By TIM BLACKWELL/Cowcatcher Magazine
For the second consecutive year, the Cowcatcher has taken the pulse of model railroading, and once again readers believe the hobby is thriving. However, some subtle changes in rating the state of model railroading suggest a little more concern about its direction than 12 months ago.
In December readers answered 25 questions about the overall state of the hobby, their personal preferences and skill levels and spending habits. The survey attracted the highest number of responses in its history.
Respondents rated the hobby’s value, product quality and ease of use and reliability of models, scenery products and more. The consensus is that model railroading continues to provide a great experience and is still a good value. Nearly 80 percent rated the overall state of model railroading as excellent or good.
Yet respondents are concerned more than ever about increasing prices and supply chain issues that are affecting product availability, which could hinder growth.
The survey confirms that model railroading is entering 2022 with cautious optimism.
On the surface, the hobby business is thriving, and model railroad and general hobby retailers who have enjoyed more than a year of solid sales are optimistic, even considering expansion in a sector that until recently has taken a back seat to personal devices.
According to Hobby Merchandiser, an industry trade magazine, several general hobby store owners intend to expand their retail spaces in 2022 to boost inventory, a good sign for a brick-and-mortar sector that has suffered for years.
Also, excitement fills the air at conventions, shows and train rides in anticipation of continued movement toward “normal.” Model railroaders are returning big time to shows, and reports from regional train shows suggest that shoppers are reaching into their wallets.
However, behind the scenes there are problems.
Supply chain issues resulting from the pandemic are slowing deliveries and raising prices. Manufacturers reported in 2021 that shortages of chips used in decoders and long shipping delays from overseas are pressuring prices and threatening consumer confidence. Plastic shortages are affecting not only production of models but bags for consumers to take them home.
Technology, high quality products raise the bar
Still, the hobby has a lot going for it.
Product quality and value again rate high, and slightly more respondents than last year believe this continues to be the golden era of model railroading, a big shout out in appreciation of the highly accurate and detailed products available. Improved technology has set the bar high for run-ability of locomotives and rolling stock, and structures and accessories continue to edge higher on realism.
3D printing is reinvigorating the parts and detail cottage industry. Imaginative manufacturers and garage entrepreneurs are introducing an array of new detail products about every month. Just about everything under the sun is available to accent just about any scene.
Readers do contend that the rising cost of supplies is a sticking point a little more than in the past. The survey suggests heightened anxiety over pricing, which may be tempering the desire for those vigorously detailed models that bring a pretty penny.
One reader who works at a hobby shop says the trickle-down effect means even higher prices, which could discourage new folks from entering the hobby.
“We are seeing a rush to buy what is available since the future is uncertain regarding pricing and new stock delivery,” says the respondent, who wished to remain anonymous. “All or most vendors are raising their projected retail pricing and this will keep many from entering the hobby. This should NOT become a rich person’s past time, but a learning experience for all ages and levels of experience.”
The hobby’s future continues to weigh on respondents’ minds. Appealing to younger generations, a familiar tune for decades, still resonates, and readers offered various ways to introduce newbies to the hobby.
More on the Cowcatcher’s 2022 State of Model Railroading survey in the January/February 2022 issue.