Train hobby turns into business

03/18/2014 2:42 PM

03/18/2014 2:42 PM

Frank Fisher remembers when he got his first model train.

“I was 5 and Santa Claus got it for me,” Fisher said. “As I got older, I always liked it. Every few months I would add something I didn’t have.”

Fast forward to four years ago, when Fisher bought the Train Shop in the Stanley area of Johnson County. The shop, near the busy intersection at West 151st Street and Metcalf Avenue, carries a variety of items for model train lovers.

“This 110-year-old building is crammed full with stuff from the late turn of the century to brand new model trains and accessories,” Fisher said.

Until he bought the Train Shop, Fisher had owned an automotive business in which he restored older cars.

Q: How did you get into the model train business?

“I was getting tired of the car business and thought I’d do something new,” he said. “I heard that the owner of the shop was retiring and no one was looking to buy it, so I thought why not. I looked around and there really wasn’t anyone else doing this at the time, so there wasn’t much competition.”

Fisher’s inventory covers the gamut of model train items with hundreds of items in his 2,100-square-foot space. He is a direct dealer for several model train companies including Lionel and Atlas electric trains. Fisher said pricing on train sets has stayed relatively steady — from $30 and up — but there are more automated options, and those can add up. And he has weathered the recession.

“In a good economy, it’s a great business,” he said. “In a fair economy, it’s a fair business.”

Q: Who are your customers?

Most of the Train Shop’s customers are people who have been into model trains for some time or families just starting a child in the hobby.

“They’re an eclectic bunch of guys,” Fisher said. “You can always learn something from somebody in the group.”

Q: How do you handle your inventory?

“I keep track of what I sell and what I still have on hand,” Fisher said. “If I have it for more than six months, I put it on sale on the Internet.”

Fisher has a website for the store, “but that’s a struggle for me,” he said.

“I need to manage it better. It’s too much to add to all the other responsibilities I have,” said Fisher, who owns and operates the store by himself. “I’d like to find a young kid to do that for me, but I haven’t found that yet.”

Another aspect of Fisher’s business is doing repairs, which he really enjoys and accounts for about 20 percent of his workload.

“I like it when it doesn’t move or it’s been sitting right there in a box since the ’50s and I can resurrect it,” Fisher said.

Q: What’s your biggest business challenge?

Fisher said time management is tough for him.

“It’s a struggle,” he said. “I do everything myself — I do the ordering, the repairs, the selling.… It’s easy to get caught up in spending a lot of time on a thing that doesn’t really produce any money.”

Occasionally Fisher’s wife will come and help out during his busy season of November and December.

Fisher doesn’t have lofty aspirations when it comes to the future of his train store.

“Business could always be better,” Fisher said. However, he likes working for himself.

“For being able to do your own thing and set your own hours, it’s OK,” he said.

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