Dear Atlas Forum,
I have lots of people I want to thank for everything they've done to makes this forum such a success throughout its many years of operation. As some of you probably know, Atlas was the first company in the toy and hobby industry to have a website, and again the first to start a consumer forum. (Now there are many model railroad forums from which to choose.) Atlas, as did many other small businesses in the early days of website development, worked with young students who had an interest in the newly developing Internet. In Atlas' case it was my nephew Todd Haedrich who helped build our first website and the early version of the forum.
After a few years, the success of the forum was great and would have become unmanageable without the advice, organization and knowledge of Joe "Joey" Durnya, of Advanced Networks, who to this day works with Atlas on a day to day basis to keep the show going. I also need to thank everyone at Atlas over the years who moderated on a daily basis, especially Atlas COO, Paul Graf, VP of product development, Rob Pisani, product development team members Dave Casdorph, Cory Rothlisberger, marketing coordinator Eric Mosher, the late Jim Weaver VP of Atlas O, and Jerry Kimble, Atlas O sales coordinator. It was their dedication and active participation that allowed the Atlas forums to survive and progress for as long as they have.
Lastly, I want to thank all the forum members, from the start to the present, that actively participated, watched from the sidelines, or just stopped in from time to time to view the fun and games. It was, at base, all of you that helped this unknown venture become such an achievement. I truly appreciate many of your posts that thanked Atlas for what was created and shared within our hobby. We are very fortunate to have large numbers of individuals who are so passionate about what they do and how they do it as well as a desire to share that knowledge with others. I encourage all of you to find a way to continue that knowledge sharing in the future.
After reading hundreds of posts on the topic of why Atlas is discontinuing its forums, I would like to attempt to explain in a little more detail the 'what and why' of my decision. To those of you who believe Atlas is in some way "financially troubled", let me assure you this is not the case. As a matter of fact, Atlas is in one of the strongest cash flow positions I have seen in my near 30 years with Atlas. We continue to develop our product lines, seek continued possible acquisitions and look forward to being a force within the model railroad industry for years to come.
In addition, I would like to correct one other possible misconception. Atlas is not seeking to "blame" anyone, in particular our forum family, for this decision. I won't try and tell you there have not been time consuming forum participant behavior problems that resulted in time-outs, suspensions and terminations, but for the overwhelming majority of forum users it has been a pleasure offering this service and watching it, you and us grow together. Another hassle were the spammers and bots which grew from a few hundred a week to better than a thousand each weekend which necessitated increasing attention.
Also, I would be less than truthful if I stated we never got a phone call from fellow manufacturers who didn't particularly care for our philosophy of an 'open' forum where participants could voice their opinions of anyone's products as long as those statements could be backed up with reliable facts. Of course our only justification for living with this liability filled philosophy was that Atlas was just as likely, if not more so, to be the recipient of deserved, (Rob and Paul would say "undeserved") 'forum flack'. I like to think that this allowed many of us to grow and learn from one another and hopefully make the product better the next time around, or if fortunate, capture a problem before final production, get it fixed, and make it that much better the first time out.
From a strictly dollar and cents point of view the forum was currently costing Atlas, in hard and soft dollars, approximately $75k per year which necessitated more than $150k in annual sales to offset. It's hard not to think about how many freight cars, locomotives and other new and upgraded products these dollars could have created, not to mention the potential revenue stream. However, with all of the above concerns these were still not the major deciding factors.
The deciding factor was simply that it was time to change our focus and get back to our core value of product development. For those of you who are aware of the difficulties of manufacturing overseas you'll know it's been a particularly bumpy ride over the past four years, ever since the financial melt-down of 2008. This event had a tremendous impact on many model railroad companies around the world. I am tempted to write an insider's story of this adventure and how it relates to our industry, but I think I'll save that for something to do in my not too distant retirement years.
Suffice it to say that these last years and the changes they've wrought will continue to result in significant changes for the manner in which this industry is managed and operates in the immediate and near futures. It has taken Atlas four years to deal with the problems at hand. We are very close to resolving almost all difficulties and it is now time to renew our focus and concentrate on rebuilding our core competency, product development. I want no diversions or possible excuses, in other words, nothing to 'sidetrack' us from the primary task at hand.
Atlas has always been, and will continue to be, a leader in the field of model railroading; whether ideas, products or services. The main reason for that is that we continue to follow a business approach based on truthfulness, integrity and candor in dealing with employees, suppliers and customers. Please know that Atlas is not changing this approach or closing its door to its valued customers. You can still reach out to us directly by phone, mail, email, online, shows and in various forms of present and future social media.
Thank you for your continued support.
With sincere thanks and appreciation,
Tom Haedrich, CEO
Atlas Model Railroad Co. Inc.