With the UK's Hornby Thomas & Friends range in seemingly good stride, 2009 saw a decline in quantity over new products, with the series resurrected in 2011 after a two year hiatus.
2012 however, became the first year in which no new engines from the Thomas franchise were made and only consisted of five pieces of rolling stock and limited models of few select engines, continuing on from the previous year.
To talk more, Hornby's Simon Kohler appeared at the Barrow Hill Roundhouse Chesterfield model rail event on September 29th, where Hawk01 was on hand to question the marketing manager for Roll Along Thomas.
Whose decision is it to produce a sought after character that’s often been suggested or requested?
It’s me really. What we do is if there is a new character, a new film or program, and there is a key character, we may suggest it. But it’s a question of do we have a chassis that will fit or that'll work? Although It’s not always the case.
Part of the problem is, you’ve got to imagine that the chassis for the Q1 is retailed now at over £100, and you’ve got to ask yourself, if we produced a character like Neville, the cost to produce that would result in the cost of the item or loco being £100, now it would be much for what would be considered for a child.
There have been discontinuations of old favourites while some were brought back as limited editions, like the stamped versions of Thomas, Percy and James. Can they and others return as standard editions?
The thing is, you end up with a range that is very popular and to people who will introduce something, you’ll run it for a year or two years and then we’ll give it a rest, but we’ll bring something else back and that’s really how you operate something as popular as the Thomas range.
Over your time at Hornby, who has been your favourite character to produce?
It would actually have to be Thomas because he is the first character. We’ve been producing Thomas for nearly 30 years and for the early years with Britt Allcroft right at the beginning, it was a great and exciting time and we had a lot of respect for Britt for what she did. It was a pleasure to work for her. When the range came out, she was pleased with it plus the entire team at Hornby too. I couldn’t do my work without that team.
The TV series nowadays is produced in CGI and merchandising has followed the show's facelift through the designs of the characters. Would Hornby continue this staple to tie-in with the brand's modern look?
It would depend on what Hit [Entertainment] would ask us to do. We’re in a position where they will dictate on what they would see on the characters but dictate in a nice way seeing as it’s their characters and Hornby, more or less, borrows it from them.
For the range itself, how long is it guaranteed for and is a good future in for it?
Yes, but nothing ever lasts forever. So to say, will it go on forever, I couldn’t possibly answer that, but certainly in the near future.
You appeared in the BBC's James May's Toy Stories episode Hornby and its follow-up The Great Train Race trying to help James build the longest running model railway. What was it like to trying to make this happen?
It was good fun, it was hard work. A lot of people put a lot of effort into it, getting up at the very early hours, on their hands and knees putting the track together. I did indeed fall down a ditch covered in mud, [it was] one of my proudest moments! When it was all done, all the tracks had to be picked up. So the next day, we did it all again only this time picking the track up. Driving the van full of boxes, it was a daunting task but good fun.
Kohler also spoke of the discontinuation of the 2011 standard design buildings confirming that they didn’t live up to what had been previously done with the Great Waterton line.