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Model Retailer


Model Retailer Magazine's Blog

Bringing timely news, advice and product reviews to hobby retailers and industry leaders

Guest Blog: Making good on product announcements

January 15, 2010 by modelretailer

Frank Ruby, owner of Blue Ridge Hobbies, Greenville, SC, comments on product cancellations and the effects of communication in the hobby industry.

A note to hobby manufacturers: Announcing products and not producing the products without notification to the dealers is starting to affect what our customers are buying or preordering. When customers preorder, they expect the item to be produced. It seems that if a manufacturer announces a production run, but the preorder levels do not meet the expected sales need, they let the wholesalers know. However, this information does not seem to filter down to the small dealers like Blue Ridge Hobbies. The manufacturers do not even post the fact of a new product run or cancellation on their Web sites.

A recent example is during this past Christmas, when a customer was upset that they could not buy the Lionel Circus Train posted on the Lionel Web site. Our wholesaler did not have it and it seems Lionel did not either. If manufacturers do not update their Web sites regularly with product information and notify customers about delays, we feel that the hobby industry will ultimately dwindle down to a few online-only dealers.

As a small company, Blue Ridge Hobbies seems to keep its Web site more up-to-date than the big companies. A retail example would be Toys R Us. They have shown all through the holiday season Lionel’s O-scale Polar Express for sale at $209 and an MSRP of $299. Customers see this and want us to price match. This item is last year’s price and has not been available from them all holiday season. We have had our stock at a very low price and cannot sell it. People think our price is too high when it is in fact lower than most model train retailers.

There are also way too many production and release delays now. This, too, will turn people off from modeling and cause them to move to other leisure activities that can be fulfilled. Communication is our industry’s best solution. An e-mail and Web site updates from the wholesalers and manufacturer would help to ease the perception that customers have.

Start selling before customers get in your store

June 19, 2009
I’m seeing a lot of manufacturers and retailers putting out e-newsletters on a regular basis. In my opinion, this is one of the most cost-effective advertising tools around.

While we in the business world continue to wrap our heads around Web 2.0 — social networking sites, video, blogging, etc. — one of the “oldest” electronic technologies remains the most effective at reaching out to customers and selling them something before they actually come into a hobby store.

Don’t get me wrong, that other stuff is great in its own right. However, its effectiveness in actually making money is spotty at best, and while the hobby industry is all about building a sense of community, at the end of the day, we all have bills to pay and products to make and sell.

Some of the more effective e-newsletters I receive put sales in the background and focus more on what the company is developing, what’s going on in the store or what’s on the owner’s mind. And because it comes to my e-mail box, it’s a personal message, even if it is going out to thousands of people.

A couple of my favorite retailer e-newsletters come from Rick Berry at Michigan Toy Soldier and Frank Ruby at Blue Ridge Hobbies. A manufacturer newsletter that never fails to raise a smile is “The irregular and irreverent bulletin” from Rapido Trains’ Jason Schron called the Rapido Telegraph. All of them are different, but equally effective.

If you haven’t explored this kind of marketing before, you might want to give it a look. And while you’re doing that, start collecting e-mail addresses from your customers and building a list to send to. Some companies that provide e-newsletter services are Constant Contact, MailChimp, and My Newsletter Builder. Some companies like Zero to Sixty Marketing can help you put together a whole campaign. Or, you may opt to do it yourself; there’s plenty of how-to information out there.

No matter which way you go, it’s a good way to keep in contact with your customers and keep your business on their minds. Anymore, it’s not enough to just advertise passively to people, you have to go get them. This is one way to do it.

Hal Miller, editor


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