David Haarhaus: At Bachmann Europe, we do not have any concerns that the UK leaving the European Union will adversely affect our business relations with other European Nations and our other customers across the globe. It may introduce some additional paperwork somewhere to be able to continue to trade across European borders, but I am sure we shall cope.
Liliput is managed by our German office in Nuremberg, and has been for many years. The product ships direct in to Germany from our own factory facilities in Asia. The trade does not involve the UK so will not be affected by Brexit in any way.
Does the UK have a different attitude towards model railways, a more national one, for example? In Germany, we hear that there are few young model railway enthusiasts and that hobby is almost only the domain of older people. Some manufacturers have even turned to railway sets for little children. Is the world between Torquay and Inverness better than it is between Flensburg and Konstanz in that young British people are more interested in model railways?
D. H.: We see many similarities between the problems in the German market and those in the market in the UK. The industry needs to understand though that it is not an issue of young people not being interested in the hobby, it is an issue that they have less or no way to discover the hobby.
The internet is good for finding a product you already want at a low price. It does not create new customers for our hobby. This is done by real shops with real people. We must work as an industry to protect the physical presence of the hobby out in the real world.
Sets for Children are good, and Märklin seems to be doing a good job with their My World brand, but it will have little effect if those Children have nowhere to go to learn about the depth of the hobby, practice skills with experienced modellers, and look lovingly at the tempting new products, pestering their parents to buy them for Birthdays and Christmas.
Leave it all to the internet, and they’ll just play the latest app game instead.
Be honest, now! Isn't your industry a bit short-sighted? It constantly surpasses itself when it comes to details and technical equipment, but loses sight of the children. Are there any developments in the UK that fills young British people with enthusiasm on model railways? What is Bachmann's strategy?
D. H.: Aside from the traditional model rail shows, the industry has struggled recently to expose itself to young potential modellers. We are constantly trying though. Bachmann will visit many steam fairs and steam gala days through the year, where families visit and get the chance to see the hobby. Hornby can often be seen out and about with their Airfix brand, getting kids to make kits at different shows. It is not directly model rail, but it is modelling at least. Again the issue seems to be, after briefly noticing the hobby at a weekend event, it is soon forgotten and there are less places on the shopping street to keep the enthusiasm going.
This year though the industry has had a great boost. With support from Bachmann, a TV production company aired a series 'The Great Model Rail Challenge' We watched the series launch with some nerves. Is our hobby now so uncool, so irrelevant, nobody will watch? We needed not to worry. The series was a great success and has been commissioned for a second year – bigger and better too. People, young and old, have great interest in modelling in miniature.
How do you rate the effect, eventising the model railway hobby with a TV show has on young people?
D. H.: It is too early to say at the moment. At the National Model Rail show we had the winning layout on our booth. It attracted attention all day long. It was a fantasy space theme which pleased the kids. We signed up more new club members than normal. Perhaps we are seeing the effects already.
The show itself had large interest in the 16 - 30 year old category. This is certainly a lot lower age than the traditional image of a railway modeller.
We are working up plans and strategies to tap into this interest and make best use of the next show. We are also developing a general plan to make the hobby more permantly available to youngsters to try and buy, and learn from seasoned modellers.