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Is Hobby King is killing the local hobby shops?

FlyingMonkey

Stuck in Sunny FL
Staff member
Admin
#1
*Warning, this one is a long one...*

There's a lot of hatred for direct from China distributers, Hobby King in particular. When complaining about the closures of local shops, I hear this claim fairly often. "Hobby King is the reason that local hobby shops are going out of business."

The point is usually made with this statement that Hobby King under cuts by selling for less than the local hobby shops can afford to sell at. I can't argue with that. They certainly sell at a price point, even with shipping, that is less than the price of the typical products being carried at your local shop.

I'd be willing to argue that the blame doesn't lie with Hobby King, but with the local businesses. Largely the mindset of American hobby shop owners, and their frustrations at the customers for "not buying American."

Personally I find it rather hypocritical, for a business who stocks things they purchased either directly from China, or from a US company that gets all of their items from China, to get upset with the US customers who do the same, except they're cutting out the middle man.

Not all shops are the same, but I've encountered several that seem to think you're supposed to buy from them, at the prices they're charging, merely because they have a shop. It's like you owe them, for them being there, without any efforts being put forth on their part.

No, I propose that the death of the local hobby shop is due in large part to the owners and their own failure to be able to change with the times.

Case in point, the argument that budget electronics and airframes from China is costing the hobby shops customers. Most of the items people are buying from HK for the low price, is decent crap. It's far from high end, it's a great product for getting the new person into the hobby, or someone with low income a way to stay with the hobby. I doubt that there's many people who have gone on to higher end models, expensive airframes, and still fly their aircraft on budget electronics.

So there's two different markets here. You've got people who are willing to buy usable junk, these people aren't looking for longevity of the product. They're likely going to crash that motor, or through learning curve errors, burn out that ESC. They want something cheap, just to get them in the air. This is a customer base that I think the local hobby shops are ignoring. This seems crazy to me, since I think this is the growing customer base out there.

Then you have the higher end market, people who want quality products, the secure feeling that buying a name brand product will give them a quality item that will last for the life of the aircraft. This is the line of products that the shops seem to carry, and unfortunately, their customer base is much smaller.

Why don't LHS's figure out if you can't beat them, join them? Carry budget gear. Cheap motors, batteries, speed controls, etc. Sure, the profit margin might be smaller, but the amount of sales will be higher.

It seems like the hobby shops are angry that these budget minded pilots, who can barely afford to be in the hobby in some cases, don't drop their entire month's RC allowance on that one motor/ESC/battery, when they can get an entire flight package from somewhere else, and be out flying for the same investment.

Another old fashioned mentality that I think is hurting the hobby shop owners, is the idea that they need to be in a highly visible, heavy trafficked shopping area, to get the business they need to stay open.

This seems wrong to me on so many levels. When you sign that lease to be in that plaza, you're locked into the rules, and restrictions that the building owners/managers have decided on. Sure, you're getting lots of visibility and traffic, by teenage girls, and soccer moms. Unless you get a retail space next to Home Depot, or a hot wings restaurant, then you're spending all of that extra money for nothing.

A prime example of how doing it differently is doing it right to me is Hodges Hobbies.

Hodges is a hobby shop in the middle of nowhere Georgia. Surrounded by farm fields far from any major highways. Yet chances are if you know much of anything about RC, if you've spend any time online, you know about Hodges in one form or another. Hundreds of people were just at his shop last week. Hundreds.

SEFF 2013 02.jpg

I was talking to a guy a few years ago who had decided he was going to open his own shop. He insisted on getting some retail space in a strip mall "for visibility". I suggested instead of taking a mortgage out on his house to get into that lease, that he should sell his house, buy a little farm with some land, and set up the shop in the barn. Take the lease money he would never see again and instead invest it into the purchase of the land, which even if he decided to close shop, he would still own.

He argued that a flying field wouldn't work where he was, because people could go anywhere to fly. Sure, that may be true, but many folks in this hobby enjoy a good meet up. Did I mention that there were hundreds of people camped out at some out in the boonies RC field in Georgia just last week? These people came from all over the world (from what I saw, there was at least one guy from the Netherlands in attendance.) to fly together at this out of the way location.

Another great thing about this location, is there's a hobby shop at the field (or a field at the hobby shop...).

So, if you crash, and need a replacement part, it's right there!

If you crash and need a replacement plane, it's right there.

If you've never flown before, and wanted to just check out what was at the hobby shop, instead of what most people do, go in, look at the items, go home, check the reviews online, then find it cheaper on the internet and buy it there... A person can drive up, and see something flying outside, talk to the pilot, hear that it's a great plane, and go into the hobby shop and buy it right then.



I've put some thought into what I would do if I had my own hobby shop. Well, obviously I'd want it on it's own flying field for the reasons mentioned above. I'd carry the budget motors, speed controls, and batteries, in addition to the name brand stuff. I'd sell sheets of foam, and encourage people to build their own planes. I'd encourage combat sessions... (if you've never seen full contact combat RC flying, you're missing out, it's awesome) and sell the foam kits and replacement parts to the happy participants. I'd have a flight school. Ground school would be time on a simulator, that uses a wide screen TV as the monitor. I'd carry a good trainer plane, that I'd use as the flight instruction plane. This way once the new pilot was comfortable with flying on their own, they could buy the plane from me, that they were comfortable flying. I'd hold foam plane building clinics. People could come in the evening, and do group builds with an instructor. Foam, and power packages would of course be available for purchase.

