Written by Paul D. Race for Big Indoor Trains™
After three years of writing online "buyer's guides" for model train fans, I have learned first-hand just how quirky the market can be, just how fast prices can go up or down, and just how quickly a product that seemed widely available a month ago can virtually disappear. Sadly, dozens of visitors who waited until the very last minute to buy some product I recommended found that it had disappeared from almost everyone's shelves only a few days or weeks before. (Not to mention that people who wait until December 20 can't always get through to suppliers, even if they have the trains in stock.)
When assembling and maintaining our "buyer's guide" pages, we try to recommend products that not only meet my own quality and usefulness standards, but which seem to be widely available. Still, I often find myself looking for new suppliers for popular products that have sold out unexpectedly. Of course, the problem is worse between Labor Day and New Years' Day. But the truth is, model trains come and go all of the time. Although we will try to help you find any particular item you need, nobody can guarantee that any particular product will be available indefinitely, or even a week after we post it - we've caused "runs" on several product lines simply by writing about them.
From the perspective of anyone selling trains, the answer is simple: If you think you want it, buy it now. But I'm much more interested in informing than in selling, so I've included an explanation for the vagaries of this industry. Hopefully this will help your decisions to be "educated guesses" at least.
Model Trains Have Long Development Cycles and Slow Return on Investment - Manufacturers make and distribute model trains in huge "batches." The batches are planned twelve to eighteen months before the products are expected to hit the shelves, then more often or not, the instructions and any molds needed are sent overseas to start the manufacturing run. At the same time the manufacturers take orders from distributors and other huge customers, so they have some idea how many of a particular item they are likely to sell. Because "setup" can be half or more of the cost of producing a product, the manufacturer may add another 50%-100% to the orders they think will be popular, so they don't run out prematurely and have to face either losing sales or rushing into another manufacturing run. By the time a run has terminated, and the products are on their way back to the US, the manufacturers are already working on the next product. They won't order another batch of the first product until it starts disappearing from the warehouses altogether, and they can start accumulating orders for it again. This may take weeks or years, and manufacturers aren't always very good at guessing which it will be. If a manufacturer feels that they've accidentally glutted the market, they may never order another batch of that particular product (even one that seemed popular at first). Also, many "collectible" products, such as the subscription trains offered by Hawthorne Village®, are never reordered.
Why Deciding When to Purchase can be a Gamble - With the exception of the limited edition stuff, most of the pieces that are currently available are just as likely to be around a year from now. But, because of the "spurty" manufacturing described above, a product that has been available, even gathering dust for years in stores and warehouses across the country, may suddenly become unavailable, period. The only problem is that neither you nor I have any way of being entirely certain which is which. That's where the choice of when to buy what becomes a gamble. (As a model railroader and garden train enthusiast, I've gambled wrong both ways myself, in case you wondered.)
For my part, as the owner of the Big Indoor Trains™ web site and related buyers' guide, I periodically check the supplier links. If a product shortage seems to be temporary, and I can't easily link to another supplier with the same product, I will leave that original link up so that you can get your name on the supplier's waiting list if you want. If I determine that a product is on the verge of extinction, I will remove it and attempt to replace it with a similar product that seems to be widely available. I will also attempt to answer all e-mail questions (including those about availability) in a timely manner.
But the caveat is that any product on any page may change price or become unavailable at any moment, and I may not be able to help you find one at any price. Every year, I receive several desperate requests from customers who really "need" a particular train but had waited until it was too late to order. If you see a specific product on these pages that you need to own, then it's up to you to time your order so that you avoid disappointment. All I can say with certainty is that you will not be disappointed with the quality or features of any item listed in these catalogs. (And if for some reason you are, the suppliers all have a return policy.)
A Note about Pricing - I have removed pricing information from product descriptions because I couldn't keep up with price fluctuations. When I can, I try to provide more than one recommended supplier for each item so you have a choice, at least.
Finally, I hope that you have enjoyed taking a look at what is available, and learning what will work and what will probably not work for your particular needs. Please let me know if you have any concerns or suggestions for improvement.
Best of Luck
Paul D. Race
Note: Big Indoor Trains(tm), Big Train Store(tm), Family Garden Trains(tm), Big Christmas Trains(tm), and Garden Train Store(tm) are trademarks of Breakthrough Communications (www.btcomm.com). All information, data, text, and illustrations on this web site are
Copyright (c) 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 by Paul D. Race.
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