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Pacific Coast Models Goes Global On A Large Scale

by Dave Wilson

 

Pacific Coast Models' 1/32 scale Hurricane box art




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Description

 

Large scale modelers have spent much of the past decade urging mainstream kitset companies to produce a new-tool 1/32 scale Hawker Hurricane 1. Now their wishes are being granted, but from an unexpected manufacturer.

Pacific Coast Models is a small but growing US- based kit manufacturer based in Santa Rosa, California. This is wine country and Santa Rosa – about 90 kms (55 miles) north of San Francisco, is the fifth largest city in the San Francisco Bay area.

Nestled in this area is PCM which is about to issue a new tool limited run 1/32 scale Hawker Hurricane 1 (fabric wing). It will include the two and three blade propellers, both types of exhaust, both the armored and the un-armored windscreens and two types of wheels. It will also include a resin cockpit set and various resin pieces for high detail.

This is the same company that in 2008 gave modelers a new tool 1/32 scale Spitfire Mk IXc/e a full year ahead of Tamiya’s kit. The Spitfire made modelers sit up and pay closer attention to this emergent company.             

Ken Lawrence, the man behind PCM, believes the Hurricane will propel the small company further into the mainstream of kit manufacturing.  

Pacific Coast Models is representative of a new direction in American- based niche kitset manufacturing: a small CONUS- based company drawing on international resources to provide the components, and selling the packaged result to a global hobby market.

In the case of the PCM Hawker Hurricane 1, the kit components ( plastic and resin) have been produced by Sword in the Czech Republic, the photo etch accessories are from Eduard ; Richard Caruana does the design of
the color painting instructions  which, along with the decals designed by Chris Busbridge, are printed by Cartograf of Italy. All of this is packaged in a box with colourful box art from aviation artist Dan Zoernig.

This is heady stuff for a company which – until just a few years ago- was best known for being a traditional importing and distributing business selling modeling items mainly to bricks and mortar hobby shops.

While model kitset manufacturers have traditionally been regarded as big corporate entities like Tamiya, Hasegawa and Airfix, the smaller niche players of cottage industry manufacturers, like Pacific Coast Models, are challenging them with progressively mainstream subject releases.

Pacific Coast Models is very much a small family affair. It is the passion of Ken and Mary Ellen Lawrence and in Ken’s view their objective is to do business and encourage the growth of the hobby through sales of top quality and interesting lines of modeling items to hobby shops.

 

 

Indicative of the company’s size is the fact Ken can tick off the staff’s names on one hand:

“Pacific Coast Models is myself, my wife, Mary Ellen (Sales Manager) and Christine Butcher who runs the warehouse.  In the past, our daughter, Elizabeth and our youngest son, Eric, worked at PCM while they were going to school.”

PCM’s focus is on World War 2 items and initially the company specialised in Italian subjects.

Ken recalls: “I was a modeler a couple of times in my life and got into it for a third time in 1999.  I talked to a guy from Italy (Maurizio Di Terlizzi) on HyperScale who built a Macchi C.202 and he also wrote books.  We
started Pacmodels on January 2, 2000 to import his books on Italian aircraft.  He introduced me to other Italian companies, so for several years we specialized in Italian subjects.

 “I have been involved in the auto industry for about 40 years, working at dealerships and for several different car companies.  In 1979, I started my own company, Northeast Imported Parts & Accessories, Inc. which is an auto parts importing and distributing company.  I used to run it, but in 1999 decided to move over and appoint our Vice-President as the President.  I like the parts business as we sell top quality parts with a great warranty, so I don't have any trouble sleeping at night.  I hire the best people I can find and they share in the profits.”

After succeeding as a hobby importer and retailer Ken saw an opportunity to expand and make the transition to manufacturing kits.

“In this business, developing and selling new kits is where there is the most excitement.  It also generates the most money.”

Around 2003 he issued Pacific Coast Models’ first kit, a 1/48th Macchi C.200 ,but the company quickly settled on 1/32 scale as its standard. Why 1/32 scale?

“More detail, easier to paint complicated paint schemes than 1:48 scale and the aging of the modeling community which means poorer vision.  Also a scale which offered lots of opportunities for kits which had never been done before,” he said.

The lineup of 1/32 Pacific Coast Models releases has been formidable with a catalogue including the Macchi C200; Fiat G55, Macchi C202 and C205; Reggiane Re 2005; Spitfire IXc, IXe and a Mk XVI; a Focke Wulf TA 152H-1 and now a Hawker Hurricane 1.

Waiting in the wings is another 1/32 surprise, a subject he thinks will please many modelers. Commercial considerations mean he won’t identify the subject yet but when pressed whether it is Italian, British, German or American, allows:

“It is not Italian, but one from the other three countries is all I can say at this point. We think our next kit after the Hurricane will be a pleasant surprise for many modelers.”

