From buses to model railways for driver who switched to selling brands like Airfix and Hornby from Doncaster store

Panda models in HallGate Doncaster'Julie Meadowcroft in the shop checking stock
Panda models in HallGate Doncaster'Julie Meadowcroft in the shop checking stock

Just over two years ago James Race was working as a bus driver.          

But today, you’re more likely to see him selling scale models of a double decker than behind the wheel of one.

Panda models in HallGate Doncaster'Julie Meadowcroft in the shop checking stock

Panda models in HallGate Doncaster'Julie Meadowcroft in the shop checking stock

James and partner Julia Meadowcroft are now the owners of Panda Models, a store which opened on Hallgate, in Doncaster town centre, just under a year ago.

It is the latest progression for the couple, who first started selling models as a sideline at special events.

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Panda models in HallGate Doncaster

Panda models in HallGate Doncaster

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Now they sell a range from model railways, plastic model kits from brands like Airfix, and Games Workshop models, after pursuing the dream to run a shop.

James is originally from Doncaster, but they had been living in Lowestoft, when Julie became pregnant with their second child. They moved to Doncaster at that point, and initially started set up a stall at the market in the corn exchange.

Julie said: “We opened the market stall soon after our son was born. It was a big change to what we had been doing at the events and fairs, because we didn’t have to pack everything up every day.

Panda models in HallGate Doncaster

Panda models in HallGate Doncaster

“Later, we decided we wanted to move to a shop. At the market we could only open on certain days, and we wanted a higher presence. A lot of our suppliers insist that you open five days a week. We also wanted to be able to take deliveries whenever we wanted. We were having to have things delivered at home, and stack them up in our bedroom.”

James said: “The market was a good place to start and see how it worked, and the market people were very helpful.

“So we moved in here on December 5, 2017 in time for the Christmas market.”

Before opening, their wares were stockpiled in the three bed semi where they live in Scawthorpe.

Panda models in HallGate Doncaster'Julie Meadowcroft in the shop checking stock

Panda models in HallGate Doncaster'Julie Meadowcroft in the shop checking stock

They soon took on their first employee, Blaike Watkins, a model enthusiast who had been one of their first customers in December 2017, who had been attracted to the shop by an ad for the model manufacturer, Hornby, in the window. 

He said: “I just happened to be passing on the bus, and I saw a Hornby logo in the window and jumped off.I had a look around and bought a few things. I came back a few days later and bought some more.”

He spent so much time in the shop some that people thought he worked there anyway. One customer even once tried to pay him for a model.

When they wanted to recruit, they offered him the position.

Now they are looking to extend their business to offer custom built models to shoppers.

Each of the three working there are experienced modellers. Both Blaike and James have created model railways, while Julie has a background in art.

The plan to use those skills to create models to order. For instance, Blaike recently created a model of Thorne North station. They plan to start the new service next year.

They have also found there is demand for pre-completed model kits, from customers who feel they would be unable to make a model themselves to the high standard that they want.

Many of the customers are local, but some come from far afield.

More distant travellers have come to the shop from Portugal and the Isle of Man. Some go to several shops in the region on a sort of model store tour.

“Models are still very much a big hobby,” said James. “A lot of people come back to it.”

He said it was not unusual for people suffering dementia make models, tapping in to skills from when they were younger. 

“It’s not an expensive hobby, and there are items to suit all pockets,” added James.

“There is not one typical customer, and we get lots different types of shopper. Even with regular customers you can never really second guess what they’re going to buy. Kits and railways sell well, but the best selling item in terms of quantity is probably paint for the models.”

They stock traditional names like Hornby and Airfix, but also less well known brands such as Trumpeter, Academy, Great Wall and Valum.

Although it is a traditional hobby, Panda Models still have an eye on the digital age.

A portion of their sales are made up of online sales from their website, wwwpandamodels.co.uk.

> We are running a series of features on shops to showcase the many types of store in Doncaster town centre as part of our Love Your High Street campaign.

Read more: Amazing model village made of card and scrap wood created in the image of Doncaster