Luring the Young Modeler

I constantly hear and read that “We need to attract young modelers back to the hobby.”  But beyond Make-N-Take events, I don’t see much effort to address that need.  IPMS & some vendors offer Make-N-Take assistance (which we have used) but that’s about it.

My oldest son (13) got started in the hobby at age 9.  However, he was (and still is to some degree) a closet builder.  It may be just his perception, but apparently there’s a nerdy stigma associated with kit building.  He is very careful with which of his classmates he will discuss his hobby.  It’s a shame because we love the hobby and it always gives us (and his 8 yr old brother) something to talk about.  Going to our club meetings is an event we don’t miss.

Given my personal interest in the topic, I’ve taken on an informal role of “youth coordinator” for our club.  I’ve organized our last 2 Make-N-Takes in 2009 and planning a third this March.  Our last Make-and-Take drew in 90 youth builders.  Along with their parents, it brought in an estimated 150+ to our contest that otherwise would never have stepped into our show.  And many bought kits from vendors on their way out.

I really believe that there is a vast, untapped market ripe for the picking.  We could have easily doubled the number of builders with very little extra advertising effort.  Yes, the event was free.  But – we’re doing a follow-up Make-and-Take next month with attendees that indicated an interest in learning more about the hobby..  We filled 15 openings within 2 weeks of posting the event (and charged a small fee to help defray costs).  That’s almost a 20% repeat customer rate – not sure if that’s “good” but its better than 0% without the event.

While I love reading Fine Scale Modeler, I don’t see much effort there to reach out to youth builders.  (I’m not sure what that “reach out” would look like but…)

Around Christmas, I saw that Testors packaged some “all in 1” kits targeted at new builders (2 1/72 aircraft with glue & paint) that appeared in end caps and aisle displays in our local Meijer stores.  But its just seasonal.

The price of kits at Hobby Lobby have jumped 20% in the past year.  For our upcoming Make-and-Take, I could only find about 5-6 glue aircraft kits for $10 or less that were appropriate.  Auto kits were at least $15.  Armor kits for kids don’t exist.  Our local Michaels is now carrying the 1/48 Revel kits for around $15.  Don’t get me wrong, I think an $10-15 investment in a kit is a worthwhile investment (especially when Xbox and PS3 games start at $50).  The difficulty is luring that first-time builder.

Dave Reed,  Cincinnati Scale Modelers


  1. I too would like to hear of any ideas for turning kids on to scale modeling; I am in a rural area and thought about starting a club but would like to target the young modelers as well since they are the future of IPMS.

    Some of the things we have to offer are obvious to the older modelers: develop motor skills, reading and following instructions, exposure to history, building self esteem with each completed project and the chance for the adults to work with their children.

    I am contemplating approaching the local school district and discussing how to introduce scale modeling through arts and crafts.

  2. Your local Boy Scouts of America Council or District is a fantastic source of potential Make-N-Take participants:
    – Cub Scouts ages 7-10, Boy Scouts ages 11-17
    – A strong contact network (email, websites, etc.)
    – Cub Scouts earn rank requirements by building model kits. Older scouts can be a resource to assist running your event.
    – Cub Scout leaders are always looking for ideas for new activities – ala MakeNTake

    You can find your local rep at:
    and click on “Find your local council”

    For our Oct MakeNTake, we attracted 90 builders after reaching out to about 1/3 of the local scout districts.

  3. Where to Apply PRESSURE!

    I P M S. It’s directly part of their goll darn mission statement, and they CLAIM to represent us as part of paying dues. Who in industry will listen to, believe, or give a rat’s behind for the opinions of those of us on the front lines? Did Stalin listen to his generals? NO! His generals didn’t listen to defectors prior to the invasion. (I would speak of Germans, but then one is often accused of being the N word.)

    Talk about a perfect storm! Just when our culture has become the most successful and powerful in the World, it is about to trade it all due to greed. The failure of character is how that happens, of course. Is it too late? Well, we’re all going to suffer. But rebuilding a culture of personal sacrifice based on traditional character traits that made us better than many other cultures (NOT necessarily the best) will be very hard.

    We have some of the best materials to teach our youth (models, references, historical portrayals, openess of research, and living cultural memories)a group could ever hope for.

    So, I’ll lead by example. I’m going to write to IPMS/USA, my one fart in the cloud of opinion, with much thanks to Gerald for his opening volley among industry types. I will pledge NEVER to join IPMS if they don’t FORMALLY and forcefully put their resources to move industry in ways that will make the hobby accessible.

