28th December 2020
2020 has been a very different year for The MRC. We started off with plans well advanced for the London Festival of Railway Modelling – the layouts were lined up, hotels booked, stewards and working parties had volunteered, vans and other logistics sorted. Then with less than a week to go, what we had feared for the previous 3 weeks happened and we had to postpone the show.
Initially it was just that – a postponement to a new date in the late summer, hoping this virus would come and go by then. Obviously we now know that was optimistic, so that later summer show and now the March 2021 show have both gone. We are now planning for a March 2022 event at Alexandra Palace with our partners at Warners and BRM, but whether it will be quite the same we don’t know yet. Naturally we are also keeping an eye on how things go, and we’d like to try and do something in Autumn 2021.
We could have just pulled the shutters down – in fact in some ways we had to, as Keen House our clubrooms have been closed for more of the time since March than they have been open. Keen House is of course where much of our social activity takes place, where our layouts are built and then displayed at events around the UK. But there is more to the MRC than just Keen House and the layouts we are building and we realised we’ve had to adapt.
Without being able to physically meet, we’ve focussed on improving how we can reach out and continue to be a club remotely. We already had plans to improve our website, and we grabbed the lockdown as the opportunity to move this forward faster. Our members have their own forum when they sign in, and on the public side we have a Blog that has had a whole series of articles published over the year.
New Online Shop
Perhaps the biggest project though has been our new online shop. Visitors to Alexandra Palace will have spotted our preowned models and books stands – which are an important source of income to the Club each year. There are some rare and long discontinued items that have come from collections, and it’s also a popular place for a bargain as we try to “price to sell”.
How do we make money? Well we charge a commission on sales for items sold on behalf of members, and we are very fortunate to be given items to sell as donations or bequests. Of course one of the things we had ready for the cancelled event back in March was a whole range of items to sell – stacked up in crates ready to load.
Our members wanted to sell their items to reinvest in the hobby, and we realised we might need the cash to keep going.
We worked through May and June with our website designers ArtOneZero to integrate the shop into the website, and launched it in July.
Since then, we have sold over 800 items, posted out in over 400 packages. Not just to the UK but across the world, with several going to the US, Canada and Australia as well as mainland Europe. Many thanks to all of our customers, many of whom have repeat ordered.
How does it happen? Well obviously we need to have models and books in the first place and we’ve been lucky to have a steady flow over the last year.
They then need to be checked (and in some cases identified) and tested, bagged and priced – and we have a good team on this with Matthew as shop manager ably assisted by Andy and Tad on models, whilst Hugh does the same with books.
The items are split up then – some are better for internet listing, others we think need to be seen because of damage or condition (often half built kits) or are difficult to post and they are being separated into boxes for our next show.
Of course we need pictures, and hopefully you’ll notice the quality of photos has improved as we’ve invested in a lightbox. Then the description and pictures are brought together on the website and the listings are visible. I don’t know that there is a ‘best’ way to list things, but we’ve focussed on setting them up by scale and then by for example loco, coach, track etc. It’s also searchable.
Once ordered we post out at least once a week, but normally twice a week. We underestimated the number of orders a couple of times and ran short of boxes or packing, and also learnt through trial and error the better suppliers of packaging materials and the best sizes to fit Royal Mail sizes and the size of models. We’ve had some really good feedback, and only a couple of items slightly damaged in the post.
We use the Royal Mail for most of our postage, as they have a drop off point close to us and have proved to be very reliable. Whilst their postage may not be the cheapest (we normally use Second Class signed for), nothing has so far gone missing.
Royal Mail postage rates go up from 1st January, which means we will need to increase our P&P. We also need to adjust it up to use more sustainable packaging, and make sure we cover the costs of the packaging on smaller orders. The vast majority of orders will now be at £5.50 for UK P&P; the prices for Europe and further afield will go up slightly too.
P&P is calculated on the postage price of the largest / heaviest item – so if you buy more than on item you only pay for the highest P&P. UK orders over £250 have free P&P.
If you’d like to find out more about donating models to the shop, please use the Contact Us section of the website.
Thursday Track Nights
We are open on Thursday evenings from 7pm to 9pm at our Keen House clubrooms. Visitors are welcome, please come along and introduce yourself.
Keen House, 4 Calshot Street, London, N1 9DABecome a member