Airfix and Hornby: Ready for a bright future

If you’ve built model kits in the last half century, you’ve most likely heard of Airfix. The company has been producing injection molded kits since 1954, and has actually been around since 1939, according to Wikipedia.

The last few years have been difficult however, and in August 2006, Airfix shut its doors. Modelers across the world discussed and speculated on the reasons, but nearly all agreed that the loss of such a major modeling force could not be good for the hobby.

Thankfully, Hornby, best known for it’s railway kits and accessories, stepped up and purchased Airfix, breathing new life into the company. Airfix Product Manager Martyn Weaver was gracious enough to answer a few questions about the “new” Airfix and what the future holds for the historic company.

I know this year certainly has had to have been busy for Airfix/Hornby. I recall last year on hearing the news that Airfix had shut it’s doors, it almost seemed as if we modelers had lost a good friend. Airfix has been such an icon in the modeling business for so many years. What has the public response been to Hornby bringing Airfix back to the modeling world?
The response has been very positive from the public, from a business perspective it is a brilliant example of ‘strategic fit’ and from a nostalgia point it was well received that the brand stayed in British ownership, plus it sits nicely with the Hornby and Scalextric brands. There are some interesting articles if you search; www.bbc.co.uk www.dailymail.co.uk www.timesonline.co.uk and type in Airfix.

When I think of Airfix, I always think of Spitfires- my favorite plane. I thought it was very fitting that the new Airfix’s first release was a Spitfire Mk. I. Was that kit the Mk. I that had been planned for last year’s 1/48 Spitfire 70th Anniversary set?
The Spitfire MkI was originally planned when Airfix was owned by Humbrol Ltd, Hornby completed the production plan and released the kit as a classic although I do believe it was originally by Humbrol Ltd to be a part of a 1:48 scale anniversary set.

I’ve always appreciated how Airfix has been reasonably priced. Modelers today are certainly very demanding, but cost conscious too. Better engineering certainly increases costs, but often at the price of sales. How do you balance those two factors?
We do try to keep our prices constant, this is managed through our series system, the price of a series is fixed and when we release a new kit we take quite some consideration on which series the kit is.

The Internet has certainly changed the modeling hobby. News, reviews and pictures of completed kits appear in dozens of places everyday. How much of a factor is the internet in measuring customer satisfaction, preferences, etc.?
The internet has its advantages and disadvantages although mainly advantages. Obviously there is the sales aspect, the new site is also a shop which is essential because in certain corners of the world Airfix is difficult to find. Yes the internet is good for measuring customer satisfaction, the best way to do this is through keeping an eye on the forums, but the people who write on forums are experienced modelers, so it is difficult to measure the response from new modelers or sometimes younger modelers. Obviously the more experienced modelers are very important to us, the younger or new modelers are equally important because they are the future.

The new Airfix website is very impressive. What were some of the goals of the new design? How has consumer response been so far? Have you had good response to the Airfix Club?
There are many goals behind the website; the obvious ones from a marketing perspective, but from a consumer point of view we wanted it to be easy to use, informative and show the depths of the brand, not just more WWII aircraft- what a lot of people associate the brand with. Also we wanted the site to be user friendly, without going into to much detail; the idea is that consumers with experience of the brand can get to what they want specifically, and for those who are not experienced and are perhaps buying a gift for someone they get where they want without any confusion. Overall we are very satisfied with the design of the site and designers we used have been great.

There is no shortage of model kits and manufacturers today. What will Airfix do to differentiate itself? Any plans to appeal to the young modelers?
Certain cards we keep close to our chests (due to competition) but one area we have invested in is the licensed area, later this year we a releasing a range of Doctor Who models, and next year we will be working on another license.

Before closing it’s doors last year, Airfix had released the TSR.2, which made quite an impact in the modeling world. Any plans to being that kit back?
Tricky one because this is a LTD edition kit, the definition of limited edition means it is limited (only produced once or only xxx made) although some other brands might debate this. We believe that if a kit is limited it probably shouldn’t be re-released. However, it was released under Humbrol Ltd ownership so perhaps this situation is different.

Mr. Weaver concluded his answers by saying that under Hornby Hobbies LTD., the “future looks bright for Airfix.”

And modelers around the world are looking forward to enjoying that future for many years to come with Airfix kits!