Spielwarenmesse: Interview with Horizon Hobby: new technology is shaping the model plane business

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Neuheiten ferngesteuerte Modellflieger
  Movers & shakers

Movers & shakers

Interview with Horizon Hobby: new technology is shaping the model plane business

from Ulrich Texter

The dream of flying is gettinge more real in the model construction area. Horizon Hobby LLC is one of the world's leading companies in the RC industry. The Illinois-based company is constantly churning out new ideas such as 2.4 GHz technology or SAFE technology which was premièred this year in Nuremberg. Horizon Hobby has been operating in Europe since 2004. Four years later they took over the German distributor JSB. And it has turned out to be a success story. We talked to Jörg Schamuhn, Vice-President Marketing & Sales Europe at Horizon Hobby.

Spielwarenmesse®: Mr Schamuhn, you won the Toy Award at this year's Spielwarenmesse in the category Teenager & Family with your model airplane Hobbyzone Sport Cub SAFE. Can you explain this success? Everybody else is saying that multicopters are the absolutely latest trend.

Jörg Schamuhn:
We think that our Sport Cub SAFE demonstrated that this year had more to offer than just the drone hype. And with the Super Cub in conjunction with SAFE technology we have solved a problem that's been bugging us for decades: now the end consumers can teach themselves to fly. I think that was the main reason for the ToyAward.

Horizon Hobby
Jörg Schamuhn (right) and the Horizon Team

Traditional modelmaking seems to be "out"; observing and surveying the world from the bird's eye perspective on the other hand is "in". Aren't other segments such as aircraft, boats and cars suffering as a result?

J.S.:
You have to take a differentiated view here. Between 2003 and 2007 we acquired a lot of new customers with foam models with a high degree of prefabrication, from 2007 to 2013 it was helicopters, either coaxial or with modern stabilisation aids. New customer business today is made with drones, and virtually nothing else. What's more, the new customers often don't even think of drones as model aircraft, but as flying cameras. That doesn't mean traditional modelmaking is "out", though. But market expansion is definitely taking place in the area of drones - no question. And that means that there is a significant loss of purchasing power in traditional modelmaking segments.

What do you think is the real fascination of these flight devices? Is it the technology or the subconscious feeling that "Big Brother is watching you"?

J.S.:
I've been flying model aircraft for 30 years and for me drones have little fascination. I find them boring after a very short time. The attraction lies in the fact that I can explore my surroundings from a completely different perspective with the camera. The world viewed from above has always been fascinating. And it's easy to do with drones.

There are all sorts of multicopters - from tiny ones through to products that could be used for espionage. Prices range from really cheap to thousands of euros for the most expensive models. What do you think: where is the action in the private sector?

J.S.:
We think that the camera drone market will develop in a similar way to the ordinary camera market. Private users will focus on products under € 1000. The upper price category will mainly be reserved for semi-professional and professional users. And the market for camera drones below € 100 will not develop much because of the poor quality of the pictures and videos.

Technical equipment is constantly making advances. Your top model Blade 350 QX3 AP Combo even has a Return to Home function. Where are the algorithms taking us and are modelmakers tomorrow's programmers?

J.S.:
It's really difficult to say where technology will take us. One thing is certain - innovations are advancing at a rapid rate. And we can also be sure that the traditional modelmaking customers will insist on still being able to fly and drive themselves. Innovations that make the hobby and the product safer and easier to handle are important for this target group. New customers will also love things like Return to Home. So it's going to stay exciting. Things will progress, there's no doubt about that.

Over the past years Horizon has been a growth driver. Now other suppliers have joined the game. How and where do you want to generate more growth?

J.S.:
Other suppliers have joined the game but some have left. We live in a very dynamic market. We generate growth from our portfolio management, our innovations and our solutions for the needs of customers who are really committed to model sports and modelmaking, either every now and then as a hobby or on a long-term basis. There is enough potential for growth.

In 2014 you took over the manufacturer and dealer Staufenbiel, a company that looks back on a long tradition. That means you are selling competing products. What is the goal of this strategy?

J.S.:
Our goal is competence in all channels, i.e. to maintain or rather to achieve relevance in all three sales segments, wholesale, specialty and retail. Our company wants to reach the end consumer through each of these channels. And if we want to be successful in retail, we need experience, which we have acquired from Staufenbiel. The sale of competing products is necessary in order to be a good retailer. And it's great fun, too.

Your company was established as a wholesaler. Your key to success lies in your own brands and own products. Is Horizon Hobby gradually becoming a manufacturer, as we can observe in other segments, so that you can keep all the elements of the value-added chain in one hand?

J.S.:
The company was set up in the USA as a wholesale company. But in Europe we've been dealing solely with our own brands from the very beginning. In this connection, yes, we've long seen ourselves as manufacturers and innovators. That's the key to our success. But in our current business model we don't hold all the elements of the value-added chain in one hand. Our products are still made by our partners in Asia and distribution is still very much placed in the hands of our retail trading partners.


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Author of this article:

Ulrich Texter

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