New reviews!

May 14, 2010

Come check out the new reviews for Mig Productions’ 1:35 Hover Tank, Blade mCX2 helicopter, Autoart die-cast Mustangs, Nuns on the Run from Mayfair Games, and Games Workshop’s Imperial Guard Shadow Sword.

Tim Kidwell, Associate Editor

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Hedonizing Technologies: a book review

May 12, 2010

Once upon a time, needlework was a chore.

Home brewing was a housewife’s duty.

Engineers built models of vehicles and train layouts for practical purposes, such as experimenting with elaborate structures, rather than for fun.

But eventually, sewing changed from being labor into a labor of love. Men as well as women began making their own beer because they wanted to, not because they had to. And people started putting together replicas of ships for sheer enjoyment.

In the book Hedonizing Technologies: Paths to Pleasure in Hobbies and Leisure, author Rachel P. Maines examines how an activity evolves from production line to pastime.

According to Maines – a visiting scholar in the Department of Science & Technology Studies at Cornell University – any technology that privileges the pleasures of production over the value and/or significance of the product can be a hedonizing technology.

Maines begins by focusing on needle arts, such as sewing, quiltmaking, embroidery and crochet, to make her case. Once the stuff of drudgery, these have now become diversions, with some enthusiasts going so far as to form social clubs based around these activities. Maines suggests that people pursue hobbies for a number of reasons: among them, the sake of simple physical and creative pleasure; building our self-esteem and enhancing our reputations for competence; killing time; and finding ways to bond with others interested in similar goals, such as quilting and model railroading.

“When one gets one’s bread from craft, at least part of the motivation is extrinsic; for true hobbies, the leisure theorists tell us, the motivations and satisfactions must be at least primarily intrinsic; they must be, as anthropologist Clifford Geertz tells us, ‘deep play,’” Maines notes.

Scholarly stuff, indeed!

Although hobbies and leisure activities predate the 19th century, this was an era of marked growth for technology-dependent hobbies such as model railroading, photography and ham radio. This too was also a time when the demand for hobby-related publications grew.

If your store includes yarn and needle crafts in its product mix, or it’s one of your hobbies, you may take an interest in Maines’ in-depth examination of the history of this pastime. For example, Maines notes how gender lines have sometimes been crossed; sailors throughout history have been known to take up fiber arts such as embroidery in their long shipboard leisure hours.

If modeling is more your thing, Maines takes a good hard look at this in the “Garage and Workshop Hobbies” section of Chapter 4. Modelmaking, she notes, “had its origins, like many other artisan hobbies, in a tradition of miniature construction for practical purposes, mainly education, experimentation, patent demonstration, and administration of complex systems over larger geographical areas than could be overseen by eye.” In other words, models were “tools, not toys.”

Writes Maines: “By the early years of the 20th century, leisure modelmaking not only had its own literature and its own marketplace for tools and materials, but had picked up its third derivative as well: collecting, connoisseurship, and museum exhibitions.”

During the prosperity that followed World War II, hobbies expanded even more, sometimes quite literally, moving from attics and garages to spaces that may not even have existed in homes before then, such as recreation rooms.

Retailers responded in kind. In 1958, Maines notes, hobby, toy and game shops became so plentiful, they emerged as a separate heading and code under what was then the Standard Industrial Classification system (SIC), now known as the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS). In that year, enumerators counted nearly 4,500 such establishments; 10 years later, there were more than 10,000; by 1977, there were 18,000.

What has been driving the upward trend in the market for hedonizing technologies? “Clearly, part of the attraction is the closing-out of ordinary daily concerns: the capacity of the hobby to fully engage the attention of the participant seems to be a critical element, as is the calming and self-affirming quality of power over both the process and the product,” Maines states.

As for the marketplace’s response, she says, “Hobby activities support a large array of manufacturing and retailing enterprises, many of which are very small and specialized, surviving by staying close to their consumers, often by interacting with them at shows, or by sending representatives into retail units to find out what consumers want this year, this month, or this week.”

Maines discusses this in more depth near the end of the book, which most “traditional hobby” retailers will find the most engaging. If arts and crafts are not a part of your product mix, you may be tempted to pass up Hedonizing Technologies. However, much of what Maines addresses in the way of needle crafts lends itself to other hobbies.

If you want an academic but jargon-free treatise on the rise of hobbies, this book presents you with a big-picture perspective you may be overlooking in your focus on day-to-day store operations.

