• Poorly Defined Mission: The store offers "items that will appeal to more than just train enthusiasts," including porcelain dolls as well as "wind chimes, candle holders, barbecue items, backpacks, beach towels and supplies for gift wrapping and packaging." More additions are on their way, including "jewelry, picture frames, mirrors and plant hangers."
Were he still alive, Mr. Rogers might ask, "Can you say 'unfocused'?"
Every business needs a business plan. The plan starts by defining What Business We're In. "A little bit of everything" is not acceptable.
• No Marketing Plan: This new business has done no advertising or promotion, has no distinctive signage, has zero web presence and has failed to introduce itself to the local populace or the hobby community. How do they expect to reach prospective customers?
For example, Whistle Stop Trains, a Portland competitor, regularly offers how-to workshops and other special events to build a base of loyal customers. Including me.
I would also add that HO is the most popular scale of model trains, followed by O-gauge. This establishment has eschewed O-gauge railroading in favor of the much less popular N and Z sizes. This further indicates a lack of basic market knowledge.
• Bad Location: The store is tucked a tiny, almost invisible corner of a country store building. The signage is very small and not illuminated. In the article, one of the four owners (husband, wife and two friends) exclaimed, "What better place to have a train store than right next to the railroad tracks?"
Ummmmm ... how about a place with some visibility and foot traffic as opposed to being next to a little-used, rail freight spur?
• Unfavorable Market Demographics: My back-of-the-envelope calculation indictates that it takes a population of over 400,000 to support a train store. Clark County has a population of 420,000 or so and already has one train-centric hobby shop. It doesn't need this second one and probably can't support it.
At least three independent hobby shops in Clark County have failed in the last 20 years. A major reason for such failures is increased competition from large chains and internet retailers. To make matters worse, this store is in a semi-rural location at the county's north end - far away from the area's population centers.
There are similar negative demographics for the gift and sundries segment of the business - lots of chain store and internet competition as well as a local landscape littered with the bones of failed gift shops.
• No Credible Feedback: One of the owners said, "We've had a lot of people who have come in and looked around and said we have some nice things." So what? Most people tend to be polite but, as a business consultant, I'd want to know if any of these browsers actually purchased anything. If not, why not?
You can't fix problems until you first learn what they are. You can't address customer needs until you find out more about your customers and prospects.
• Availability: The store hours are Fridays and Saturdays from 10-6 and Sundays from noon-6. This is a narrow window, even for a hobby shop. Most hobby establishments are open 4-5 days per week - minimum. The majority of gift retailers - think Hallmark stores - are open seven days per week.