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Whither Tom Yorke? WAS: State of the Union Message

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  • Mike South
    What follows is a strictly personal point of view, but it has been (I hope) carefully considered... :-) For the more general malaise known as the disappearing
    Message 1 of 3 , Jun 1, 2007
      What follows is a strictly personal point of view, but it has been (I
      hope) carefully considered... :-)

      For the more general malaise known as 'the disappearing true modeller',
      there is no solution. Demographics and changed lifestyles mean that the
      'true modeller' (one who actually builds things for himself) is a
      shrinking breed. How many kids do you now see on a Sunday afternoon
      tinkering under the hood/bonnet of some 10 years old semi-wreck
      automobile with their Dads or brothers? The basic 'societal feedstock'
      has evaporated! I could go on and on, but this is neither the time nor
      the place.

      However, there is almost certainly a '10 year window of opportunity'
      that should see Tom well into (an equally well-deserved) retirement (I
      believe he is currently 57). That is in "Collectors Ready Finished,
      Limited Run, Finished 'Character' Buildings" market. Tom has already
      more than mastered the 'Character' Buildings bit, now we need a change
      in marketing and distribution strategy. A true master in this area is
      Timothy Richards....


      Look at his prices, look at his payroll, look at his distribution
      'downline'. Yes, he has had some bumps along the way (selling via the
      'toys for spoilt and bored dilettante middle aged brats' outlets like
      House of Ascot was not a great idea, as they only ended up deep
      discounting once the 'flavour of the month' had gone stale). But there
      IS a good lesson here. There is in Europe and possibly even in North
      America a 'critical mass' of discerning, deep-pocketed, highly educated
      people who have traveled, have learned to appreciate the best in other
      countries' vernacular architecture AND are prepared to put their Credit
      Cards into action when they see something of QUALITY that piques their
      interest AND brings pleasant memories to the fore as well = 'The
      Talisman Effect'. But, please note, all Richard's buildings are FINISHED
      ready-to-DISPLAY items. The 'trap' that Tom is currently in is that, in
      order to make some sort of a living, his prices are seen as 'high' by
      his typical profile buyers (compared to Far Eastern 'coolie' labour
      prices), yet - because these are KITS that still involve the purchaser
      in further high investments in both time and already acquired skills -
      it is the buyers who (in their eyes anyway) put in the true VALUE ADDED
      component of the final, finished product. So Tom totally misses out on
      the area of greatest possible financial gain! Answer? Sell only finished
      product to people who can and will pay for it and who are not
      necessarily remotely interested in the minutiae of how that product is
      made. They simply appreciate an artifact of intrinsic beauty and
      artistic integrity.

      To in some measure illustrate the point, my 'neighbour' out here in
      Calgary, deepest western Canada, is longtime professional modellmaker
      and artist Mike Breuer....


      Mike builds delightfully atmospheric custom-ordered, totally finished,
      European-prototype station and lineside buildings in both 'HO' and 'O'
      scales. Mike's buildings are so darn good that, with only the tiniest
      bit of imagination, you can shrink yourself down to 1:87 or 1:43 scale,
      sit down on the bench outside the building, and listen to the birds
      singing, the cows mooing and the gentle pastoral sounds around you. And
      believe me, people PAY for models of such quality. As is the nature of
      such things, one-offs tended to become 'limited runs', with jigs and
      castings made for just one model being reused for later (near)
      duplicates, hence there are some economies of scale AND the 'learning
      curve' for each new prototype is drastically cut once you get into
      duplication of that specific prototype. I hope Mike won't mind me saying
      so, but he used to offer kit versions of some of his models and 'key'
      castings from them. But, bluntly, there was no profit in it, most kit
      buyers were an (economic) pain in the butt to deal with (too much
      correspondence, too many ridiculous questions, too much requested
      'custom' work on what was after all supposed to be a standard KIT
      component). And, to top it all, there weren't nearly enough kit buyers
      anyway (sound familiar Tom?). Now, Mike faces the happy dilemma juggling
      with healthy queues of would-be buyers of 'ready-to-plant' buildings,
      sold at respectable prices that reflect the Value Added that Mike's very
      real design, manufacturing and FINISHING skills justly deserve.

      If Tom truly wants to stay only in the KIT design and manufacturing
      business, I earnestly would suggest looking at the European market. The
      American market for 'Depression Era' and 'Flyblown South-West/Mexican'
      buildings has run its course. Those who remember such buildings fondly
      (?) from their impressionable teen years (we ALL tend to fixate on these
      so-called 'golden years') are either (1) dead, (b) have advancing
      arthritis and crapping out eyesight, (c) are living on tight pensions,
      or (d) are a commercially insignificant body of would-be customers (10
      copies per prototype kit is a sure recipe for commercial suicide).
      Besides, for those who haven't noticed, North Americans have become
      terminally 'cheap' of late, as we have become satiated with quality
      goods from the Far East and now no longer understand or even care what
      goes into making them, just that Wal-Mart can supply them (and destroy
      our hard won manufacturing and skills base in the process).