    Do I care about specifics? No; I’m just a household income. I have, and will continue to do, what has already been spoken of. Yes, it’s not going to be easy, but the best I can come up with is working within schools, and getting my club to produce semi-permanent displays. I’m NOT talking about those quesy personal interest stories showing one geek modeler, with the title, “He Likes Small Details” as the lead. We have to make our artwork more relevant to an ignorant mass.

    Models themselves will HAVE to become more relevant to our culture. While the vast majority of traditional builders focus on military subjects, look at the direction Tamiya took a couple decades ago with functional models, and even Revell’s attempt to add simple electronic to kits. Dynamic Scale effects hold a new promise, and that’s a big stretch for traditionalists like myself. (How ’bout the rest of you?) I remember reading that the Japanese have thoroughly researched the intellectual benefits of 3d models on their youth. You’d think our guys could do something similar.

    PERFECT AIM by Gerald on the spending decision maker, MOM! Guess what? She’s probably a boomer or younger, and she HATES models because she stereotypes them as recruiting toys of the Military Industrial Complex! Do you think she wants her kids to go to Iraq? Hell, she’s been part of a crowd that refuses to allow their precious sons to touch anything that even looks like a gun!

    In short, the dilemma eats at us, because we love this artform for all the right reasons; HOWEVER, it’s up to Industry to take care of business. They already know we’ll pay a hefty sum for great kits.

    Our self-appointed representatives, IPMS, is supposed to be our voice! Where the hell are they? Self-promoting kit reviews and Make-N-Take are NOT adequate solutions.

  4. As with any organization it takes the energy of its membership to put a plan in action…the trouble is only about three percent of any organization’s membership actually are motivated to do anything. The rest are members, just wanting to ride along, never wanting to steer the ship or participate in activities, committees or things that require them to rise off their seats. Each member joins for his or her own reasons, that’s fine.

    What resources does IPMS have? The eboard is elected and serve from various points around the country, there isn’t a IPMS-USA Hq with staff members sitting around collecting a paycheck doing nothing. What influence do they have over the industry, little if any. There isn’t enough funds to hire a high powered lobbyist. It is the same as a national car club has over what products any of the automakers decide to produce and how they are marketed…nearly nodda. All the efforts by IPMS are done through the efforts of volunteers. Again if a group, any group can’t muster enough troops then the task and the goals cannot be achieved. Take a contest, how many of the members devote the time to plan, promote and produce the event…probably three maybe four if it is a large club. Sure several more “volunteer” to help the day of the event, then bitch about how it was planned, organized, staffed all the way to how the trophies looked. Yet they didn’t lift a finger or offer opinion one during the preceding year!

    I joined HMA and actively participated in the division counsel I was a member of. Again an organization which has a rather large membership but only a small percentage actually took the time to get involved. Corporations join and form associations and groups for various reasons, some are effective others not. Much depends on the resources and time allocated by its membership to facilitate the goals of the group.

    IPMS is a voice, but as I stated not a powerful one because its membership doesn’t provide the necessary support and resources. You say that IPMS is not doing the tasks you deem necessary to adequately support this artform. There is nothing stopping anyone from forming and establishing a new organization that will do what the existing organizations aren’t.

    We all have a voice in the modeling community but not everyone has a vote in IPMS affairs. Just as you have to register to vote in a political election, you have to join IPMS to be counted.

    Yes there are those who don’t care for many of the subjects being modeled. Just as there are those who ban the visitation of veterans to tell their story in schools across this country. Fortunately here they are welcomed, but some of our local vets who spend their winters elsewhere tell of how their organizations are banned from public and private schools. Here they are invited in to share and let the kids ask first hand what it was like, a living history program. A program that scale modeling can be used as a tool for the student to learn more about the subject and its role in history. When and if the parents and the teachers deem it worthy. But if a school is cutting its music program for budgetary reasons what makes you think they spend resources on plastic models?

    Those moms you mentioned, well they were influenced by the changes in society norms. Hence we have and support the production of reality television shows that perpetuate what society once deemed “inappropriate behavior and activities.”

  5. Well, if I get no response, am I:
    a. barking at the moon?
    b. improperly making difficult points?
    c. more the problem than prospective solution?
    d. (your response here…)

    It’s odd to see your response that tends to make my very points. It’s a circle of thought. “Here’s problem A that you are (a tiny) part of… Here’s group B dedicated to helping… Here’s Solutions c-d-e that don’t work… Now, could you please start ANOTHER group to solve INDUSTRY’s problem?”

