Munipals Puts Fay Graphic on TrackNew York Subway Trains Spark Interest From Other Cities
“My son was a big fan of the wooden trains, and he was also a big fan of subways, like a lot of children in the city,” Stephen told TDmonthly Magazine. “I actually had fooled around with making my own set for him. … But it was really about a year or two years after that that he brought it up again at dinner and said, ‘Dad, when are you going to make those wooden subway trains?’”
SUBWAY TRAINS SNAG LICENSE
Stephen put together some drawings and presented his idea to the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Transit Museum Shop. Not only did they like the idea, but the Munipals line also ended up with an exclusive license with MTA.
Most of Stephen’s family and friends advised against the endeavor. But, he figured it was natural for them to think, “‘If it’s so obvious, then why has no one done this?’ But we were looking at this not so much as a business, but more, ‘Let’s do this and see if it generates revenue.’”
The best advice he got was from a friend who said the trains were “a winner” and that Stephen should “lay the money down and be prepared for success.” That same friend also advised him to get the MTA license and a lawyer.
Stephen approached the product as a “consumer designer,” with the goal of a quality wooden train retailing for $9.95 that can be used on standard wooden tracks, like the ones in the Thomas and Brio lines.
“What you hear from parents is that in the wooden train market everything is so expensive,” he told TDmonthly. “We wanted a product that adults could buy multiples of and give as a gift.”
DESIGN HEADS TO CHINA
Stephen initially sought a U.S. manufacturer but settled on one in Shenzhen, China.
“Either the price was wrong or the prototypes the people proposed were not what we had designed or had approved from the MTA,” Stephen said.
He had initially wanted the trains to be inspected to ASTM standards before they left China, but a glitch in communication didn’t have them inspected until they arrived in the United States.
“Now we have our stuff tested in China by a third party — SGS,” Stephen told TDmonthly. “It’s a voluntary standard, but why not? And then the whole lead paint thing came down, and it turned out to be the right thing to do.”
SOLID RIGHTS AND STARTER SALES
A bonus of the Munipals status with MTA is that Fay Graphic doesn’t have to worry about intellectual property theft. “All the rights to all of the graphics belong to MTA, so their legal department handles all of that,” Stephen said.
Munipals also get free advertising in the subway, and are sold at the Transit Museum store and through its website. Fay Graphic has begun selling its trains online through Yahoo! Inc., too.
But, Stephen said, one of the best things about this venture is the responses he gets.
“We get these great emails from kids,” he said, “suggesting changes we should make, asking when the new trains will be available. … We get a lot of that love-letter stuff. It’s new to us, coming out of publishing.”
The prospects look good for Fay Graphic’s wooden train undertaking. Now there’s interest in versions of Munipals from other subway systems, including attention from Los Angeles and a deal in the works with Chicago.
See some Munipals subway trains below:
Writer's Bio: Sheri Jobe has been a journalist for more than 15 years. As a freelancer, she splits her time mostly between the Midwest and New England. She has been published in business journals and regional newspapers. She also writes fiction. Read more articles by this author