In the not too distant past, the local hobby store (LHS) was the go-to place for model railroading supplies. You could see new products in person, ideally talk to other model train enthusiasts and generally begin or reinforce the feeling of your model rail community. Then came the fairly sophisticated options of eBay, warehouse hobby stores and the smaller local shops, all with online buying options.
Lots has been written about how important it is to support your LHS, how these are still the backbone, the go-to places for model railroading. Without making any grand statements about this being true or not, I’d like add another wrinkle to the LHS mix. Supporting your LHS is a good idea if, and I can’t stress this enough, your local hobby shop also supports you!
For most of us, any time set aside for hobbies is a valuable commodity. We work long hours at our jobs and our hobby time is precious. In addition, most of us don’t live around the corner from a well-stocked LHS which means we’ll be driving to get there. With gas hovering at the $5.00 per gallon mark, and depending on what you drive, that relaxing and much anticipated trip to the LHS can cost you and hour or so and a few bucks in gas. Ok, this is the world and economy we live in, I can accept (if not love) that.
What I can’t accept is when the LHS thinks customer service is an option. This leads me to talk about the burr under my saddle today. I called ahead to my LHS today (which is a 40 minute drive each way) to check on their stock of a specific product. With the aforementioned time constraints and gas prices, calling ahead is something I do often these days. I was told the item was in stock. I’ll cut the drama short here, of course when I got to the LHS the item was not in stock.
Maybe I wouldn’t mind if this was the first time this had happened, it wasn’t. Two things tick me off about today’s episode: the item I called about is displayed on a shelf about 10 feet from the counter in this LHS, easy enough to check. To make today even more annoying, this is not even close to the first time this has happened in this LHS. I’ve gone back several times to this LHS because I do like the idea of supporting a LHS, but today’s visit was the last. Once I got back home, I simply checked for the lowest price online and ordered what I needed.
Maybe had the person I spoke to today in the LHS apologized for wasting my time, said he’d call me when the next delivery arrived or even put down the newspaper he was reading long enough to talk to me, I’d still buy from them in the future. I spend maybe $500 a year in this shop, given the thin margins retailers have today, I realize the loss of my business is just a drop in the bucket. Still, this particular LHS saw no value in supporting at least one customer today; sadly, the feeling is now mutual.
I’m still a proponent of supporting your LHS, even if it isn’t all that local, because I realize how tough running a business can be. I just think it’s a reasonable request for your LHS to support you in return.