A reader writes:
This may seem a bit odd but my curiosity is burning and I'm dead set on getting to the bottom of something. I got a flyer in the mail today from Bradford Exchange offering to sell me a "Firefighter Hero" collectible locomotive. The flyer is full on both sides with bad quality images and wording filling up every inch of space, as if to be intentionally confusing and convoluted. Their website does not give any additional information as to *who* exactly makes these trains nor in what country they originate from.
Additionally, the flyer has the payment details spread throughout (one side says "$100 Value, Yours Free!" in one corner, "$13.99 Shipping and Service Charge" in another corner, and on the opposite side says "Three Easy Payments of $29.99 Each!"), and also has "SEND NO MONEY NOW" in bright red bold font across the bottom.
I am not a model railroader although I do build Lego dioramas, but the initial implication that this was a rare collectible opportunity got me interested. However, after my red flags went up about the flyer, I looked online for more information. All I could find was the Bradford Exchange website which provided little solace, a few consumer report websites, and your website.
The consumer reviews on Bradford Exchange are glaring; hundreds upon hundreds of people claiming with photo evidence that they had been scammed: Poor quality products, hidden fees and recurring charges, no access to customer service, failed attempts at canceling purchases and card information, and many claims that they prey on the elderly.
I saw your blurb on your website about how you have lost confidence in these products, and if I remember correctly the date referenced was 2008. That being said, I am not sure if you still reply to these contact requests, but I thought I'd give it a shot anyway.
I was hoping you could tell me who makes these trains, from where, whether I am being falsely advertised to, and whether or not this company is scamming people out of their money.
Thanks very much for your time!
You're right to be a little paranoid. You'll also notice that people have a love/hate relationship with Bradford Exchange.
When I got to know these trains, they were made in China by Bachmann, who does make pretty good On30 trains. Some of them are still made by Bachmann; some of them are made by other companies to cheaper standards.
Back in 2004-2008, they were managed by a subsidiary called Collectibles Today, who had real customer service people and real customer service. The trains were part of the "Hawthorne Village" line, which offered resin houses similar to Lemax sets.
The 2008 recession forced Bradford Exchange to dissolve the subsidiary and - apparently - fire everyone who knew what they were doing.
This one looks like one of the Bachmann-built trains. That said, they're models, not toys, and lots of folks give them to their kids or grandkids to play with, resulting in almost immediate destruction. I have damaged one of the locomotives myself simply by picking it up the wrong way.
Once you order the locomotive, which is, actually, a good value, you'll start getting followups about every 3 weeks, whether you want them or not. The cost of each piece seems a little high to me, considering what they are, and the built-in shipping/handling fee increases that. So you could easily be out $400 for a four piece train (plus track and power supply) in about three months, and the things keep coming.
People who know what they're getting tend to be pleased; many still contact me to see if they have the entire set. I used to be able to ask my contacts in Collectibles Today and they would know the answer. No nobody knows the answer.
People who don't know model trains and just think it would be cool around the Christmas tree or something tend to be disappointed.
They are a good size to go with Christmas villages by Dept 56, etc. Though they require a table that's about 40" wide - a regular dining table won't hold the track oval. So, again, folks who are collecting, say, Dept. 56 and know what they're buying tend to be satisfied for the most part.
People responding to the little postcards, etc. without knowing what they're getting into are more likely to be disappointed.
I can't speak personally to customer service issues regarding product returns and cancellations, as I have never subscribed to a set and dealt with that.
Hope this helps.