      If you move to an INTEGRATED line of quality FINISHED items, to a
      recognised model railway scale (I would strongly suggest 1/35), then
      both Military and Railway modellers can admire, collect, use and/or
      'plant' them on their showcases (most) or in their dioramas (quite a
      lot) or their layouts (not many). The 'problem' with European vernacular
      architecture is that it tends to be pretty regional (d--n, how I hate
      all that Faller 'Black Forest' medieval half-timbered plastic c--p in HO
      :-), BUT differing designs from differing areas can be made to work
      together. But please, please don't end up making awful pastiches like
      VLS Custom Dioramics 'European' railway station in 1/35 - a ghastly
      mockery rather than even a 'flavour of' :-) If you want 'atmospheric'
      station buildings, look no further than the 60 cm. Calvados system [the
      little gems at Lion-sur-Mer and Luc-sur-Mer immediately come to mind] or
      the metre gauged Tramways de la Corr├Ęze (my friends will recognise
      'special pleading' for Le Mortier Gumond coming in here :-) , whilst the
      once oh-so-numerous light railways of France, Germany, Italy and Spain
      have more than enough delightful lineside buildings to keep Tom going
      WELL into his [well paid] dotage :-) I'm certain that if more Europeans
      knew of Tom's Porto Vecchio Water Tank AND could buy it ready made on a
      wooden base, complete with indolent leaning figure in appropriate
      'regional' garb, he would have sold many, many more of them.

      Enough rambling (courtesy of a delayed flight on Air Canada and air
      traffic control 'difficulties' courtesy of NavCan) :-)

      Mike South
      Calgary, Alberta, Canada

      ...who for 20 years has modeled the prototype two-foot(ish) gauge on
      3/4" gauge ('On3') track in 1/32 scale, but who has also built and
      enjoyed 13x 'O' scale, 2x 'HO' scale and 1x 'G' scale Tom Yorke kits
      over a 30 year span.
    • michael lynch
      ... been (I ... XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX If you think that building structures and dioramas one at a time and selling them
      Message 2 of 3 , Jun 1, 2007
        --- In Yorke_Kits@yahoogroups.com, Mike South <mikesouth@...> wrote:
        > What follows is a strictly personal point of view, but it has
        been (I
        > hope) carefully considered... :-)

        If you think that building structures and dioramas one at a time and
        selling them easily is a snap, then i suggest you take a shot with
        your best effort on ebay and see exactly how many bids and final
        selling price you obtain. I think you would be in for a shock.

        Oh and do not forget, you have to figure out how to ship that wonder
        you built, so the thing doesn't end up in pieces as tooth pics or in
        hydrocal dust. Take it from one who knows and has built 462 dioramas
        in HO And O scale.

        There are really on two kit manufacturers who have lasted. George
        Sellios of Fine scale Miniatures fame since 1967 and Bob Van Gelder
        of South River Modelworks since around 1990. Both do only HO scale
        and produce 500 + of their once a year releases. But they are
        concentrating on the most popular scale and their items are more
        collected than built.

        Tom Yorke has been around since the 70"s producing both HO and O
        scale plus some G. Too attract the collector/builder one must have
        full page colour adverts in the magazine of full blown dioramas of
        their kits, these cost around $6000.00 ONE TIME.

        Goof just once on your selection to build and offer a design and if
        the public doesn't care for it, ya cannot eat it.!!!!!!!!!

        FSM has had a couple that did not sell well and took 2-3 years to
        sell out of those kits. It takes them 9 months to design and produce
        a new kit. So its not like you can just rush to market with something
        else. Not the ideal prescription for success.

        Lots of people have all these great ideas about "the road to
        success", but they are usually university business professors sitting
        contented in their 'tenure' and not facing the real world of business
        and getting out there and scrapping for orders. Pie in the sky
        dreamers !

      • azswiftwing
        Here is my thoughts on all this (from one who rarely posts): An old girlfriend of mine once told me that the surest way to ruin a pleasurable hobby is to try
        Message 3 of 3 , Jun 1, 2007
          Here is my thoughts on all this (from one who rarely posts):

          An old "girlfriend" of mine once told me that the surest way to ruin a
          pleasurable hobby is to try to sell it. To those of you who sell
          kits, more power to you. Rest assured that I'm more than content to
          buy the kits that I like (even though I doubt that I'll live long
          enough to build them all!)

          Have a great weekend.
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