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BIG INTERVIEW - Dr René Wilfer

Stuart Jordan

STUART JORDAN talks to Dr René Wilfer, President of PIKO.

René Wilfer

Dr René Wilfer, President of PIKO Spielwaren GmbH.

Stuart Jordan: You have been in the model railway and toy business for a long time, what changes to the industry and the hobby have you seen over this time?

René Wilfer: The customer expectations have increased many times over. From higher detail and smoother-running models, to much more specialized and accurate reproductions of prototypes, to sophisticated features like sound and digital operation. Meanwhile, very few brands today actually manufacture their own products, as PIKO still does in all scales. Depending on suppliers and situations outside their control has been a large part of the difficulties experienced by many other companies. With more and more competition for peoples' free time and budgets, our focus on products which are easy to enjoy and which offer excellent value has never been more important.

Bahnhof Europa

Dr Wilfer and Rod Taylor (Chairman of Gaugemaster) officially opening the Bahnhof Europa section of our showroom in 2008.

SJ: How important is it to PIKO that you maintain a portion of your manufacturing in Germany?

RW: Very important. Although there are challenges, there is great value and a wealth of knowledge in our experienced team in Sonneberg. And this also still means something to many customers, particularly in the G Scale market.

SJ: What processes lead to the decision to produce a new product, is it your own personal preference or feedback from customers?

RW: We certainly listen to customers. We are at many fairs and events, where we talk face-to-face with customers. And we actively seek their input year-round. Of course, customers speak strictly of their personal preferences. But we also use the experience of our teams here, both the product development area which must have some personal enthusiasm for a new model, and the sales area which must have confidence that the model will sell successfully.

Bahnhof Europa

The PIKO SmartControl handset, integrating an Android control system with a physical speed controller.

SJ: The recently released PIKO SmartControl digital system is a new entrant into the crowded market of DCC controllers. What do you feel sets it apart from other similar products?

RW: In reality, there isn't much on the market that is similar. There are apps, but having to constantly look at your smartphone screen is nothing like turning the big throttle knob to precisely control your train. And most other DCC systems are complicated. PIKO SmartControl is so much easier and more intuitive.

SJ: PIKO supplies a complete package (rolling stock, track, control equipment and buildings) to your customers in each scale, do you feel that that it is advantageous for you to provide this to your customers?

RW: Certainly. While it's fairly obvious that a customer who buys a PIKO starter set will likely buy PIKO track and rolling stock to add onto it, each different type of product also reinforces the bond between the customer and PIKO. Customers become "PIKO Fans" because they know they can trust the compatibility, quality and value of a PIKO product, whatever it may be.

SJ: TT Scale is gaining in popularity, are there plans to expand this range?

RW: We've been steadily expanding our TT Scale program and customers have supported that with their purchases and their requests for more, so the prospects are good.

SJ: We recently featured your very own 'Kreisellok' in a past issue of RIGHT LINES, how important is the relationship between PIKO and the town of Sonneberg?

Piko Kreisellok

The PIKO Kreisellok (roundabout locomotive), which graces a traffic island in Sonnberg.

RW: This is a long and beneficial relationship for everyone involved. Sonneberg is small enough that PIKO is significant to the local economy and culture. Citizens are proud of their "very own" model train manufacturer. And no doubt, some of PIKO's success is through the longstanding support of the late mayor Mrs. Sibylle Abel and the current mayor Dr. Heiko Voigt.

SJ: Which of your products are you most proud of?

RW: With over 2,200 products just in the current range, it's hard to name only a few. To a degree, they are all like our children and we love them all. Perhaps we should emphasize some items which have truly shaped the market:

G Scale

Piko Steam Locomotive

PIKO G Scale BR80 Locomotive.

  • The Taurus electric locomotive started the long and growing line of PIKO G trains in 2007. New variations continue to be top sellers each year.
  • The BR80, 0-6-0T and Mogul steam locomotives have been central to introducing tens of thousands of people to PIKO G trains, around the world.
  • PIKO G Track is absolutely unmatched in quality and ease of use.

HO Scale

Piko ICE3 Train

PIKO ICE3 High Speed Train.

  • The simple BR218 diesel and Taurus electric, along with our little BR80 steam loco still form the basis for starter sets that delight hundreds of thousands.
  • The ICE3 high-speed train, after almost 15 years, remains an instantly recognized and loved item.
  • PIKO A-Track has become the most popular 2-rail track system in the European market.
  • PIKO SmartControl is well along the way in redefining DCC operation.

Whatever the scale, each new "flagship" model especially in the H0 Expert range raises the bar still higher, so we are always proud of the latest new highlights. But you can see that the list is mostly not the latest top-of-the-line models. These are core items which support not only PIKO but a significant segment of the overall market.

SJ: What new products do you currently have in development?

RW: Well, we have to keep some secrets. But there are some great things coming.

SJ: What does 2018 hold for PIKO?

RW: There will be some incredible new models in all scales, you can be sure. And the time when we will reveal those items is growing closer.

SJ: Thank you for your time, Dr Wilfer.

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