Wednesday to Sunday!
31 Jan – 4 Feb 2018
Spielwarenmesse®: The "Mikro Länder Club", which BUSCH also belongs to, has been around since 2009 and aims to promote the hobby of model-making and model railways. What is your conclusion of it after eight years?
Jörg Vallen: Naturally, we have had to put a lot of effort into it, but we now have well over 3,000 active members. We have, therefore, managed to inspire many people to take up the hobby. The purpose of it all is to ensure that we promote the hobby of model railways, while at the same time encouraging our customers, who are also becoming ever more Internet-savvy, to actually go to their local retailers.
The German model railway exhibitions interest group, IGEMA for short, was, for many years, the place to go to when it came to the hobby of model railways....
J.V.: It still is, because there is no alternative.
That might well be the case, but you can now only find accessory manufacturers there. Is that not like a car without an engine?
J.V.: No, it would certainly be nice if the major producers of "rolling stock" were part of it all again. The IGEMA has, in the meantime, shifted its focus from the organisation of exhibitions to other tasks. Safety questions constitute, among other things, a major problem in our industry.
The IGEMA has been dealing very intensively with that, even if this is not always noticeable. For example, we have set guidelines on what has to be observed with regard to the labelling on the packaging. The IGEMA gives impulses, which are then picked up on throughout the industry.
Manufacturers of "rolling stock" want to reach younger audiences with child-friendly products. Think of MyWorld from Märklin, myTrain from Piko and Roco, which is placing its bets on the next generation. How are accessory manufacturers supporting this programme of rejuvenation?
J.V.: As accessory manufacturers we offer materials that are suitable for these types of tracks. Faller, for example, has a basic range. However, one must not fail to recognize that we, as accessory manufacturers, have had "basic products" in our product range for over 40 years. So the wheel does not need to be reinvented. Things are a little different among the manufacturers of "rolling stock". Here, quality levels and prices have continued to spiral upwards. Maybe it was just a case of the time being right to break new ground here.
We also see a similar phenomenon with miniature cars, where Busch likewise plays a role: ever more delicate, ever more detailed, ever more complex.
J.V.: That is right. The models were increasingly becoming less suitable for children. That is why Busch is launching simpler, less detailed models at the fair this year, models that are, therefore, also cheaper.
Busch is a sponsor of the initiative "Spielen macht Schule", which brings games and toys into the classroom. For a few years now, there has also been the model railway workshop. What are your experiences with this project?
J.V.: Slow and steady wins the race. The accessory manufacturers and Märklin are very much involved here and we note that, in those schools where teachers support model railways, the children are really enthusiastic. Whether this will translate into revenues, however, cannot be ascertained.
One bottleneck is formed by specialist retailers, some of whom have to battle for their walk-in customers. Does that mean for model railways: last exit to the Internet?
J.V.: I do hope not, but, naturally, the Internet has also become an extremely strong aspect in our industry. The fact is that we need the retail trade to bring the model railway experience to life. We know that we, as manufacturers, have to apply concepts that will secure the commercial survival of the retail trade.
In our "Mikro Länder Club" forum, the problem is very clear. The one or the other member says he ordered online, because there are no retailers far and wide any more, while others drive 50 km, because they want to see the goods beforehand. This shows that we cannot ignore the Internet, but still need specialist retailers.
Busch continues to abstain from having its own shop. Why is a web shop, perhaps in cooperation with your partners, out of the question?
J.V.: Busch wants to leave the selling side to retailers. Obviously, you can buy every Busch article on the Internet and there are enough retailers operating their own online shop. The advantage to the end-user of buying from a dealer shop is that he can get everything from one source and only has to pay the freight charges once.
If we, as the "Mikro Länder Club" were to open our own shop, we would have to order from other suppliers, which would complicate things. The main problem is that a lot that goes on online is about the price. So if we wanted to be successful, we would have to play the game, but we do not want to stab the retail trade in the back. The specialist shops are unfortunately already involved in a terrible price war with each other.
Your new products catalogue has expanded from 4 to 48 pages in the last 25 years. At the same time, you have discovered and added niches, such as the 0 gauge, mining and light railways, laser-cut models or brands such as MTH. Is the trend called "mass customization": ever smaller quantities for ever smaller target groups?
J.V.: At any rate, Busch has certainly structured itself in the last few years so that we can offer more flexible production. Before, we could say that we would produce 5,000 pieces of such-and-such a product. This is no longer possible today. Production methods such as laser cut or 3D printing help us to be able to produce even small quantities profitably these days. And you have to offer sufficient innovations, otherwise you will lose your position in the shops. Retailers always buy new products initially.
Model railways sometimes seem very German. Do people around the world want model trains and accessories?
J.V.: There are two model train nations: Germany and the USA. Switzerland is also a very good country for model railways, although the market volume is lower, but, from the point of view of per capita revenue, certainly similar. Austria, Holland and Belgium are likewise good for model railways. Spain is developing. We are having a bit of difficulty in Eastern Europe. Asia is irrelevant. Perhaps the mentality is too different.
Years ago, an ideological war raged between the proponents of laser-cut and traditional models. Have the two sides now "buried the hatchet"?
J.V.: There are still end-users who want nothing to do with laser-cut models. My personal belief is that it does not matter how a product is made. Take a look at the products in our range. You will find models made of plastic, which are laser cut. It is a manufacturing process, just like injection-moulded plastic. Or take our models with real wood parts that are carefully coloured. The negative image comes from the early days of laser cut, when small-volume manufacturers put inferior-quality products on the market.