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An interview with Simon Kohler, Hornby marketing manager

Interview by Gary Leigh
September 2005


Simon Kohler (left) with Pat Hammond at a
recent Train Collectors Society event.


Model Rail Forum and Hornby's representative, Simon Kohler, met up at a location in London recently. This resulted in a lively discussion. Model Rail Forum had a few questions to put to Simon and he agreed that we could share the answers with the Model Rail Forum community. Read about what Simon has to say about Live Steam, model livery selection and other topics.

Q: Live Steam. Have you anything interesting to say? I have noted that the Flying Scotsman Live Steam model has slightly shorter cylinders.

Glad you mention that. Live steam has built up a following. Not only your traditional Hornby customers but a group of people passionate about Live Steam products. Live Steam is evolving and developing. We are particularly pleased with the Flying Scotsman. The components inside have been compressed to enable the engineering to fit into a smaller body, and yet there has been no loss of power or performance. Going forward there is the German market and the American market. And there is pressure for GWR, LMS and SR outline models. We have people continually looking and developing Live Steam. If we could produce a small diesel engine and develop a range of Live Diesel locomotives then we would!

Q: Hornby DCC Control. Have you anything interesting to say?

No not yet, next question! (Simon grins)

Seriously though, Hornby are always looking at new ideas and some are developed and some are not. A few years ago one of our engineers came up with a "pop up driver" that would appear in the cab of locomotives depending on the direction of travel. It worked! Lets move on. (Simon grins again)

Q: OK then. DCC generally. Hornby have been phasing in a range of DCC ready locomotives and no doubt at some point in the future every Hornby locomotive will be DCC ready. How do you view warranty issues with DCC as more and more of your customers open up the locomotives and play around with the insides?

We will do the right thing. That's the Hornby philosophy. When a customer sends something in that has an issue that may be technical in nature we have a look at it and we may contact the customer to talk it through if we need more information (I know this from personal experience). That's always been our policy and it will continue as far as I can see to be our policy.

Q: Skaledale and Lyddle End. Have you anything interesting to say about this range?

Well I did have a phone call a few months ago where the chap said "You are selling my house for £14!". He had spotted that one of the models in the Skaledale range was an exact copy of his house. In fact it was my old home where I was bought up as a child! He invited me over to have a look around at the inside and it was eerie. I stood in the bedroom and looked down at the garden and I could picture myself as an 8 year old staring up at my mum who was telling me off for getting muddy. The house had changed over the years but certain things remained the same.

In fact, there is a lot of me and my past in the Skaledale and Lyddle End range. If I see a building I like as Iím travelling around the country I will take a few photographs of it and pass them on to Product Development to see what they can do. The range is made up of real buildings that can be found around the Britain. And the range will be subject to constant change. Buildings that are in the catalogue one year may not be in the catalogue the next. Look out for interesting new developments. (Simon grins again!)

Q: The Hornby Jinty tank loco has been a Hornby icon for many years. Have you any regrets about the passing of this model now that a competitor has produced a super detailed version?

Who said that we are not going to continue to produce the Jinty? I certainly didnít! Its in the Hornby catalogue and will remain so for sometime to come. There is room in the market place for both models. Its about choice. If somebody wants to pay £50 or more for a super detailed version then the option is there. Not everybody can afford to buy high priced super detailed models and there will always be room in the market for models at the lower end of the price spectrum. Think about the Class 47 diesel. There are or will be several £90 versions and there is a Hornby £40 version. Please, we are not going to stop making our £40 version just because there is now a £90 version available from somebody else especially as it is still selling!

Q: How do you react to the sort of feedback that you see published on the internet these days?

Everyone has an opinion and you either like it or you donít. Basically the content on the internet is no different to the variety and type of feedback that we get at shows. I do like to see constructive feedback and criticism. Comments such as "Your model needs a complete retool, why donít you do something about it or drop it!" are of no help (see previous answer above). When customers come up to me and tap me on the shoulder and say "Have you thought of doing this version of this loco or that model?" and they then go on to set out in some detail what is required, then that is what I call constructive criticism.

Q: The new format of the Hornby catalogue was very well received this year. Are the plans finalised for next years catalogue and how do you think you could improve the catalogue?

They are, I can, and I have!

We do get asked to produce a CD Rom version of the catalogue. Customers come up and say that if we did that, or this, or something else, they would buy it. However, when you eventually produce the product, those customers who said they would buy it donít! A competitor produced a CD Rom version of their catalogue on the back of customer feedback. Go and ask the competitor how many they still have sitting on the shelves!

Q: How do you determine the choice of liveries for your models?

We cannot please all of the people all of the time, but we do try and please most people most of the time. We probably receive more feedback on liveries and paint schemes than on any other subject. We look for relevance to liveries already in the range. We look for something that has a wide appeal. As an example, Scotland is an excellent model railway market. There are probably more railway modellers in Scotland per head of population than any other part of Britain. Look at how popular the show in Glasgow is every year. When we look at models that may appeal to our Scottish customers, we look at the loco operations. Did the loco operate out of Kings Cross? That sort of thing. A loco that has an appeal to Scottish modellers would then hopefully appeal to modellers in other regions of the country. We want to offer a range of new models every year that is balanced and not heavily weighted to one region. However, that does not mean that we wonít produce models that may have an exclusive appeal to one area or another. An example being the "Brighton Works" terrier in this years catalogue.

Q: And finally Simon, when are you going to introduce some ewes to your sheep range? Most of the farmers I know in Wales rarely have fields full of rams! (questioner grins)

I didnít know that you looked that closely at our sheep! There are already companies that produce ewes so our Hornby rams probably complement these very nicely! (we both grin!)

The interview closed and we both went off and purchased another round of drinks. The train was taking the strain that day!


Ends.

We all wish to thank Simon for taking time out of a very busy schedule to meet up in London and then to provide such an excellent insight into the hobby from a manufacturers perspective.

Gary Leigh





Interview copyright Hornby and Gary Leigh. Those wishing to publish all or part of the interview elsewhere must contact the copyright holders to obtain consent prior to publication. Those wishing to link to the interview from another website may do so providing credit is given to www.modelrailforum.com

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