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31 Jan – 4 Feb 2018
Spielwarenmesse®: Model railways, along with other classic toys, are often among the best sellers at idee+spiel. What do you expect of 2015?
Thomas Kohnen: There are a lot of indications that it will be a good year. I see two main signs for growth. Firstly, the industry is clearly addressing a younger target group. Secondly, the quality of the vehicles is constantly increasing together with sophisticated additional electronic functions. On top of that, we can see a clear trend towards classic toys and a return to traditional values.
With various concepts for children, the big model railway manufacturers are offering attractive and low-price starter packs. The basic play value and simple handling are the most important factors here. The model railway industry is very well-equipped for the next few years.
The toy market has grown sharply over recent years. Internet trade in particular has profited from this. Is this also true of products in the model railway sector?
T.K.: The Internet has become an increasingly important platform for the model railway trade as well. That's why idee+spiel designed a new online marketplace for its members in 2015, based on the latest findings. One central feature is the regional focus. Every user will first of all find the offers from a dealer in his or her local area. This means that even members without much online experience are offered the opportunity to engage actively in e-commerce in addition to the stationary business. But we are still very active in the brick-and-mortar trade, too.
Last year we successfully launched our new marketing concept EUROTRAIN plus, where we offer our customers great new, sometimes even exclusive, brand products once a quarter. For our first campaign, the brand leader Märklin even produced a locomotive that they had especially "antiquated" for us - much to the delight of the dealers and their customers.
Most people agree that serious model railway enthusiasts and collectors are still the most important customer group for the trade. Doesn't this focussing pose a risk since the target group is, on the whole, declining?
T.K.: In order to meet this challenge, suppliers want to revive the interest of children in the unique engineering and fascination of miniature railways. Model railways are on the right track and now have a very self-confident image as a modern "toy". For the serious model railway enthusiasts they make the most exquisite products with great attention to detail and engineering, while children can enjoy low-price fun "straight out of the box".
The great fascination that model railways have for people of all ages is clearly reflected in the huge numbers of visitors to consumer exhibitions, the fantastic display railways and the successful campaigns offered by EUROTRAIN dealers.
You could almost say that along with the structural change, the product range has increased. Isn't the hobbyist a bit overwhelmed by this variety or is it an indication that attractive innovations are leading to a greater demand even though volumes are generally declining?
T.K.: Attractive innovations are always the centre of attention, of course. But I don't see that as an overwhelming of model railway enthusiasts. On the contrary: it's of great benefit because we can satisfy all the individual preferences.
With its "my world" range, the brand leader has set the points towards children and toy departments. This year PIKO's "myTrain“ followed, and Roco has now joined in with its digital play world "Next Generation“. How long will it take before this investment in youngsters pays off?
T.K.: We will almost certainly need a lot of patience here. Since we have a lot of different concepts for attracting young customers, the chances of catching children of all ages with the right ideas are very high. Toddlers are being introduced to model railways through colourful and robust battery-operated trains where the emphasis is on play. Operation via a smartphone or tablet and virtual play worlds will attract the bigger children. This will effectively eliminate any reservations they may have. Smartphones and model railways go together and even complement one another quite usefully.
At the Spielwarenmesse 2016, the Revell brand is also launching a new range aimed specifically at a younger clientele. Is this "rejuvenation" a general trend in the model construction and hobbies sector?
T.K.: Even with classic model-making, potential young customers must be addressed early on through targeted products. It is extremely important that children achieve success quickly and that the products are robust and offer lots of play opportunities. The kit components must be ready to build, and building must be possible without glue and paint.
Once the children have discovered the joy of making things, lots of different kits are available to match increasing skill levels. It is crucial that the demands are not too high at any level so that they do not have any negative experiences. On the other hand the kits are designed to present a certain challenge and this is important.
If we look at the new product catalogues, the main focus seems to be on attractive steam engines. Why is this so difficult for modern trains?
T.K.: With steam locomotives most of the drive technology is clearly visible. That makes them more delicate and attractive for many people. If we look at the real thing, it's also the steam engines that leave the most lasting impression when it comes to sounds and smells. On the other hand, today's "big" railways are almost entirely shaped by modern electric locomotives and railcars. If we assume that the love of model railways is in most cases aroused by an interest in "real" railways, then it goes without saying that manufacturers should not forget to include models of current trains in their product range.