) for items.
The store is generally well ordered and clean.  HO has been encroaching steadily into N scale space since he opened.  But there are few impulse buys, he just dosen't keep a lot of N scale stock. Prices are fairly consistent but a little higher than on line.

Store 2 next closest 40 minutes or  so.  Has a larger selection of N scale, BUT it is berried under last weeks UPS shipments or other "stuff".  Every trip is like an archelogy dig, move a pile of stuff dig through the N scale stuff maybe fing something of interest.  He does bring in quite a few items from collections but NOTHING is in any kind of order other than N scale is in that drawer in the front or in the rack.  Prices are usually lower than shop 1 but the time spent hunting for items make the trip not worth it, if I'M rolling by ill usually stop otherwise I don't go.

Shop 3 even further than shop 2 isn't even worth spinning the wheels of time to get there, N scale is deffinately an after thought and if you are lucky you may find Atlas or Micro Trains at full list price. (some times above if its a higher demand item.

There are a few shops about an hour plus away that I won't even go into any more after they treated me like poop.

I don't like buying on line but the local shops are forcing me to look more and more to on line purchasing, with all the Oh- must have grabbed the wrong box, sorry its sold out now.

Philip H

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Re: Are hobby shops now more depressing than inspiring?
« Reply #7 on: October 28, 2020, 01:12:33 PM »
Quote
Separate point, but how many of us participate here simply to avoid boring our friends?

@Rossford Yard - having met a bunch of a$$hats IRL over the years, I can definitely say several of my best friends are TRW members.  This is only one place I interact with them, so being here adds to that complex set of relationships.

YMMV
Philip H.
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Baton Rouge Southern RR - Mount Rainier Division.

"Yes there are somethings that are "off;" but hey, so what." ~ Wyatt

"I'm trying to have less cranial rectal inversion with this." - Ed K.

"There's more to MRR life than the Wheezy & Nowheresville." C855B

C855B

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Re: Are hobby shops now more depressing than inspiring?
« Reply #8 on: October 28, 2020, 01:27:05 PM »
I can relate, but OTOH maybe I can't. When we moved to our current digs in 2006, I knew we were at best 70 miles away from the closest LHS. It's 90% a train store with HUGE stocking of N scale; I've given him a moderate amount of business on the rare occasions we're in his vicinity. There's another 100 miles away that's a general hobby store, but nonetheless a large selection of MRR in all scales and a very healthy stock of general hobby materials. I have a 15% club discount at this particular store, too, but it's right in the middle of a high-traffic, difficult-access part of town, so we only ventured there when we had unavoidable business nearby. We don't have a need to go there any more, so there you have it.

I've not ventured to any LHS in well over a year anyway. So I can't share any similar overall sense of decline.

As to "personalities"... the closer store is run by a crank who is itching to pull the trigger on political rants if you breathe wrong*. IOW, it can be a fraught shopping experience, so I tend to quietly browse and avoid asking questions, staying away from the front counter until checking out. Sadly, the proprietor is now in his 80s, I believe, so considering the area, when he passes the store undoubtedly will, too.

* - My younger brother owned a train store in a tony area of NorCal for a number of years. He was/is also given to similar hair-trigger ranting, and it drove business away to the point where he had to give up. The last two times I saw him were at our parents' respective funerals - 14 years apart. We're not close.  :roll-eyes:

Needless to say, other than train shows (when they existed) I've been 95% online ordering for quite a while. I find it interesting I have more of a "we're in this together" relationship with Scott at N Scale Supply than I ever had at a LHS since I was in college. Not that correspondence is frequent, but the contrast is interesting.

Dave V

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Re: Are hobby shops now more depressing than inspiring?
« Reply #9 on: October 28, 2020, 02:18:01 PM »
I think we're fortunate here in Colorado Springs.

Roy's Model Trains is exclusively NOS (new old stock) and used...so I can often find wonderfully built cars and structures from estates or kits that are long OOP.  If you go in looking for new-new, you're going to be depressed.  As for the consumables (glues, paints, styrene, stripwood) and tools, I can find what I need most of the time at one of our two HobbyTown USA stores or Hobby Lobby.  For most of the rest, and especially new releases, it's the internet.

When I lived in Bellevue, NE I'd do my pre-orders in N through one of my two LHSs (Train Time in Papillion) but if I wanted to browse tons of new and recent N scale on shelves there was House of Trains in Omaha.  My understanding is House of Trains remains the same as it was 10 years ago, although admittedly it's a healthy specimen of a dying breed.
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C855B

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Re: Are hobby shops now more depressing than inspiring?
« Reply #10 on: October 28, 2020, 02:31:55 PM »
... I wanted to browse tons of new and recent N scale on shelves there was House of Trains in Omaha.  My understanding is House of Trains remains the same as it was 10 years ago, although admittedly it's a healthy specimen of a dying breed.

