2014 was at the same time a more impressive and less interesting year than the last. 2014 saw the introduction of MAP pricing from Traxxas, the release of Blade's main competitor to the DJI Phantom (the 350QX AP2), new vehicles (and quadcopters) from Dromida, a price drop on the popular Proto X quadcopter, and many more. It was hard to narrow down the list to just these six items, but here they are. 2014's Biggest Hits and Misses.
Miss #1: Duratrax's Disintegrating Tire Foams
When Duratrax entered the tire market, we picked up their short course line and found them to be a real competitor to R/C tire king Pro-Line. So when Duratrax announced they were coming out with 2.8" tires to fit the Traxxas Stampede and Rustler, naturally, we jumped in with both feet. We'd had such success with the short course tires, after all.
Initially, signs were good. But after carrying the tires for a month or so, we had our first issue with the tire foams literally disintegrating within the tire. Squeeze the tires, and a mist of foamy snow puffed out. We chalked it up to a bad set of foams and took care of it for the customer.
Eventually, after a handful of the same complaints, we contacted Duratrax, who had no knowledge of a wide spread problem. So, despite Duratrax pledging to replace any tires we had trouble with, we'd had enough problems to feel uncomfortable selling them. So we pulled the entire 2.8" line.
I hope in the future Duratrax's 2.8" line improves. But in squandering the potential of that line, Duratrax's disappearing foams makes it on our list of the year's biggest misses.
Miss #2: AVC Anyone? ...Anyone?
Last year, one of the biggest hits was Horizon Hobby's SAFE technology selling well. This year, they applied the same idea to surface vehicles, in the form of AVC, or Active Vehicle Control. It's a cool technology; a heading-hold gyro on the steering and a traction-control feature on an R/C car? Pretty neat.
And it works well to boot. I've driven an AVC-equipped Vaterra Raptor on a wet parking lot. With AVC turned off, it was uncontrollable. The tires just hydroplaned and the vehicle spun out when attempting to gun the throttle. But turn AVC on, and it's like any other surface. Drifting around corners was particularly fun, with the gyro keeping the nose of the truck where I wanted it.
So it's a mystery to me why AVC hasn't been the hit that SAFE was. I suppose it could be because SAFE revolutionized how a new pilot learns to fly, and AVC... well, AVC didn't actually solve a real problem. It's really, really cool, but that alone doesn't equal necessary. And most drivers simply don't see it as needed.
So despite all the awards and technical achievements AVC has won, it still finds itself as one of our biggest misses of the year.
Biggest Miss of 2014: Industry-Wide Inventory Shortages
It's like déjà vu all over again. Last year's biggest miss was Horizon Hobby's inventory woes. This year, that problem has leapt into other vendors and wholesalers. Horizon has continued to run out of products that they shouldn't be, and other vendors like Great Planes have followed suit. Whether it's blades and blade guards for the ridiculously popular Proto X Quadcopter (which had just been released from back-order after being unavailable for the entire month of December - you know, right when people would be looking for them?) or the launch of a new product, it seems like no one is able to keep up with demand.
While this might seem like an indicator of a good thing (higher demand), I don't think it is. There are many variables. In some cases, this is a sign of trouble in China. The story for the the model train world is the difficulty Atlas is having in making their products, some of which have been on backorder for over two years! AFX slot car sets are all unavailable for the Christmas buying season as well. Rumor is they've also been having trouble with the manufacturers in China.
We're all getting sick and tired of inventory shortages, retailer and consumer alike. Worst of all, it puts smaller hobby shops like ours in a particularly bad place, because we can't afford to really stock up when product is available, so often business that would come our way ends up going online instead, to all the discount hobby warehouses online. Inventory shortages hurt small shops the most, and that's why it's our biggest miss in 2014.
Hit #1: Fantastic Holiday Traffic
While the rest of the country's retailers might have seen a 5.2% decrease in Black Friday spending, we didn't exactly follow that trend. Instead, Black Friday Weekend was the best weekend in our store's 30-year history. We really gave it our all this year, and it showed. We did better in this one weekend than we do most weeks. The morale boost alone was tremendous. With an opening weekend like that, we knew that 2014's holiday shopping season was going to be strong.
But we never thought it would be this busy. We broke the record that Black Friday set a mere 3-1/2 weeks later, on the Tuesday before Christmas. By a significant margin. It's been a long time since we've seen consumer spending up to this degree, and it was a truly welcome sight.
It obviously goes without saying that we're pleased to see the store busy. But the extreme success of the holiday buying season in 2014 makes it a hit in our book!
Hit #2: Dromida Does it Right
Dromida had a soft launch (for us) back in 2013. We didn't sell a single Dromida vehicle on Black Friday last year. We pulled them off to the side, ready to send them back after Christmas. But by Christmas Eve, all of the sixteen buggies and trucks we'd gotten had sold. We figured we'd re-evaluate Dromida. We've carried them ever since, and they sold well. Not gangbusters, but not bad, either.
When I learned (about two weeks before everyone else did) that Dromida was going to expand their offerings, I was mildly excited. A new desert buggy and truck, with LED lightbars... those were cool. And they are cool, and have sold well since their release. But it's when Dromida went airborne that they really showed what they were capable of.
The Dromida Ominus is one hell of a product. It flies great, it's insanely durable, and it gets the longest flight times of any quadcopter we've tested in that class. It's available in four colors (something I wish they'd go with their R/C surface vehicles), and best of all, it has sold better than the launch of any other quadcopter we've carried, other than the Estes Proto X. Though we just picked them up in late September, they've made our Top 10 List for 2014 - a feat only ever accomplished by the Proto X. And given the Ominus is twice the price of the Proto X, that's even more impressive.
For the way that Dromida has quietly made themselves a staple brand in hobby shops around the country, we're calling them a hit in 2014.
Biggest Hit of 2014: Quadcopters Capture National Attention
If it's true that "all press is good press", then quadcopters, or "drones" as they are more commonly (and incorrectly) called, have had a great year. To be sure, they have captured national attention. When Amazon announced they were working on "drone delivery" late last year, it wound the Internet into a tizzy (despite the fact that we'll probably have a colony on Mars before such a thing would be possible). Stories like New York Rep. Sean Maloney's wedding video being shot by a quadcopter sparked news stories and an FAA investigation. Court cases are in progress regarding the commercial use of these camera platforms, and the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) has recently filed their own lawsuit against the FAA over this issue. Even South Park weighed in on "drones".
While I personally believe that most of the controversy will blow over (we Americans have a tendency to move on to the next crisis when the news cycle tells us to), it's still important to remember to respect the law while using these R/C aircraft. Don't spy on your neighbors, don't fly higher than 400 feet, and don't fly within 3 miles of an airport. Common sense, really.
All this publicity has done wonders for the sales of quadcopters, though. Traditional helicopters sales cannot come close to keeping up, and that's no better illustrated than by looking at our Top 10 list this year, seeing how far the Blade mCX2 has fallen, and that there are four quadcopters that placed higher on the list this year.
Multi-rotor aircraft aren't going away. That bell has been rung. And if our sales are any indication, their popularity is only going to increase as time marches forward. And that's why quadcopters are the biggest hit of 2014.
That rounds on our list of the top hits and misses of 2014. Did you agree with them all? Think I was wrong on everything? Let us know on our Facebook page, and keep the conversation going!