Tuesday 27 September 2016

Still mad for models after all these years

Jamie Casey takes a trip down memory lane when he visits a business specialising in farm toys and models

Published 09/12/2015 | 02:30

Recently released models of the iconic David Brown 995 and 996 are proving just as popular as newcomers like the beefy New Holland T7.225
Recently released models of the iconic David Brown 995 and 996 are proving just as popular as newcomers like the beefy New Holland T7.225
The McHale Fusion 3 model is expected to be a quick mover.

I recently visited the Mad for Models store in Carlow, and it was a real trip down memory lane. I have fond memories of producing model farms as a child. Every conceivable household item became a prop on the impromptu farm that sprung up on the sitting room floor, much to my mother's dismay.

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The Mad for Models store is located in Palatine, Carlow and is a huge attraction for anybody interested in farm toys or, indeed, those who are more serious about rare collector models.

With over 850 items in stock, and access to almost any model produced, owner Tommy Fennelly is a knowledgeable man on the subject and his enthusiasm for all things model -related was clear.

Tommy began collecting and restoring vintage tractors in 1989, and soon became well known in the surrounding counties.

"People associated me with vintage tractors, and started asking me if I could source models for them," he says.

In 1999, Mr Fennelly and his wife Madeline saw a business opening, and decided to take the plunge.

As is the case with many new businesses, it was intended to be a part-time job for Mr Fennelly alone, but as the business grew and developed they quickly realised that they needed all hands on deck in a full-time role to keep the customers supplied.

While many businesses nowadays push for online sales to reduce staffing and stocking costs, online business accounts for just 10pc of Mad for Models' sales and that's how Tommy wants to keep it.

"There's something very impersonal about buying online," he says. "I'd much rather speak with the customer over the phone, or better again face-to-face. You can't beat the feeling of seeing a kid walking into the shop and watching his face light up with excitement at the display of toy machinery and models."

Tommy prefers to develop a relationship with the buyer, so he can advise them on what they are trying to purchase.

He particularly enjoys travelling to agricultural events and shows such as the Ploughing Championships because these provide a great opportunity to interact with customers both new and old.

The festive period is another busy time, with sales and footfall really picking up this week as Santy fills the sleigh for Christmas. However, it isn't all a bed of roses. Tommy says the business of building models is not cheap.

"To commission a company to build a model on a commercial basis, you need to cough up approximately €200,000. While this seems like an exorbitant amount of money, there are major initial costs.

"Any model manufactured commercially will be cast, and producing the mould for casting is the most expensive part of this process."

He adds: "There are also minimum quantity costs at play, depending on how many items you want manufactured. You need to hit large numbers of sales for economies of scale to kick in. As is common with large scale production, over 95pc of the models sold here are manufactured in China, by European owned companies such as Britains, Siku and Bruder."

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