Well, that's good to hear. Dave Mrzny's store was a "must do!" on every trip to Omaha; my largest client was the NDOR (Nebraska DOT) office at I-80 & I-680, so the store was very convenient for lunch-hour runs and I could grab a burrito at the Taco John's across the street. I never walked out of the shop for less than $300. Time goes fast, though, as I've been retired for seven years [gasp!] and the last trip there was in 2015 for the UPHS convention. I need to get out more... wait... I heard there's a pandemic thing...  :(

Rivet Miscounter

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Re: Are hobby shops now more depressing than inspiring?
« Reply #11 on: October 28, 2020, 02:35:18 PM »
From my perspective, the bar with hobby shops was set so low from an early age that I hardly ever visit one with expectations of being inspired.   I do get surprised on occasion, though and that is always something I look forward to.   So I guess that is "inspired" in some sense of the word.

I would also say that I've noticed quite an increase in N-scale in the few shops I've visited in the past few years since moving from N to Z....go figure.  (and yes, I agree that the shop you and I both go to does not seem to have as much as they used to) Being in Z means the likelihood of any shop having something I would buy is very, very low.   I still drop by some places when I travel, mostly in the northern Illinois areas like Chicago and Rockford.   There's a really nice shop in Rockford (Midwest Rail Junction, which also sells on eBay I believe) that has some Z and a ton of N.   The two HobbytownUSA shops I frequent (Dallas and Rockford) seem to have quite expanded N-scale areas, for what it's worth.
Doug

Rossford Yard

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Re: Are hobby shops now more depressing than inspiring?
« Reply #12 on: October 28, 2020, 03:15:41 PM »
I think we're fortunate here in Colorado Springs.


When I lived in Bellevue, NE.....if I wanted to browse tons of new and recent N scale on shelves there was House of Trains in Omaha.  My understanding is House of Trains remains the same as it was 10 years ago, although admittedly it's a healthy specimen of a dying breed.

I was there in spring, and those reports are accurate.  Talk about the personality of the shop keepers affecting purchases....Again, I don't really need anything but walked out with about the same $300 worth of stuff.  Part of that was stock of stuff I don't usually see at other shops, i.e., the last few months of MT weathered releases and runner packs, but they did spend some time with back and forth friendly banter.  (Which I define as them being willing to listen to me talk about my layout because I bought a 5$ magazine from them, LOL) and, after long discussion of DCC Sound, when he saw me looking at a discounted Atlas sound unit, (the Rock Island one, which I have no use for, but the chassis could be used to power one of my other GP38 or 40's) he offered a bit more discount to make it even more enticing.  IMHO< he realized that the one off unit, even in former Rock territory probably wasn't going to see at his typical 15% discount if it hadn't sold by then.  So, once more, I was both happy to find products I wanted for scenery, and happy to score an internet deal on a loco, never needed, but always wanted.

Short version, a nice selection of recent stock, some oldy but goldy stuff, and a nice person behind the counter is probably the combination of elements that make me go into a shop, and still enjoy it more than internet purchases.

thomasjmdavis

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Re: Are hobby shops now more depressing than inspiring?
« Reply #13 on: October 28, 2020, 05:14:24 PM »
Tom,

Of course, the first guy to replay is a Sante Fe fan.  That road is so ubiquitous which is the reason I chose that particular example off the top of my head.
.....
But, back to my main point, are you more depressed now when waking in an LHS (LOL< meant to type walking in an LHS, but for some of us, maybe waking in an LHS is the dream.....).  I take it you are, maybe not for what you see or don't see, but what you remember?
Sorry, I meant the Santa Fe quip to be humorous.  In the days when I traveled more than I do nowadays, the "unsold models from years back" was my first stop when shopping.  You want ATSF or PRR- go to Salt Lake City and Ogden.  You will not find much UP on the shelves- lots of local UP modelers and tourist to buy that stuff up.  But ATSF or PRR or misc. midwest roads- plenty to be found (or at least, I found).

And I never find a hobby shop depressing- virtually always something I can use (even if no N scale, there are still paint and books and tools, etc) and often a good conversation.  I am saddened by the fact that my local area had 2 shops selling trains 20 years ago, and no longer does.  But I very much enjoy the hobby shop experience when I can find one.   Hobby shops are a "destination" for me and I block out time when I am in the vicinity of a good one.  The hobby shop is going the way of the neighborhood pizza joint or dime store.  So, yes, I am a bit nostalgic for days gone by (especially the $1 freight cars and nickel candy bars and new cars being $3000) but that doesn't mean that I don't very much enjoy spending an afternoon at Des Plaines Hobbies when in Chicago, or hitting a couple of hobby shops whenever I get to Grand Rapids.
Tom D.

Dear manufacturers,
If you don't make it, I can't buy it.

CRL

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Re: Are hobby shops now more depressing than inspiring?
« Reply #14 on: October 28, 2020, 09:49:15 PM »
20-30 years ago, our standard Saturday routine was to make the rounds of the hobby shops that catered to us model railroaders. At that time, there were 2 LHS at a minimum, and as many as 4 for a brief period. As of now, we’re down to one LHS... ironically the oldest shop in town, and possibly Texas as a whole. It’s a full service LHS for most everything except RC stuff. They’re struggling, like most retailers given the current challenges. They’ve managed to avoid the “crazy-assed ignorant owner” syndrome and respond to changing customer interests as best they can without over-committing too much inventory investment to dead end markets.