Looking Back at the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Wow. It's already the end of 2015. Seems like only yesterday we were counting down the ball in Times Square to ring in 2015, and here we go again. This last rotation of the Earth certainly feels like it went like a flash. Every year, I look back to try an remember everything that happened in the past 365 days. What did 2015 look like, and what can it tell us about where we're going?
We rang in the new year back in January by looking ahead at the year to come, wondering what it would bring. We hoped that better distributor inventory management would come in 2015. Thankfully, it largely has — I can't remember any significant time that we were out of something critical because it was back-ordered, at least for any lengthy period of time. There were certainly delays, specifically in products announced and subsequently pushed back, and pushed back again, but all in all, this year didn't seem as egregious as years past with regards to poor inventory management.
We foresaw (or at least hoped for) some sensible legislation on drones. Whether or not there was going to laws passed was not in question; rather, would the government overstep and over-regulate the industry? Happily, that didn't happen. The FAA and DOT have taken a measured and reasonable approach to tackle the tough problem that irresponsible drone pilots represent to national airspace, and while nothing is etched in stone yet, the proposals from the government appear to understand that, as is usually the case, the crimes of the few shouldn't punish the many. Drone pilots will be held responsible for their actions, but there doesn't appear to be a cooling effect on the drone industry as a result of any of these proposals, and that's a positive first step.
I plead my case for fewer new R/C cars this year, emphasizing the need for more support and accessories for existing cars. That didn't happen on the manufacturer end this year, with Axial coming out with at least three new vehicles, ECX bringing out two more, and even Traxxas brought out the X-Maxx. In the store, however, we dropped the selection of ARRMA cars we had at the beginning of the year and focused on Dromida for 1/18th scale trucks, Traxxas for 1/10th scale bashers, and Axial for crawlers (more on that in a minute), and we found that this combination made the R/C department more successful than it had ever been in the past. We brought in more hop-ups and accessories, beefed up our depth on parts, and even then, we have further to go. As R/C trucks' popularity continues to be on the rise, we'll continue to expand our offerings and offer more upgrades, more bodies, more tires, and more replacement parts.
We also pledged to increase our support of the fast-growing rock crawling segment of the R/C hobby. We kinda-sorta succeeded on that front. We did indeed have a couple of rock crawlers on the shelf all year. We brought in some wheels and tires to support them. We took on RC4X4, a local manufacturer for high-quality links for various makes and models of rock crawlers. However, rock crawlers never really amounted to much for us. They never really took off. I think part of the blame for that is on us, and our inability to adapt to properly serve that market. Part of the blame rests on the market itself — I don't think the local market will really bear the kind of demand we need to have to expand the genre. While we're not going to give up on rock crawlers, I don't see a lot of growth potential in that segment of the hobby here in Mid-Michigan. Hopefully that changes.
We promised to do better at getting our name out there; to be better stewards of the hobby by promoting them more, and I think we did a bang-up job of it. First, we started an email newsletter, reaching over 100 people directing in their inbox and giving them news, product announcements, and money-saving coupons to not only use themselves, but to freely give to their friends and family as well. We also advertised all year on a couple of local radio stations, Z93 and Wheelz 104.5, and that campaign was a resounding success as well. Our commercials are frequently cited to us by our customers, and we've had more than a few compliments on them as well. Bet your bottom dollar that you'll be hearing more of our messages on the radio in the future.
This year also saw two of our biggest product reviews to date: the ARRMA Kraton and the Blade Chroma. We liked the Kraton for its power for the price, but cautioned that its longevity was in question due to questionable support from ARRMA, and that turned out to be a correct assumption. The Kraton suffered from the same thing that most non-Traxxas vehicles do; namely, the lack of 3rd party support. If ARRMA can't see fit to provide hop-ups for their vehicles, why would an aftermarket company feel comfortable doing so? The Kraton ended up leaving our shelves within a couple of months of the reviews' publication, but while we don't carry the Kraton any longer, the Blade Chroma continues to dominate our camera drone lineup and is a very popular quadcopter indeed. The recent release of the Chroma Combo, where they include a case, an extra battery, and the Steady-Grip hand-held camera mount for a huge discount should help the Chroma be even more popular than it already is.
Looking back through some of the notable product releases in 2015, it's sad to say that many of them were on the shelf for only a short period of time before we decided not to continue carrying them. Some, like the Blade Nano QX 3D and the Blade Glimpse, were because sales were abysmal. Some were because the product was discontinued, and some were because we couldn't easily make an argument for it to fit in our product lineup. Overall, though, very few of the new releases for 2015 had staying power: the Vista, the Chroma, the Inductrix, and the Recoil 17 are the only products that both came out this year and continue to be items we want to keep in stock. This dovetails quite nicely into my point about fewer new items and more thought going into the new items that come out. It seems like every year, the major players in the hobby world continue to shovel out new release after new release, and while new might be exciting, at the end of the day, it's not causing people to buy. A more focused approach from hobby manufacturers might end up being a better strategy in the long run. It's hard to imagine all this research and development isn't putting a strain on the bottom line, and with each new release that doesn't sell well, that more money going down the drain.
This year was pretty good for us. Here are some statistics for 2015:
- The R/C Car Department is up 44.4% over 2014, and considering this is our largest department, that's a big deal!
- The department with the highest sales increase is Craft & Art Books, with a 133% increase due in large part to a recent trend in coloring books.
- Model Train sales improved year over year with a 23% increase.
- 2015 broke the previous record (set in 2014) for highest sales in one day... twice.
- Overall, sales improved 25% over 2014.
- Finally, 2015 broke the record for highest sales in year. The previous record had stood since 2003.
As you can see, 2015 will go down in the record books as the best year we've ever had in our 32 years. While I'm sure our recent advertising push on the radio, email newsletters, and other avenues had something to do with it, the real heroes are our customers, because without them, none of what we do here would be possible. When we started this year, our Facebook page had just under 700 fans, and we've ballooned up to just under 1,000 this year. We've had more likes, comments, and shares than ever before. That means we're doing our job right, and we'll continue to support and serve our customers into the new year, just as we have every year since we opened back in 1983.
So thank you, to all our customers; to those that are in every week, and the ones we see only a handful of times each year — we value and cherish you all. Thank you for putting your trust in us, and showing our community that shopping local is still not only viable, but the preferred way to shop. We're excited for the new year, and we hope you are too.
See you in the shop!
Miss our other year-end content? Links below!