Are you keeping up with your neighborhood? Is the inventory applicable to the customers? Gus Freitag at G&G Model Shop has noticed a change in the neighborhood. As a result this Houston shop will be watching its inventory to see that it continues to meet the customers' needs.
G&G is located in an older neighborhood in Houston. The shop opened in 1952 at its present location. Customers were adults then, men who built trains, the total inventory in the early days. "It was strictly a train store that was adult trade. All those trains had to be built," Freitag explains. "We've never said that we are an adult store. It seems like it worked that way with the merchandise that we carry."
He continues, "The younger generation is beginning to move back in here and we are getting more into plastics." Kids on bikes and on foot are now visiting the shop. "Before you could drive up and down the streets and never see a kid," he said. But now with kids in the neighborhood, plastic sales are on the increase.
Another growing market for plastic kits is made up by local dwellers. Now upper-income apartments and townhouses are being built in this inner city neighborhood. "You get a lot of apartment people who are not into R/C and not into trains. They will build plastic models," he comments. "That's why our plastic business has come up a little bit."
The mainstay of the shop is HO railroading. Freitag has the HO equipment at the front of the store and he usually stays up there. He has the technical knowledge and the time to help people. "We can help somebody if they run into problems. I think that's what keeps people coming back year after year," he says.
At the rear of the store is the R/C department. Jerry Heller is an expert in radio control. He has been with the store for 24 years. He finds that he helps the beginning R/C'ers more than anyone else. "We do a lot of work with beginners," Jerry says.
Freitag notes that people will often buy their R/C engines by mail. "We miss a lot of big sales in R/C because of the discounts in magazine ads," he reports. The shop specializes in R/C parts and hardware, since Freitag feels that is where he can compete best with the mail discounters. "A guy will send off and get an engine for his plane pretty cheap but he needs hardware. He likes to see it and pick it out."
Even the railroading products that have been taken over by discount houses remain a big business at G&G Model Shop. Since the mass merchandisers carry Lionel sets at Christmas, the store specializes in the better Lionel sets and in accessories. "We carry the better sets and then all the individual items that the mass merchandisers don't want to mess with," says Freitag. He has noticed an upswing in Lionel buying. "Our Lionel business the last few years has been very good, comparable to back in the 50's," he adds. The children in the 60's were more "science-minded," according to Freitag; they thought trains were for babies. He thinks that the kids in the 50's who had trains remember them and want them for their children. "The people who were kids in the 50's, now it's their turn to buy for their kids."
The best months at G&G Model Shop are December and January. However, contrary to sales patterns in stores further north, summer is also a good time for the hobby business in Houston. While cold weather restricts people up north in the winter time, the heat will keep people inside during the Texas summers. "In June, July and August, they'll stay in the air conditioning to work on their model," comments Freitag. Rockets are a good summer business. Children from 8-9 years and up as well as adults buy the rockets to build in the summer.
G&G is the only hobby store in town that stocks architectural supplies. Model building departments at several architectural firms buy their supplies at G&G. The store is a few blocks from Rice University and the engineering students buy at G&G also. "Fortunately none of the other stores feel like they want to mess with it," he says. The problem in stocking architectural supplies is storing and displaying the inventory. Freitag has built two special display cabinets to hold the supplies.
"Snap-a-roos" and Matchbox cars are stocked for the little children. Freitag keeps these on hand for children who come in with their fathers.
The 1500 square foot store is outstanding for its neatness. Freitag has built cabinets to hold the small items stored behind the counters, and he makes sure that all items are kept in their place.
Items that are out of reach to the customer are marked with price cards with 1 ½-inch to 2-inch black letters. Items may be in a glass case or on a shelf behind the counters, but the price is easily readable from a distance.
G&G employees ask all customers if they want a bag for their purchases. "A lot of your men would just as soon not have a bag," Freitag notes. Asking about a bag saves on this expense. Often kits are sold and carried out with only a sales receipt. Children on bikes are more likely to need a bag than adults. As an extra service, G&G offers free gift wrapping if the customer requests it.
Besides Gus and Jerry, wife Rhoda Freitag and Nita Ankenbruck work in the store. Freitag credits women employees with keeping the store neat. He also feels that they make good salespeople because make customers do not mind explain to a woman what they want to purchase. "A lady who knows what she is selling can outsell a man," he says. "Customers feel like they can unload on somebody. They go up to my wife and my sister and ask them."
Freitag describes his own sales philosophy this way: "Treat everybody alike, you basically try to help them." He notes that even if a customer has a small technical problem, it may seem very big to that customer. The retailer should treat each hobby problem seriously. "We try to make more friends than we make money, which has paid off over the years."
Endurance of a shop may depend on anticipating the customers' needs and noting the changing complexion of the neighborhood. G&G Model Shop started out selling trains, then went into other adult-style hobbies. Now with more children in the neighborhood, they are seeing an upswing in plastics trade and will stock accordingly.