You can order Hedonizing Technologies: Paths to Pleasure in Hobbies and Leisure (ISBN: 9780-80189-146-5, $55) from the Johns Hopkins University Press or by call 410-516-6900.

For more reviews, visit Model Retailer.

Sue Brettingen, Associate Editor

A quick test of the Grex GCK01 airbrush-compressor combo, Private Stock paint

February 12, 2010

Grex GCK01 Combo

Air tool manufacturer Grex recently started putting its Genesis.XT airbrush and AC1810-A compressor in one package, the GCK01 kit (MSRP $499.95). Both products have been out for a while and are known quantities. Putting them together gives would-be airbrushers a nice set of tools to get started painting models or doing other artwork. The set comes colorfully boxed in the company’s bright green color scheme, with a window in one side so the customer can see what’s inside.

The kit comes with the compressor and airbrush, a DVD teaching the basics of airbrush use, air hose, and a bottle of Grex’s Private Stock paint. The side gravity-fed airbrush itself includes a lot of little niceties: a G-MAC air-control valve, quick connectors, 7- and 15ml cups and a 30ml bottle. It has a 0.35mm fluid nozzle, good for general-purpose work.

Grex AC1810-A Compressor

The recently released water-based line of multi-surface, high-performance paint includes opaque, semi-opaque, transparent, fluorescent and Special FX colors ready to use in an airbrush right out of the bottle. We received the Primary Color Set (GXPS-475; $29.98) that contains opaques Titanium White and Carbon Black, plus transparents Arylide Yellow, Quinacridone Magenta, Naphthol Red and Phthalocynine Blue.

I’d first encountered the Genesis.XT a couple of years ago at iHobby Expo. It’s a trigger-style double-action airbrush that’s very comfortable and intuitive to use. Both of these factors let even the novice achieve good results right away. The compressor is quiet; when another editor heard it, he remarked “I can airbrush with it at home and my wife won’t yell at me!” With no tank, the compressor runs when the airbrush trigger is pressed. I noticed no “pulsing” that sometimes afflicts compressors this size.

Just to test the setup, I painted a Revell Corvette C6-R body with Private Stock paints. After priming the body in gray, I sprayed a coat of Opaque Titanium White on. Both the airbrush and paint performed smoothly; I just poured the paint from the bottle into the cup and went to work. The paint dries quickly to a satin finish and I was able to apply a couple of coats in about an hour.

Painting with the Grex Genesis.XT

I oversprayed the white with Arylide Yellow. The transparent color really popped with the white underneath.

While it was just a quick test, I was impressed with how the airbrush, compressor and paint perform. I’ll perform a few more tests to see how the paint does on other surfaces and how the airbrush handles finer detail. Look for a complete review in Model Retailer’s Product Lab section soon.

Hal Miller, editor

Games Workshop’s Imperial Guard Shadowsword

February 5, 2010

Games Workshop’s new Apocalypse expansion for its famous Warhammer 40,000 (40k) tabletop wargame allows players to field huge armies that would be nearly impossible under the normal 40K rules. What’s more, it supplies rules for monster warmachines, including super-heavy tanks like the Shadowsword, which just arrived in my office.

Modelers can build the Shadowsword plastic model kit (No. 47-25, $99) as one of six variants (including the Shadowsword, Stormlord, Banesword, Stormsword, Doomhammer and Banehammer), each with its own unique look and weaponry–which mostly comes down to the size and shape of the main gun.

The Shadowsword model makes some concessions on detail for rugged design. Wargaming models need to be able to stand up to frequent handling and transport, so modelers will find that details like separate road wheels, individual track links and photo-etched parts are avoided. Instead, Games Workshop concentrates on the baroque and gothic appearance that influences all 40k designs and make them unique in the world of sci-fi models. Heavy emphasis is given to weapons, the angular armor, multiple hatches and doors, and little details like the abundant Imperium insignia, rivets and bolts.

The sprues bristle with parts, which are crisp and clean. One downside is that the majority of parts aren’t numbered, leaving builders to match the parts depicted in the instructions to the ones on the sprues. The instructions are clear, however.

A full review of the Shadowsword will appear in Model Retailer’s May 2010 issue.

Tim Kidwell
Associate Editor, Model Retailer

Moebius’ Conan comes to Model Retailer, again

February 5, 2010

The new Conan the Barbarian: The Death of Belit 1:6-scale resin model from Moebius Models arrived in the office this week.

