iHobby 2012: Where Are All the People?

The hobby industry is a strange one. Nearly everything we have is begged, borrowed, or stolen from other industries. And everyone pretty much knows each other, company to company. It’s like a small town in Arkansas: turns out everybody knows everybody, and most of them sleep together, and some are even related.

Which makes it all the more sad that the iHobby show was incredibly poorly attended this year, not just by retailers and buyers, but also exhibitors – some of who are very heavy-hitters in the hobby world. The rumor is that Great Planes (who owns Duratrax, Electri-Fly, Axial, ARRMA, Team Durango, Estes Rockets, and Revell models to name a few) is boycotting the show, due to the relocation to Cleveland from Chicago. If that rumor holds some truth, it’s a sad reflection of the pettiness Great Planes can be accused of. If there were other reasons that they pulled out of the show (which they actually sponsored), then those reasons haven’t been brought to light.

Another no-show was Traxxas, who needs no introduction. Going into the event, I was very excited to see, if not play with, the new Rally car Traxxas announced last week. I also had some questions I wanted to ask them in person. I got to do neither of those things. No one was sure why Traxxas didn’t attend. According to their event calendar, there is no other event scheduled for this weekend. Some dealers concluded that Traxxas no longer cares about hobby shops.They point to the fact that Traxxas vehicles are now for sale at BestBuys across Canada (as a test for the United States), and the BestBuy Geek Squad is rumored to have been flown down to Plano for training, from Traxxas, on how to repair and warranty Traxxas vehicles. Traxxas may be the biggest player in the R/C car market, but there seem to be many dealers ready to drop their products at a moment’s notice if (and more likely, when) Traxxas formally inks a deal that puts Traxxas vehicles, parts, and hop-ups in BestBuys across the country. Not showing up for an industry trade show does nothing to quash these negative feelings and rumors. Only time will inform how this all works out. But let one thing be clear - Traxxas only made it as far as they did because hobby shops across the country embraced them. It is unclear what will happen should hobby shops drop their products.

On the other hand, those manufacturers, distributors, and vendors that did make the trip to Cleveland were very gracious with their time. I chatted with Horizon for, over the course of two days, over five hours. They are very excited about the re-launch (my word, not theirs) of the ECX (formerly “Electrix”) line of products. The Revenge buggies are superbly designed. Lee Morrison, formerly of “Pretty, Puny, Sissy, Little, Wimpy Motors”, designed the buggies. While he wasn’t in attendance, it was obvious that the folks at Horizon think highly of the man – and his work is on par with the rest of the 1/8th scale buggy world (if not slightly better).

Both buggies will feature a 3mm aluminum chassis and 12mm aluminum shocks. The electric Type-E's brushless powerhouse is a Dynamite 2500kv 4-Pole motor and a Dynamite waterproof 130A ESC to control it. The nitro Type-N will feature a Dynamite .21 engine to get it up to speed. In both, the steering servo is a nice high torque one at nearly 200 oz-in of torque, but a little slow at .20 sec/60º of travel. The tires that come stock at a slightly harder version of the Dynamite "Watchdog" tires. There will be upgrade parts available on day one for the buggies, including 15mm big bore shocks and a very thick set of shock towers (which are pretty beefy already). Unfortunately the front steering knuckles are cast aluminum, instead of CNC aluminum, but some CNC’ed knuckles will also be available on day one or soon thereafter. The buggies won’t ship for another 3-4 weeks when last I talked to Horizon, but that will give us dealers time to stock up on wheels, tires, and accessories.

The re-launch of the ECX line looks spectacular. ECX made a number of improvements to the vehicles. They beefed up the driveshafts with larger diameter u-joint pivot balls and made the yolks and half-shafts out of a harder plastic. They replaced the terrible 27AM radios with new 2.4GHz ones. They have a new speed control on board with EC3 connectors, which are far superior to the old Tamiya-style connectors on the previous version of these cars. Everything is waterproof. They’re even throwing a 2-amp peak charger in the box with the cars. And everything is staying below the $200 mark. If Traxxas wasn’t worried about ECX before (and why should they have been?), then they should sit up and take notice now. ECX is coming on strong with this re-launch, and I think they’re a competent and compelling competitor to Traxxas’ stranglehold on the beginner/basher crowd. This Christmas should be very interesting.

I am excited for the new direction that Dynamite (a division of Horizon) is headed. I asked why their chargers either lack some important features (like LiPo storage mode) or were priced $20 - $30 more then the competition. I asked why Horizon has had a “day of purchase” warranty on their LiPo battery packs, while other manufacturers offered a one or more year warranty. Horizon admits that mistakes were made in the past, and they intend to learn from them. Exactly what that means, I don’t know. But it’s encouraging at the least.

There were no new items from Blade at the show, but I was given the impression from a few separate reps that there will be at least a couple new things coming before Christmas – these items were delayed at the last minute, and if they aren’t ready to ship, Horizon will not discuss them. So I don’t know what they are, but I hope my predictions for iHobby become true – a reboot of either the mCX2, the CX2, or the 120 SR (or all three).

There wasn't anything new from Spektrum or JR, so nothing new to report there.

We talked at length with SIG, who is bringing out a 4 Star 54 airplane. It’s a new take on the 4 Star 40, which has been a favorite of pilots for many years. The new one is a 54” wingspan (since it’s powered by either glow or electric, they are removing the engine-size nomenclature from the name and replacing it with the wingspan). We’re not sure on pricing or in what form the airplane will be available. SIG will be putting an electric power package together for pilots who want to go that route. The packages will consist of HiMax motors in combination with Castle Creations aircraft ESCs, though they did not specify which line of speed controls they will be using.

Roger also took the opportunity to catch up with an old friend. Steve Kavulich and his son, Tom, own Great Lakes Toy and Hobby, located down in Sterling Heights, MI. We stopped into his store on the way down to Cleveland. I have never seen so many plastic models in one place - nearly floor to ceiling! Dragon, Hasegawa, Tamiya, Revell – you name it. They also had a great selection of die-cast merchandise, which is harder to find up here. They do trains as well, and had a massive train layout near the back of the store. If you’re ever in the Sterling Heights area, you should definitely check out Great Lakes Toy and Hobby.

The theme of this iHobby Expo, to me anyway, was one of shattered expectations. Whether it was a vendor I expected to see and didn’t, or a new product that surprised me, I am leaving iHobby with the realization that things rarely work out the way we plan. This can be a gift or a curse, depending on how you look at it. But either way, we, as an industry, need to persevere. Only through a show of solidarity can we stay afloat in the sea of cheap toys and an impatient fast-food culture. By working together, listening to each other, and coming up with a plan that benefits hobby shop and manufacturer alike, we can turn people’s expectations on their heads. We can do the impossible, if we try. All it takes is an idea and good people to execute that idea. The burning question that faces us is this: can we work together? Or will the desire for mass market and higer profits for some leave the rest behind?