Finally, we can put to rest the year that was 2016. To be sure, it was an interesting year, one filled with contradictions, ups and downs, and, to cap it off, an election that divided a nation - or at least showed us how divided we were. For us as a store, next week brings to a close a year that started off with a bang, then deflated into a whisper.
Looking back, 2016 was, for us, pretty much a tale of two departments: R/C Cars and R/C Aircraft. On the one hand, the R/C Car department has seen tremendous strides forward in terms of sales and inventory pretty much across the board. For the first time since 2013, our top product of the year will be an R/C truck (but to find out which one, you'll have to read our Top Ten of 2016 list when it comes out). For most of the year, sales for that department have been higher (in some cases, much higher) than last year. Growth like we've seen in the R/C Car department, at least for the 13 years I've been here, is unprecedented, and while we're aware it won't last forever, we're happy to see that growth while it lasts.
Equally as impactful, and less positively so, is the precipitous fall of our R/C Aircraft department. So drastic was the decline that this year, our R/C Car department has more than double the sales of R/C Aircraft — which not long ago was our largest department. This has been due to many things, but perhaps the largest culprit is the prevalence of drones literally everywhere. You can buy them at the dollar store. You can buy them at Bed, Bath & Beyond. Barnes and Noble has them. Drones have jumped beyond the hobby world and into the mainstream. Best Buy and Target now carry high-end camera drones like the DJI Phantom and the Yuneec Typhoon. No longer are even these expensive drones the domain of hobby stores, and as such, we've seen a marked decline in drone sales this year. For instance, the Dromida Vista, our top product last year, won't even make the list in 2016. We've completely removed high-end, gimbal-stabilized camera drones from our shelves due to the increased competition.
Similarly, R/C airplanes are in a tailspin right now. No one has come up with a solution to the problem of reduced interest in R/C airplanes — yet. Many are trying. Among them is Horizon Hobby, whose VTOL Convergence is appearing to make a splash. I don't know if sales are good across the country — they aren't here — but it's new, different, and has the potential to shake things up in a way we haven't seen in awhile. Hopefully this airplane, and more like it, can renew interest in R/C airplanes, and make that department return to its former glory.
Unfortunately, the success our R/C Car department has had this year is more than matched by the drop in drone & airplane sales, and so 2016 will not top 2015 as our most successful year ever — which is not to say it was a bad year; to have every year top the last would be a feat no company could achieve. 2016 will still go down as a fantastic year, but not the best.
Back in September, we unveiled our new Rewards Program in partnership with FiveStars. It's still too early for us to determine how successful the program has been, but here are some early numbers from the data we've compiled since the program began:
On a more personal note, I wanted to take this opportunity to save goodbye to a friend. If you're subscribed to our Facebook page, you've probably seen that a customer of ours, Nate Jones, passed away early in December after sustaining extensive injuries in a car accident that seems to be all to usual an occurrence on that stretch of road. Nate was a guy that, while he was here in mid-Michigan, was really into R/C Rock Crawling and frequented our store often. Through those conversations, I was privileged to get to know him, and while we didn't "hang out" or anything, he was still someone I considered a friend. The world lost someone just beginning to find his stride, and we're all the worse off for his absence. I had a chance to briefly speak with his mother after the funeral, and she said he always loved coming to our store. The truth is really that it was a privilege to have him stop in from time to time. So goodbye, buddy; we'll miss you.
As we move into 2017, we will look at restructuring some of our departments to better suit the new reality that we are presented with. As the popularity of R/C cars, trucks, and buggies continues to soar, and as drones continue to evolve and airplanes change to meet the demands of our ever-shifting interests, so to will we adjust and adapt to continue to bring our customers the best products, service, and support that we can. That has always been our goal here, and THAT is something that will never change.