Has Westbourne got it all? Well, maybe not quite all, but they certainly come close. Behind the unassuming shop frontage in a Bournemouth suburb, is a veritable treasure house for model boaters. On stepping through the door the shop seems to go on forever. On one side is a floor to ceiling display of model boat kits of all types and descriptions, on the other is the technical stuff; radios, electrical gear and miscellaneous bits and bobs. Down the middle are aisles stacked with plastic kits, model making materials, timbers and fittings. Right at the very end, like a friendly bear in his lair, close to the phone and computer and handy for the kettle, you will find Barry Shanks, who together with his son Martin, are the proprietors of this unique and well known establishment. Together with assistants Duncan and David, they make Westbourne Models what it is, a Mecca for both aspiring and experienced boat modellers.
Now well past normal retirement age, Barry still displays the enthusiasm for the hobby that brought him into Westbourne Models over 20 years ago. This is a real specialist model boat shop. If you want it then they probably have it, or if not, they will get it for you. At a time when general purpose model shops are either closing down or have become little more than toy shops, Westbourne have found a niche which allows them to survive in a world where traditional modelling is fading in favour of the ready to run models which appeal to todays younger generation. However, Westbourne are no dinosaurs. Over 80% of their business is derived from the internet and most of this comes from their online shop, set up and ably managed by Martin. Running an operation of this type relies on establishing a reputation for good service, and in this Westbourne are second to none. The aim is to turn round orders the same day if the goods are in stock, and from personal experience I know this is true. But Barry emphasises that they arent just out to sell you something at all costs, they want to sell you the right thing. This is important to them, as a satisfied customer will want to return, but at the same time it helps ensure that the customer gets the best deal to obtain the most from their purchase a win/win situation.
The shop maintains a huge stock of model boat related products with a particular emphasis on kits and fittings. The aim is to give customers as much choice as possible, rather than to discount heavily on a limited number of lines. Prices are however kept down by direct importing wherever possible and Westbourne also maintains close links with the UK based manufacturers whose lines they carry. Barry emphasises the importance of giving advice to customers both before and after purchase. Not everyone knows just what they are getting into when they buy a kit and the picture on the box doesnt always do justice to the contents. He prefers to try and ensure that the customer goes away with something appropriate to their experience and building skills, as a happy customer is a repeat customer. With this in mind, he tends not to stock those kits which might cause problems due to indifferent quality control and will gently steer customers asking for them towards something more appropriate. My visit was on a quiet day, but Westbourne were still fielding frequent calls for advice on future and previous purchases in a good natured and patient way which demonstrated their attitude to customer care. Not unexpectedly, Barry confirmed that the majority of customers were of a certain age, which perhaps confirms the view that modellers brought up during the 50s and 60s are now retiring and using their free time to get back into the hobby. Younger customers are more likely to go for the quicker options to get on the water as soon as possible, which is understandable these days with cash rich/time poor individuals.
I asked Barry how he sees the market at the moment. His response was that he much prefers to discuss significant purchases with customers before they purchase, to ensure that they will be happy with what they are getting. The wide range of choice can sometimes be bewildering and buyers may not be aware of all the available options and a typical example is that of electric motors. These days there is a vast range available, but if you choose the wrong one for your model it can be very disappointing. A high performance model may fail to perform or a sedate scale model may have an excessive current consumption, which results in a very short running time. All these potential problems can be ironed out with a bit of friendly advice, with which Westbourne excels.
Barry would also like to see a greater proportion of high quality working model kits on the market. There are plenty of offerings in the lower to mid ranges, but not so much choice at the top end as there is in the case of static historical models, such as the various plank on frame models of the Napoleonic period.
Having got the official business out of the way, it was time for a bit of pleasure. I had arrived pre-armed with my own little list of wants and most of these were very rapidly satisfied from Westbournes extensive stock and I departed with a rather lighter wallet, but feeling pretty happy all the same!
Westbourne Model Centre can be found at 41 Seamoor Road, Westbourne, Bournemouth, Dorset. BH4 9AE. Tel: +44 (0)1202 763480. Website: www.westbourne-model.co.uk.
If you are making a personal visit, then the surrounding area, including Bournemouth seafront, is also worth a visit with its extensive views towards the Isle of Wight and nearby Poole Harbour has lots to interest the modeller. Street parking near the shop is limited, but there is a public car park just around the corner.
Not very far from Westbourne Models in nearby Poole, is Kingston Mouldings, a one man business run by Robin Whitmarsh. Robin does only one thing, he builds and supplies GRP hulls with plans, and he does it very well indeed. Kingston Mouldings has always enjoyed an enviable reputation for the quality of product and looking at the numerous examples in Robins workshop it is not hard to see why. Externally the hulls are beautifully finished and unblemished, with crisp undercuts and needing little if any further work to make them ready for use. Internally the GRP lay-up is even and of an appropriate weight for the size of the model. This is particularly noticeable in the important area of moulded in bulwarks, where you will find a uniform thickness from stem to stern on both sides of the hull. Many other hulls I have seen suffer from variations caused by overlapping glass fibre mat in the lay-up which can be very tedious and time consuming to remove as well as adversely affecting the weight distribution.
Robin achieves his high quality finish by starting each moulding with two thin outer gel coats. Although this means a lengthier production process, it avoids thick or thin areas on the completed moulding, giving a more even and crisply defined result without pinholes. If a single gel coat is used on anything other than the simplest of shapes, then there is a likelihood that it will be too thin on raised edges or fill in moulded detail, such as chines or spray rails. As with paint, two thin coats are better than one single thick coat, which can hide or blur detail.
Robin offers an extensive range of almost 70 hulls covering a wide variety of sailing and power prototypes, including tugs, yachts, launches and fast patrol boats. Almost all the hulls come with full-size plans showing the general arrangements and key sectional views together with colour scheme details and frequently some hints and tips on building methods. All of the supplied plans have been drawn by Robin himself using original shipbuilders material with the exception of a few which have been derived from existing published designs or private sources. Full details of the Kingston Mouldings range can be found on Robins website which also gives background notes to each vessel. Many hulls are kept in stock, but if a customer orders something that has to be made specially, it rarely takes more than a week to have it ready for dispatch. As Kingston Mouldings is almost entirely a mail order operation, (with nearby Westbourne Models stocking a selection of the range), Robins website is the place to go for the latest information. It is very clearly laid out and regularly updated and in addition to giving details of the individual hulls available, it also has sections on how to turn your hull into a finished boat and types of suitable propulsion for working models. There is of course an assumption that customers will already possess some model making skills. Here you are buying a hull and plans and not a kit, but many of the required fittings are available from other retailers in the trade such as those who advertise in Model Boats. Robin also provides a contact list for some of those hard to get items. Customers wishing to discuss requirements, view hulls or collect orders are welcome to visit, but this must be by prior appointment due to the nature of the business and Robins other commitments.
Kingston Mouldings is a relatively low volume producer and Robin has no current plans to greatly expand what is already quite an extensive range of hulls. However, at the time of writing he was working on a hull of the African Queen from the film of the same name starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. Research for this model has been quite difficult, as although the original boat used in the film still exists in Florida, it has been extensively modified since the film was made. Having sat through the film umpteen times, Robin reckons that his version will be as definitive as it is possible to get. No release date available as yet, but Robin hopes that the 36in (91cm) hull will be in production during 2008. If you are interested then keep an eye on his website for further announcements.
Contact details for Kingston Mouldings are:
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