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Lionel stations its trains at specialty

Lionel is chugging its way into new retail channels next year with a redesigned line of train sets aimed directly at the toy world. After many years spent focusing exclusively on the hobby market, the 106-year-old model train company has created new mass-market-friendly train sets, which the company is looking to sell into specialty toy retailers for holiday '06.
January 1, 2006

Lionel is chugging its way into new retail channels next year with a redesigned line of train sets aimed directly at the toy world. After many years spent focusing exclusively on the hobby market, the 106-year-old model train company has created new mass-market-friendly train sets, which the company is looking to sell into specialty toy retailers for holiday ’06.

The idea to expand beyond the hobbyist market hit after the company was approached to place its licensed Polar Express train set in retail catalogues such as Herington and Dillards. The line sold out in both 2004 and 2005. Next season, Lionel is launching the redesigned set with a lower price point (US$200 to US$250), as well as changing the packaging to a window box treatment with a fifth panel.

Lionel president and CEO Jerry Calabrese is focusing on specialty stores because they’re a better fit for the high price point, but says he’s had some interest from mass chains that stock pricier items just for the holidays. Along with Polar Express and NASCAR sets, the company created the Lionel Express G-Gauge Christmas Train, which is about twice the size of the traditional O-gauge trains and comes with a 52-inch circle of track and a remote control. Calabrese says he’s interested in adding more licenses to his roster, and looks for brands that already have a large following in the collector’s market, such as NASCAR.

In order to make the train sets easily buildable for kids and families, they needed to be all-inclusive and ready to run, so different parts had to be modified. For example, the track has been revamped with a built-in roadbed and is constructible on pretty much any surface (unlike traditional hobby trains where a platform is usually required).

The company plans to work with individual retailers on mounting in-store marketing efforts and working displays. In fact, Lionel has a nationwide network of professional train demonstrators who travel to trade and hobby shows around the country, and Calabrese says individual team members could be made available for in-store promotions.

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