Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Hamburgers and resin

The leaders of successful companies have two traits in common (among others). First, they focus on what they do best, avoiding products and services that might distract them from their core business. Second, they know their limits.

I thought about these characteristics earlier this week after reading about Lynsi Torres, the young CEO of the In-N-Out Burger restaurant chain. In this article she talks about not allowing their menu to go beyond burgers (no fish, chicken, or breakfast) and her decision not to expand beyond a geography they can comfortably support. That latter item is key, because it shows that she knows her limits and chooses to prioritize product over profit.

Yesterday Mike Reeves of Two Mikes Resin Accessories announced that he'll sell his products only through distributors rather than directly to consumers. If you want his fiddly bits you'll have to go to Sprue Brothers or Hannants.

Kudos to Mike for making a smart decision for his business!

Like Torres, he recognizes his limits and places product over profit. I suspect it would be more profitable for him to distribute his products via his web site, but he realizes that the time he spends tracking orders, packing order, shipping packages, etc. is better spent developing and producing products. I’ve been selling a few items on eBay these last two weeks, only eight at a time, and I’m surprised at how much time it takes to manage just those few items. I can’t imagine the time required to ship five or ten times that quantity!

Mike has produced some great items over the last five years, and I'm looking forward to what this new-found focus will give us over the next five!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The bargains you (don't) find on eBay

I'm always amused by the weird things and downright junk I regularly find on eBay. Until recently it was the guy who sells half-used, cut up decal sheets at top dollar, but over the weekend I found this auction, for an Academy 1/72 PV-1 Ventura. As you can see from the picture of the model, almost all of the parts are off the sprues, and the interior, engine, and props have been (badly) painted. The Buy It Now price? How does $24 strike you, plus $9 shipping?

I might (might) be able to justify buying this kit if it were extremely rare, but it's not. There are at least nine other Venturas on eBay selling for less than $24.

I just hope one of my SMS friends here isn't the seller!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

What the cottage industry is doing wrong

We're well into 2013, so let's take a look at what the cottage industry is doing wrong. The Internet has been around for more than 20 years now, yet some manufacturers still don't understand how to fully engage their customers and drive sales. I don't have a Harvard MBA, but I do consider myself a keen observer of the hobby and have noticed bad habits. Here is a random list of suggestions to my friends in the industry, offered with the intent of making everyone more successful.

If you're producing a "correction set," please give us some idea what's wrong with the original kit part. Yea, I know the shape is wrong, but what exactly am I looking for? If you point it out, I'll see it, and I'll be more likely to buy your product.

When you make a new product announcement on the various discussion forums, for crying out loud always, always, always list your distributors, tell us when the items will be available, and provide the URL to your web site. If you want to drive sales you have to make it very easy for us to click the Buy button.

That brings me to the third item. You need to accept PayPal. Most of you do by now, but if you don't you're probably losing more than a few impulse purchases. I made five purchases over the weekend simply because PayPal made it easy for me.

Have a presence on Facebook. I know, some of you old timers don't get the whole social media phenomenon, but Facebook is here to stay and plays a role in the lives of many of your customers. Not convinced? Look at how many Facebook users have "Liked" each of these companies, which means they're seeing product announcements and sales from them:

TwoBobs 1,000
Aviation Megastore 1,100
Trumpeter/Hobby Boss 1,900
Sprue Brothers 2,000
KitMaker 2,500
Squadron 4,000
Hasegawa 4,100
Eduard 6,000
Revell Germany 20,000

Finally, and this one is challenging, try to release new product on a regular schedule. You don't need something new every week or every month, but I think the most successful manufacturers are those that "stay on the radar," so to speak. They're regularly giving their customers something to talk about and creating a strong brand and presence in the process. Much like writing for this blog.

I'm excited by what I see in the aftermarket and cottage industry, and I want it stay like this for at least the next 30 years, until...y'know, when I die. Then someone else can pick up the torch.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

I'm in love!

Women come and go, but there are some things that stay with you through your entire life. (Okay, I'm a bit jaded at the moment when it comes to the ladies, but it's all in good fun.)

Today is Valentine's Day, and even if you're not in a relationship at the moment, if you look at your life you'll probably find a few things that you love. Granted, it's not the kind of love you get from another person, but they are things that make your life richer and more fulfilling. Here's a random list of the things I love.

Not pictured, hamburgers and prosciutto.
First, on the modeling front, I love my Iwata airbrush. My first airbrush was an inexpensive Testors airbrush acquired sometime around 1982, and five years later I upgraded to a Paasche VL. It met my needs for the next 20 years. Then about five years ago I invested (and at more than $200 invested is the right term) in an Iwata HP-CH when I received a 50 percent coupon from my local art shop. Gentlemen, I can tell you that this airbrush changed my life! Successful airbrushing is all about paint control, and the Iwata gives me much more control than I ever had with the Paasche. I'm far from being a ninja with it, but it has enhanced the quality of my models more than any other tool on my workbench.

There's a saying, "Pizza is like sex. Even bad pizza is pretty good." I feel the same way about hamburgers. Five Guys is my favorite, but I'll get a burger almost anyplace. I love 'em, I really do. There's nothing like sinking your teeth into a hot, juicy hamburger when you're hungry and need to satisfy your man-sized appetite. I'm a hamburger purist, which means no ketchup to cover the taste of the beef. In fact, I appreciate the simplicity of just the beef and bun, no condiments at all, but if condiments are your thing, that simple, two-piece assemblage can serve as the platform for any number of creative embellishments, such as peanut butter, fried eggs, and avocado. I think the chefs in fancy schmancy restaurants take some of these dishes too far, but it does show that few other foods can offer so much diversity.

