WeNo Guide to…Hobby’s!

It’s Spring and FEAST is back! And so our intrep­id report­er set off once more to explore the streets of West Nor­wood, meet­ing local traders.

Present­ing Hobby’s, a fam­ily busi­ness for model makers and hob­by­ists since the 1950s. Stray behind Knight’s Hill into the quiet streets of the indus­tri­al area to find their large ware­house – the loc­a­tion of Hobby’s retail and whole­sale since the 1970s. Fol­low­ing the sign to the shop entrance reveals a bygone era show­room with a hotch­potch of doll’s houses, match­stick mod­els and power tools for model mak­ing. This belies the fact that bey­ond the counter and out of view of the cus­tom­er, lies a com­pre­hens­ive selec­tion of model mak­ing and hobby stock. Behind the scenes, there is a 15-strong team busy ser­vi­cing the mail-order side of the busi­ness, send­ing out goods nation­wide and inter­na­tion­ally. So if you have popped into the show­room to browse, make sure you look at the annu­al cata­logue. Ask, and a mem­ber of staff will source what you choose from the ware­house. To give you an indic­a­tion of the shelves and shelves of items nest­ling in West Nor­wood, the 2017 cata­logue boasts 324 pages, ran­ging from model planes, boats, rail­ways, crafts such as glass engrav­ing and candle mak­ing, and a large sec­tion on the fit­tings to cre­ate a doll’s house – everything the ded­ic­ated model enthu­si­ast could desire. But also lurk­ing amongst the spe­cial­ist model mak­ing goods, there are items for the gift hunter or bud­ding hob­by­ist – wooden self-assembly kits, remote-con­trolled toys and 3D puzzles to name just a few.

The ori­gins of the busi­ness go back to the glory days of hob­by­ing. Owner Mike Cross­land explains how his fath­er WF Cross­land, who was sta­tion mas­ter at Tulse Hill, was per­suaded by a Swiss rel­at­ive to sell 50 music­al move­ments (for the unini­ti­ated, these are the music­al parts that can be used in toys, boxes, clocks and mod­els). He first placed an ad in Prac­tic­al House­hold­er, the busi­ness took off and even­tu­ally he opened a shop at 202 Tulse Hill. When his fath­er retired from the rail­ways, he took new premises at 109 Nor­wood High Street trad­ing under the name of Swis­scross, play­ing on the Swiss con­nec­tion and fam­ily name.

Even­tu­ally they expan­ded to 62 Nor­wood High Street and changed the name to Hobby’s to reflect the widen­ing of their stock. Mike com­ments that those early days of the busi­ness were an era when people made things in their leis­ure time, pre-digit­al revolu­tion if you can recall or ima­gine life then. Now, he says sadly, some of the model mak­ing high street shops Hobby’s sup­ply are clos­ing – a sign of the times. Mike expands: “People also made things because they couldn’t afford them”. Nowadays, model mak­ing is a niche mar­ket cater­ing for a dis­tinct com­munity. It’s a labour of love to cre­ate and dec­or­ate a doll’s house – you don’t do it because you can’t afford one. Indeed, the com­pon­ents avail­able for the lar­ger scale doll’s houses have become more soph­ist­ic­ated, with design­er wall papers and car­pets, and even elec­tric light fit­tings!

So, who are Mike’s cus­tom­ers in the here and now? Not sur­pris­ingly, many are older gen­er­a­tion. A lot of reg­u­lars have worked with their hands all their lives and now they have retired, immers­ing them­selves in a mak­ing pro­ject. Then Mike smiles sheep­ishly, there are quite a few liv­ing cour­tesy of Her Majesty, either buy­ing dir­ect or via the pris­on shop! A fact con­firmed by a heart­felt “thank you” from a former pris­on­er on their FB page. And what are their most pop­u­lar items cur­rently? Well, the biggest seller is match­stick kits, where you stick matches onto card tem­plates to make a model. In fact, Hobby’s cre­ate and pack­age the kits them­selves; some­times using the design sug­ges­tions of their model mak­ing reg­u­lars. Galle­ons are very pop­u­lar – model ships such as the Cutty Sark. And music­al move­ments still fea­ture in the cata­logue as a throw­back to the company’s ori­gins. There are some sweet self-assembly wooden music boxes for chil­dren. Mikes smiles – in the 1970s, they used to sup­ply music­al move­ments for ice-cream vans.

So how about tech… the digit­al mar­ket? Mike com­ments that they don’t stray too much into tech as you need to ser­vice enquires when a cus­tom­er gets stuck. Also, it’s a highly com­pet­it­ive mar­ket. He is con­tent – they have expert­ise in phys­ic­al model mak­ing and have the know-how to sup­port their cus­tom­ers, but they are on a con­tinu­al quest for new stock. Mike has been a reg­u­lar at Nurem­berg Toy Fair, stay­ing at the same hotel over a 20-year peri­od. Now, his son goes to what is the biggest toy fair in the world. Fairs provide a great oppor­tun­ity to meet sup­pli­ers and search for latest toys. Mike remem­bers with sat­is­fac­tion stum­bling over 3D foam jig­saw puzzles at an Amer­ic­an toy fair. It was a totally new concept at the time and he promptly bought £8000 of stock from the small Cana­dian sup­pli­er, sold it all and ordered anoth­er 11x 40ft con­tain­ers worth. Even­tu­ally, Has­bro broke up the party by tak­ing over the supplier!And then it was time to leave Mike behind the shop counter. Our report­er left mus­ing over a quote from the cata­logue: “Happy is the per­son with a hobby for they have two worlds to live in”.

Hobby’s Ltd

2 Knight’s Hill Square

SE27 0HH

Mon-Fri 9 to 5pm and Sat 9 to 1pm

www.hobby.uk.com — online cata­logue