Lionel train pulls into the digital station




Lionel Trains, America's largest international model train retailer, has brought families together and captured the imaginations of young and old for more than 100 years. Its proud heritage and association with America’s railroads as a symbol of the nation’s engines of progress dates back to 1900 and, since then, the brand has become synonymous with celebratory holiday periods and gift-giving.

As with any company with an audience that involves (though is by no means limited to) younger generations, Lionel is in a perpetual state of evolution as it seeks to continue to inspire and ignite excitable imaginations.

The problem Lionel faced was how to adapt to the modern business and transport reality, while remaining true to its heritage. It therefore embarked on a journey of digital transformation.


At the heart of this decision was a desire to modernize the systems upon which the business was built, without losing the spirit and essence of ‘Lionel’.

While rail networks may no longer represent the economic lifeblood of the US, Lionel continues the legacy of founder Joshua Lionel Cowen, who grew up with that reality. As such, the company gladly bears the responsibility of helping to tell the ‘romance of the rails’ story.

To bring that story to life in today’s world, Lionel’s storytellers must utilize a significant digital element.

While the consumer-facing arm continued to thrive through partnerships with evergreen brands such as NASCAR, Warner Bros, Coca-Cola and John Deere, Lionel leadership was acutely aware of the need to surpass customer expectations and refresh its offer, while also ensuring the behind-the-scenes financial and operational mechanisms worked as effectively as possible.

Just as the wagonway evolved to the locomotive steam engine, which in turn has evolved to today’s high-speed, electric-powered models and the hyperloops of the not-too-distant future, Lionel recognized the need to not only innovate, but to be bold in doing so.

“We undertook a full digital transformation of our financial and management systems and e-commerce operations,” explains Rick Gemereth, CIO of Lionel LLC. “Crowe created customized functionality to add firepower to our order management processes.”

The core brand offer and weight of customer loyalty provided the perfect platform upon which to digitize with minimal disruption. Lionel enlisted Crowe support to improve the user experience through streamlining of legacy systems and by offering increased customization and personalization options. This has helped to bolster brand equity, as well as bringing behind-the-scenes benefits.


Lionel was able to seamlessly unify disparate financial and operational systems while delivering an e-commerce function that can be tailored to meet customers’ changing demands. The customer experience was improved, and continued consultative support and on-site training post-roll out led to upskilling of the workforce.

“It’s important to have this deep relationship that delivers for customers, retail partners and employees alike,” says Gemereth.

At first glance it may sound counter-intuitive, but Lionel discovered that the best way to restore the romance of the rails was through embracing the digital revolution.