Lothian Road institution Wonderland Models celebrates 50 years of trading this month. The family favourite was founded in 1972 by clothing retailer Peter Barton, who saw a gap in Edinburgh’s retail landscape for a specialist model shop. The business has endured all of the ups and downs of the British high street, developing into one of the largest online model retailers in the UK.
The range has grown and diversified over time to cater for an ever increasing range of hobbies and interests, while moving online has enabled the business to offer their products and services to an exponentially bigger market.
From humble beginnings, Barton grew the business into one of the leading model shops in the country - moving from Rose Street to the larger store in Lothian Road where they still trade today. In 1982, the business passed to Barton’s stepson, Iain Reid, who remains in charge after 40 years. Despite having no prior retail experience, Mr. Reid helped to continue the Edinburgh store’s success, while bringing the business into the digital age with the launch of wonderlandmodels.com. Today Wonderland Models ships from their familiar home on Lothian Road to thousands of model enthusiasts across the UK and beyond.
While Wonderland’s business decisions have clearly helped them to endure some of the UK high street’s most turbulent times, they are incredibly grateful for the loyalty of their customers. Speaking about their customers, Mr. Reid said: “We are very grateful for the continuous customer support that has lasted over many generations - with parents, sons, daughters, grandparents and grandchildren all shopping with us through the years. For us, this momentous year is all about giving back to our customers.”
One particular customer who commonly graced the store over many years was renowned Edinburgh artist Eduardo Paolozzi. Mr. Paolozzi would reportedly spend many long hours browsing the store, taking inspiration for his works.
Even throughout the pandemic, the business has thrived - seeing a tremendous increase in trade thanks to people having more time to enjoy their hobbies at home. As a result the business had no need to furlough any staff and continued to grow their online presence.
Speaking about the pandemic, Mr. Reid said: “It really forced our customers into embracing internet shopping, which we were thankfully able to cater for. We also found that with more time to spend at home, there’s been a big resurgence amongst adults in nostalgic hobbies like model making, model railways and construction toys. At the same time, we’ve seen growth in collectible toys from brands like Papo and Schleich, offering collectability and great play value - ideal for keeping cooped-up kids away from the computer and TV screens.”
Mr. Reid attributes much of the success of the business throughout the years to the passion and enthusiasm of his team. Speaking about the team, he said “With over 110 years of experience between them, my eleven-man team is an incredible source of knowledge and advice which our customers appreciate and rely on. With their commitment to providing the best possible customer care, they provide a level of service in store and online that other retailers just can’t match in my opinion”.
Of the 40 years that he’s been involved in the industry, Mr. Reid says the biggest changes have been in the range and quality of products available: “Today you’ve got a fantastic level of attention to detail. There’s also far more choice, with hundreds of different model making brands to choose from - although many of the original brands like Hornby and Airfix are still big players.”
To mark half a century in business, Wonderland is working with local ecommerce agency Digital Six, to develop a new and improved online store. Speaking of the year ahead, Mr Reid said: “Our new site, launching in the Spring, will be faster and more user-friendly with a host of new features that will deliver an even better experience for our customers. And throughout the year we’ll be running plenty of competitions and giveaways with exciting prizes to be won - so keep an eye on our Facebook and Instagram channels for more information.”