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Cautious optimism at the 2011 NRHSA Table Top Expo

By Tim Kidwell
Published: May 10, 2011
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Retailers compete in the relay boat race.
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Traxxas sponsored this year's NRHSA Boat Pond event.
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A favorite at 2011 Toy Fair, William Mark's Flying Shark was the talk of the expo.
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Aeromax's Mel Davis was just one of many exhibitors with products aimed at both the hobby market and a broader consumer base.

Diversification and cautious optimism were the hallmarks of this year’s National Retail Hobby Stores Association (NRHSA) Table Top Expo, May 1-4 at the Orleans Hotel in Las Vegas. Total attendance was around 195 individuals for retail stores. (Exact figures were still being tallied as of publication.) There were 82 companies exhibiting with more than 200 representatives in total.


Many retailers attending the show commented their sales are up so far this year. However, the good news is tempered with the knowledge that commodity prices, especially oil and gas, may shrink consumers’ disposable income.


“Overall, this year we’ve seen it start to brighten up a little bit. It’s better, but not spectacular,” said Noel Bays, manager of HobbyForce in Ontario, Ohio. He thinks people are tired of reports about a bad economy and just want to get out and have fun.


“We are really positive and could see a great fall,” Bays said.


Manufacturers and distributors continue to look for a broader array of products and services to supply to brick-and-mortar retailers, while still remaining true to their core brands.


One of the more interesting developments is MMD of Carrollton, Texas, has become the exclusive U.S. importer for Hobby Engine, which manufactures a line of inexpensive radio-control vehicles. Targeting the price-conscious, MMD hopes the Hobby Engine line will give its client stores more options for what they carry and are able to order from a single source.


Carrera USA continues to push licensed products, introducing its lineup with support from Disney’s Cars 2 movie. Slot cars and sets will be available in 1:43 GO! and 1:32 analog versions. The former will appeal to kids and should be an easy recommendation for birthday or Christmas presents. The latter can be targeted at that often tough-to-hit crossover market for adult fans and children ready for more grown-up cars but who aren’t yet sophisticated enough to like more realistic vehicles.


News from MRC included distribution of Italeri’s new 87-color acrylic paint line. Each bottle is 20mL (.67 oz.), slightly larger than the usual 17mL used by other paint brands. Projected retail price is $4.25 each. Also, MRC is importing the Nexus Games (a subsidiary of Italeri) 1:72 game miniatures. The line includes the American West, Napoleonic Era, and Ancients, among others. A release date for these products is forthcoming.


William Mark made a big splash with its new Air Swimmers Flying Shark and Flying Clownfish. Inflated with helium, these innovative R/C fish are both economical and interesting making them another item targeted at a younger audience that appeal to an older set too.


“General hobby [products] will separate the men from the boys in the next two years,” said Mike Bass, president of Stevens International, Magnolia, N.J., hinting that being able to reach a broader audience other than hardcore hobbyists will allow independent shops to survive. He said that woodcraft kits and paint-by-number sets have become big sellers.


Noel Bays said that he’s always tweaking his product mix and that after the show he’s bringing in Daron 3D architectural puzzles and the “show stopping” Flying Shark.


“Demos make a store a fun place to be,” Bays said. He thinks that just the “wow factor” of demoing a product like the Flying Shark will be a big help in selling other products in the store.

Attendance numbers updated on 5/12/2011.

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