How to Start a Train Shop


Model train recreations include an exhibit of the St. Anthony Falls Milling District in the Twin City Model Railroad Museum in Saint Paul, Minnesota. This display also provides inspiration for train installations in model train shops. Even though your working store model may not match the size of this famous railroading display, popular train stores operate at least one scale railroad model. Starting a successful train store involves sound business planning, as well as a keen interest and knowledge of model railroading.

Things You'll Need

  • List of suppliers
  • Shop rental or purchase
  • Licenses
  • Bank account
  • Tax number
  • Credit rating
  • Determine the location for your train shop. Survey the geographic area for other trains stores and scout areas for your shop. Search telephone and online directories for potential competition. Examine driving maps and public transportation maps to find potential retail locations. Explore the square foot cost for rental locations, or talk with a real estate agent about the advantages and disadvantages of buying real property for your train store.

  • Survey the inventory of other local shops and online train suppliers. Look for a niche market that other shops fail to provide. For model railroaders, specialized products include magazines, custom freight cars, brass equipment, historic reproductions or seminars in layout construction and building scenery. Make a list of proposed inventory for your store.

  • Obtain official legal and financial paperwork required by local ordinances. Obtain state business licenses and county license, if required; tax identification numbers; credit card services; business bank accounts; and wholesale registration to order on credit from manufacturers. If your shop design includes large amounts of inventory, obtain a credit rating from Standard and Poor's. This rating encourages suppliers and manufacturers to issue credit for inventory and supplies.

  • Rent or buy your store building and complete the interior design and shop layout. Work with a commercial real estate professional to locate a storefront meeting the demands of your geographic survey. Note the lease conditions, including length of the commitment and rent demands that take any percentage of your overall shop net or gross profits. Talk with a certified accountant to determine the financial logistics of your shop. Determine the amount of sales your store must complete to pay the monthly rent, or mortgage payments, as well as utility costs, hazard insurance, inventory and any employee costs.

  • Order and stock your store inventory. Major model manufacturers include Athearn, Atlas Model Railroad Company, Bachmann, Branchline and Life-Life Products for HO scale. A-Line, Accurail, Rivarossi and Accurail also offer HO models and parts. Alpine Railworks and G Action Models make handcrafted garden scale equipment and rolling stock. American Model builders wholesales structures and parts for O, N, and HO scales. Lionel, Weaver and Williams feature O gauge rolling stock, locomotives and structures. American Models offers S gauge model trains.

Tips & Warnings

  • Stores offering complementary scene and track building seminars attract novice model railroaders and potential clients for your store.
  • Limit the focus of your store's inventory. Tailor your preliminary market research to determine the preferred train gauge for your local market and provide a variety of products featuring that gauge.


  • Photo Credit James Woodson/Photodisc/Getty Images
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