If I had enough land, I'd want a restaurant on the property. Preferably in a building I owned, that I rented to the restaurant. Nothing too fancy, something with an outdoor eating area so dad and son can enjoy their hamburgers while watching the RC planes fly overhead. Of course after finishing their meal, they'd walk to the shop, and buy a plane or two. Camping/lodging facilities. This way events could be held for multiple days. Night flying and more would be available.

Mac Hodges, the owner of Hodges Hobbies has most of this already. His place is the model which I base my fantasy hobby shop upon. While the economy has effected his business, I think he's fared much better than most "mom and pop hobby shops" because of his field, and also his incredible personality. He's a friendly giving man, who makes you feel welcome whenever you're there. While he's been in the hobby for more decades than I've been around... he doesn't seem to be stuck in the same mindset that I think is hurting so many of the other hobby shops around.


So, do you think that Hobby King is the killer of hobby shops? Is there anything you don't like about the hobby shops you've visited, that you would do differently?
 

Liemavick

Member
Mentor
#2
I like the vision, love the idea. As far as hobby shops in my area go two of the three are car oriented. Sure they sell plane kits, but parts or individual motor they have to go in back and dig through bins to find. More time then not I walk out of there only spending a couple of bucks on screws or wire. They are making it on four wheels so they dont need to stock what im looking for. The third store is huge and caters to every area of hobbyists. Unfortunately they think they are the only guys in town and charge $22 for a motor I can buy for $8 online. To each there own.
 

pgerts

Old age member
Mentor
#3
There is a need of local hobby shops.
As told , they have to adjust their prices and assortment of products.

In my opinion HK and other asian direct mailorder hobby stores have helped the hobby expand a lot.
Prices in general have dropped on all items and it is a lot harder for shop owners to locate in expensive areas but the flying areas are normally far away from the expensive areas.........

I buy a lot from HK but also more than before from "quality manufactorers" like H9 and PZ. Building materials and fuel are other things i have to buy locally. Many spare parts can not be found on other places than ebay.
 

Ak Flyer

Fly the wings off
Mentor
#4
The best thing any hobby shop can have is experienced people who care. Having your concerns addressed and being treated like you matter are the number one things any LHS can do to keep business.

It's good to have the low budget starter equipment, but eventually most pilots want to step up to nicer gear and more complex models. A successful shop has to have the type of gear that helps people get started, but then also carries stuff that they can grow into. You need to have cool stuff that people aspire to pilot one day.
 

lobstermash

Propaganda machine
Mentor
#5
I'm with you on the lack of need for high visibility shops. Guys (the majority of the market) don't shop by visibility. They shop by perceived need and will actively look for a shop that services that need. Guys get into hobbies because they've seen other people do it and want to give it a go.
 

Ak Flyer

Fly the wings off
Mentor
#6
If you are putting your shop in a mall, then your clients will be people at the mall. I don't know about you guys, but I hate going to malls. My favorite LHS is in it's own building and they have really good customer service. They have a lot of high priced stuff and I try to find things cheaper, but if I'm buying parts that they carry anyway I don't mind spending another couple bucks to keep them in business because all the free help they've given me is worth it.

I think they need to have a hobbyshop next to a sports bar and hardware store, auto parts store, and Cabelas or sportsman's warehouse. Maybe one big combination store with a KFC and old school burger diner. A man's mall.


As far as killing the LHS, no. What they fail to realize is that Hobbyking and places like it are bringing so many more people into the hobby, and in a few years a lot of those people are going to be shopping for bigger and more expensive models. When they do they can still find those things at the LHS. The good LHS will carry the small inexpensive lines that keep people coming in the door. In fact, one of my local shops used to carry 450 size helis and they've stopped because not enough people in the mall are ready to plunk down the 500 bucks but they continue to carry the small blade helis because they sell all day long.

For me, they are going the other way. Instead of supporting the modelers who plunk down 500 bucks in a day, they are catering only to the quick sell and carrying the cheaper stuff. That's not necessarily bad but now I'm forced to go the other shop or online when I need parts. Of course they offer to special order anything I want for a modest mark up.

One thing to remember, this forum and many others like it are also catering more to the cheap and inexpensive gear and do it yourself types. Most of us aren't the guys who spend years building a scale B-17 from scratch. Most of us aren't hardcore heli guys with 2,000 dollars in the air. The hobbyking connection works for lots but not for everyone. Not everyone wants something as cheap as it can possibly be and forget customer service.

The hobby was in trouble before hobbyking came around. In this economy not everyone has the disposable cash to run out and buy toys. Hobbyking has helped keep it alive for many and so have the big manufacturers with their cheaper yet more reliable gear and out of the box simplicity like the parkzone micros.

