Hornby has just hit the headlines with exciting Scalestric news. In the words of Hornby CEO Frank Martin: “We are delighted that we have secured the worldwide licence for a range of Star Wars Scalextric products. As the films are converted into 3D format by Lucasfilm over the next few years, we anticipate that we will get an encouraging reaction to our new range of speeder bikes and X-wing fighters. We also have high hopes for our products associated with the new Disney/Pixar movie "Cars 2".
The future looks bright
As well as these new names, Hornby is starting to see sales rise with its 2012 Olympics range, which includes some 150 items, from trains to a Scalextric cycling velodrome set, and those multi-coloured London taxis we mentioned recently. As for Star Wars, the original movie first hit the silver screen 34 years ago, yet the mix of heroes and spaceships, aliens and robots, continues to grip the imagination of today’s generation, and 3D Star Wars movies will doubtless feed more excitement into the media system. So Hornby would seem to be in the right spot at the right time.
Apart from anything else, having these known brands in the portfolio gives Hornby muscle to sell into mega outlets like Tesco and Argos. For model fans, higher sales translates into more finance to develop new stuff, and an assurance that one of the best - and oldest - brands is going to survive and thrive in years to come.
A century of toys
Hornby has a storied history, starting way back in 1901, when Frank Hornby applied for a patent for 'Improvements in Toy or Educational Devices for Children and Young People'. He got the patent, and his device was at first sold as 'Mechanics Made Easy', but by 1907 it had changed name to the catchy and memorable Meccano. Huge success led to factories being built in Germany and France to meet export demand. Perhaps surprisingly, Meccano is not in the current Hornby stable - its present owner is Nikko of Japan.
Rail in miniature
In the 1920s, Hornby trains were a big hit, the first electric sets arriving in 1925. The half-size Hornby Dublo came out in 1938, with cast-metal locomotives allowing a more realistic appearance than even the finest tinplate could achieve. For more than 30 years, Dublo’s three-rail system was a model rail standard, but eventually began to suffer from competing two-rail designs, so in 1959, Hornby killed it off and standardized on the more realistic two-rail track we see today.
Electric racing cars
The first electric-powered Scalextric cars were displayed by inventor Freddie Francis at the Harrogate Toy Fair in 1957, and were an instant hit. A year later new owners Lines Brothers, better known for their Tri-ang name, bought Scalextric and one of the first things they did was to start producing cars with plastic bodies instead of metal, a far better all-round solution. Despite hot competition from an assortment of brands in the years since, it remains the grand-daddy racing system.
Plastic kits from Airfix
Airfix was set up in 1939, to make inflatable rubber toys. The first Airfix kit was the 1949 Ferguson tractor, while the first aircraft hit the shops in 1955. This was a 1:72 scale Spitfire, actually a scaled-down version of a 1:48 scale Aurora model, and brisk sales set the scene for the huge expansion of Airfix through the 1960s and 1970s. However, in 1981, Airfix was sold to General Mills, then to paint maker Humbrol. Present Hornby ownership dates back to 2006.
The last major label in the present Hornby lineup is Corgi. The first Corgi diecasts were released in 1956, featuring popular British cars of the time, such as the Austin Cambridge and Rover 90. The come-on for schoolboy buyers was that Corgi Toys were ‘the ones with windows’. This, and other play-appeal extras - spring suspension, opening doors, gem-like headlights and more - all went to make the new name a strong competitor to the long-established Dinky Toys. Corgi became a Hornby name just three years ago, in 2008.
Today, Hornby has a strong management focus and this has really made a difference. For example, Airfix has become a brand to be reckoned with again, with decently designed boxes, new-tool and leading-edge kits (1:24 Mosquito anyone?), and a crack-on energy that proves a change of ownership can infuse a tired brand with purpose and a bright future. Great stuff Hornby!