While many modelers fantasise about what subjects they would choose if they were a kitset manufacturer, for Ken and Mary Ellen Lawrence, it is a hard business decision with no room for mistakes.

“The subjects have to be WWII so far.  To use a sports analogy, every time we have the ball, we have to score.  We do not wish to have a commercial failure.”

The gestation period for each new kit varies depending on a range of factors, and each new product draws on the expertise of six to 10 people, sub- contractors, and expert consultants among them.

After some negative comments about the Ta-152H kit, for the Hurricane project, Ken had the kit's masters checked by a British Hurricane expert in order to have as accurate a kit as possible.

“It’s as right as we can make it,” he said.

 

  • Pacific Coast Models by Dave Wilson: Image
  • Pacific Coast Models by Dave Wilson: Image
  • Pacific Coast Models by Dave Wilson: Image
  • Pacific Coast Models by Dave Wilson: Image
  • Pacific Coast Models by Dave Wilson: Image
  • Pacific Coast Models by Dave Wilson: Image
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With Pacific Coast Models headquartered in America and production physically based in the Czech Republic, Ken says they have evolved a technique to ensure quality control is maintained.

“We have a strict policy now that the kit has to be checked by an outside expert before going into production.”

 

 

Sometimes though the genesis of a new kit does not come from Ken, but from his customers.

“The kit selection process works a bit like this: First, our modeler customers whom we encourage to deluge us with suggestions for new kits.  Second, our overseas distributors.  Third, our kit maker's opinions.  And last, the opinions of my wife and a good friend of mine.  Then me.”

 



While his earlier kits were Italian subjects, PCM has since moved to wider mainstream subjects like the TA 152, Spitfire IX and XVI and now the Hurricane 1. Is the move away from Italian subjects a sign of their
future plans re the models produced, or driven by commercial considerations?

“We did most of the commercially viable Italian aircraft, so the future is about aircraft from other countries.”

While he welcomes customer ideas for new subjects, Ken says obscure aircraft types are not on the agenda.

“Using a sports analogy, every time we move the ball down the field, we have to score.  We cannot afford a commercial failure.  So we are not going to make a Fiat CR.42 or even a G.50 even though I like the CR.42. 

“We have to select subjects which have the highest appeal to the broadest range of modelers such as the Spitfires, Ta-152H-1 and  the Hurricane.   It is our first rule of kit selection.   We have some aircraft on our list which fit this criteria and as I said, we pay close attention to what our customers suggest.

Perhaps surprisingly Ken is not fazed by the recent release of Tamiya’s world beating 1/32 Spitfire Mk IX kit. He is not especially alarmed by other companies appearing to follow his lead in subject choice.

“It is reasonable to assume that other companies might make some of the same kits we have chosen to make.  It seems that the Tamiya Spitfire is substantially more money than our kit, so there will be a market for our kit among people who wish to spend $60 instead of $115-150.  We don't worry about what other companies are doing, but try to concentrate on how we can make more and better kits offering good value to the modeler.”

What bothers him more are the self-appointed “experts” who use websites to speculate on and criticize new models based on sprue photos or test shots. For this reason he guards the identities of his consultants.

“In my opinion, there has been way too much speculation and vicious criticism from certain parts of the modeling community lately. I don't want any of the people who work with me to be targeted by this crowd.

When the Hurricane kit was announced, it was quickly met by unfounded speculation on some hobby web forums that the kit might be based on an older 1/48th scale fabric wing Hurricane, also moulded in the Czech Republic, which according to some reportedly had “nose issues”.

“Why do people do that? They make no effort to get the facts but just spread rumours and speculation.”

Ken contacted Sword for a definitive statement on the kit’s design origins.

“Sword has confirmed that the 1/32 scale Hurricane is a completely new tool and not in any way based on any other kit by any other manufacturer. Our position is that when we make a kit, we want it to be as accurate a possible. We certainly don't want to repeat someone else's mistakes.”

Ken’s demand for detail is also driven by his own hobby pursuits. What might surprise aircraft modelers is that the man behind Pacific Coast Models aircraft line is an armour modeler by choice.

“WWII German and Russian and Modern IDF are my interests.  I am working on a Tiger I mid-production, a U.S. LAV mortar carrier and have just begun on the new Tasca 1:24 Panzer II, Ausf. F.” he said.

The American headquarters of Pacific Coast Models share space with Ken’s auto parts business. It’s hardly the place modelers might have imagined as the source of a new tool, large scale Hurricane kit.

 

 

So, are smaller entrepreneurs the future of the hobby?

“In business, the size of the company does matter, but the attitude and market plan are important also. Our long term ambitions are simply survival, prosperity and growth,” he says.



Model, Text Copyright 2009 by Dave Wilson
Page Created 8 December, 2009
Last Updated 9 December, 2009

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