Guest Blog: Making good on product announcements

Frank Ruby, owner of Blue Ridge Hobbies, Greenville, SC, comments on product cancellations and the effects of communication in the hobby industry.

A note to hobby manufacturers: Announcing products and not producing the products without notification to the dealers is starting to affect what our customers are buying or preordering. When customers preorder, they expect the item to be produced. It seems that if a manufacturer announces a production run, but the preorder levels do not meet the expected sales need, they let the wholesalers know. However, this information does not seem to filter down to the small dealers like Blue Ridge Hobbies. The manufacturers do not even post the fact of a new product run or cancellation on their Web sites.

A recent example is during this past Christmas, when a customer was upset that they could not buy the Lionel Circus Train posted on the Lionel Web site. Our wholesaler did not have it and it seems Lionel did not either. If manufacturers do not update their Web sites regularly with product information and notify customers about delays, we feel that the hobby industry will ultimately dwindle down to a few online-only dealers.

As a small company, Blue Ridge Hobbies seems to keep its Web site more up-to-date than the big companies. A retail example would be Toys R Us. They have shown all through the holiday season Lionel’s O-scale Polar Express for sale at $209 and an MSRP of $299. Customers see this and want us to price match. This item is last year’s price and has not been available from them all holiday season. We have had our stock at a very low price and cannot sell it. People think our price is too high when it is in fact lower than most model train retailers.

There are also way too many production and release delays now. This, too, will turn people off from modeling and cause them to move to other leisure activities that can be fulfilled. Communication is our industry’s best solution. An e-mail and Web site updates from the wholesalers and manufacturer would help to ease the perception that customers have.

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