Staying on the food theme, I have to talk about prosciutto. If you're Italian you know what it is, but having been raised in a German/Irish family I didn't discover this delicacy until my late twenties. Prosciutto is a cured ham from northern and central Italy that's typically served in extremely thin slices, usually with cheese and other antipasti. When I take a bite of prosciutto my eyes literally roll back in my head as I enjoy a moment of culinary ecstasy. Sex is better, but not by all that much. The best prosciutto is light, delicate, a bit salty, and flavorful. You want the real thing, from Parma, not the shabby, domestic substitutes from Boar's Head or Daniele.

From food I move to beverages, bourbon in particular. I've never been a big drinker, even in my college and Air Force days. Being half-Irish I'm embarrassed to admit that I can't hold my alcohol. I'm a lightweight. One drink and I get sleepy; two drinks I'm done for the night. That said, I've come to appreciate the complex and assertive flavors of bourbon. George Dickel No. 12 is my favorite at the moment; it's distinctive, nothing like any of the other bourbons I've tried. For a Manhattan, rye is my preferred base, and for that I reach for Bulleit Rye. All I need for the complete man-experience is a worn leather chair for enjoying my Manhattans.

And then there's music. It's always been a part of my life, and I can't imagine living without it. From my earliest years I remember my mother playing old 45 rpm records of Johny Mathis, Bobby Vinton, and Connie Francis, and as I got older I found my own, more contemporary, interests. In high school it was Huey Lewis and the News, the Cars, Mister Mister, pretty mainstream stuff. As a young adult I found a new interest in country, and most recently have broadened my horizons into literally every genre. My mood tends to guide what I listen to day by day, and nothing is too highbrow (Schubert), cheesy (Britney Spears), folksy (Foxygen), twangy (Josh Turner), authentic (Son House), or loud (Skinny Puppy).

Finally, I have to say that I love the scale modeling hobby. It grounds me. My fondest memories of building models goes back to summers spent with my grandfather, building kits from Revell's model-of-the-month club. My enthusiasm for the hobby deepened with a new interest in aviation, found upon joining the Civil Air Patrol, and was nurtured when I joined IPMS Ocala (Florida) soon after. It's been an enjoyable 30 years. Our hobby allows me to be an armchair historian and gives me the opportunity to be a craftsman. And I'm happy to say that many of my best friends I met through the hobby.

So there you have it. I guess I derive the most pleasure in life from plastic models, fatty foods, and alcohol. So be it. That explains the smile on my face.

Monday, February 4, 2013

I thought I saw a wabbit

I don't know what you're building at the moment, but I guarantee you're not having as much fun as Bill Michaels did building his Monty Python Trojan Rabit.

Click into the Aircraft Resource Center to enjoy it.

Friday, February 1, 2013

CAD and critics

It’s that time of year again. The New Year and the Nuremberg Toy Fair are giving us a look at the models we’ll see released throughout 2013. I’m very excited about more than a few of them, as well as the prospect of kits not yet announced yet implied, but I won’t bore you with my preferences.

With so many companies relying on computer aided design these days, it’s only natural that they choose to publicize upcoming releases with a few CAD images, and sadly that’s biting them in the butt.

If you regularly visit the popular forums you may have noticed critical remarks about some of these upcoming releases, criticism based solely on these CAD renderings. The Hobby Boss YF-23 has taken a good deal of abuse within the span of just the two days since the announcement of its release. It appears that some modelers are using the CAD renderings as evidence that the resulting kit will be inaccurate. What ensues are some pretty heated discussions…most of them pointless.

In defense of the prognosticators and rivet counters, I believe it’s completely fair of them to do this early analysis based on the available information, as limited as it may be. It’s not unique to our hobby. If you’re an automotive enthusiast you probably saw many of the predictions over the last 12-18 months of what the Seventh Generation Corvette would look like. Oenophiles regularly get early tastes of wines that are years away from retail shelves. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. What’s the alternative, just sit back and talk about how exciting these kits will be? How boring would that be?

That said, I think the rivet counters should must show more discretion, perhaps prefacing their comments with a disclaimer of some sort, such as, “Based on this early CAD rendering, it would appear that….” They should be open to the possibility that the images might be preliminary and far from representing what we’ll ultimately see in the box six or twelve months from now. Some of these previewers have even gone so far as to damn an entire company’s product line, with statements like, “Based on their history of getting things wrong, I’m sure they’ll screw this one up, too.” Maybe that’s fair – after all, a company’s reputation rises or falls on the quality of its products – but the negativism is a bit tiring, and I’m a fairly patient guy.

Speaking of the rank and file modeler (those of us not consumed with absolute accuracy), we need to be more tolerant of criticism and differing opinions. I, for one, I appreciate the analysis that the rivet counters provide. Look, I’m not an expert in anything, so if someone who’s familiar with the Mirage wants to feel his way all over the new Kitty Hawk kit and point out its two dozen flaws, that’s fine with me. Hell, let him condemn it to the trash bin for all I care. I’m an intelligent and clear-thinking man who can make his own choices based on the information presented to me. All of us should be strong enough to see through and ignore even the harshest criticism and make the best choice for us.

It’s just a hobby. Let people be the big fish in the small pond if that makes them feel good. Don’t let other people control your emotions. Have a nice day.