BERLIN – Last spring, managers at Merklin, a 162-year-old manufacturer of model trains in Germany, were surprised by something unexpected in a sales report.
“We started to notice a serious flaw in the order,” said Florin Sieber, Merklin’s director. He said the summer continued to jump – another surprise, as he said, “when people don’t usually buy indoor train sets.”
But he made the purchase. In November, Märklin’s monthly orders were up 70 percent from the previous year. Company video It has been viewed more than 165,000 times, introducing its new trains and accessories posted in January.
With baking and sawing puzzles first in the epidemic, model trains are being rediscovered while people are kept indoors. Many companies that make vehicles are showing a jump in sales. For many, the chance to create a different, better world in the living room – with stunning mountains, small thug locomotives and communities of inch-high people where no one needs a mask – is hard to resist.
“Outside, there’s total chaos, but around my little train set, it’s quiet, it’s picturesque,” said 48-year-old Magnus Hellstrom, a high school teacher from Sweden. Lockdown.
“It’s a small piece of an ideal world,” he said.
Mr. Hellstrom is one of many Merkelin enthusiasts. The company, which filed for bankruptcy protection more than a decade ago, is now learning the precise work of building super-elaborate small trains to hire new trainees for the first time in years.
“We are so hard to maintain that,” said 64-year-old Maria Huta, who has been collecting vehicles for 38 years at the company’s main facility in downtown Göpingen, 25 miles from the 64-year-old Straitgart.
The factory building is more than a century old, and visiting the facility is a journey in time: a factory floor with skilled manual laborers who work hard on top of the work areas. Ms. Huta and her colleagues often use microscopes to attach small details such as bells or handrails. The company employs approximately 1,170 full-time employees at its two locations Goingen and Gy्योरr, Hungary.
“We used to contract some of our parts overseas, but we found that most of it was not worth it. The filile of some of our parts was so fine that we often had to return things,” said Gerhard Testle, the plant’s production manager. The factory was visited on video.
Märklin carts come in three scales, with H0-gauge models being the most popular. A high-end Gauge 1 locomotive, made up of several thousand different parts, can cost up to $ 4,200 new (and a lot more if the train becomes a collector’s item), although the low-cost locomotive, by about 300 parts. Are made up of One tenth of the price. Märklin also produces LGB vehicles, which are large and parked on the road.
Most H0-gauge vehicles are built from scratch at the Gölpingen plant from the original elements – zinc alloy, steel, plastic pellets and paint – allowing Märklin to mark these models as “Made in Germany”. For other models the parts are made in Göpingen and then assembled at the Hungarian plant.
“For our customers, it’s less about saying that it comes from just one factory in Germany and more about the Myrtlene signature,” said Mr. Tastl, noting that some electronics in modern trains come from Asia Can.
Although the trains that left the factory floor closely resemble the models built here decades ago, the features were hidden, which were then unavailable. They now include smaller speakers that reproduce digital chugging noise and whistle scores (recorded, if possible, from the original), and internal and external lights that can be controlled separately. Another feature is how the actual trains leave the station (very slowly, then gradually gather momentum) and later slowly reach a stop.
A new feature is remote-controlling and reducing electric pantographs, which connect overhead wiring to a train. Real steam emanating from steam locomotives has been a feature for years.
“What has really changed during the last 20 years is the focus on actually mimicking the original,” Mr. Seeber said.
Trains can be controlled by a computer console or phone app, traveling at different speeds or on different circuits in different trains on the same track. Märklin also added the option to control trains through the train engineer simulator software, allowing devotees to control their smaller model train as if they were sitting in the engineer’s chair.
“It’s a traditional toy that, through digital functions, has become more and more like a real train, like sound and light,” Uwe Muller, who was a product manager at Merklin for 15 years and now runs Märklineum, Company Museum.
Founded in 1859 by Theodore Friedrich Wilhelm Merklin, the company first sold doll accessories. Seven years later after the founder’s death, the company grew under his young widow, Caroline Merklin, one of the company’s first travel sales to cover territories in the south of Germany and Switzerland.
The company began producing Windup model trains in 1891, and owned various family branches until 2006, when it was sold to Kingsbridge Capital, an investment firm. But the company was short of money and had to lay off hundreds of employees, and in 2009 it filed for bankruptcy protection. Then, in 2013, Simba Dickey GroupA privately owned German timemaker bought the company, which was trying to salvage what was seen as an important brand.
Mr Seeber, whose father founded Simba Dickey in 1982 and who is now co-chief executive of the group, said it took a few years to sort out Myrtlein’s finances. But he said that workers were an important resource.
35-year-old Mr. Seeber said, “When we first got a very serious look at him, we were very surprised by what we found – the technical knowledge of the staff was unique in the industry.” Märklin set out as a child with his grandfather.
By 2015, things were looking up. Orders were coming again and new management sought and won new customers with social media outreach campaigns. (The Märklin Insider Club, which counts more than 50,000 members worldwide, helps the company track its customers)
“I must admit that things are looking better now than they were years ago,” Ms. Huta said. He is part of a board representing workers in negotiations with factory owners, and many of his colleagues were let go when the future of the company seemed unclear.
The surge in sales from the epidemic has led to a shortage of parts, such as rail. Some special models have been sold, such as a model The 078 series, a steam locomotive, was used by the West German National Rail in the 1960s and 1970s. For the first time since Simba Dickey took over the company, the company is training new trainees to join a nearly 700-strong workforce in Hungary.
The company is betting that many of those later prepared for Märklin trains during the epidemic stick with model trains. “Because it’s not really the kind of hobby you do for two weeks and then quit,” Mr. Seeber said.