Radio controlled car enthusiasts may often start out buying
toys, but many end up with model racers worth hundreds of dollars. RC
retailers should treat the market with special concern, as long-term attention
to consumer concerns like technology advances and replacement parts may
net valuable returns.
Demand for quality remote control products is growing; the North American
market for cars, planes, boats and other items is valued at more than
$600 million, which represents almost 30 percent of the total vehicle
category for the toy industry.
Technology has improved the design and performance of all radio controlled
models, and recent developments have included radios with much narrower
bands, which create less interference, and varieties of planes that fly
slower and more quietly, making them more suitable for use in populated
areas. Applied to both the hobby models and the lighter toy car styles,
these improvements create a better play experience for the user.
“In recent years we have been applying more software applications to
drive the performance of the toys,” agrees Mitch Rose, director of marketing
for Tyco R/C. “For example, the Tony Hawk Skateboard had programming
built in that allowed the rider and the board to operate seamlessly. This
delivered a more realistic skateboard experience.”
Rose says the market for RC products skews predominantly in favor of
older boys, starting at age eight. Mike Wenig, president of the
National Retail Hobby Stores Association agrees, but adds that
many men drop the hobby in their mid 20s, then take it up again in their
50s, often with their own children.
“You have the parent coming in and say, ‘When I was a kid I had a so
and so,’” Wenig says. “We try to ease them into things that would fit
their pocketbook and also fit the child.”
Kathleen Racine, executive director of the Radio Control Hobby Trade
Association, believes remote control toys are a good way for youngsters
to get into the RC hobby, but she notes if parents shop around, they might
find more value in the hobby-quality varieties than in popular RC vehicle
“The toys might be a good transition, but they also might be a frustration,”
she says, noting toy RC vehicles are often irreparable if damaged. “I
think people are surprised when they realize that real ones are not that
much more than the toys.”
Once bitten, the hobbyist develops a need for after-market parts, a demand
both Racine and Wenig believe hobby shops and specialty retailers can
“People like to make models their own, so having after-market parts is
really important,” says Racine. “Parts are easier to get, and they have
a low cost. And as you replace things, you learn a lot more about it.
When you’re replacing a wing, you learn a little bit about aeronautics.
While this is a fun thing, you learn a lot of theory without knowing it.”
For the hardcore hobbyist, the fun is to make the vehicle as fast, maneuverable
or powerful as possible.
“Manufacturers cannot keep parts in stock, especially the hop-up kits,”
Wenig says. “As soon as the kids get their car, they’re immediately looking
for ways to hop it up. We have major problems keeping parts in stock.”
The challenge is meeting this need without causing an undue wait. Wenig
suggests training customers to accept a seven-day turnaround on part orders.
“A lot of it becomes out-moded quickly so you don’t want to buy a lot
of parts and put them in your back room,” he says. “We try to condition
these people on a one-week wait. There’s no way with the thousands of
cars out there that you’ll be able to have a part for everyone.”
Racine believes there’s something even more important to a hobbyist.
“You probably want someone to share your stories and someone who can
help you with what your next model ought to be,” she says. “If you’re
a collector, you want someone to help you with your next model.”
The key to the future, Wenig believes, is tapping into the family relationships
RC products help develop.
“I think if we get more bonding of families and parents who are there
to teach them how to run a car or to fly a plane, the industry will grow,”
he says. “And we have grown. The industry and technology are continuing
to advance and we are in a growing industry, but we are also an industry
that needs diversity.”
Writer's Bio: Paul A. Paterson is a freelance writer
living and working in Southern Ontario. He has worked for, among other
publications, an Ontario based family magazine and a start-up online service.
His household includes four children, three cats, a dog and one wife.