BUILDING THE LAYOUT : PART 9   SHOPPING FOR TRAINS  


Shopping in the United Kingdom

The relatively small market for G Scale products has meant that very few specialised  retailers are able to carry on a successful business in the UK due to high overheads, property costs, large capital investment tied up in stock, etc. There are some exceptions and a few Model Shops do try to carry a limited range of G gauge, in addition to the more popular scales, but the chances of you having a large shop nearby simply bursting with attractive products that you can browse at leisure is virtually negligible.

Some enthusiasts, like myself, sell G Scale Models from home by mail order using Ebay or their own website to promote sales. This marketing effort is often supplemented by running a sales stand at various Model Railway Shows up and down the country. It is well worth visiting these gatherings as there is usually an interesting range of stock which you can examine up close and question the seller about as to their suitability for your own layout. There are often special offers available and the lower overheads mean that prices in general can be more competitive than from a shop.  It is not uncommon for these shows to include a space set aside for "Members Sales" where you invariably find some well cared for "second-hand but well looked after" items at bargain prices.

This does not mean, of cause, that sellers with a physical shop presence are not providing a vital service and they can often supply products on promotion by having the support of the manufacturers. It is a good idea to phone retailers to ask them at which show venues they are expecting to be present at and to ensure that they bring along the items you are specifically interested in buying. This information is often included on their websites.

Several Clubs have a web presence (including the G Scale Society itself) which have a Market Section advertising member sales and this source is well worth monitoring for the odd bargain.

EBAY

Ebay is a very popular way of selling G Scale Trains and at any one time can be listing thousands of individual items either at a fixed price or inviting bids with the lot going to the highest bidder. Several major retailers including Rails of Sheffield (no connection except as a satisfied customer) regularly list their wares on Ebay.

In the UK G Scale is to be found under "Collectibles" at www.ebay.co.uk but elsewhere e.g. Ebay USA at www.ebay.com the category may be located under "Toys & Hobbies". Don't ask me why - simply an idiosyncrasy of Ebay.

Many USA Sellers will also list their items on the UK site if they are prepared to ship worldwide (although beware of the shipping costs which can be prohibitive for single items). It is also worthwhile occasionally looking on European Sites, especially in the Netherlands, France and Germany where fluctuations in the £ : Euro exchange rate can sometime throw up some bargains.

It is very important not to get carried away when bidding. It is not unusual to see certain items, notably LGB Brass Track, selling for more than the UK Recommended Retail Price, especially when the cost of postage, packing and insurance is taken into account).

Mail Order Purchase in the UK

Unless you are fortunate to have a retailer close to where you live or work the chances are that you will be reliant on buying my mail order (Ebay is really a variant of this). The main draw-back is that you cannot physically  see or handle the product and due to the large size and heavy weight of most G Scale items the postage charges incurred can be a major deterrent.  

However, if you are left with no other choice but to adopt this approach, it has been made far less riskier thanks to the protection afforded by the Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000. In essence this legislation allows the buyer up to 7 days to examine any goods obtained by mail order and return them to the seller (undamaged of course) for a full refund.

The purpose of the legislation is to give consumers more confidence when buying goods and services by mail order where there is no face to face contact with the seller, and ensure that all traders selling at a distance in the normal course of their business meet certain basic requirements.

In essence this provides a unique 7 day "cooling off period" (which is not available if you buy over the counter) for the buyer to change their mind about a purchase.

All retailers are required to abide by these Regulations (in theory within the European Union) and you will generally find (though not always as some retailers appear to be ignorant of their obligations a bit like those who insist that faulty goods will have to be returned to the manufacturer when it the sales contract is invariably with the retailer) that their websites or listings draw attention to your rights.

Sourcing from Abroad

Some people are wary about purchasing from abroad but it is generally a lot safer than you might imagine. Just remember that if an offer looks "too good to be true" then it probably is and should be treated with extreme care. I must say that having completed several hundred purchases abroad, notably from the USA, France, Germany and the Netherlands I have only once run into trouble when the goods I ordered and paid for did not arrive. Neither Ebay or I was unable to ever contact the seller but I suspect that he may have died in the intervening period.