Things are changing and business have to change along with it.
 
#7
Tower and Great Planes killed the local hobby shop. Hobby King and the internet just give Tower a little payback. Granted I haven't worked in a hobby shop for 15 years but if I had been able to spend the needed time on internet orders we could have been a major, in USA source. Our Internet sales were exceeding storefront sales easily. That was a lot of answering emails, phone calls and boxin stuff up. But noooooo I had to have a REAL job and since they were paying me a salary and all that, I couldn't really complain when they wanted me to work for it there.
 

aiidanwings

Senior Member
#8
There are three hobby shops within 100 miles of home, two Hobby Towns and one small shop of which I can't remember the name.

Hobby Town is terrible. Far too often I have seen parent and child leave empty handed because the sales people pushed $500 radios and $300 PNP kits when they could have easily purchased an RTF and simulator from HK (or one of many low price internet sellers) for well under $200.

I stopped visiting the smaller shop for two reasons; I don't fly gas anymore, and felt cheated when I saw the owner marking $1.99 Leaders Hobby servos up to $12.

That being said, no large seller starts out as a large seller. Some just manage to serve changing trends better.
 

Ak Flyer

Fly the wings off
Mentor
#9
Tower and Great Planes killed the local hobby shop. Hobby King and the internet just give Tower a little payback. Granted I haven't worked in a hobby shop for 15 years but if I had been able to spend the needed time on internet orders we could have been a major, in USA source. Our Internet sales were exceeding storefront sales easily. That was a lot of answering emails, phone calls and boxin stuff up. But noooooo I had to have a REAL job and since they were paying me a salary and all that, I couldn't really complain when they wanted me to work for it there.
I remember opening my first real RC kit. An Associated RC10. I got it in 1986 and it came from Tower Hobbies. They've been doing a good job keeping people in the hobby for as long as I can remember. They had the best marketing, sales and support anywhere. I wish all the mom and pops could have competed but after a while it was liking fighting walmart. I always had a tower talk flyer showing up. Granted, my LHS was 300 miles away and still is so I have to do most of my purchasing online, well mail order back then.
 

robschonk

Senior Member
#10
That's like asking if Walmart is killing the smaller retailers. Of course it is. But so are Amazon and eBay.

I shop at the LHS for small stuff I need right now, and also for things like wings for my HZ Super Cub, that I don't want to pay an arm and a leg for shipping for.

I shop online for things I need within a week or so. Amazon Prime gives me free two day delivery.

I get most of the big things from HK, either the US or international warehouse. Of course, it usually takes a bit if fiddling around to get it working, and support comes from these forums rather than the dealer.

HK does have a dealer network. Why don't more LHS take advantage of it?

For a newbie, I'd recommend that they go to the LHS and get a Hobby Zone RTF kit. It will work the first time, and they can get parts and support right at the store. As they advance in the hobby, well.......
 

zev

lumpy member
#11
every hobby store needs to offer a better expereince then online. to justify higher prices, the need to have something you can't get online, be it a flying feild or free building classes.

any bisness has to be constantly improving to keep up with competition. it is the exact same thing with the movie business, folks say that piriting is killing Hollywood. well, unstead of making super strict anti piriting laws like SOPA and PIPA, they need to make buying a movie even more easy, and enjoyable then piriting it.

also, I think if flitetest ends up getting a flying field and building of their own, they could end up being one of the best hobby shops in the world.
 
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earthsciteach

Moderator
Moderator
#12
I often leave my local hobby shops frustrated because I couldn't find the parts I was looking for. I'm never looking for anything weird. I've been in looking for things like 8x4e props - none. Really???

I have also been frustrated when I've been looking for some assistance on science projects for kids. It seems like the hobby stores can't think outside of "this item is for this car." I found I am better off walking in and figuring things out for myself. And that is frustrating!
 

FlyingMonkey

Stuck in Sunny FL
Staff member
Admin
#13
One of the things that frustrates me, is the attitude of the shops that don't have it but they can "order it for you".

I don't want you to order it, I can order it. I wanted the item in my local shop, so I wouldn't have to order it.

Then they're upset with you, for ordering online instead of buying from them.
 

Foam Addict

Squirrel member
#14
At my LHS, I have found two employees who thought as a hobbyist should. One was bright, about 15, (a year younger than me).
I saw him twice. When I asked where he had gone, he had "Not obeyed company policy". What????
The other, he respects my low working budget, and even helped me get my orx Module bound when I was sent a chinese manual.
for that I bought an AR 400 from him, which cost as much as the module had.
In leadership, or any costumer service, "Respect is earned, never demanded".
 

Ak Flyer

Fly the wings off
Mentor
#15
It's impossible for any shop to stock every single thing that every single customer could possibly want. Okay maybe tower but for the average shop just trying to make a living doing what they love it's not practical. Plus people sell out of things and shippers don't always keep the supply coming. How long have people waited to get the Turnigy 9X and 9XR, If your LHS carried those, people would be bitching like crazy that they weren't in stock and go find them online even though the LHS was making a strong attempt to satisfy the demand.