Games With Trains

We were retained by a group of steam locomotive enthusiasts whose passion was restoring to running order these beautiful trains from a bygone era. They had devoted all their spare time to their hobby and came up with the idea of turning their hobby into a business. Most of us at some stage of our lives dream of doing this but the clear majority of people don't have the courage to follow through with it. This hardy group decided to follow their dream and invested virtually all the capital that they had acquired during their conventional working lives in this venture.

They acquired two steam locomotives and painstakingly restored them to become fully operational. Their concept was to provide the public with the opportunity of experiencing the thrill of steam train travel. They obtained permission to run their trains on State railway lines which ran from the coast up into the interior along a scenic route through forests. Their business concept was to take fare-paying members of the public on a round trip from the coast to a town where they would have lunch and then return. They provided a choice of trips of differing lengths as well as different tariffs for children, pensioners and groups. To promote their venture, they hired a marketing company who provided them with a cute name and logo and they were ready to hit the rails!


Unfortunately, ever increasing costs of maintenance, due to having to manufacture broken parts from scratch, and what turned out to be a very seasonal business with the high points being school holidays, led to losses being incurred.

We were tasked with rectifying this situation. Our clients wanted us to come up with some clever way to increase the number of passengers on their trips and were insistent that the solution lay in some form of innovative marketing plan. Because they were so passionate and enthusiastic we started looking at how to fill the glaring gaps between the holiday periods. We came up with several ways of finding and accessing different target markets, but the problem was that each time we ran the forecasts for the probable results of the new target markets we still didn’t reach breakeven. It was obvious that the critical issue to be resolved was not the perceived lack of marketing, but the lack of utilisation of the capacity of the trains.

Once we realised this simple but critical distinction we realised that we needed to focus on strategic issues. This went down like a lead balloon with our steam locomotive clients: "who doesn’t want to ride on steam train just get the message out there!"

We followed our tried and tested strategic plan format in an exhausting day and all night session. Just for fun, stop here for a few minutes and see what you would have come up with. If you don’t speak and come up with the same solution, mail us and we'll buy you a bottle of your favourite tipple! (There is a clue in the story to date.)

The town in the interior that the train travelled to was in the middle of a large and well developed commercial timber plantation industry. The timber was transported by road to the trains destination at the coast. The trucks used are huge and cause damage to the roads they travel; to recoup some of the increasing costs of continually repairing the road in question the authorities had recently levied large heavy-duty truck charges to force the timber industry to find alternative methods of transporting their timber to the coast.

The authorities were enthusiastic about what they saw as a solution to their road problem, and the costings revealed that the train haulage would be competitive.So, when we re-ran our new target market projections with the timber haulage, the numbers finally made sense. What remained was scheduling a train taking passengers from the coast to the interior town, dropping them off for an hour or two to explore the town, hitching the loco to the pre-loaded timber freight cars and making the trip to the coast. In the meantime, the second loco headed off to collect the passengers from the town, so they in one trip had a ride on two different historic steam locomotives.

The client was a lumberjack and was alright!