Paper models are poised to become this decade's Beanie Babies: an old
toy that suddenly becomes high-demand. However, this marketing firestorm
is bypassing retail toy stores and presenting thorny questions about retailing
on the Internet.
Paper models peaked in the United States during World War II, when critical
materials made traditional model materials scarce. By the 1960s, plastic
crowded paper models off the shelves of American hobby shops. Paper models
made a comeback in the 1990s, partly due to skyrocketing plastic model
costs, but also because of the simplicity of the required tools: white
glue and scissors.
Spirit of St. Louis
The Internet helped to drive some of this growth. Paper model enthusiasts
could order online, with cheap color printers letting individuals download
products electronically and print the models at home.
Chip Fyn started Fiddler's Green in the 1960s and was
quick to embrace the Internet, putting his models on the Web as soon as
he could. Chip partnered with Amazon.com, and his company now allows buyers
to download a copy of the kit and print out as many copies as desired.
Later, a print-on-demand book is mailed to the buyer.
"I was a one-man shop for years," Fyn said. "But I've
added three full-time workers since 2000: two to handle orders, one to
run the website."
How to Sell
Growth is largely bypassing many retailers, however. One of the few traditional
retailers selling paper models, Village Hobbies in Austin,
TX, has sold paper models for 15 years and reports solid sales without
significant recent growth.
Lou Dausse has owned Paper Models International since
the 1970s. One of the biggest wholesalers of paper models in the United
States, he reports skyrocketing retail mail orders since 2000. Still,
retailers have been slow to show interest.
Dausse pegs customer unfamiliarity. "Retailers see my finished models
at a trade show," says Dausse. "Impressed, they order kits.
Then the unmade kits sit on their shelves. They never reorder."
So how can a storefront retailer cash in? It takes work.
Put effort into marketing. Make models to show customers what finished
models look like. Give away samples: a $1 or $2 model is a cheap way to
generate interest. Look for manufacturers with CD-ROMs of models, which
give merchants better margins and customers more models.
Many manufacturers are individual designers that prefer direct mail or
do not understand wholesaling, preferring to offer their products directly
over the web.
Delta 7 Studios Paper Model
The Internet gives global reach, yet isolates. Dan Shippey started Delta
7 Studios in 2001. "An online store is like a store in the
Sahara,” Shippey says. “There is no Interstate, or even a dirt road for
people to travel down and see you." While interested in wholesaling,
Dan Shippey cannot afford a sales rep.
Chip Fyn has the solution. "Retailers could sell Fiddler's Green
models through virtual stores linked to my site through a retailer's home
page," he says. "We could both make money without physical inventory.
I cannot sell the idea to retailers, though."
Interested? It may be opportunity knocking.
To view recent industry sales figures for Arts and Crafts, Click