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How has the hobby industry changed for the better in the last ten years?

Published: January 4, 2011

Rusty Brooks, AAA Hobby Supply, Marietta, Ga., answered this way:
I have been in the hobby industry for more than 25 years. It has not changed for the better from the viewpoint of the local hobby shop. During the last five years, I've seen manufacturer support of local hobby shops evaporate. In the past, we were called by various hobby marketers (Revell, Polar Lights, Lindberg), and they asked us what were good sellers and sought input for future reissued kits. Occasionally, we were surprised by boxes filled with samples and other promotional goodies. Now, we have trouble getting restocks of newly issued kits from the distributors, and we never hear from the manufacturers. The trend of the industry towards smaller and smaller production runs for kits combined with the ever increasing prices as the manufacturers try to add details to the kits, which are often replaced by aftermarket items anyway, has led to our area (metro Atlanta) declining from 12 model shops 20 years ago, to just two in an area of five million people!


How has this possibly been a change for the better? I guess you’d have to be one of the companies that bought a manufacturer and decided to sell direct to the public instead of using the traditional supply chain America has always had. At this rate, there won’t be any local businesses left to buy anything from, much less hobbies.


Paul Scopetski, The Spare Time Hobby Shop, Marlboro, Mass., wrote:

That’s a tough question to answer in a positive mode! 1999-2001 were our peak years. Since then, our retail gross sales have been down 45%. 35% of our inventory doesn’t generate 5% of our sales, yet occupies space and rent! It has stagnated (trains, slot cars, science and educational kits, games and radio control). The youth of America do not care about our industry any longer, and the hobby industry has abandoned that age group. In the past 10 years, we have had yearly price increases, oversaturated lines of product, not a single hot category developed, and absolutely a zero future.


Take the recent iHobby show. DML pulled a no-show, and Tamiya refuses to attend. Osprey bolted in 2008. No book or small market companies attend. So what kind of messages is that to the small store trying to survive? If the industry doesn’t care, why should we? We’re all dying slowly. Nothing has changed for the better. Sorry!


Kimberly Miller-Gordon, Turn 4 Hobbies, West Boylston, Mass., said:

I haven't been in the business for 10 years, but as a hobbyist, I've seen the industry change for the better for the consumer, not necessarily for the retailer, especially the independent retailer.


As a child, the only way I could have seen a train set was in the Sears Christmas Wishbook catalog, and that would be where my parents would have had to order it. There was no looking, touching or testing before purchasing. Today train sets are available at practically every department store, drugstore and mall toy store, as well as independent retailers, where anyone can look and feel what they are getting and then possible go home to a multitude of e-commerce sites (including the manufacturer's own e-commerce site) to order the same product at a competitive price. In essence, the retailer is paying for the advertising of the product, but not benefiting by getting the sale. The manufacturer/distributor wins, the consumer wins, but the brick-and-mortar store loses in this instance.      


As far as information goes though, I think everyone has benefited immensely in the last 10 years with e-mail and the Internet age. Never before could product information and industry news pass so quickly and effortlessly between manufacturer, distributor, retailer and/or consumer.

 

Bruno C. Mary, Remote Control Hobbies, Aurora, Colo., shared his thoughts:
The continuous development of almost ready-to-fly platforms, almost ready-to-run cars, the brushless power system and LiPo batteries has really changed this hobby for the past 10 years. Car and airplane kits, nitro engines used to be the norm. Customers were purchasing more building supplies and accessories.

Jerry Anderson, Jass Collectibles, Red Deer, Alta., Canada, said:
Lasers and computers have improved details.

Mike Niedzalkoski, Niedzalkoski's Train Shop, Jeannette, Pa., wrote:
The increased use of online ordering and inventory systems has been a great improvement in the industry.

David Tregoning, DR Hobby, Granite Falls, Wash., answered:
With the advancement of LiPo batteries and 2.4GHz radio systems, R/C hobbies are a lot more fun. With the 2.4GHz radio, everybody can be [flying or driving] at the same time without interference from one another. The new LiPo batteries run so nice and don't have the mess you get with gas.

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HOBBYFORCE said:
I'm hopeful there will be a resurgence with brick and mortar stores. As more states are facing fiscal challenges, eventually they will realize the vast amount of revenue being lost in non-reported internet purchases. Consumers have been enjoying a "free pass" on paying sales/use tax by purchasing from out-of-state vendors. I believe the states will eventually get on board in order to collect those lost taxes.

Higher fuel prices will eventually make it more difficult for internet vendors to offer free/discounted shipping. Brick and mortar retailers can more easily absorb higher shipping costs by buying in quantity. It costs less to ship 25 widgets to one location than to ship them to 25 different locations.

I can see a future where the playing field will become more level, making brick and mortar a valid business model for years to come.

Arnie Clawson
HobbyForce, Mansfield, OH
Pacific Coast Models said:
The next big wave for our hobby and retailing in general will begin with a few manufacturers, importers and distributors setting fixed retail prices. In 2007, in the case of Katy's Kloset vs. Brighton (now called PSKS vs. Leegins, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Brighton had the right to set the retail prices of its items and could stop selling to retailers who discounted their products without their permission. The 1911 Price Fixing law was overturned. About a month ago, the Court refused to re-hear the case.

As the hobby manufacturers realize the hobby "pie" is shrinking and the internet discounters are driving the stores out of business, they will reduce the number of internet customers they sell to and set the retail prices so the stores can compete. Think about what this will do to internet sellers when they don't have a price advantage. They will still have a market to sell to, but it will be much smaller that it is now.

Ken Lawrence
Pacific Coast Models, Inc.
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