Interview of the month: Great Eastern Models

27 October 2022
"We are unique, enthusiastic and positive, trying to create a destination shop," says Anne Martin, of the Norwich-based retailer.

In an era where online sales are important to many retailers, one model shop appears to be bucking the trend. Howard Smith speaks with Anne Martin of Great Eastern Models to discover how business in Norwich is done differently, and with a smile...

Howard: What does it take to run a model shop in 2022? Run us through the process of a typical day…

Anne: Running any business in 2022 is challenging and takes commitment, energy and customer focus. For us, a typical day starts around 06.00, where we kick off with our daily post on our Facebook group 'Great Eastern Model Railways Recommends'. This is our model railway community group where we play games, share experiences, our layouts, add events and ask questions that follow a daily theme. It's surprising how many people are awake at 06.00 waiting for us to start off the day!

Great Eastern Models of 199 Plumstead Rd, Norwich NR1 4AB

Great Eastern Models enjoys an organised social media channel, with creative, though often intentionally humorous posts. From left to right – Rob Hockey, Helen Arnold and Anne Martin.

The day continues with answering emails, social media enquiries and replying to customer orders. We add a shop Facebook post, often a funny picture or a new product release at 08.00 to our shop page 'Great Eastern Models'. The shop opens between 09.30-16.30, giving us time to take children to school, and that important cup of tea to fuel the day.

We are a busy shop with customers arriving and visiting from afar, we like to give our shop customers 100% attention and focus on all who come through the doors. We have been trading for 36 years from our shop in Plumstead Road Norwich, and are a second generation family-run business. The shop opened in 1986 by our father, so we are lucky to be well-known, and consider our customers as friends. Many have been on our model railway journey with us.

Great Eastern Models of 199 Plumstead Rd, Norwich NR1 4AB

The shop, located at 199 Plumstead Rd, Norwich NR1 4AB.

H: You’re a ‘bricks and mortar’ shop without online sales. In an era of competitive online pricing, how have you made it thrive?

A: We are a bricks and mortar shop, and at present have no plans or time for web-based sales. We offer an old-fashioned mail-order service, where customers can telephone for the latest releases, or shop products to add to their model railways. We post out parcels everyday to all over the UK. Between this and the shop, customers receive a friendly, helpful service and it keeps us very busy.

All our products are price-matched to larger online retailers and we keep our fingers 'on the pulse' by uploading all of the latest releases, deliveries and products to our social media presence daily. We unpack and pick our customer pre-orders the day they arrive from the manufacturers and offer pre-payment plans, and a postal service on all new releases. 

Are we worried about being left behind in an increasingly digital world? Not in the least! We have no intention of being just another faceless website/warehouse. We have the same products at the same price, but we feel we offer so much more. Our USP is family, friendly and community. We are as unique as our customers, and long may it continue.

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H: You're often seen at community shows and events too, attracting customer demand, tell us more...

A: We can be seen attending many local model railway shows, and railway attractions throughout the year with our travelling trade stand, and, sometimes, just for fun! We are lucky to enjoy the hobby, but lots of commitment is required in the shop, on social media and at events.

Great Eastern Models of 199 Plumstead Rd, Norwich NR1 4AB

H: Are customers local to the shop, or do they travel from further afield?

A: We attract customers from all over who often visit the shop as a destination, planning on spending many hours here. They travel from areas that are perhaps lacking in a model shop, often bringing their lunch or a welcome treat to share! All are welcome, and the kettle is often on!

When visiting the shop, customers can see, inspect and test the products on our multi-gauge test tracks. We can offer advice and help with layout planning or DCC.

Great Eastern Models Norwich

Anne Martin and Helen Arnold, celebrating the arrival of new stock from manufacturers.

H: How do you see the model railway market changing? Are there any specific developments or areas of growth to look out for?

A: We are extremely optimistic. There are fantastic new developments and products on the market. Digital railways are moving forward in leaps and bounds, as is the pre-owned, too. The analogue market is buoyant too with the traditionalists. Year-on-year the hobby increases in popularity, and we welcome new customers to the shop daily.

We keep our shop clean, tidy and well-stocked, we offer a professional and friendly service, and we know we're appreciated, and wish to thank all our customers past, present and future for their continued support.


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