If you buy via Ebay there are certain protection methods in place where payments via Paypal can be refunded in the event that goods do not arrive or are not as described. This does not absolve you from taking all reasonable precautions such as paying for purchases over £100 with a credit card where you also have a measure of legal protection whereby you can claim from the credit card company if things go wrong.

The main reason for personally importing goods from abroad is the price. We are not known as "Rip-off Britain" without reason and in my view have become far too complacent about accepting high prices. In my experience if an item cost £100 in the UK it can usually be obtained from Europe for Euro 100 and only US$100 from across the pond. There are good reasons why goods are cheaper in the United States (large population, huge market, greater competition, lower taxes, etc) but they also have much higher delivery costs due to sheer size of the country.

Whatever the reason there is no law that says you cannot benefit from the more advantageous prices to be obtained  from overseas. Yes, there can be warranty complications ( a limited 3 month warranty period is the norm in North America) but unless the item you are purchasing involves highly complex technology the saving is often worth the risk.

The second reason for buying from abroad is the wider choice of brands and models available from a particular supplier. For example Bachmann Europe (Bachmann's authorised distributor in the UK) do not carry the full range of G Scale products and rarely have stocks regularly available. This is not the case in the USA where some larger retailers hold over 4,500 individual stock items across the various scales.

You have probably heard of LGB, Bachmann, Aristo-craft, USA Trains and PIKO but if you are looking for G Scale products from such firms as  Delton, Hartland, Kiss, Accucraft, Theil, Llagas Creek, Sunset Valley Railroad, Train-Li-USA or Split-Jaw you might find that you are faced with limited sourcing options in the UK.

For sources of supply  is a good idea to subscribe to the Garden Railways bi-monthly magazine publishes by Kalmbach Publishing Co. in the USA and mentioned elsewhere on this site. This informative publication has been the world's largest circulation magazine about the hobby of running large-scale trains outdoors since 1984. Each issue features a wealth of hobby news, product reviews, how-to articles, featured railroads, together with with a lot of specialist advertising that can point you in the right direction.

Don't forget that when you purchase goods from abroad you will not only incur shipping costs (which can be incredibly high - sometime as much as the item itself) but you will also be liable for Import Duty, VAT and Handling or Processing Charges. Import Duty is sometimes levied at around 4.5% whilst VAT is now 20%. You also need to be aware that VAT is due on the total value of the consignment i.e. the value of the item(s); any local taxes; the postage and packing, insurance and the applicable duty.

Model train imports from European Union (EU) or ECC countries should not be liable to any additional duty or VAT.

Whoever is handling the import in the UK usually settles the Duty and VAT on your behalf for a fee which can range from £8 (Parcelforce), £18 UPS and possibly more e.g. Fedex. This fee will be added when they collect these amounts from you on or before delivery (although Fedex often send an invoice after the event).


SUPPLIERS


Having decided upon the type of railroad you intend to model you will need to identify the manufacturer(s) that specialise in and support that kind of railway modelling. You will probably find yourself sticking to your chosen supplier for much of your requirements but it is possible to 'mix and match' stock from other firms. There are relatively few suppliers and most of the popular makes are covered under "G SCALE SUPPLIERS" which can be accessed via the header to this page.


Ones to watch out for are Aristo-craft (1:29 Scale); Aster (1:32); Accucraft/AMS (1:20.3; 1:32, 1:24 and 1:29); Bachmann (1:20.3, 1:22.5); Delton - also Aristo Classics - (1:24); Hartland (1:20.3); K.I.S.S. (1:32); LGB (1:22.5); Märklin Maxi (1:32); MDC Roundhouse (1:32); MTH Railking (1:32); Northern Fine Scale (1:30); Ozark Minatures; PIKO (1:27?); USA Trains (1:22.5 and 1:29); and Wrightway Rolling Stock (1:30 and 1:32).