How We Decide What To Make
We base our production runs on orders received, plus a small overage. Because of the small market and the small number of new modelers entering the hobby, we find that we sell about 50% of total sales of an item during its first year on the market. The other 50% is spread out over the next 10-15 years. Because of this, manufacturers are constantly adding new items, as these new items usually account for 75% of yearly sales.
After awhile, the list of kits and accessories gets quite long, as items are rarely discontinued. Since sales are low on items that have been on the market for 3 or more years, perhaps only one small run is made each year to fill back-orders. On low demand items, a run may be scheduled only every other year. A small manufacturer cannot afford to carry a large inventory of each item….he does not have the warehouse space or money to do so. Is there any solution? No, not really.
We want to thank you for buying our products. We thought the following information might be helpful to you. Model railroading as a hobby is one of the smaller ones. There are about 200,000 members in this fine hobby. That number is divided into about 150,000 HO modelers, 27,000 N scalers, and the rest split among G, O, S and Z scales. 2008 retail sales of model railroad items is estimated at $230,000,000. This sounds like a lot of money, but all the model train manufacturers put together would not make the bottom rung of the Fortune 500 list of companies.
Every model railroad manufacturer has problems similar to large manufacturers of automobiles, appliances, or whatever. But they have far less staff, time and money to solve these problems. All but the top 10-15 model railroad manufacturers are part-time companies. Either the owner has another full-time job, or model railroading is only a part-time fill-in for the company they run, and takes a back seat to the other business when that business is good.
Because of their small size, many model manufacturers have trouble getting small quantities of the goods and parts they need. It is no longer easy to get only 100 lbs of plastic, or 500 pieces of an electronic part. (One small maker of tunnel portals had a terrible time getting plaster — his supplier wanted to sell it to him in 40 ft trailer loads — a 10-year supply, even if he had a nice dry place to store it).
Many model railroad items are imported, so the manufacturer must be pretty good with the crystal ball to figure out how many items he will need until the next shipment arrives.
Some customers tell the manufacturers they should stop coming out with new items, and make more of the older items that have been out of stock for awhile. But, as noted above, the sales of the older items will not support the volume of business needed for a small manufacturer to stay in business. It if did, common sense would dictate that the manufacturer would concentrate on older items. The fact that we all work on new items proves the point made above.
‘Why Don’t You Make….?’
One of the frequent questions we get is, “Why don’t you make a ……?” We always have new products in the design stage. But tooling costs to build the steel molds from which our models are made are very high — tens of thousands of dollars for each mold. We must choose each model with broad sales appeal to help amortize our tooling costs. Our choices are based on many factors, including customer suggestions, input from railroad historical societies, model railroad clubs, etc.
‘The ABC Railroad Never Had….’
Another comment we often receive is, “the ABC railroad never had a car like the one that you offer”. Rolling stock comes in hundreds of styles and variations. We cannot possibly offer them all. So, if the ABC railroad ran 60 ft gondolas, and we offer a 54 ft ABC gondola, we are not trying to rewrite history. Rather, we are offering a model that might not otherwise be available. We feel this is a reasonable compromise.
Most model manufacturers do not have a formal warranty program. But most companies do have a customer satisfaction policy, in that they will try to resolve a customer problem. Sometimes a customer expects more than a small manufacturer can supply. Many modelers expect a manufacturer to carry all the parts needed and be able to fix “as new” a train that was made 10, 15, or even 20 years ago. This is unrealistic in the real world. Model trains wear out the same as any other product. The customer should realize this, and be prepared to replace an older item once it has worn out.
The same is true of parts. Each manufacturer tries to keep the parts on hand that his “crystal ball” tells him he will need. But it is only a guess, and if he guesses wrong, then he has to wait until the next time that model is run, to over-run the parts he needs. Sometimes the best source for parts are local model train shows or swap meets, where you can often find a “deal” on older items, and use them as a source for the spare parts that you need.
Matching Prototype Paint Schemes
The one item we get more mail on than anything else are the colors we use on our models. We often get mail from modelers who claim that the color we used was wrong, but they do not send color chips or other reference material to back up their claim. We do the best we can.
We have railroad photos that show two or three of the same cars or locomotives coupled together, and each one is a slightly different color. In time, paint chips can fade, or they may have been taken from a car or locomotive that has been out in the weather for some time.
In addition, the government has placed strict limits on what is allowed in the manufacture of paints — no lead, no cadmium, etc. This makes it almost impossible to match some of the older colors that used lead or cadmium in their pigments. We also find that paint manufacturers may change a shade slightly from one batch to the next. Sometimes it is human error; sometimes it is because the government has changed the rules on what compounds they can use. Ever try to go back to the paint store and match exactly the color you painted the bedroom several years ago?
Sorry Factory Tours are no longer available of our Facility
One of these days, we hope to produce a videotape that will show all the steps involved in making model trains at our Tucson, Arizona factory. This will help to explain a lot more of the “how and why” we do things.
We used to give tours of our Tucson factory, but a few years ago our Insurance company notified us if we continued to have “public” access to our facility we would have to make a lot of changes to our equipment and facilities, including painting lines on the floor that “Guests” were not permitted to cross. These changes would have cost us many thousands of dollars and we had to choose just to discontinue having “public” access to our factory area.
Please support your local hobby shop. (You can find a list of Hobby Shops at the Trains.com web site.) He may not be perfect, but he is trying to do his best for you. As noted above, if you have no local dealer, who will take care of your needs, you can order directly from Con-Cor Trains.
Some Company Highlights:
None of the would have been possible without the support and patience of Jim’s parents Millward and Lucille Conway, and his Uncle Russell who was a partner in the original company with Jim.