Whether you’re just getting started with a new train set, or you’re a longtime modeler, visiting your local hobby shop (if you have one) can be a fun and inspirational learning experience.
If you’re thinking of expanding or adding to your new train set, you may not know where to start or what’s available on the market. A good way to get inspired is to visit your local hobby shop to see what types of products they carry and how they’re displayed. Often times, the store will have a variety of layouts and themes on display.
Take your time and notice the details and different components of the display. Seeing all the elements together as a cohesive system can put things into perspective. It can be hard to see the big picture while looking at products online. Acquaint yourself with the different brands, trains, accessories, tools, and controls, as well as any reference books. Even if you don’t make a purchase your first time into the shop, you’ll leave with a better understanding of the hobby than when you came in.
For longtime modelers, you may be experiencing a plateau with your layout and need a catalyst for change. When was the last time you went to a hobby shop that isn’t your regular, go-to store? Take a look at our store locator (link), and dedicate an afternoon to visiting a new shop. A new shop means new layouts, new staff, and possibly different products. Seeing these things in a different light may inspire you to try something new, or give you new ideas.
- Begin with the basics
After visiting a hobby shop for the first time, you may be overwhelmed by the amount of products and accessories it took to create the in-store train layouts. Understand these types of layouts take a very long time to build. Talk with the staff on what they recommend for someone just starting out. They’ll be able to show you the basic building blocks of any model layout (track, freight and passenger cars, buildings) and walk you through the pros and cons of various aspects of model railroading. By starting with the basics, and building step by step, you’re more likely to finish all of your necessary components, rather than starting and abandoning ambitious projects.
- See products before you buy
If you’re just starting out as a model railroader, you may have a lot of questions or lack direction for your layout. Sure, you know that N and HO scale are different sizes, but what does that size difference look like? Do you want DC or DCC? Should you buy Code83 or Code100 track? The benefit of going into your local hobby shop is seeing the products firsthand. Sometimes the actual packaging conveys more information than you might see in ads or on the internet, and you’ll be able to view the product in different angles versus one picture online, or no pictures at all. In certain circumstances, your hobby shop may be willing to let you demo a product that you’re interested in! Being able to physically touch, see, and hear the different components allows you to make a well-informed purchase, and can save you from buyer’s remorse down the road.
- Compare similar products
Multiple manufacturers may offer similar trains, vehicles, figures, and scenery materials. Small details can be the deciding factor in the products that you purchase, especially amongst similar items. Often times, pictures on the internet cannot accurately depict the exact color, emphasize minuscule details, or give you that sense of assurance that seeing something in person provides. If you’re deciding between two similar products, make a visit to your local hobby shop. Chances are, you’ll be able to quickly tell which model is best for you.
- See store displays
Manufacturers like to promote their products in stores via displays, models, and interactive tools. These allow you to compare products side-by-side, or see a range of compatible products. Your hobby shop may have scenery, hardware, vehicles, paints, adhesives and more displayed on special racks. In many cases, the racks have informative signs and graphics showing the basics of how the products work together. This can remove a lot of the guesswork for a new modeler, and make for an expedited shopping experience for more experienced modelers.
- Ask the experts
Most hobby shops employ modelers on their staff. Even if they don’t model trains, they may build military models, aircrafts, or vehicles. In such instances, they can usually answer questions about construction, painting, weathering, and scenery. By talking with an expert, you’ll be able to talk about what you are doing, and let them know any general products you’re interested in receiving a recommendation about. Your hobby shop should be willing to provide feedback and make recommendations — after all, they’re counting on you to return and become a lifelong customer.
- Books and DVDs
Are you a picture person? Imagine ordering a scenery how-to book online, only to find out that it’s completely text, or worse, receiving a DVD in a different language! Hobby shops aren’t libraries, but they should carry a number of model train books and DVD’s for you to browse. If you’re just starting in modeling, take time to flip through and choose some how-to books that fit your needs.
If you’re a seasoned modeler, or building a layout, books and DVDs about real railroads are great modeling reference. Not only can you see the train action on your favorite railroad, era or region, you can also look at features in the background for scenery and detailing ideas.
- A learning experience
Many great hobby shops foster the personal growth of their customers. It’s becoming more common for stores to host lectures and offer how-to classes on model railroading topics. Subjects can range from scenery, to DCC, to weathering and detailing. In addition, many shops sponsor or advertise local model railroad clubs and railroad events. Check out the bulletin board – you might find something you want to visit!
- Model railroading ideas sometimes come from other hobbies
Don’t limit yourself by exclusively purchasing products made for model railroading. Yes, in general, those items are your safest bets, however, you could be missing out on nuggets of information for your layout. Full-line hobby shops often carry military, aircraft, vehicle, and other modeling supplies that can also be used for model train layouts. Craft supplies are also common in hobby stores.
Additionally, are there dioramas on display? Check them out, and if you see a scene or painting technique you can apply to your model railroad, ask how it was done. By expanding your product base, you’re tapping into numerous new, unique looks and techniques for your model train layouts.
- Meet other modelers
Model railroading can sometimes be a solitary and isolating hobby. Staying active in your community by visiting your local hobby shop can connect you with other model railroaders and hobbyists. Some hobby shops encourage camaraderie between its customers by running contests, hosting events, and even sponsoring a local model railroad club.
Often times, there will be a wide range of experience amongst your fellow shoppers, from novice to experts. Engaging with those on the same skill level as you serves as a way to gauge your progress and share similar experiences. Seasoned hobbyists can act as mentors, and are typically eager to give advice and guidance.
Even if you’ve been in the hobby for decades, sometimes a chat with someone new to the hobby can provide an insight you haven’t considered, and interacting with other modelers can revitalize your interest and reignite your passion for the hobby.
One thing is for sure, when you are visiting a local shop, look for Walthers products. Shops that carry the Walthers brand are good shops, and if they don’t they are missing an iconic brand that has led the industry for 85 years.