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Strategy case study: Why Wingnut Wings’ 1/32 Lancaster makes sense

This was first published over on my scale model blog, Man vs Kit.

Since the announcement that Wingnut Wings’ first effort outside of their typical First World War subject matter will be a 1/32 scale Lancaster, I’ve heard a lot of people get very excited about it. I’ve also heard a few ask whether this move makes sense for the company and whether we can expect to see any further kits from later eras.

In this article, I’m going to show why this makes business sense, and what this might mean for the future.

A unique company

Wingnut Wings is a bit different to most scale model companies. Film director Peter Jackson had a passion for WW1-era aircraft, was involved in restoring and replicating full-size ones through The Vintage Aviator, and liked scale models. Those giant minatures Weta built for the Lord of the Rings films make so much more sense in hindsight.

The problem with creating really nice model kits of WW1 subjects was that conventional wisdom said they wouldn’t sell. No one, apparently, was interested. As a result, the genre lacked good kits and wasn’t attractive to modellers.

Wingnut’s strategy was differentiation. A well-executed differentiation strategy requires a product which cannot be substituted by a competitor’s product without losing something significant, and thus achieves profitability through high prices but high investment.

In the case of Wingnut Wings, differentiation took place on several levels:

· Big, 1/32 scale kits that have plenty of room for detail

· Excellent detail and accuracy, allowing them to be happily built out of the box

· Excellent fit and clever engineering, allowing even inexperienced modellers to easily build a stunning model

· Very complete and easy to follow instructions, with detailed painting instructions and handy references for each step, and simple rigging instructions and tips which encouraged people like me to take those first steps into more ambitious projects.

Essentially, if you bought something that wasn’t a Wingnut kit… well, it just wouldn’t be a Wingnut kit.

I maintain that Wingnut was able to do this because of its’ owner’s deep pockets and passion, which meant that obscure subjects could be pursued with return on capital being secondary to making a great product. On that note, at this point I suspect that no one at that company finds SPAD and Nieuport designs the least bit interesting. Or maybe they just can’t find any plans.

Wait, what, a Lancaster?

Why would Wingnut depart from their previous happy hunting grounds to build a Lancaster?

Simples! They didn’t.

Fine, it’s not a WW1 design, but apart from that, this project is classic Wingnut: an aircraft which Peter Jackson and his team care about (they built full size replicas when trying to get a Dambusters remake commissioned); which they have really good information and research on (see above); and where the competition is weak.

Yes, HK have a 1/32 Lancaster in the works as well, but the recent test shots have disappointed as they do not appear set to deliver on their earlier promises.

This is a market where the Wingnut kit has been declared the future on the basis that their CAD renders (not test shots) show great detail and a stressed skin effect. Let’s just remind ourselves: these are 3D renders. They are not test shots, and we have not seen how Wingnut propose to turn this render into a kit. Sure, past performance promises great things, but let’s not forget my friend the Macalope’s famous commentary: “isn’t it funny how future releases from competitors always beat currently available products?”

Given that Wingnut appear to be creating the same variants of Lancaster as HK (the Mk.I and Mk.III), this means there is more direct competition than they typically face. So unless the hype around the Wingnut kit is sufficient to kill interest in the HK, we need to consider how big the market for an absolutely enormous Lancaster actually is. That will be interesting to see once the kits are released, but in the meantime let’s just believe that Wingnut have a good idea what they’re doing and that they are confident.

The final point there is to consider why companies typically stick to a particular type of model. This is the biggest objection to Wingnut stepping outside their usual comfort zone.

This comes down to competency, which is to say the way the company works and the knowledge it has. Knowledge is the bigger problem: this is the pre-existing understanding of how stuff works that needs to be gained in order to accurately reproduce it. For example, the ways rigging, wood, and canvas actually look on a WW1 plane and how they should look in plastic; compared to the stressed metal skin and rivets on a WW2 one. This is where the existing experience of building the full-size film replicas helps: that knowledge can be shared within the organisation. The way the company works is helped by this prior experience: Wingnut appear to share information from rebuilding and replicating originals in The Vintage Aviator to build their kits, and a similar process exists because of the film replica. Therefore it is entirely plausible that Wingnut can do a good job of this one. One interesting point on competency is scale: Wingnut know 1/32 and they are sticking with that.

What does this mean for the future?

We can safely assume that the Lancaster project makes strategic sense for Wingnut Wings. With that in mind, we should consider whether this can be replicated in the future. We have identified three criteria which are needed in order for a Wingnut project to work:

· Existing 1:1 scale knowledge of the original aircraft

· Space for differentiation

· Demand from modellers

Of these, I am only convinced about the first criterion. I suspect that Wingnut’s own processes and skill are capable of creating differentiation (if nothing else, modellers know they are getting a Wingnut kit). Demand, however, is more of an issue. Observed behaviour implies that many will buy these kits even though they don’t have the space to build or display them. We saw with the Wingnut Gotha and AEG that very few are built, but this doesn’t mean they weren’t bought. I recently picked up a secondhand Tamiya 1/32 Mosquito, unopened, for a great price, and could easily have got another within a week. A 1/32 Lancaster is quite a proposition though: that will be a huge model and it really boggles the mind to think that many will be built.

It will be interesting to see how this goes. I think the kit will be very impressive. As for whether they might make any more? Keep an eye on Weta and The Vintage Aviator.


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