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MÄRKLIN & RAILROADS : A personal view by Christian Vinaa

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Written by
Christian Vinaa - April 2014

"That's how I see it . . ."

Theme : Märklin's "my world"; Good or Bad ?

I presume that you know about Märklin's "my world"

See also "my world" on this website.

"my world" is the brainchild of former Märklin manager Stefan Löbich (manager from 2010 - 2013 during the insolvency ). It was introduced at the Nürnberg Toy Fair in February 2011, and became an instant hit.

Märklin has always had an inexpensive secondary brand targeting the children; HOBBY, ALPHA, Primex to name but a few.

But even HOBBY and ALPHA didn't target the small children; from 3-6 years.

HOBBY were cheaper, and more crude, version of the more and more detailled regular Märklin items.

ALPHA (1988-1995) was a fantasy world in itself, that probably was marketed too soon.

"my world" is targeted at the 3-6 year olds. Battery driven, no real electricity involved. Very crude out of scale models, that nevertheless were made to look like the ICE or the BR 218 of the Deutsche Bahn or the TGV of the SNCF.

Märklin at first used their c-track with "my world" which gave the local dealers a VERY GOOD sales argument to worrying parents. "But you can use the tracks when the kid 5 years from now wants to have real Märklin trains".

Märklin has changed that policy in 2014 and now produces all plastic "my world" tracks, which cannot be used later on with "real" Märkln trains. More about that later on.

"my world" became an instant hit selling more than 100.000 start-sets during the first christmas season.

However - many of these sets were sold by discount dealers like ALDI, giving Märklin a smaller profit. More about that later on.

There is NO DOUBT in my mind that the general idea of introducing something for children ( 3-6 years ) was and is absolutely necessary.

The model railroad hobby and the industries connected to the hobby desperately need that the hobby is not only for 50+ or even 60+ men.

There simply is a limit as to how many trains these elderly men can and will buy.

Even the HOBBY version of Märklin was not suited for small 3-6 year old children. Metal with hard sharp edges.

Märklin has done a great job with incorporating computers into model railroading, but children have so much more to choose from that the fascination of trains must have a "hands-on" option.

"my world" was and is therefore a good thing.

Märklin continues to develop the "my world" into, like the name says; a world of it own with houses and other items that can be used together with the "my world" trains and tracks.

Lately Märklin has made more items in "my world" as "basteln" - do-it-yourself - paint your own car type of things.

Perhaps "basteln" is more a German thing, but German children do a lot of drawing - cutting - glueing, using paper, cardboard, plastic etc etc

The paint your own car or house is therefore not a bad idea at all; - for the 3-6 year olds. Just like painting you own easter egg.

Märklin has now made the c-track for "my world" basically all plastic, and therefore not compatible with the real electric locomotives. That is not good, and a lot of dealers are not happy with that decision.

Presumably using all-plastic tracks will be cheaper, giving Märklin a larger profit.

But anxious parents trying to calculate how expensive Märklin will be, would perhaps not be that far-sighted. After-all we live in a world where next year is a very long time away.

No doubt that Märklin has calculated that it was a minority of parents who would welcome the penny-saving of the tracks compared to the prices of the real trains that the parents then had to buy when the kid was 10 or 12 years.

If you want to get parents and kids into the model railroading there is no use reminding them that the beginning is very cheap but down the road the locomotives will cost 300 - 500 €

Florian Sieber, the new manager of Märklin, also said something interesting in an interview in December 2013 ( Schwäbisches Tagblatt) :

"Mit der Spielzeugbahn der Reihe "my-world" sollen die Kleinen künftig nicht mehr nur im Kreis fahren können. Neue, kinderfreundliche und günstige Ergänzungsmodule sollen es Kindern und ihren Eltern ermöglichen, eine große Schienenwelt im Kinderzimmer zu erschaffen, so Sieber."

And again in another interview on December 03, 2013 with "Stuttgarter Nachrichten" :

"...Wir wollen den Kindern die Möglichkeit geben, ihr ganzes Zimmer mit Schienen vollzupflastern, damit sie ihre eigene kreative Welt erschaffen können. ..."

Which means that Florian Sieber values the playing and constructing element.

As a child I can remember LEGO, and how there never, by far, were enough pieces to build the models that LEGO so cleverly displayed on the boxes and in the brochures. You had to have about 5-10 times more LEGO pieces in order to build the things in the brochures.

I think that this is what Florian Sieber is thinking about.