    So, Gerald, please help me understand. I only wish to be respectful and my response here originally was meant to be an energetic endorsement for exactly what you have already done and observed. As I clearly said, I have and will do what I can as an individual, BECAUSE the group fails. My membership and voice have no history of making changes. You will see all the evidence you need by visiting IPMS USA’s web site. Again, it matters not what any of us HAVE done. That’s all great for its intentions. What WILL we do is the motivation to belong.

    It’s only as THE GROUP chooses to openly discuss the matter, and engage membership, that any problem COULD be solved. That’s why I cannot join, because the path the group chooses is leading to a quiet, self-satisfied oblivion, proven by the craft’s inability to attract and hold younger participants.

    Is this bad? Well, carving wood was a National passtime, and we don’t hear much about it. Modeling grew from it, of course. Model trains took from wood carving as a parent skill, and flourished for decades, especially post WW II. I would point to their more established system of mentoring a skills-based set of titles to distinguish a person’s investment and results. While not everyone has to participate, it at least formally acknowledges a person’s heritage in the craft. All you’ve seen at IPMS is trophy or not. The same story lines prevail: “He was robbed.” “The judges don’t apply rules uniformly.” “I only build for myself.” “Why would anyone build to earn a trophy?” Do these outcomes build a larger fraternity?

    You can see a parallel history in leather workers. Tandy Leather and craft stores used to flourish. Now, they hide inside Michael’s Craft Stores.

    Even though railroaders have aged/dwindled/died, they seem to attract enough younger followers, which is especially odd given that trains are not nearly as iconic as they were post WW II. This happens despite the industry crippling trend of selling junk train sets at Christmas to “get kids started.”

    You are already recognized, and deservedly so, for how you are participating. As you chose to form a livelihood from it, and join with others in similar business, I aplaud you and wish every good fortune and success. Such success attracts the energy of like minded participants, each with diverse experiences and reactions. It seems a little unrealistic to expect anyone like-minded will want to join IPMS/USA. Most of us are too busy earning a living to support life and hobbies to begin with.

    So, we have to find representation. I’ve heard all I need to about how hard it is to run a club or chapter as volunteers; thankless, expensive, time-consuming, etc. Any of us with charitable hearts and hopeful minds have and continue to serve in various volunteer capacities. Few freedom loves would want paid government functionaries in every endeavor of life. HOWEVER I cannot shy from the observations that these outcomes don’t define what COULD or SHOULD be done.

    IPMS/USA is not some group I uncharitably scoff at. In my club, some of the Nation’s great modelers join with a slinking, defeated tolerance. They actually have been conditioned to expect nothing for their dues. About all I’ve seen is scuffles over insurance for events, which I still find bizarre. Some modeler is going to sue a nearly broke, volunteer group of modelers if his creation is damaged or stolen? Someone else will sue if they slip on a banana peel at some contest venue? This baffles even my aggressive mind. Has this whole country cowered before lawyers’ pens? What happened to the coverage of the venue, which is in business for just such events? What happened to signing waivers for mediation or simply accepting adverse, foreseeable outcomes? IPMS/USA never explained this adequately. They just levied fees and forced membership on chapter club officers, setting “an example” for the others.

    Leatherworkers and carvers use similar dangerous tools. Did I miss something, or did they have the same sort of Stalinist/Statist leadership decisions levied on their followers? Home of the Brave, Land of the Free, lite.

    You can compensate volunteers, and not with expense money. You can use peerage to motivate excellence and growth by setting rewards for results that others would find satisfying, attractive, and complementary to their careers. Until IPMS/anywhere wakes up from it’s post Cold War slumber, it is on the wrong track, where there is little or no light at the end of the tunnel.

    If there is some position in Industry that needs my energy, education, talents, temperment, ambitions, I’d be thrilled to be a part. But not as a token stooge or dues-cow.

    Apply pressure to a gushing wound. I wrote to IPMS/USA after going all over their web site for content. I’m not expecting an answer any more. I do plan to join IPMS/Canada, at least to try it. Here’s my email to the Secretary:

    I’ve not been a member since coercion to do so as a condition of holding office in my local chapter, ’94 At the time, that ended any interest I had in future membership. I do not dispute that IPMS/USA does many great things. I had my first membership in 1975, which lapsed due to internal politics. Not very generous of me, I’ll admit.

    I’ve been building throughout those years, and active with web-based builder sites such as HyperScale. I’ve been actively supporting modeling through Make-N-Take and Boy Scouts. It’s been difficult to get much interest. I have not, however, returned to the fold of IPMS, and write to politely and formally inquire:

    What exactly is IPMS doing, as every modeler’s industry representative, to advance the art and craft of scale modeling, BESIDES Make-N-Take and the usual business of running the society, journal, and contests?

