If things continue on the course they are presently following, sales of new G scale trains, track and accessories will outpace O/O27 within the next five years. Within ten years, G will outmatch total sales of O/O27. That is a hard fact which O/O27 makers have yet to address adequately. Though one maker, Lionel, has entered the G market, it has yet to make a bold forward move with its O gauge lines.
The plain fact is the G is growing in the eyes of the non-hobby public, while O is nowhere to be seen. The Large Scale Association, a consortium of seven G scale manufacturers, has ambitious plans to propel G scale into the public eye. They do not have too far to go. G scale trains have been a staple - usually the only trains - in several home-shopping catalogs. (In one of the largest, Damark, G has been a staple for over six u=years while O/O27 sets are recent and infrequent items.)
On the shelves of major toy chains, G trains are highly visible, while O is either minimal or not there at all. (In our local Toys R Us, at least 3 G scale sets were offered this holiday season, but not one set of O/O27 electric trains!) Should the Large Scale Association accomplis even half of its plans, G will be the large scale choice of people under the age of 35.
Are the O/O27 makers wearing blinders? How can this be?
Most O/O27 fans are older. Those of us over 40 years of age grew up in a time when O trains were heavily promoted. The Lionel and Marx names were well-known then. Both had magazine, newspaper, radio, billboard and television ads. Both were readily available through the popular sales venues of that time: department stores and major catalog companies like Sears, Spiegel, Montgomery Ward, and Wanamakers. In fact, the catalog companies were such big customers that Lionel, Marx and American Flyer would make special exclusive sets for each of them! Lionel trains were an integral part of the Yule displays at Macy's and Gimbels, where shoppers and tourists gawked at fine operating layouts behind massive glass windows.
Times have changed. Beaten by the popularity of HO and bad management decisions, it virtually disappeared by 1970. Marx's presence ebbed, as well, finally ending in 1976. American Flyer folded in 1966. HO train sets replaced the large scale sets in the big catalogs. By the late 1970s, the catalog stores were losing ground to newer marketing strategies. In effect, people shopped differently. The mall and mail order were the rage, fueled by credit cards. Children growing up in the 1970s were not exposed to names like Lionel, Marx or American Flyer. Most advertising went to "TV toys," action figures and other new playthings. The result is that for O/O27, name recognition is minimal in people under the age of 35. They and their children have not been exposed to O/O27 as were the over-40 generations. Strange as it sounds, Lionel doesn't carry weight with the young.
So far, efforts to sell to the non-hobbying public have been minimal among O/O27 vendors, but gaining for G scale. G has grown to the point that Damark is now carrying its costly Shays and Climax type engines for almost a year. We have too look at the facts, and the facts are that G is more likely to turn up in non-hobby milieus that O/O27. With the Large Scale Association announcing an expansion of promotional efforts and an ambitious game plan, it can very well make G the king of large scale.
What of O/O27? Part of the problem is complacency. A glance through the Lionel catalog shows that the focus of its production is collectors. K-Line's recent jump to expensive new models like the GP38 and Hudson is another jump to the high-end buyer. MTH is making connections to have its sets featured in Sears and other catalogs, and therein has a chance of establishing itself for the current generation. Lionel and K - Line seem to be headed in another direction. Selling to the "over 40" crew has its limits. For survival, O/O27 has to gain recruits among the non-hobby market. That means getting into catalogs, placing ads in magazines and making commercials for cable stations.
K - Line is actually best suited for a thrust into the non-hobby market. Its lower prices, quality trains and variety of train sets are the ingredients that appeal to new people. While Lionel has several steam train freight sets, one diesel set and one diesel passenger set, K - Line has four different passenger sets, six different diesel freight sets and two steam sets. As an added plug, three diesel and one steam freight set carry the logos of popular products. (In 1998, there were Coca Cola and Hershey's train sets plus add-on cars and accessories in the catalog.) Lionel may have hedged its bet with a few sets not in the regular catalog, but train for train K - Line had the overall appeal.
Nonetheless, neither are making ambitious forays deep into the general public. Were either of them to approach the public with the zeal of the Large Scale Association, they could establish their name as THE brand of O/O27 for the under-30 crowd. In coming years, that means much greater increase than plying the already-old collector's market.
(Note that a couple Lionel sets are aimed at collectors, such as the NJ Transit and LittleLeague sets)
The O/O27 makers have options. They can sally forth individually, or combine to propagate their scale to the wider public. The size and strength of the O/O27 makers, combined as a team, could very well tip public favor overwhelmingly to O/O27. This would not negate the strides taken by G, which has successfully levered itself into an established scale in the US. G is here to stay. The question is: are O/O27 going to remain powerful components of the large scale end of model railroading and toy train operating?
Complacency. It leaves the door open for an ambitious party to succeed. Those who sit on their laurels are forgotten or unknown to the newer generations, and must renew their name recognition or lose their position to a newer, more active force. Think about it.
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