Those of you who have read past blogs know that Moebius Models has been pushing the revivication of sci-fi and fantasy model kits with pop culture licenses like Spider-Man, Battlestar Galactica, Irwin Allen and Universal Studio’s classic monsters: Frankenstein and The Mummy.

Following on the hugely popular Conan the Barbarian #1 kit, Moebius has released a second kit (No. 1005, $139.99) based on the cover of Conan the Barbarian issue #100. This cover depicts Conan cradling his slain lover, the pirate queen, Belit.

The first Conan kit was impressive, both in size and how dynamic the model was. However, since it was initially planned as a plastic kit, certain details were left less refined than they could have been. For example, fingers and toes were missing fingernails and toenails and the figures’ hair was less refined than it might have otherwise been.

From the beginning, resin was Moebius’ choice for the second Conan kit, and it shows. The sculpting and detail is impeccable, from bulging veins in Conan’s shoulders and biceps, to the sublime features of the dead heroine’s face and hair.

It’s a massive model with 20 pieces, standing over a foot tall when finished, and a test fit of the parts promises relatively painless assembly.

Of course, you know your customers best. If you have regulars who are fantasy and sci-fi fans, this kit should fit in perfectly with your current lineup. Game and comic shops should definitely consider carrying this kit too, since it is likely to appeal to your audience.

Finally, there are a number of additional items that you should carry to help customers complete the model. Reaper Minatures and Acrylicos Vallejo manufacture excellent acrylic paint in very useful 2-oz. bottles. Offer a range of brushes with synthetic fibers, since acrylic paints tend to attack the bristles of natural sable brushes. Of course, don’t forget super glue or 5-minute epoxy for assembly, and some white spray primer (Tamiya or Testors work great).

Tim Kidwell
Associate Editor, Model Retailer

Super Glue’s Accutool handy and mess-free

February 4, 2010

We received a box the other day from Super Glue Corporation/Pacer Technology with several product samples and items to use them on. The samples included some waterproof epoxy (handy for boat modelers), small tubes of Super Glue Gel (good for lots of things) and the new Accutool application device.

Super Glue Accutool packaging

The latter piqued my interest most. As you can see from the photos it comes carded and ready to hang on pegboard. The applicator itself fits in the palm of your hand, contains 5 grams of Super Glue (cyanoacrylate; appears to be medium viscosity), and is pretty cool looking. The card says the tool can dispense a drop at a time or a continuous stream.

Having had my share of run-ins with bottles of CA and sticking my fingers together more times than I care to remember, I was intrigued.

Getting the Accutool operational is as easy as tightening the cap all the way, which punctures the seal. A side benefit is, after use, the pin in the cap keeps the tip from clogging.

Super Glue Accutool

I used the Accutool to glue a couple of thin K&S Engineering aluminum roofing sheets together. True to its claims, the tool dispenses a drop at a time — actually less than what I’d consider a drop if you have a deft touch on the dispensing button. I haven’t found anything yet I need a continuous stream for, but I could see it being handy when joining walls made of styrene or resin. You could lay a nice long, consistent bead of CA to not only stick the walls together, but also to fill any gaps between them.

The Accutool I used is Stock No. 19025; a version filled with Super Glue Gel is No. 19026. Both retail for around $5. Here’s the Super Glue site for more information.

This is an excellent item to keep around the cash register or in sections of the store where your customers might need CA. Let your customers know it will help them avoid sticky fingers.

Hal Miller, editor

Guest Blog: Making good on product announcements

January 15, 2010

Frank Ruby, owner of Blue Ridge Hobbies, Greenville, SC, comments on product cancellations and the effects of communication in the hobby industry.

A note to hobby manufacturers: Announcing products and not producing the products without notification to the dealers is starting to affect what our customers are buying or preordering. When customers preorder, they expect the item to be produced. It seems that if a manufacturer announces a production run, but the preorder levels do not meet the expected sales need, they let the wholesalers know. However, this information does not seem to filter down to the small dealers like Blue Ridge Hobbies. The manufacturers do not even post the fact of a new product run or cancellation on their Web sites.

A recent example is during this past Christmas, when a customer was upset that they could not buy the Lionel Circus Train posted on the Lionel Web site. Our wholesaler did not have it and it seems Lionel did not either. If manufacturers do not update their Web sites regularly with product information and notify customers about delays, we feel that the hobby industry will ultimately dwindle down to a few online-only dealers.

