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Education was front and center at NRHSA

Attendees learned how to attract customers, what to sell them and how to sell it well

By Elizabeth Nash
Published: May 30, 2017
A crowd at the table-top expo.
The seminars all drew a healthy crowd.
Keynote speaker Phil Wrzesinski of Phil’s Forum Publishing.
The ever-popular train layout on display in the lobby.
The indoor flying demonstration.
The indoor flying demonstration.
A large crowd watches drone demonstrations.
Conversations at the table-top expo.
The 2017 National Retail Hobby Store Association show saw another invigorating year. Held May 7-10 at The Orleans Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, the four-day event was filled with educational classes, demonstrations and conversations. Each aspect of the show was designed to teach hobby retailers how to run a more profitable and desirable shop.

At the show, the role of NRHSA president passed from Noel Bays of HobbyForce in Ontario, Ohio, to Kevin Koch of Uncle Don’s Hobbies in Palm Desert, Calif. Both former and current presidents agreed the show was healthy and thriving. “The vibe was up, and I think this year went as smoothly as any show in the past,” said Koch.

New this year was an increase in educational seminars called Train the Trainer—classes and discussions centered around general hobby retail questions. The first day was packed with nine of these quick seminars. To list a few, Mike Phillips of Lionel spoke about how to market trains to customers, Koch taught a class on batteries, and John Rosselott of talked about the value of visiting other hobby shops. Additional topics covered included developing a Tamiya Racing program, selling model kits and hobby paints, and hooking up FPV.
These classes were so popular that even Koch was amazed by the healthy turnout. “The educational seminars were received very well and were well attended—better attended than I thought they would be. I was pleasantly surprised. They will definitely be a part of next year’s show.”

The first day ended with a welcome reception and a race with Tamiya mini four-wheel R/C vehicles.

The second day opened with two workshops: “Building a store racing program” with panelists Todd Anderson of RC Excitement, Jeremy Truxillo of Big Boys Toys and Hobbies, and Chadd Brockman of MHORR/C Raceway; and “What should a basic hobby store stock in trains” with speaker Lisa Honnor of Heartland Hobby Wholesale.

The keynote speaker this year was Phil Wrzesinski of Phil’s Forum Publishing and the former owner of Toy House and Baby Too in Jackson, Mich. His compelling speech focused on combining branding and hiring to create a culture of success in a store. He explained that it was important to transform every aspect of your store, from the answering machine message to the bathrooms, into an experience that customers will find enjoyable and unmistakably a part of your brand. “Your values are your store’s values,” he said. “If you want to have fun, make your store fun.” Using real-life numbers, he also showed just how profitable it can be to develop a strong and trusting relationship with customers.

At the indoor flying demo, manufacturers showed their latest drones, helicopters and other aircraft. Several of the drones featured a real-time camera feed that the audience viewed on a television, and others demonstrated their durability when purposely flown into walls.

The third day featured the ever-popular Boat Pond demo, sponsored by Traxxas. Here, R/C boats raced by and a fast-moving Traxxas X-Maxx with paddle tires managed to hydroplane around the entire pond.

The table-top expo opened that afternoon. Many of the tables featured new products (you’ll find a list of those we thought stood out in the August issue of Model Retailer). Many of these items featured new technology and a streamlined designed, which gave the expo a modern, high-tech feel. On display were updated styles of drones, sleek R/C vehicles and aircraft, a personal 3-D printer and new scale-model accessories. Small quadcopters flew through the aisles as the pilots demonstrated their capabilities. Colorful car bodies and R/C boats lined the walls. There was something to gawk at with every turn.

Post-show numbers: 78 exhibitors and 233 attendees. While these numbers are down slightly from last year, the show still felt busy and crowded.

Edward Knapp of Fast Eddy Bearings had a booth at the show and explained why he made attending each year a priority. “I enjoy going to the NRHSA show because it’s very relaxed. At other shows you’re rushing about, always on your feet, and you’re never sure who’s a customer and who’s not. Here, you know that you’re spending your time wisely, talking to people who matter. It’s my favorite show.”

The expo continued into the following day, closing in late afternoon. Koch said that the expo was his favorite aspect of the show. “It’s a chance to see old acquaintances and talk with a bunch of different people in the industry. And it was a healthy expo this year, number-wise. I noticed a large number of dealers this year who were first-time attendees.”

For a change, next year’s show will be held in late September. “It was my notion to move next year’s show to later in the year,” said Koch. “The date change will help turn the NRHSA show from just a relationship event to a relationship and buying event. Attendees will be able to see and purchase new fourth-quarter products, just in time for the holiday season.”

While a later show may be good for those in R/C, some say that those in the model-train sector may find it difficult to complete orders in time for the holiday season, due to manufacturing giant Asia’s long shipping times. “A September expo will not be very helpful to train people looking to buy,” said Bob Wilke, president of the HMA. “NRHSA did what was best for the majority of its attendees, knowing that it would be difficult to please everyone.” He reminded those retailers looking to sell directly to customers to attended the Rocky Mountain Hobby-Expo, Oct. 24-28, 2018, in Denver. This HMA-sponsored show will be heavily based on consumer attendance.

Although some attendees may prefer an earlier show, Koch is optimistic for the 2018 numbers. “I expect membership to be way up because we have a longer time to plan next year’s show. Attendance should be even better in 2018.”