Sunday, September 4, 2016

I wish I knew who wrote this!

Below is a blog post form "skiloff".
I found it on the MRH website.
It pretty much sums up my feelings about the "state" of the hobby today.
Read it and share your thoughts.

After receiving my NMRA bulletin this morning and reading president Charlie Getz's discussion of Caboose Hobbies closing, I felt compelled to write a response.  First, here is a summary of what Mr. Getz wrote:
Did you notice that the 2017 Walthers catalog combines HO-N-Z in one volume?  Some may celebrate this as it presents more scale options, but this also is another example of the contraction of the hobby.  There simply is not enough product to justify two catalogs, as in past years.  Walthers, like Caboose, is a seminal part of the hobby industry and while far from closing, is an example of changes in the industry. 
The future of Walthers, Caboose-style shops, and the NMRA resides in your hands.  For every product you buy online to save a dollar, you contribute to the Caboose closing or the Walthers contraction.  For every new member you ignore at an event or fail to make welcome, you doom the NMRA.  In reality, the answer to the contracting hobby lies with us all.
And my response that I just sent to him:
I find your commentary from the latest bulletin troubling.  Not because of the closure of Caboose Hobbies, but your continued insistence that the hobby is in a state of contraction using the evidence of Caboose closing and Walthers' catalogs becoming one.  This is looking at a few facts and making broad assumptions of them without really looking at many other facts out there.  Caboose closing and Walthers' catalogs is not a sign of the hobby dying - it is a sign, like the world at large, that things are changing.  It is very frustrating when people in your position in the hobby paint it as dying because of change, but fail to acknowledge or understand that change, perhaps, is renewal, not death.  Is the hobby of the 50s and 60s dying?  Yes, indeed.  Is the hobby of model railroading dying?  Absolutely not! 
In fact, there are many signs that we are in a new era of growth for the hobby.  The current range of products has never been of higher quality, and a broad range of affordable options are still out there for those entering the hobby.  The options available to modelers is second to none in terms of how they want to enjoy the hobby - scratch building, kits, or built-ups.  The real problem is, this is seen by many of the old guard as a negative, because it isn't "as it used to be."  Everything in the world is changing, so why would model railroading expect to be static?  And in fact, if it doesn't change, I would say THAT is the bigger concern, because failing to change (like so many in the hobby) is what will kill businesses.  Just ask Kodak or Polaroid or Tower Records or Montgomery Ward or Woolworth's.
In reality, I feel that the most damage done to this hobby is done by it's leaders who continually trumpet it's death and make statements, such as you made in a newspaper article in the past year that suggested young people are only interested in their phones.  THAT is the kind of nonsense generalization that will drive young people from the hobby.  In fact, there are probably the same proportion of young people in the hobby today than there were decades ago, but they enter the hobby differently.  But this is not understood by leaders, such as yourself, and through this lack of understanding, you inadvertently do damage to the hobby you are trying to protect.
The real issue, I believe, for the NMRA is it's shrinking base of members.  Let's be clear - this is mostly an NMRA problem, not a hobby problem.  Why is the NMRA membership sinking?  In many ways it's because of these out-of-touch comments by it's leadership.  Who wants to join an association that openly generalizes about young people and their cellphone addictions?  Or one that suggests internet shopping is bad for the hobby?  The failure of the NMRA is it's failure to change with the world and understand the world it operates in.  But that doesn't seem to be understood - it's simply blamed on the internet and young people that only care about their cell phones, which are both patently false.  
I hope the NMRA will succeed for the long term, because I believe the hobby is better with it than without it, but there needs to be a sea change in how the NMRA leadership views the world in which we live and the way the hobby is evolving.


Mark Z said...

I definitely support your take on the hobby. E-commerce being available to the small manufacturer has made listing in the Walthers catalog unnecessary. The small vendor can be discovered on the web and sell direct without the challenges of supplying inventory to a big operation like Walthers.

Tom Madden said...

