This year's Toledo Bus Trip was destined to be epic from the start. A new webpage was launched, dedicated to the trip, with more information than had ever been available online before. It was the first year we were to accept online payments for the trip. It was the first year we included a stop in Clio for our friends to the south of us. It was the first year that selling out the trip was a legitimate concern. But as with all "firsts", there were many opportunities for road bumps and headaches along the way.
But we didn't hit a single snag. Not one.
I can't put into words just how pleased I am at how smoothly the entire process went. Everyone was either on time or early. We were ahead of schedule at almost every turn. Even with an unprecedented fifty-two passengers on the trip this year, everyone was where they were supposed to be, when they were supposed to be there. I can't thank our passengers enough - you guys make all the hard work that is put into this trip every year completely worth it. Thank you!
But you didn't click on the link to hear me gush about the trip. You want to read about the show. So let's get to it.
Underwhelming. That's the best word I can use to describe the show this year. In my eyes (a retailer's perspective), the show has somewhat fallen from grace. There are many reasons for this. First of all, the Internet has given us such a powerful communications tool that face-to-face conversations with the various manufacturers aren't needed anymore. In the event we have questions, we can usually either find the answer on the manufacturer's website, or email them to get the answer. So the long list of who's booth we needed to hit to answer an even longer list of questions is gone. As a result, there are fewer and fewer manufacturers at the show, and this lowers the value for us.
But the Weak Signals club has to fill the booths left empty. To do this, they started offering booths to retailers instead. So the show floor, once the domain of manufacturers and distributors, has become half-filled with retailers peddling their wares. As a retailer myself, there is no value in seeing these booths. So we walk by.
But even the presence of the retailers doesn't bother me as much as who these "retailers" are. The vast majority of the booths selling products were Chinese or otherwise Asian retailers, and they were selling junk. The same crappy helicopters you can purchase at Meijer and Wal-Mart. In what universe are these considered hobby-grade products? Right across the aisle from one of the worst offenders was a display that would look more at home in a KB Toys store window. These were quite literally toys: fire trucks that rolled around on their own, reversing direction when they bumped into walls. I momentarily forgot where I was; I figured I must have walked into the wrong convention center. A quick look around revealed that not to be the case, but there were times it was hard to tell that there was a hobby presence at the show at all, depending on what aisle you were walking down.
It's incredibly disheartening to see just how low the "hobby" industry has sank. We used to be the gurus of high-quality products. We've been called "the adult's toy store" - a title I appreciate, because it is indicative of the fun you can have with our products, but also implies the maturity and quality of the wares we sell. So when I see a "hobby shop" selling these piece-of-junk helicopters, I get upset. Because they are ruining the image of all hobby shops, across the country.
I've blogged before about the impact that the low-quality, low-cost Chinese products (and retailers) are having on our industry. And it was there on display, for all to see, what kind of damage these people can have. The Weak Signals' Toledo Show, once a pillar of the radio control aircraft world, has become a glorified swap meet for the same type of junk that is having a severe and harmful effect on the hobby industry at large.
This trip has renewed my passion to fight these Chinese charlatans - to educate the consumer on how their products are faulty, low-quality, and even dangerous. To explain why paying a little more for something you can get a warranty on is worth it. To show where the industry will go, should these inferior products and their retailers reach a critical mass.
I renew my promise to all our patrons, that any product that we regularly carry will be of the highest quality we can obtain. If I don't feel a product meets the standards of a traditional hobby shop, it won't make it to the shelf. I don't sell products I wouldn't buy myself.
And I call on all hobby enthusiast to hold that standard to their local hobby shops. Because if the bar falls much lower, then we become no different than any other toy store. Our products should be held to a higher standard - if they are not, we have no niche to fill.
The show wasn't all doom and gloom though. I'll address the positive aspects of the show in part two of my Toledo Show 2011 wrap-up.