Spielwarenmesse: Interview with Liliput: The mood is positive

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Movers & shakers

Interview with Liliput: The mood is positive

from Ulrich Texter

The model railway is looking to make a comeback. The strategies are all quite different, but the goal is the same. Whether with inexpensive models suitable for children or by means of concepts that link the classical model railway with eGames, the direction is always back into the minds of young people. At the same time, the industry doesn't want to scare away the traditional clientele. Liliput, however, is focusing in particular on the "professional segment". We talked to Gerda Schwab, in charge of sales and marketing, why that is the case.

Spielwarenmesse®: Ms Schwab, the industry is trying to win over new model train fans with special products developed for the target group of children or a "next generation" concept, as one manufacturer calls it. Your company is apparently rather reserved, focusing more on "professional models". Why?

G. S.: Well, someone has to do it... No, joking aside, Bachmann was founded in England almost exactly 25 years ago. From the start, our focus was always on the model train professional and collector. This maxim was and is also true for the German branch, founded a few years later. Even today, we believe it's important to replicate the real thing and include as many details as possible on the model. That's why the European Bachmann Group continues to feel obliged to replicate the real model. In part, our American sister company that, with its products relating to the "Thomas & Friends" TV series, also makes models for young railway enthusiasts, takes a somewhat different approach. We distribute these products through retailers on the German market. This also lets us get very close to the next generation.

Do you think that it's possible to reconcile older enthusiasts with the "press and swipe" generation through model railways or that the digitization of the model railway is really creating new experiences for the next generation?

G. S.: I don't think that two seemingly different camps have to be reconciled. The approach taken by each respective side is certainly a different one. While you can probably thrill young fans with more technology, it's the reproduction of details that will delight experienced model railway enthusiasts. We're trying to satisfy both sides by making, on the one hand, prototypical and detailed models and, on the other, using technology that appeals more to the younger generation. But the older enthusiasts naturally appreciate this technology, too.

The inclusion of additional gauges in your product range also shows that you're trying to fill niches in the market. Think of the "minor comeback" of the O gauge or of the accessory suppliers who now have rolling stock in their product range! Can the direction be summed up as "stability through diversification"?

G. S.: Everyone is extending their range with products that seem to make sense to them. In any case, launching the N gauge was just the right for us!

Model railways are experiencing an upgrade in technology. Sound, smoke, pass-by and braking sound effects, even doors with in-built LED screens that show them opening and closing automatically are everyday things today. What do you think will be the next technical challenge?

G. S.: As you say yourself, it's hardly possible to predict the technological direction for the years to come. Our models also make braking sounds, whistle or send out smoke. However, you have to realise that too much technology will probably overwhelm the "normal" model railway enthusiastic, since he'll probably have 10 or more locomotives squealing, smoking or whistling at the same time. In addition, a model naturally has to remain affordable; every additional bit of technology is, of course, reflected in the price.

As the German branch of an international company, you should have good insight into the different markets. For example, how do the UK and the US differ from the home country of the model railway? And where will Liliput grow?

G. S.: The challenges are certainly the same everywhere; British and American consumers take the subject a little less seriously and sometimes it's more their enthusiasm and the models that are in the foreground. Details down to the last screw aren't always so important for them. We're growing by expanding our range. So we've just recently added the PROSES range of products to the German Bachmann range. With a large selection of specialty tools, kits and accessories for model railways, Proses offers many opportunities for building and tinkering in gauges N, 0, 00, H0 and G.

All in all, 2013 was satisfactory. 2014 seems to have started well, too. Can we conclude that the consolidation in your industry is now over? Or is the concentration process still moving forward?

G. S.: The signals and the mood are positive; progress in the industry seems to be a little calmer now. As the past has, however, shown that a storm can sometimes come overnight and without warning, trying to take look in the all too distant future would be speculative.

Retailers – an irksome, but also never-ending topic. Liliput, so Liliput says, can only be bought in shops. How long can you, as the manufacturer, continue to do so in view of the trend with regard to brick-and-mortar retail stores?

G. S.: We assume that that will continue be the case for a very long time to come. We will continue to send this signal to the retail trade again and again to show them that we are a reliable partner.

 

Author of this article:

Ulrich Texter

Mentioned product groups:

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