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Online Trains was founded by Rob & Carol Reiten in 1999. We were both working full time jobs and shuttling our boys between Grandmas and daycare. It was obvious we couldn’t hold this schedule together for long. Combine that with my spawning “Horse Creek & Pacific” Railroad, which was already consuming more dollars than I could ever hope to make and it was obvious (at least to me) that we needed to start a model train business!
Convincing Carol was easier than anticipated. (Her idea as she recalls it) A loan from Grandma combined with a couple maxed out credit cards and we filled a spared bedroom with Inventory. Now we needed a web site. No easy task for a guy that was barely able to turn a computer on. A short time later our first crude attempt at the World Wide Web was in place. Our first magazine ad was out and we were ready. Things didn’t happen as quickly as I had hoped but a few brave customers did start to shop with us. In between Barney videos and changing diapers we made it over several stumbling blocks and soon were a solid presence in the world of Mail order. Customers were getting to know us for fast friendly service and great prices!
Almost immediately we began doing local train shows to help supplement our infant mail order business. This allowed us to build a fairly large local group of customers, many of whom frequented our “home store” to see progress on the Horse Creek and Pacific RR as well as purchase their Model railroading supplies. Within a year or so we had expanded from that spare bedroom into our bonus room/loft. It was packed wall to wall and floor to ceiling with trains and we knew something had to be done – quick.
Solution – we needed to go “Brick and Mortar. Again, Convincing Carol was easier than anticipated. (Again, her idea as she recalls it). We found a great deal on a nice 1500 square foot location just around the corner from home. Bonus – it was located along a BNSF railroad line. We signed a 6 month “test” lease and started handing out flyers. Grand opening day was December 1st 2001. Off to a great start, we estimated over 100 customers through our doors that fist Saturday. What seemed like a lot of inventory crammed in our home barley made a dent in our huge new retail store. The positive side of this was that my growing boys had a huge play area and we were able to host monthly clinics that became a staple part of our early days. With the help of local modelers we set out to fill this new “warehouse” with trains. Times were tough and some names deserve mention here: Walt Huston and George Bono. They were like unpaid employees helping with clinics and spreading the word. Their help was much appreciated and contributed greatly to our success.
Now, three short years later, we have filled every inch of space. Wall to wall and floor to 9 foot ceiling, we barley have room left to walk. My boys are both in school full time and even their space has been consumed with inventory. Local N and HO modelers will testify that we have become the Northwest’s premier source for model trains. Still sticking to our basic principle – fast friendly service AND great prices, we plan on continued growth.
We have finally become true to our name. Online Trains is now officially online with our new web site. Shopping cart and all we hope this will enable our existing and new customers convenient access to us 24 hours a day 7 days a week. None of this would have been possible without the help of web developer extraordinaire – Peter Machac. (also responsible for the design of our new logo). We are extremely excited about the new site and have many additions and improvement planned over the next several months.
The future looks bright here at Online Trains. The ink is barely dry on our new web site and already the seeds of an even better custom site have been planted. Please give us your input as it will all go into designing what we feel will be the best site on the Internet for model trains. Our local customers can look forward to a bigger and better retail store too. We are currently shopping for our own building. We have our sights on both existing properties and raw land to build a custom storefront. This will give us badly needed space and cement our roots without having to fall victim to rising rents. These and more plans are years down the road but important to mention as they are part of our absolute commitment of continued growth and improvement always to benefit you – our customer!
Of course, a modeler first, and train shop owner second, The Horse Creek & Pacific Railroad continues to grow. Recently shown in “N Scale Railroading” I hope to have more photos published in the near future. You can contact Rob anytime if you’d like to visit the Railroad. We hope to have regular operating sessions in the not to distant future. We will continue with our annual Labor Day Customer appreciation Barbecue which had close to 100 in attendance last year! If you’d like information about attending this fun Railroad event, please contact Rob.
Thanks to all of you for making this enjoyable ride possible!