    If you are the wrong person to ask, please excuse my request for taking your time. I mean no offense, but I’m trying to set a proper example by speaking out with my wallet. I would LOVE to be a member, as long as I could understand how this essential, mission-related concern of mine is being pursued. I am influential among my peers, and would be more than happy to sponsor and promote further membership should you answer this question of mine.

    Further, I will carry water for IPMS on the many web sites I make a presence, when this issue is addressed successfully. I look forward to your response, and hope IPMS can become a greater influence, for all the hard work and right reasons I can imagine.

    Joseph Grimme, Nominal Enzyme
    Adventurer, Healer, Survivor of the post Cold War victory

    No unpredictable side effects from regular use.
    Full details available on request.
    Use only as directed.
    Ask your physician if joseph grimme is right for you.

  6. One voice does not make a choir, but as more voices come together and sing the same tune, a choir is formed. A soloist might get noticed if he or she is commanding enough in their performance, but normally one voice does raise above the din. As a member of the HMA my one voice was heard, sometimes not as commanding as I had hoped but loud enough to bring others in harmony as we shared the same song in our hearts.

    As with any organization, the leadership should listen and act towards the memberships behalf and interest. It is a common problem with many organizations, like our government as an example. The membership is to blame, as we aren’t coming together as a section (tenors) to compel the rest of the choir to sing along.

    The problems we are dealing with in our hobby and industry didn’t happen overnight. They were set into motion long ago by several influencing forces. Yet, now it is perceived this is something recent. In our society, two entities create attention…huge well funded ones and small grass roots ones. The Tea Party has gotten the attention of those in office, just as the negativity has in our hobby.

    Nothing for ones dues, try joining an industrial trade organization once…or an exclusive club. The “benefits” offered by many organizations are of no real benefit to a majority of their membership. SAVE $$$ on office supplies when shopping at Store-X, fine, but there are no Store-Xs within 500 miles of here! Hell I pay money to be a part of Sam’s Club, which gives me what…oh yeah the opportunity to spend more of my money in their store! BTW they aren’t necessarily the cheapest venue in town either…no matter what they advertise.

    Instead of calling it dues, consider your membership in IPMS nothing more than a subscription for a good scale modeling magazine and the opportunity to spend more of your hard earned money to attend and participate at events. Again some organizations give you nodda in return for your dues, many of the organizations return nothing more than an opportunity to socialize with peers or those with common interests.

    There is no simple answer or solution to the woes we face in this hobby/industry. But I know this, if we stop talking we’ll only have one, the end or as I refer to it in my business consulting…“The EXIT.” aka The End, ceasing of activity…death.

    This hobby as well as others are individualistic by nature. However, there are those who feel the need to come together to share their efforts and interact with others who share the same interests. This coming weekend is the annual boat show in our area…I stay as far away from it as possible. But there are those who flock to it like a fish to a nightcrawler. Yes, they too have issues within their own hobby/industry. Pick any hobby/industry and you’ll find they all have issues.

    One example that was recently brought to my attention…Automobile collectors and restorers. Our state has changed the licensing laws to make it impossible to get license plates for restored vehicles, especially military vehicles. They don’t meet modern safety standards, therefore they must be transported (carried) to events not driven. Yet passenger cars of the same age don’t met the standards either, yet they get a pass on compliance. Can’t drive your Willy’s jeep across town to participate in a Veterans day parade but you can drive your Nash? The vehicle owners are having a hard time being heard. Their voices alone will not raise above the din but if they don’t form a choir there is no chance of being heard and the restoration of harmony.

    Encourage your IPMS eBoard to get involved by attending the division meetings at the various industry functions. An IPMS representative at the General or Plastics Division or even the Marketing Committee meetings would benefit both industry and the IPMS/Scale Modeling community. Another single voice contributing to the choir.

  7. At the risk of labeling myself a gadfly, I have re-read our posts on this subject. I hope others tapped into the energy, but see no responses. Perhaps this reflects your opening account of the few who step into any challenging position.

    I will take your advice about membership. Certainly, I’ll have at least the slender privilege of approaching those holding any office if I pay some dues. It’s really more like a small scale (oops) TEA Party, isn’t it? I want to look back at my presence on this rock, like most older folk, and believe I had a hand in making things a little better.

    It would be nice if our string attracted other voices. Thanks for your site! It’s a great place for just a bit of model pick-me-up, without anything but positive stories, great products, and hard work!

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