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Model fans turn to Spitfires and Christmas trains in crisis year

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The turnaround in fortunes of model train maker Hornby has been boosted by consumers turning to “things of comfort in times of crisis”, according to chief executive Lyndon Davies.

The firm has turned a profit for the first time in nine years, due at least partly to thousands of hobby enthusiasts turning to model trains and sets during lockdowns.

Mr Davies said: “In times of crisis people turn inward, they look at things of comfort.

“People re-discover things.

“For older people it’s often the memories of hobbies when they were younger, and then younger people learn and enjoy it too.

“And then building the Scalextric (owned by Hornby) becomes a family event on Sunday afternoon while the football’s on.”

The firm had engaged new engineers to work alongside long-standing employees and engage with younger consumers, with app-controlled trains being one best-selling result as well as new Harry Potter and Coca-Cola Christmas models alongside the traditional offering.

He said: “We were slightly stuffy as a company and we’re not anymore.”

Although sales were up across the board, the firm was bemused when its Airfix Spitfire sold out in June, and it struggled to keep up with demand for its Christmas trains when a trend for a railway track around the Christmas tree took off last year.

Total sales hit £48.5 million in the 12 months to the end of March, up 28% on a year earlier, helped by improved online availability.

He said: “If you’re setting up a train board or making a model, it takes you out of your head, away from any problems you might have.

“It’s as big as your imagination.”

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