Some Slapdash Market Research

In the early days of my career, I specialized in secondary research and analysis. A lot of this involved combing through massive reams of established research – the Census, Forrester, RL Polk and so on – to answer questions, find stats, and make connections. In some industries, it’s amazing what you can draw out.

Modeling is not one of those industries. At least not with freely available materials. I haven’t looked, but an old joke we used to make about tricky research questions was that there’s always a report, and it’s always $5000. I’m sure someone, somewhere, has done some deep market study on modeling.

But I digress. Modeling, for most of us involved in it, is a bit of a black box of an industry. Manufacturers of kits and paints and aftermarket are either small, privately owned businesses, or subsidiaries of larger holding companies. We get occasional peeks behind the curtain, which we can expand on with our own relevant expertise, but there’s a lot of straight-up assumption and guessing and talking out of one’s ass that happens, too.

Recently, a prominent modeler got called out for such an instance of ass-talking, and instead of a simple mea culpa, instead went on a rambling justification that ended up borderline slandering a rather popular online retailer.

Out of some discussions in the aftermath, I decided to throw together a little survey, some market research, to maybe discover some nuances of at least a corner of this hobby. And…some nuances were found.

Now…I’m NOT a market researcher. And it’s been a decade and more since I’ve spent most of my work week elbow-deep in spreadsheets and pivot tables. And…I’ve been using the free version of Survey Monkey, which sucks ass for an kind of multivariate question. And the sampling is limited to a voluntary set from SMCG and followers of my Facebook page. As such, I wouldn’t put ultimate stock in this data. But it can still be worth some consideration.

Unsurprisingly, most respondents build aircraft and armor

Given the option to choose multiple subjects, this is hardly surprising. It’s been pointed out that I left out ships, and I totally did. But I’d guess, based on frequency, they’d be hovering around 10% or so.

The most popular scales are the most popular scales

Again, there is nothing particularly surprising here.

Purchases are made all over the damn place

Now…this is a ranked and weighted list, so if a particularly retailer showed higher in a ranking, they got a higher score. And this is one where SurveyMonkey’s clunky tools perhaps polluted some data, since it was forcing rankings of all stores until I could tell it to not force that.

Still, it’s interesting, given all the wailing about the death of local hobby shops, that the main purchase location seems to be…local hobby shops. Though eBay and Amazon are not far behind.

Other is a catch-all, a mix of retailers not listed here, purchases made at contest vendor tables, in buy-sell-trade groups and the like.

The one that really stands out here, in my opinion, is Hobbyworld-USA. It’s not surprise that Sprue Brothers is way up top, but Hobbyworld-USA is something of an upstart next to, say, Squadron, which is several places lower on the list. I have my suspicions for why they place where they place.

A lot of factors determine where purchases are made, but one matters more than the others

This is a set of data that I could spend hours digging into, if I wanted to (I don’t). But even just glancing at the charts, basically, everything matters. Every single factor pings over 50% as either somewhat or critically important. Price, selection, fast shipping and customer support are all valued more highly.

But the one item that seems make-or-break is a store having the item you’re looking for in stock.

This seems like a no-brainer for sure, but it’s got interesting implications for an inventory-intensive category. It makes it a real challenge to draw purchases with a lean model. But holding so much inventory is a challenge all its own, so there’s a clear opening for some sophisticated demand modeling to optimize inventory and selection.

Different retailers dominate in different aspects of the hobby

From this eyechart, it’s possible to see that there’s a lot more nuance hiding behind that ranking order a few questions up. Different retailers are used for different things. Scale Hobbyist is a popular destination for kits, but much less so for supplies, decals and aftermarket. Local shops don’t seem to be a great source for decals and aftermarket, but they trade well in paint. Hannants and eBay are popular for decals and aftermarket.

And one of the things that has endeared Hobbyworld-USA to many of us is their stocking of Mr. Paint as well as a host of other innovative paints and supplies – Kcolors and Mission Model Paints, Aizu tape, Infini cutting boards, Gunze GX paints. This shows up in neon lights in the Hobbyworld responses, and marks what to me is a clear differentiator.

Depending on interest, I may or may not wade into the actual data to look for some more interesting insights, but these topline ones still provide some good fodder to think over.

15 Comments Add yours

  1. Bob Bush says:

    I actually found this interesting. It gave me some insight into my own habits and how they compared to others. That you for something “completely different”.

  2. mee wan says:

    the reason people go to local hobby is because they want it now urgently sometimes the prices of local hobby could be more expensive but as long i can start my work now !….its a go…

  3. Jarrad says:

    I think one of the aspects is the timing of purchases. Usually kit purchases are not urgent – either adding to stash, when on special or discounted, or when opportunity arises – at a show for example or new releases. Basically there’s not usually there’s not a hurry to receive a kit once purchased online.
    Now paints, for example, are usually urgent – you buy when you need the color and usually want it now. So stocking urgent items would seem a key, IMHO.
    Great survey.

  4. Mike Arnold says:

    I cant tell you how many times I’ve put together a multi-hundred dollar shopping cart at Squadron, only to find out half the items were out of stock. No problems like that at Sprue Brothers, plus they can handle APO adreese on their website. Whenever I’m home, my first choice is the Local Hobby Shop.

  5. Rob Knight says:

    Thanks for getting this out so quickly… Interesting stuff…

  6. Scott Atchison says:

    Is the sample size just SMCG? If so it’s not surprising that HW ranks so high. It’s practically orthodoxy to buy from HW in that group. This is not a criticism of HW, they are a fine retailer and I buy stuff from there, mostly paint and such. I wonder how HW does in the general modeling population?

    1. Doogs says:

      It’s not. SMCG last I checked was about a third of the sample

      1. max says:

        how many participants in total ?

  7. I have to admit I have participated in the survey, but got the feeling, it was oriented mainly towards US based modeller, though it was not mentioned; SMCG is afterall an international group. I have a feeling, some of the results would be quite different, if you’d take the same survey and limited it to let’s say, European modellers, or Asian for that matter. Especially the popularity of scale and hobby shops used.

    1. Doogs says:

      Well, the original discussion that spurred the survey was about some US-market particulars, so…

      No doubt there are different shades and preferences based on region.

      1. Al says:

        I’m surprised to see BNA actually make it onto the list, unless lots of us down-under did the survey.

      2. Doogs says:

        BNA stocks a lot of terrain and aftermarket stuff that can be tough to track down otherwise.

  8. I am fortunate to know some of the local hobby industry folks in the SoCal area through my modeling club – they are very sparing with industry info, as it can impact them, esp. on new releases. I would agree with the direction of your research, though brick and mortar has a harder time in the immediate market here – rents are ridiculous.


    1. Doogs says:

      All of that makes sense. Usually the industries with the best publicly accessible information are larger and hemmed in by various regulations that force reporting, or large industry groups that do so. Autos, TVs, telecom subscribers etc. Smaller industries, especially those far from the scrutiny publicly-traded companies receive, are much more opaque.

      Rent is something that cannot be ignored for local hobby shops. Especially in a geography like SoCal, where there isn’t really such a thing as cheap rent.

  9. Scooter says:

    SMCG? Sorry, my little brain has an “air pocket” and doesn’t know what that is

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