Before everyone heads off to enjoy their Memorial Day Weekend, I just wanted to touch base one more time regarding the revamped Forces of Valor range, discussing their differing philosophies both then and now and how it once again needs to be explained in detail to keep everyone informed. Back in 2002, when Unimax first burst onto the scene with their initial line up of Forces of Valor vehicles, we were instrumental in helping put them on the hobby map, advertising the line heavily in certain magazines and talking up the range as best we could so that they could gain traction as quickly as possible. In fact, I fondly remember meeting with the principals at Panache Place — then the distributor for the Forces of Valor range — when the line first debuted at Toy Fair here in New York City. I remember walking into their private offices with my partner, throwing down my winter coat on an unoccupied chair and telling them that they had an out-an-out winner on their hands even if they themselves didn’t know it as yet.
Over the course of the next decade or so, Unimax, the maker of the Forces of Valor products, contracted with a number of factories in China to produce the range, which initially came in two flavors; one designed for the mass market audience and was readily available at several Big Box stores including Toys ‘R US and Target, and a second, nearly identical range designed for the purist at heart. When the “action” range, as it was called, was passed over by the mass merchandisers, Unimax was faced with a dilemma; end the line or continue to produce it in far fewer numbers so that it was still financially feasible to make. They chose the latter course of action, looking to appease the collector even in the face of rising labor costs and oftentimes being shunted from one factory to the next who were looking to make widgets in the tens of thousands rather than a few hundred Tiger tanks at a time. As costs rose, the manufacturer slowly diluted the product to keep it affordable, stripping away much of each vehicle’s metal content, removing various accessories and even thinning out the cardboard carton each vehicle came in to make it as light as possible. Despite all these cost-cutting moves, however, the line began to languish and the owner, who was now closing in on 70 years of age, decided it was time to call it a day and pursue other interests he had long been delaying.
Fast forward several years to the present day, with Waltersons, the new caretakers of the line, now in control. Waltersons was keenly aware of the problems faced by Unimax at the end of their tenure and was determined not to repeat these mistakes. For starters, all manufacturing was brought in-house so they could better control the quality of each item as well as lower their production costs. Second, they reviewed all of the existing molds, looking to improve each inside and out and bring them up to today’s standards. This process has taken a bit longer than was originally forecast, but as you can now see, their toils have been well worth the effort.
The problem, as I see it though, is that many collectors, familiar with the original line, are still expecting to hold the current manufacturer up to the same rigorous production schedule and lowered standards that satisfied their earlier appetite, something Waltersons is not prepared to do. Waltersons’ aim is to produce the very best replica possible, even if means keeping the collector at arm’s length for extended periods of time and dealing with grumbling collectors who sometimes don’t know when to leave things be. I just want to remind everyone that at the end of the day, these are still toys; they aren’t loaves of bread feeding the impoverished masses or medication designed to keep the ill alive. So, when you place your orders for items that may not be available for some time, please bear this in mind and try to remain as patient as possible. Complaining that such-and-such item still isn’t available does no one any good. If its that important to you, build a model or have someone make it for you. You may find that by doing so, you’ll recognize how tough it is to make a realistic model at an affordable price while facing the vagaries of international trade and social media abuse. Its tough to make it in today’s world and sometimes we need to be nudged and reminded of this fact even if we don’t like to hear it.
Stay safe and have a great weekend!