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Betting on nostalgia

Scale model companies have met success re-popping decades-old kits, but can it last?
Nostalgia plays a big role for some scale model manufacturers who consistently delve into their decades-old catalogs to re-pop kits that sometimes haven’t seen the light of day since the mid-1960s — sometimes earlier. Although we hear the word quite a bit in scale modeling, what does it mean? According to Merriam-Webster, nostalgia is a “wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for a return to, or of, some past period or irrecoverable condition.”

“We’re feeding probably the most off [nostalgia] because our kits are the ones that haven't been reissued in the longest time,” says Peter Vetri, president of Atlantis Models. According to Vetri, being able to purchase those models again takes hobbyists familiar with the subjects “to happier times in their lives.”

Atlantis Models came on the scene in the mid-2000s along with other companies like Moebius Models and Round 2, among others. These companies concentrated on utilizing molds from some of scale modeling’s preeminent brands, like Aurora, AMT, and MPC, to reissue kits long out of production.

“The guys that are building our kits now, built it when they were kids,” says Jamie Hood, brand manager at Round 2. And for Round 2, with its deep repository of classic AMT, MPC, and Polar Lights tools, combined with powerful pop-culture licenses like Star Wars and Star Trek, nostalgia has been a recipe for success.

Chad Reid, marketing specialist for Round 2, says bringing back older kits means allowing modelers to re-create the experience of building a model they remember without having to pay collector-market prices or cobble the parts together from multiple sources. He points out nostalgia often goes beyond the models themselves to some other memory or experience attached to the subject of the model, and you don’t necessarily have to be 50 or 60 to experience it.

“You know, [it] might be something from the ’90s that I saw when I was growing up,” Reid says. “For Jamie, it might be a ship from a TV show.”

He makes a good point. For consumers, it can be easy to identify a re-popped kit as targeting nostalgia, but even new tools can target similar sentimental feelings, whether it be a model kit of a modern muscle car or a sci-fi ship from a recent TV show. However, that isn’t quite the same as nostalgia — though it can be if the subject brings the modeler back to something from their childhood.

“We all remember what we did as kids, whether it be playing baseball or trading baseball cards, or comic books, or building a model kit,” said Steve Iverson, owner of CultTVman’s Hobby Shop, an online retailer. Iverson has recently launched his own model manufacturing arm with Doll & Hobby. According to Iverson, it’s the endurance of those memories that has made nostalgia such a powerful force in scale modeling, and companies that lean into nostalgia bring a different experience with their kits than those that produce what may be considered more mainstream products.

“You go to a hobby shop, you don't necessarily see a Star Trek [USS] Enterprise or a Frankenstein or those kits,” Iverson says. “So, my company appeals directly to those buyers. It gives them something that they don't normally get in [a] hobby shop.”

Atlantis, Round 2, and CultTVman’s Hobby Shop are betting that nostalgia will work to help get a younger demographic into scale models and keep the hobby vibrant.

“Everyone definitely has that part of their line that's really focused on nostalgia, old artwork, that kind of thing,” Vetri says. “A lot of these people, now, who are nostalgic, who are older, they're turning their grandchildren onto it.”

Hood has a few things to say to the gloom-and-doomers who say young people are too busy playing video games to be involved in scale modeling. “What are they playing?” he asks. “Minecraft, where they’re building stuff, but it’s virtual.” He adds that LEGO is still one of the most popular kids' toys, showing that children still have an interest in building outside the digital world, too.

Chad Reid says that it’s important to find a model that a kid or emerging modeler wants to build, and suggests making the kit with an older mentor who likes nostalgic kits. It’s okay if that isn’t what the mentor wants to build, because it may be the inspiration for new modelers to get into the hobby and explore other models.

Vetri believes nostalgia is integral to the scale modeling hobby, and modelers often thank him for Atlantis reissuing long out-of-production kits.

“It's super important, absolutely,” he says. “I think that without us doing what we're doing — and some other companies, too — I think the hobby would be a lot different.” These companies bring back classic kits at good prices, and, as Vetri says, an affordable reissue of a classic kit is welcomed across the industry.
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