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Editorial 1-2004
Guest editorial by Lee Nehlsen, former partner in SMCC 

Manufacturing is a guessing game that is costly to any who enter it. Injection molding is beyond the reach of the average person as the making of laser cut dies runs into the thousands of dollars. The big boys have the money to make laser cut dies for plastic injection molding which give by far the best detailed models on the market. But they have to recoup their costs by selling a lot of models so they pick something they think will be a big seller. I doubt if you will ever see a company like Busch do a model of a Nash or some other unpopular vehicle because the volume demand for it is just not there. 

The small manufacture or individual resorts to resin or metal casting as the costs are considerably cheaper. Finding equipment, raw material and the how to is not easy when you first start out. A lot of individuals will give their model to a "professional" molder and caster to do, which adds to the cost. A rubber mold is only good for from 25 to 50 castings, then it starts breaking down. No matter how much mold release is used the resin is going to adhere to some spot in the mold and take a chunk of rubber with it when the casting is removed from the mold. Or the mold will crack when flexed getting the casting out.

Once there is a reproduced model to sell, the next problem is finding buyers. Advertising is expensive and can run a small company into debt very quickly. Product review in publications helps, but a lot of publications just are not interested in someone who is just starting out and is an unknown. What is needed is some kind of coop support group that is willing to help individuals get their product manufactured and marketed. Look at what the NMRA has done for model railroading. It shows that when people with like interests work together, they can get a lot accomplished and are listened to by the manufactures.

87th scale is off to a good start in this direction. Now I suggest that a dues paying membership be formed to support the operations. That groups be formed that have like interests. Material and information be gathered and published for those who would like to know.. One person may know of a source of material, another may have the knowledge of "how to". By everyone sharing what they know we can make the model making a lot easier for everyone else. The bottom line would be a lot more types of models out there to choose from. The "Big Four" have done an excellent job so far, but there is only so much time in a day and one or two individuals can not do it all.

There are many model clubs all over the world. They put on shows and swapmeets, maybe put out a newsletter. It is time to go beyond the local and think worldwide. The internet is a great tool for instant communication anywhere in the world. I am in Southern California communicating with people in Holland, Germany, France, Spain, and Australia on a very real time basis. Modeling and marketing is an international interest shared by many the world over. 

I would be willing to help in any way I can. For example if anyone would like a model available in the US but hard to get in their country, I would be happy to obtain it and air mail it to them. I have found that sending air mail from here overseas can cost as little as $3.50 The post office is right next door to me. My costs would be the pleasure of helping someone as others have helped me.

Lee Nehlsen

Editorial 2-2004
Guest editorial by Bill Cawthon

What is the future of 1/87th models ?

From an American point of view:

Problem No. 1: Different hobbies are in ascendancy. Model railroading and plastic kits are down; Radio-control and diecast toys are up. A few years ago, it was the other way round. Overall, the toy market is down, but a lot of that is due to changing demographics. The baby boomers, a huge group, are in their prime hobby years; the coming generation of potential modelers is smaller. Computers, video games and other activities have made inroads on leisure time, but consigning our hobby to oblivion because of them is a mistake. People said television would kill hobbies, too.

Problem No. 2: Shrinking exposure. Shifts in hobby tastes mean retailers devote space to what they perceive to be hot; that only makes sense. Plus, it’s unlikely we’ll see mass-market hobby centers stock a variety of models until they are convinced there’s a market. Incidentally, the growing dominance of a handful of mega-retailers is hurting the toy industry as a whole. The smaller toyshops where one might have once found Wiking models (in fact, such a shop is where I bought my first Anguplas and Roco models many years ago) are going away, unable to compete with “Tickle Me Elmo” at Wal-Mart. Proof of this is everywhere: FAO Schwarz, one of America’s legendary toy stores, is being liquidated and only the original New York City store will be retained. Or look at Brio: After two years of losses, production staff was cut almost 50% and some production is being outsourced to China. In essence, Wal-Mart, Target and Toys ‘R Us are defining the American toy market. The big hobby merchandisers, like Michaels and Hobby Lobby, have tiny model sections and a pitiful selection. With the closing of E-R Models, we just lost one of our major importers/distributors.

Problem No. 3: We preach to the chorus and never leave the church to evangelize. Then we wring our hands as the congregation dies off and there are few new members. I am not talking about reaching out to the kids; by their nature, the models we like aren't suitable for children. Not only because of the potential dangers they might present, but because they aren't toys that can handle a child's handling. But the pleasures of Hot Wheels or Siku models can mature to an enjoyment of true scale models in miniature if more people know they are out there.

In 2001, I helped out in the Ravensburger-F.X. Schmid booth at the Chicago International Hobby Expo on one of the public days. Ravensburger had the only Wiking display and it was an old (and damaged) retail rack that wasn't even stocked with the latest models. The fellow running the booth was a really great guy who knew lots about the company's main line of puzzles and such, but literally nothing about Wiking models.

A number of men with children came by the booth as they wandered through the exhibits. Of course, the children were enchanted, but a number of the men were also interested and wanted to know where they could get the models because they had never seen them. I took over and handed out catalogs and Siku pens and reeled off as many online sources as I could. We couldn't sell anything at the show, but I thought that if we had any brains at all, every adult who expressed interest would have walked out with a free Wiking model. Cost? Maybe a couple of hundred bucks.

The other thing we should have done is prepared a list of every hobby shop in the greater Chicago area that sold Wiking models. Yes, this was primarily a trade show, but when you’re open to the public, you should be ready for them.

Problem No. 4: The hobby has failed to adapt and address the needs and desires of new markets. Not long ago, a friend of mine was building a 1/87-scale model of an ExxonMobil rail facility. He wanted to add scale models of the vehicles owned by the people who work there and contacted me. Out of the list, which included fairly common vehicles, I was able to supply a single model. I am not blaming the German model companies; we have companies in the U.S. capable of making models. On the other hand, I have had more than one German manufacturer ask me how to penetrate the U.S. market. The answer is simple: make models of American vehicles and attend American hobby shows. Cut your distributors some slack for advertising your products; discount an invoice or add a similar incentive. And it’s not just America; try making some models of British vehicles. Not only will the English thank you, a huge number of English cars were sold in the U.S. in the 1950s and 1960s. Make a Saab; stun the French and make a Panhard. The Italians have been known for some interesting cars; ask Audi about making a Murciélago. Yes, other scales are more popular in those countries, but why cut yourself off from any reasonable source of sales?

A friend who is very knowledgeable about the industry thinks it’s becoming saturated, even in Germany. I don’t agree. I think the problem is that too few people know what is already out there and there is too little fresh variety to keep those of us who do know coming back. Part of this we, as hobby fans, can change. The rest, we can do our best to influence.

In forty years, it would be nice to see everything from inexpensive, easy-to-assemble kits to incredible models with lights, motors and operating doors and such. But most important, it would be nice to see a hobby that has learned to survive.