As a small company, Blue Ridge Hobbies seems to keep its Web site more up-to-date than the big companies. A retail example would be Toys R Us. They have shown all through the holiday season Lionel’s O-scale Polar Express for sale at $209 and an MSRP of $299. Customers see this and want us to price match. This item is last year’s price and has not been available from them all holiday season. We have had our stock at a very low price and cannot sell it. People think our price is too high when it is in fact lower than most model train retailers.

There are also way too many production and release delays now. This, too, will turn people off from modeling and cause them to move to other leisure activities that can be fulfilled. Communication is our industry’s best solution. An e-mail and Web site updates from the wholesalers and manufacturer would help to ease the perception that customers have.

Don’t guess; ask them

January 11, 2010

We spend a lot of time talking about customer service and having the right product mix in a store. We even have a feature on the latter topic on page 16, but don’t go there just yet.

The basics of the former are simple: be courteous, be helpful, go a little bit above and beyond to make a customer for life.

Trying to figure out the combination of customer service and product mix isn’t necessarily so easy. You know what sells in your store and what doesn’t, and you’re constantly racking your brain to figure out what to bring in next, and what must go to make room for it, and wondering if the new thing will sell well enough to have gotten rid of the old thing.

How about taking a poll? Not a show of hands or an informal customer conversation, but a hard-numbers kind of thing?

For years, I’ve seen restaurants put phone numbers on the bottom of their receipts that customers can call and rate their experience to win a free dinner or other prize. Many also have customer comment cards on their tables. Most of these businesses have customer service and what the eating public likes down to a science, primarily due to the answers they get from these polling methods.

Why not do something similar in your store? You could have, say, a 5-question poll at the checkout that customers could fill out quickly before leaving. Make it easy for them to answer — multiple choice is always good — and ask them about product categories they’d like to see, if they’d like to see more of an existing category and what items, how their overall shopping experience was and maybe even collect an e-mail address.

Which leads you to the next level: once you collect a solid database of e-mail addresses, there are a lot of online surveying tools you can take advantage of at reasonable cost to collect more data. Plus, there’s the added benefit of the customer feeling like his voice is being heard.

There’s enough uncertainty in business these days. Help yourself by eliminating what you can.

Hal Miller, editor

E-flite Blade mCX Tandem Rescue review

December 14, 2009

We received the Blade mCX Tandem Rescue RTF (No. EFLH2500) last week, and I must say we were excited to get it out of the box and into the air.

E-Flite mCX Tandem Rescue RTFE-flite has got this thing with micro RTFs down to a science. As always, everything you need to fly is in the box: four AA batteries, a 250mAh 1S 3.7V LiPo battery and AC charger, and 2.4GHz transmitter. And let’s not forget the heli!

All you need to do is charge the LiPo, turn on the transmitter, put the battery in the heli and you’re off to fly.

Don’t expect to zip around like you would with the mCX. That’s not a bad thing; the Tandem is a good deal slower and as a result, extremely stable. It also has cool scale looks and flashing lights that add to the realism. Nice, gentle flights got around 10 minutes of battery life, while an aggressive session ran it down in a little more than six minutes.

E-flite mCX Tandem RescueShould you want to demonstrate it in the store, here are a couple of quick flying tips: the best way to get it off the ground is to just gun it. Even though it’s not big, there’s more mass to it than a heli with a single counter-rotating prop. The trick to avoid dumping it over on landing is to get it within 6 inches of the landing surface, then cut the power and let it drop. If you bring it all the way down then throttle back, the momentum of the blades is going to put it on its side.

E-flite mCX Tandem RescueThe Tandem’s MSRP $224.99 (Street $179.99) is $60 more than the mCX RTF, since you’re basically getting two helis combined into one. How this will play with consumers is hard to predict. There are hints that consumers are tired of being thrifty, and that may buoy holiday and post-holiday sales. Up until now, the sweet spot in hobby items seems to be under $100, which may allow multiple purchases and a bigger bang for the buck.

Still, the mCX Tandem Rescue is a good time, very forgiving for beginners and an unusual model.

As with all E-flite products, the mCX Tandem Rescue RTF is distributed exclusively by Horizon Hobby.

Tim Kidwell and Hal Miller

New reviews online

December 14, 2009

This month, we review Moebius Models Conan the Barbarian, ParkZone’s ultra-micro P-51 RTF/BNF, Model Power’s Postage Stamp Planes, a die-cast Celica from Autoart, and Air Age DVD and a new Ticket to Ride expansion from Days of Wonder.

Tim Kidwell, associate editor