Hornby introduced its first toy train in 1920. The company has survived World War II, the Great Depression, and other significant world events. What gives the brand such resilience?
Hornby has been going for 101 years now. We’ve gone through various eras within the world but also within the industry. We are passionate about producing good models for our loyal customers and keeping up with trends and technology. We’ve evolved so much from 1920, when we had a single locomotive going around a track. That was fascinating in its day. But now, Hornby is so much more — we’re a one-stop shop for this adventurous hobby world. It’s about engaging with that creativity and bringing that passion to the forefront.
How has the model railway hobby evolved over the past few years?
Within the last year and a half — whilst COVID-19 has been so present — we have seen such an uplift in hobbies in general. People have spent more time investing in their hobbies as they’ve been home a bit more and maybe have a little more time on their hands to revisit their hobbies and want to take a break from reality. It’s a stressful time for many of us and we really wanted to take the opportunity to engage with our customers and followers on social media to offer an escape and provide a space for people to talk with one another as they spend more time at home and may feel stress and worry. We wanted to bring together the model railway community to talk with one another, not just about the hobby, but maybe also about some of the things going on in their lives.
Model railways is a hobby for anyone and everyone. Something we’ve been passionate about bringing to the forefront over the last couple of years is that it can be a family hobby. We’re always thrilled to know that parents, children, and grandparents enjoy it together and we see more and more of that. To coincide with that, this year we launched a brand-new children’s range of model railway products called Playtrains. We really hope to engage with that younger audience and get them involved in the model railway journey before they set off into the main Hornby range.
Tell us about the ten-part television series, Hornby: A Model World.
We were approached by a production company in 2019 about creating something for television. We had initial conversations with them towards the end of 2019 and things developed quickly from there. By the beginning of 2020, we had production teams at our headquarters in Margate and that’s where everything started. Not long afterwards, we went into our first COVID-19 lockdown and plans had to change. The production team managed to continue filming safely and efficiently and production has been going on now for the last 18 months. We only wrapped up filming a couple of months ago. It’s wonderful to know that the series is now out there for people to enjoy on Yesterday.
Hornby produces around 350 different locomotives and models every year. The TV series gives viewers insight into what actually goes into making model railways, like the amount of research. There’s a lot of history behind each model, so we spend significant time working out what we’re going to produce based on the scans, sounds of the locomotive, industry feedback, and customer feedback. We want to ensure our models are exact replicas. So much goes into creating models for all our lines, including Corgi and Humbrol. It can sometimes take up to two years for a model to hit the market following the research, design, and development. In Hornby: A Model World we are able to show viewers all of that.
In what other ways can Hornby enthusiasts interact with the brand?
We have various digital platforms. Everything can be found via our website, such as links to our Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube accounts. Most recently, we joined TikTok. The Engine Shed blog encompasses new development and gives people a first glance at news and new models. We have Hornby Forum and there’s a well-known forum in the UK called RMweb where people can go to discuss the latest trends and news.
Where should someone start who is new to the model railway hobby?
I always say the best place to start is with a train set, like the Flying Scotsman. That set is always in our range year after year and looks brilliant on any layout. Within a train set, you have everything you need to start the journey — an oval track, a locomotive, rolling stock, and a controller. From there you can build on the set, so if you find a passion for the model railway hobby, there’s nothing stopping your creativity. Hornby really is a one-stop shop for everything you could possibly need to create that dream model railway layout.
Immerse yourself in the world of model railways.
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