Train Collections Gone Bye!

[This article first appeared on in November of 1999.]

Imagine you are sitting around five years ago talking with the guys at a train show. What would you be talking about back then? Probably trains. You wouldn't have a clue what Y2K meant. You might think an Internet might be some sort of a new phone. Possibly you would have heard of email, but that is questionable. If someone told you that someday one of the most popular ways to buy and sell trains would be on-line, you might think they were talking about tying train pieces to a clothes line, making it easier to see them!

Back in the good old days it was much simpler to do business. I went to College many years ago, and I think in the last four years I have learned much more than I ever learned in College. I remember the good old days when buying and selling trains was much simpler.

Well, you went to the train show, pulled your trains out of the boxes, then sat there and relaxed until someone came along and gave you an offer for something. It was sort of like fishing. You'd feel that nibble, and start reeling them in until the deal was done. Then you'd sit back down, cast away, and wait for the next ‘interested party' (notice I didn't say fish!) to come along.

I remember the first time I heard the word email. And it was at least 50 more times that I heard that word before I started to wonder what it was. And that was nice, because back then you didn't have to go to work and answer an hour's worth of email before you could actually get some work done.

But what happened in that short five year period? I doubt it is just trains that have changed drastically. I am sure this affects every business. It has gotten to the point where a person actually has to think ahead in this business. Marketing strategies, keeping good customer relations, budgets, and all that other business ‘stuff' that I thought was just theory in College all of a sudden becomes a real part of business.

Now don't get me wrong. I've always tried to run my business like a business. But back in those days you really weren't concerned that much about customer relations. With me it has always been sort of natural, because I am usually pretty easy to get along with. But I think there have been some dealers that got a big charge out of being nasty to some of their customers. ‘Oh, you want that item up there? No, you don't really want that one, you want this one. And if you don't like it, there is the door!' That type of attitude.

When Madison Hardware was in New York, if you didn't get on the good side of those Brothers, you didn't stand a chance. And the quote above was given to me from someone that had that very experience in the New York store. There was a dealer in nearby Akron, Ohio who was so bad he literally made a name for himself!! I have never talked to anyone where his name came up and they didn't tell me of some horrible experiences in that store. And I think he was proud of it. But that was then. This is now. I can't imagine that today's train enthusiasts would put up with that sort of attitude unless maybe it was the only train store for several hundred miles and there were no phone lines!

Oh I remember those good old days when you could come to work, sit back and relax and count the money. It was great.

Now-a-days you guys have me coming to work and actually working for a living! What has this world come to??

Well, actually it has come to be a much better place for business. The Internet has made it easy for anyone to sell their trains at auction or to an individual dealer like me, or to individual people who they wouldn't have had access to before.

Earlier this year I had my doubts about my existence in the future with the new on-line auction houses, and other factors. And surprisingly enough our Train City site was the first train site on the Internet. I remember thinking what have I done to myself? Have I helped put the traditional train dealer out of business?

But then I realized I wasn't the traditional train dealer anymore. I am the start of a new tradition of dealers. Those that think things out and change with the times will survive, those that don't won't. Sad in a way, but who ever said business should be easy?

The good old days are gone. We are approaching a new Century, and it is very fitting that to exist in that new Century in business you have to stay ahead of the game or become apart of history yourself. The difference between now and then is back in the good old days business factors didn't change much. But now with the Internet things change so fast it is almost impossible to comprehend. Who had ever heard of Ebay just three years ago?

One thing that will always remain whether you are a dealer, a collector, an operator, and/or a lover of electric trains. And that is the nature of the electric train. The nostalgic value that electric trains have. The memories, the wonder, the playtime and relaxation that trains give us especially around this time of year.

Although the business aspect of trains has changed a great deal, the trains themselves just keep chugging along putting smiles on people's faces, young and old.

I love this business. And I hope to be here to offer trains and accessories for you to collect and operate for a very long time! And if you see something you want to buy on our web site, please don't ever be afraid the owner is going to bully you into buying something else instead!! That'll only happen at other train shops in the Good Old Days!

Charles Siegel (traincity)