C-track, whether it is the (new in 2014) cheap "my world" plastic tracks or the real c-track, are basically very cheap to make. I believe Märklin would be wise to produce some cheap collections of c-track, so children really could have something to play around with.

Yes, - Märklin have a "my world" extension set, ( 11 tracks and 2 turnouts for € 15,00 ), but if you watch children play with trains, they actually do not want to build the layout according to the plan in the brochure.

They don't want 11 more tracks - they want 40-50 more tracks, so they can construct the layout that THEY want to run the battery trains on.

So YES please, Herr Florian Sieber, "eine große Schienenwelt" is good for the kids.

And ... ... that is why it makes sense to make the new c-track all plastic and as in-expensive as possible.

In fact Märklin should sell the tracks at break-even price. The profit will come with all the accessories; houses - animals - cars etc.

Give the kids many tracks and let the kids construct their own layouts on the floor, no matter how silly or fantastic they might be.

The Märklin c-track geometry already sets easy rules for how many curved tracks it takes to come back to where you started.

What about "my world" and the competition ?

Märklin have to watch out for what the competitors are offering. "my world" is competing with the first 100+ toy producers from China making cheap trains sets galore.

In the starter-set for Christmas market "my world" cannot compete on price alone. There will always be a cheaper Chinese starter set somewhere.

Presumably "my world" will compete on 2 things : Quality and expandability.

Looking at the quality of the Chinese Christmas sets, ( they wary of course), they are generally of poor overall quality - but a customer ONLY notices that by comparing. Like Einstein said : "everything is relative".

So Märklin must convince parents and grand-parents that the quality is - well Märklin quality. Märklin MUST not compromise on the plastic quality.

Many Germans will choose a Märklin startset in stead of an anonynous Chinese startset, but only as long as Märklin still delivers quality.

Expandability is another key issue. Most, if not all Chinese sets are - just sets. You buy one - lay the tracks in one way only - and thats that. There is no way to lay the tracks in another way ( unless you just want a straight line ), and you cannot buy extra tracks.

"my world" offers more tracks - further locomotives and further cars, and as stated above it seems that Herr Florian Sieber will expand this possibility.

Until the Chinese do the same, "my world" has a clear edge, but only as long as the parents and grand-parents are convinced that expandability is a good thing.

Where is "my world" going ?

With the "break-away" from the normal C-track, Märklin clearly wants "my world" to be able to stand alone.

The "Märklin Start up" product line stresses that strategi.

One thing that "my world" should and could work to achieve is what I call the Apple factor. Everybody wants an iPad, not just some tablet. Everybody wants an iPhone, not just any smart-phone.

How can Märklin achieve that ?

One thing that Märklin should re-consider is the "my world" boxes. Red / orange ?? Really ?

That is not the iPad factor.

I know that kids generally are not at all interested in the packages themselves; just the contents. However kids recoqnizes the iPad factor when they see it.

However Märklin has always been a bit better with their boxes; They just look more expensive than the other manufacturers boxes.

On the other hand "my world" cannot be too expensive, so a good start would be to change the colors.

So I wouldnt be surprised if "my world" or perhaps just "Start Up" got a more exclusive color.

Branching out.

As seen over the years movies get marketed through games / cartoons / toys etc and vice-versa.

"my world" IMHO cannot stand alone as just a toy in the world of today and tomorrow.

"my world" need to branch out.

The Starlight Express locomotive and the hit musical connection has been done, but is hardly for "my world" kids.

"Thomas the Tank Engine", (start set 29120) is a lucky break for Märklin since Thomas & Friends has made trains popular with children.

It stands to reason that Märklin should venture into the TV-series-market / game-market with "my world" content together with Thomas & Friends.

Does the fact that a toddler plays with trains mean that the child will continue to play with trains ?

Not really.

Even if Märklin does everything right with "my world" and "Start up", there is absolutely no garanty that children will continue with trains as teenagers or adults

BUT . . . .

even the most hardcore model-railroaders must admit that there have been pauses in their lives where other things simply just were more important; football - sweethearts - cars - children of their own.

As long as the train-fire has been lit in their souls, the grown-up will return to model-railroading somewhere - somehow - sometime.

Let us just hope that there is a model railroad hobby in the future, that they can return to.

end of line

Copyright © Christian Vinaa
2014 -
"Märklin" and other brand names and product names and logo's
are ©, TM or registered trademarks of their respective owners,
and are used on this website for purely informational purposes.

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