Collector interest and nostalgia on the part of today’s parents have sparked renewed interest in metal toys, and retailers are seeing an upward sales trend in both die-cast and pressed metal toys.
According to avid collector Derek Redmond of Kingston, Canada, “Large-scale die cast 1/43 Hot Wheels and Matchbox are popular with collectors and with kids as toys.”
Retailers have long considered these items a staple in the toy market. But during the 1980s and 1990s, many of the toys that had traditionally been made from metal were manufactured in plastic, including Tonka trucks.
“Costs undoubtedly played a part in the use of plastic,” said collector and retailer Paul Provencher. “I don’t really mind plastic when it adds to the toy in some way. In many cases the body is plastic because the design calls for it.”
Of all the die-cast toys on the market, the most popular are vehicles, from farm machinery to military trucks, tanks and jeeps, but racing cars are still the reliable leaders in sales in large outlets like Kmart and Target. However, construction equipment, planes and trains are on an upward trend, as are modern military aircraft and vehicles.
“The manufacturers figured out what attracted collectors and started producing to that interest," says Provencher.
The popularity of NASCAR racing – the fastest-growing sport in the country – has helped to make metal cars more popular than ever. The value of these cars as collectors’ items works in the retailer’s favor, as parents often buy one car for the child to play with and another to collect.
Racing Champions offers a complete racing line-up that includes a NASCAR Collectors Series, which is a major focus of the company’s 2005 product line and is a prime example of the reciprocal sales boost taking place between toys for play and collectibles.
Companies throughout the world make collectible classic cars, trucks and farming equipment. SpecCast of Dyersville, Iowa, is one such manufacturer.
“The company is focused on diversifying products within existing product lines and in pursuing new product categories that fit with existing distribution channels,” says Dave Bell, president of SpecCast. “We now release collectible cars, tractor-trailers and farm toy replicas.”
Corgi (ToyShow), a British company known for its high-end die-cast toys, has invested in new tooling aimed at the American market and is putting a solid marketing effort behind its military and emergency vehicle lines.
“Corgi has been in the market for some time but has been managed by different concerns,” said Provencher. “I believe the current company is doing a good job of keeping the marque alive and has many terrific offerings at present.”
If Corgi revives some of its old castings and produced retro products, collectors like Provencher and Redmond believe that it would spark renewed interest in the original items.
Tactical Strike is a moderately priced line of modern military tanks, trucks and aircraft toys and, along with its line of fire trucks, has been promoted through programming on the History Channel. The line includes 1/64 scale modern military aircraft. Its F-14D Tomcat, originally conceived and built as the ultimate long-range air-superiority fighter interceptor of the Cold War, is a consistent seller at $24. The $18 Longbow Apache combat helicopter, first seen in Operation Iraqi Freedom, is a popular piece in both the retail and collectibles markets. Collectors continue to support the 1942-vintage soldiers dressed in camouflage and field equipment.
Mattel acquired the company in the early 1990s and has backed the launch of new toys for the worldwide market. It is placing heavy emphasis on commercial vehicles of the 1950s and 1960s, as nostalgic collectors often seek out products from these decades.
The bottom line is that die-cast toys are more popular than ever, both as collectibles and as everyday playthings, and retailers are supported by aggressive marketing campaigns for both. However, collectors warn that toys produced specifically as collectibles do not normally increase in value as much as toys that are kept in original packaging and pristine condition. The retailer would do well to consider the collectible potential of die-cast toys when stocking up for the next quarter.