While 2018 saw our sales decline for the third straight year, it wasn’t as wall-to-wall bad as last year was — meaning we actually have some good things to say about 2018! So sit back, relax, and check out our top hits and misses of 2018.
iX12 is Cool, but Its Sales Aren’t
This seems to happen every time Horizon puts out a brand new radio system — the hype gets built up and sales never rise to the occasion. Personally, this time it’s an even bigger bummer, because this is something that I personally called for way, way back in 2012, or at least something very similar. However, when the iX12 actually came out, no one around here noticed or cared. We played with it, thought it was pretty cool, but like most “gimmicked” radios out there, the iX12 doesn’t really bring anything game changing to the table. Yes, it has some cool features like the editable voice alerts, it does some really smart things (like putting the “bind” button on the main screen), but it ultimately doesn’t fundamentally change how someone interacts with their radio.
When I wrote that prediction article back in 2012, I wanted something intuitive, something with a large touchscreen, access to YouTube on the go, and something inexpensive because price was a major factor. The iX12 hits on most of those features, but it completely misses the mark on price. Even the most recent variations — the four new colors — are just putting lipstick on a pig. We’re clearancing out the only iX12 transmitter we’d ordered since its release, and that makes the iX12 a high-profile miss in 2018.
Tariffs Hit the Hobby Industry
There’s no escaping politics in this day and age, no matter how hard you try. We keep our store as politically neutral as we can, because hobbies span the political gamut and no one should feel like they can’t have fun because of their stance on the issues of the day. However, politics has a way of seeping into places it doesn’t belong, and this year, the current administration’s tariffs have put most consumer products coming out of China in the crosshairs — including products we sell.
Many hobby companies, including Horizon Hobby, Graupner, and Venom, announced price increases in the latter half of the year and tied them directly to the tariffs. Others quietly raised prices without citing a reason, trying to tread the line between reaction to adverse business conditions and drawing the ire of either political party. Prices could, and likely will, rise up to 25% by mid-January, which could send the hobby industry into something of a recession.
While we agree with the premise that China’s actions have been detrimental — even in the hobby industry — this could be a situation where the cure is worse than the disease. Only time will tell, but the impact the tariffs are having here at home are a big miss for 2018.
Biggest Miss of 2018
Horizon Purchases Hobbico’s Assets
Last year around this time, we were worried Hobbico would be declaring bankruptcy — and that happened in early January. By early April, what was, at one time, the largest hobby company on the planet became a memory, bought for a mere $18M by their biggest competitor: Horizon Hobby. Shortly thereafter, I asked my rep at Horizon what assurances he could offer that Horizon wouldn’t act like a monopoly. His reply? “None.”
Since then, we’ve seen Horizon become more and more aggressive with its own dealer network. They dropped Traxxas as a distributed brand to focus us on their own proprietary surface brands. They pulled our rep out from under us. Horizon even inflated their yearly holiday program order terms, which usually requires a $1K minimum order, but this year have huge minimum purchases of $2.5K for general hobby and $5K for radio control — obviously a plan to “encourage” more of their dealers to purchase their proprietary products. As a small independent store that doesn’t carry Horizon’s surface brands, there’s no way we could meet those minimums, and therefore were forced to forego the longer holiday terms of the program.
Horizon, under CEO Joe Ambrose’s leadership, has become deaf (or just apathetic) to the rising complaints of their dealers. I’ve spoken to dealers around the country and Canada, and many have the same complaints we do. The company that was once my favorite player in the industry has become frustrating and sometimes infuriating to deal with. I guess that’s what happens when the only thing leadership cares about is making more money every quarter, the customer be damned — which is how it feels on our end.
Horizon was already on this road before it gobbled up Hobbico, but the acquisition threw fuel on the fire, and therefore Horizon’s bully tactics lands it on this list as the biggest miss of 2018.
Traxxas Reboots the E-Revo
For the past few years, the original brushless E-Revo has been a solid seller. When Traxxas relaunched the truck earlier this year, though, we had no idea how in-demand this truck would be throughout the year — the E-Revo VXL proved to be a challenge to obtain for our customers. While sales overall were hurt by the lack of product, the E-Revo still managed to make our Top Ten list for the year, and the longest one sat on the shelf is probably two weeks — we couldn’t keep this truck in stock for any longer than that. Supply seems to have evened out just before Christmas, but 2018 was the year of the E-Revo.
Maybe next year the Rustler 4x4 VXL, which released with only a couple months left in the year, will compete for this spot on our top hits list. But 2018 was the E-Revo’s year, and it makes the spot for that reason.
Heartland Hobby to the Rescue
When Horizon Hobby bought what was left of Hobbico, there was hope some of Great Planes’ more favorable policies, like selling Testors paint by the bottle, would carry over to Horizon, but when they didn’t, the search began for another vendor more willing to accommodate our needs. Enter Heartland Hobby.
While Heartland has a heavy focus on model train supplies, they also offer some of the lines we’ve had trouble getting. K&S Metals, for instance, was dropped by Horizon, but Heartland not only has it in stock, but offers it individually with no case quantity for most items. Testors, as I mentioned, is also available by the bottle, which has allowed us to restock our acrylic rack again.
Heartland has been (mostly) a pleasure to deal with, and while Horizon’s apathy toward us and other small dealers like us is disappointing, Horizon’s actions helped us to find another partner in our general hobby endeavors.
Biggest Hit of 2018
Traxxas Makes Their Batteries Affordable
When Traxxas discontinued their connectors, I was fired up about how bad this was for the industry. I still believe their greedy gambit to lock their customers into only using Traxxas products will be seen as the beginning of the end of an open hobby market. That said, the effects of Traxxas’ decision weren’t felt until around Christmas of 2017, at which point we began selling adapters to allow consumers to continue purchasing non-Traxxas batteries. That all changed earlier this year, when Traxxas revamped their battery lineup. This did three things: first it introduced more industry-standard capacities into the Traxxas LiPo landscape; second, it allowed Traxxas and its dealers to be competitive with battery prices, and finally, it allowed dealers to actually make some money selling Traxxas LiPos.
Around the same time, the Dynamite Reaction LiPos we had been selling became more expensive. With our usual batteries going up in price, and Traxxas’ LiPos coming down, converting our store over to mainly selling Traxxas LiPos finally made sense. Since we introduced Traxxas’ LiPos to our customers, we’ve seen far fewer batteries come back with problems while sales remained strong. In other words, it was a win-win.
Because of their dominance in the market, Traxxas could have just forced everyone to buy the more expensive batteries, and eventually would have still been rid of the aftermarket adapters and batteries, but Traxxas didn’t take the low road. I’m still mad at the situation as a whole, but kudos to Traxxas for taking the high road and keeping their pricing (and dealer margins) competitive. Now if we can just figure out how to fit the same battery into every vehicle…