I've gone through two episodes of large but inflexible businesses caught in technology changes that caused their breakup, one in real life and one vicariously. The former was the breakup of the Bell System (AT&T), the latter the breakup of the Pullman Company. In both cases competitors instituted anti-trust legal action to gain access to otherwise protected markets, and in both cases high-level decision makers were so confident that their size and dominant economic presence protected them that they never prepared to lose the litigation.

In this age of planned obsolescence and short product life cycles, it may be hard to comprehend that Bell System standards (I worked for Bell Labs) required that every new piece of equipment had to be compatible with every piece of equipment already in the field, no matter how old it was or how ancient the technology. The huge bureaucracy needed to administer all this made the company top-heavy, and the resulting conservative corporate philosophy made it difficult to respond to the opportunities offered by new technologies.

In retrospect, Pullman's breakup went more smoothly in terms of work force retention, but the company does not exist today. The remnants of the Bell System do exist, but in the aggregate they are but a shadow of its former self. The consumer, though, is much better off and the communications field is totally different and much more advanced than it might have been had Ma Bell survived intact.

The lesson for our hobby's organizations and businesses? Past success means little when the ground shifts beneath you - you have to change and adapt with the times. Whether it's the landlord selling the building, customers finding alternative sources, or potential members seeing your organization as out of touch, unforeseen events are really inevitable. These are existential threats that can wipe you out. But if you pay attention, try to anticipate things that can go wrong and be prepared to react quickly when they do, you may find that fresh opportunities are inevitable, too.

Tom Madden

Steve Solombrino said...

I agree with what you have said, Pierre. I would also add the Closing of Caboose Hobbies due to loss of their lease and retirement of the owners as a result had nothing to do with the state of the hobby. Caboose Hobbies was one of the first to offer their inventory on the internet back when their listings were text only and you had to phone in your order. They were way ahead of the trend. Walthers as a manufacturer, wholesale jobber and retailer has never really been able to satisfy their wholesale customers by not stocking the goods they are supposed to be distributing and by directly competing with their wholesale customers. Hobby shops can't reliably order goods that are in stock at the manufacturers through Walthers and they are in direct competition with their wholesale customers. Their insistence on only serving brick and mortar stores has also hurt them by pissing off long standing customers that have gone internet only. A case in point is a close friend of mine who had a shop for over forty years and went internet only as he went into semi-retirement. Both Athearn and Walthers shut him off even though he paid cash quickly and never owed anybody a dime for the shop's entire history. Walthers not performing as wholesale agents is also legendary. Many manufacturers that relied on Walthers as distributors went direct to dealers themselves and experienced runaway order volumes as the dealers could finally order products by the gross whereas Walthers would order $3.00 items a dozen at a time twice a year and take a cut. Their low volume infrequent orders drove small manufacturers nuts! Their pricing for illustrations in their catalogs for carrying product lines was also cost prohibitive for small manufacturers. Many went to text only listings in the Walthers catalog and others just quit using them altogether. This is a major reason why the paper catalogs have been condensed under one cover. The other reason is why would anybody buy a paper catalog when they could just go to the manufacturer's site to see what is currently available and one can usually order the items at the same time with 100% fulfillment. As a retailer, Walthers also does not have a live inventory system when one uses their site. If one needs to order multiples of items one does not know that Walthers cannot fill the order immediately. Only after completing the order and paying does one find out that they only had three on hand instead of the twenty you needed and even then, it can take over a day to receive an email letting you know what you will get. Things have changed, period. Those that don't change fall behind like any other business and are not an indication of a failing hobby. The hobby is fine and doing well. We have mind boggling choices of products and sources for products that we never had before and we're all having a blast!

Karl A. said...

It looks like Caboose Hobbies may be coming back as an online store. I am amazed at the sheer volume of product we have available for us in the hobby today.

Walther's inability to change with the times is obvious. They are getting run over by better run online stores. They remind me of Kodak ("This digital thing is a fad, people love real film"). Those that don't adapt, die.

As for the NMRA, I have been trying to find a reason to join, but they don't provide me with one. The value just isn't there for me.