26 January 2023
Grimy Times has established a loyal following, with customers seeking its locomotives, rolling stock and weathering services. Owner Steve Johnson, recalls how his business grew to serve the modelling community.
BRM: How did Grimy Times begin life?
"I never imagined that one day I would be earning my living from what had been my hobby for many years. As a result of an operation, I was immobile and wanting something to do, so decided to ‘play’ with the airbrush I had rarely used. I enjoyed it and developed my skills. One thing led to another and soon I was being asked to supply weathered locomotives and weather friends’ rolling stock. With imminent changes at work, I decided to take the plunge and make a go of it."
BRM: How do you “make a go of it” at the start?
"I was already converting the garage into a layout room, so I accommodated a working space, spray booth and shelving into the design. Growing the business through recommendation of others was good, but getting out there on the exhibition circuit and on the internet was important so others could see the quality of work. This naturally led to the stocking of pre-weathered locomotives for sale.
The mainstay of Grimy Times was the bespoke weathering of customers’ locomotives and rolling stock as well as renumbering and identity changes. This side of the business grew at a tremendous rate and space became a real issue.
Boxes full of locomotives were arriving daily in addition to customers who were dropping off items at home or at exhibitions. Space was such an issue that the spare bedroom was quickly becoming a storeroom and there was no space to build my layout! I didn’t want a lack of space to impede the business..."
BRM: So, you needed new ‘digs’?
"Yes, a coincidence of circumstances helped the business move to the next stage. For a number of years, I had sourced new locomotives for customers and the exhibition stand from a long-established model railway shop in Warrington. The owner let me know that he would be retiring and the shop would close. I knew that there was probably plenty of space upstairs to accommodate a workshop and storage area. I asked the owner if I could visit and realised that with minor modifications, working from there would streamline operations. But, there was the shop to consider."
BRM: What was going through your mind at the time?
"Lots! How would the shop run? What would be stocked? Who would run it? Was it viable? It was going to be a big step! I consulted with close friends and colleagues and we discussed everything. The decision was made - Grimy Times moved into the shop at the end of July 2015."
BRM: What had to be done for the move?
"The first thing was to allocate a block of time – you can’t weather locomotives whilst setting up a shop. Upstairs, the workshops were fitted out with new lighting, extractor fans and spacious working spaces. Newly-built sturdy shelving in the store room allowed us to efficiently store items and prioritise work. Downstairs, the existing shop stock was packed away. In one week with a strict timetable and budget, the shop was transformed and the retail space doubled. The installation of large display cabinets allowed us to showcase pre-weathered locomotives and a range of shop items."
BRM: How has the shop changed since that first day?
"We’ve worked hard over the last few years to build up a wide range of stock to cater for railway modellers.
Not only do we offer rolling stock and accessories from the major manufacturers but also an extensive range of detailing parts, kits, glues, paints, plastics and scenic items. We’ve had to treble the shelving space to accommodate the extra stock we now carry. We’ve also increased the space of pre-owned items which always proves popular. The customer base has increased tremendously and continues to do so."
BRM: You’re still working hard at weathering models…
"It’s great - providing people with customised weathering services continues to be at the core of the business, with our existing customer base and new customers coming on-board weekly. The shop has allowed us to expand and provide customers with value-added experiences. The additional space in the workshop has made working more efficient and helped to narrow the turnaround period for weathering too."
BRM: So, no regrets opening a shop because it has worked out well?
"Very well indeed, but it has been hard work to get to the point we are at now. However, we realise that the work isn’t over as we constantly strive to meet new and old customers’ expectations regarding weathering services or stock in the shop. It has also allowed home life to get back to normal, have the spare bedroom back and get the layout built!"
Thanks for your time Steve, we’ll see you at an exhibition soon.