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From the opposite end of the workbench

…the twisted ramblings of a ship modeler.


If I had a million dollars…or a model company.


Here in greatest city on Earth, New York City, is an advertisement for the NY State Lottery based on a Country-Western song by Lyle Lovett…it says, if I had a million dollars, I’d buy you a house, car, etc…

Well, it started me thinking…what would I do with a million dollars? A hobby shop? Nope… I’d start my own plastic model company. My company, hereafter called MYCO (My Company), which, unlike any other company in history, would listen to the people…to the customers. Remember them? They’re the ones with the money to SPEND.

I’m extremely grateful to the resin ship producers, and recently to Trumpeter for their Hornet, Essex, and wonderful list of ships to be released…but I am troubled. I know I should be happy, joyous, and eagerly awaiting the next capital ship to be released, but I’m not. Why? Well, it’s simple, I’ve bought Hornet, and Essex, and aircraft, and the related photoetch sets for the ships and planes. And now, I’m broke. I’ve killed my modeling budget for 2003. Which started me thinking, am I alone here? I mean, I make a good living, I’m not exactly poor. But can I justify another Essex, or two, and a Lexington, and a Nimitz? I wish I could, but the truth is, I can’t afford it.

I was in the resin ship business for awhile, producing kits and selling them. I’ve done work for other resin producers, and I’ve even written a book on USN destroyers, so I’m not totally ignorant in the field of ship model production. I’m the Director of an aviation museum in my real life, so I know how to squeeze every last cent out of a dollar, because museums, especially aviation museums, don’t have huge endowments like some art galleries do. All this pondering led to me a question…

Where’s the small stuff?? Modelers are collectors, the average model builder has dozens of kits in his collection, and is always the first in line to grab up the first new kit to hit the market. But at $100 for the ship, $30-$100 for photoetch, and $40 for aircraft, I can’t afford to go out and grab every new carrier that hits the market, even though I want to.

So, getting back to MYCO, here’s my war plan. I’m going to release nothing but smaller ships, the biggest will be a cruiser. There’s a whole slew of destroyers, cruisers, frigates, corvettes, freighters, tankers, destroyer escorts, and other small combatants. Take, for example, the Fletcher Class destroyer…there were 175 ships, all built between 1942 and 1945. Many served into the 1980s, and every single one of them went through various refits and changes. They are, without a doubt, the most well-known and popular destroyer in US Navy history. So why is it then, that the only kit available in plastic, in 1/350, is the 1942, as built, Tamiya Fletcher?

So, MYCO will be releasing a Fletcher…not a single version, but a kit that includes a square bridge, round bridge, early war, mid-war, late war, with additional parts for the added AA guns…this means I don’t have to draw 12 different sets of instructions, package and distribute 12 different kits. Everything is in ONE BOX. And guess what…folks are going to buy more than one, because the variations are endless, early war dapple, mid war overall blue, dazzle, late war dazzle…there’s all sorts of variations you can get from one kit…I’d rather sell 1000 of this type of kit than 100 of ten different versions, because it means a greater profit, and I’m giving the customer the ability to build what he wants from a single kit. What’s that? Giving the customer what he wants? What will that accomplish? It will accomplish a couple of things. If you build an affordable, accurate kit, the customer will be happy. If you give the customer the option of different parts, he’s more likely to build more versions, which means he’ll buy more kits. If MYCO provides all the options in their kits, the customer feels like MYCO cares about their product and wants the customer to be happy…viola, you’ve just won the heart of your customer, and you have instilled a long forgotten virtue, dedication. The best customer is a happy, dedicated one…

Remember the old days when you bought a 1/700 Pit-Road Fletcher, Gearing, Sumner, or DE and there were two ships in the box? WOW!! Two models in one box! As a consumer, putting two small models into one box and charging an affordable price makes sense…why? Consumers want value…even if it’s a presumed value. If you believe that selling a small patrol boat for $15 isn’t going to be profitable, then put two ships in the same box and sell it for $30…especially if they’re different kits!!! WOW, a DE and a 4-Piper in 1/350 for $35!!! Count me in…especially if you add enough parts to do different versions, like the MYCO Fletcher.

Releasing nothing but large, expensive models…is similar to what Napoleon and Hitler did in Russia; they both overextended their reach, they went too far too fast. Releasing too many large, expensive kits too quickly soaks up all the consumers' money, after all, these are luxury items, we don't NEED a ship model to survive (at least most of us don't). So, how do you resolve this dilemma? Release a big subject…then release a couple of small ones…the small ones are far more likely to sell in higher volume, since far more people can afford $35 then can afford $135. This is why there are far more Hondas on the road than Ferraris. Hondas are affordable, Ferraris are nice, but not everyone can afford one. It’s much easier to find an extra $35 than it is to find $135. Give the consumer a chance to recover financially, so he can afford the next big kit. If he can’t afford the next big kit, chances are he’s still buying the smaller ones. You win either way, either with a single big sale, or lots of smaller ones.

So MYCO will fill a void in the market and release small ship models that folks can afford. I believe that if a customer has a choice between a $135 worth of aircraft carrier and $135 worth of MYCO ships, which would probably be somewhere in the area of 2 destroyers and 6 smaller ships (at 2 per box), that many customers will want MYCO ships because they feel like they’re getting more for their money…it’s all in the perception.

MYCO will dominate the ship model industry. Smaller models means less time tooling, less chance of errors that make the mutants go beserk, less overhead, and more profit. There’s also loads of information about the smaller vessels. If you’re in the game for the short-term, then launch all your big subjects at once…if you’re in it for the long term, then space it out, and cover all aspects of the market.

Something else to consider, is that not everyone has the space for all these big ships…you can fit 6 destroyers into the same physical space a carrier takes up, and at $30 each, that’s $180 worth of plastic fitting into the same space as a $100 carrier…

Well, that commercial is playing on the radio again…’If I had a million dollars’. I wish I had a million dollars, because I know that MYCO Models would sell tons of kits. It’s not because of an education in finance, it’s because I know what the market wants…I hear it from our readers, and I hear it from modelers every single day. But for most of the big companies, ship models are a minority, like Tamiya, where R/C cars, armor models, and airplanes are the main focus.

No company can be everything for everyone. Pick an area of interest, determine your market, and monopolize it. Right now, the plastic ship market is wide open for anyone wanting to release smaller vessels. Who knows…you might not need a million dollars, but you may end up with a million dollars if you play your cards right.

Jeff Herne