RCGroups Interview with Horizon Hobby President Chris Dickerson

Jim T. Graham had the pleasure of interviewing the new president of Horizon Hobby, Chris Dickerson. We discuss the current and future plans for one of the world's largest RC companies and go over RC Fest 2019.

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Horizon Hobby Interview - RC Fest, Horizon Hobby and the Future...

I was at the first Horizon Hobby RC Fest a few years ago. This was the creation of Joe Ambrose, the CEO of Horizon Hobby. With Joe's unexpected passing this year the leadership role was taken on by Chris Dickerson. I was excited to be able to sit down with Chris and Steve Petrotto (director of marketing for air and radios) and ask some questions about the direction of the company and about RC Fest.

  • Jim T. - You have stepped into a new role with Horizon Hobby. As president are there any changes you plan on making that we should be excited about?
  • Chris - We feel really good about our direction and have a good game plan. I'm excited and hope to get there faster. We have a lot of momentum moving into 2019. We spent a lot of last year integrating Hobbico. Now that is largely behind we feel good about bringing out new, innovative products and creating a great customer experience.

  • Jim T. - How does the integration of Hobbico allow you to broaden your footprint?
  • Chris - The big thing is the RealFlight simulator. Before we had the Phoenix simulator but we always thought RealFlight was a good product with a great history. Now we have the best of both worlds, we have a great simulator in RealFlight and we have our planes integrated into it. It's a great way to learn and get better as a pilot.

    Our footprint is not only widened by RealFlight but much more with brands like Arrma, Axial. Our ability to move the industry forward has dramatically increased. The acquisition has added new factories that allow us to scale what we do. We can be more efficient as one big company as opposed to two companies 5 miles apart from each other.

  • Jim T. - You have really worked your way up through the ranks of Horizon Hobby. How do you think all the different roles you have had over the years will influence your new role as the president of Horizon Hobby?
  • Chris - I started at Horizon 17 years ago and I have been around for a lot of the big moments in the industry. My background was in the IT group. Five years in I realized I was spending my time on software development and the other teams were getting to spend their time on cool innovative stuff. I wanted to do that instead. I started managing the surface and accessory group. I really got to experience the Horizon product development cycle. Outside of the warehouse and purchasing, I have pretty much worked in every department. I think it gives me a broader view of what we can do. I have worked with the salespeople, customers, marketing people like Steve and our product people. It gave me a well-rounded view of what we can do as a company.

  • Jim T. - I think it also sends a great message to the Horizon employees that you can work your way up in the company if you work hard.
  • Chris - That has always been an important part of Horizon. We are one of those places where if you are open to opportunity, willing to work hard, and help makes things better than there is more opportunity for you. Horizon is a great place.

  • Jim T. - You come from the surface world of RC. Has your new role enticed you to fly planes?
  • Chris - Prior to RC I loved anything with a motor in it. I love motorcycles and cars and this is a part of that lifestyle to me. Over the last year or so thanks to guys like Steve, David Payne and the rest of the team I have some of the best coaches in the world. I have been flying a lot more. My flight simulator time actually paid off for me. My parents live on a little lake and I have always wanted to fly a float plane off of it. Last fall I put a Timber together with floats and made that happen with help from the team. It was a blast! I love the Timber because it's forgiving but you can also have some fun with it.

    A jet to me is cool. I have flown the Viper quite a bit. It is so forgiving with SAFE in it that I feel comfortable but I'm still getting that adrenaline rush.

  • Jim T. - The SAFE technology to me makes the envelope really broad for your planes. I just got the Timber X and I think a beginner could fly that plane on a 3 cell but the great thing is that they could then have a full on 3D plane by just adding a 4 cell.
  • Chris - That is what is amazing. With a Horizon plane, you can start out with something really cool. Traditionally trainers were not cool but now you have some great options to start out with. I'm still using SAFE on the Vyper but it gives you confidence and gives you a plane you can grow in to.

  • Jim T. - What is your main goal for the RC Fest this year?
  • Chris - Our goal was to make people aware that this hobby exists. When you go to say a baseball game and you tell someone about RC they might not even know it exists. So awareness is one of the goals. Another goal is to get them on the sticks. It is one thing to see it, but when you try it yourself it's a whole other experience. We have a "try me" area with the Aeroscout. This is all about passion and when they get that controller in their hand they think, "This is cool!" Different things are exciting to different people.

  • Jim T. - Each year the Horizon RC Fest has something new. Is there anything this year we should know about?
  • Chris - We had the Ring of Fire this year. It is a 24-foot circle of propane-powered flame that people could fly through. We wanted to make this year's event more immersive and surround that with enthusiasts. We had a whole row of campers this year of people that spent the weekend with us. It's neat for the beginners to see what they can do and also give the enthusiasts an event they can participate in. So we have created a lot more time for them to fly.

    We had the Grave Digger monster truck. We had a rock crawling course. It's like a rally that people drive to.

  • Jim T. - Jason Cole pointed out that of all the RC events we go to this has biggest crowd of non-RC related people at it.
  • Chris - I'm hopeful that some of the people here today will get the passion for RC and be back next year flying and have that passion for RC. It's exciting.

  • Jim T. - What is the future vision of Horizon for 2019 and beyond?
  • Chris - We all get enough stuff in our life but what we need are great experiences. Our goal is to help create new experiences. We have something very special here that comes from our passion. It's easy to get caught up in stress and what's going on in the world. We always hear that kids just look at their screens but the kids at the RC Fest at looking up at the sky! If we can focus on that together as an RC community we have a pretty exciting future ahead of us.
  • Steve - RC Fest is an event that takes an army to put on. Many people have made a point to stop and tell me this has been an amazing event. They will say this is their first event or that they have been here in years past and had to come back. In the end, if we do our job right everyone will leave here with a smile on their face, passionate about aviation, RC and will hopefully get involved in the hobby at some point in the future. We are really proud of what we have been able to do as a company. If you have not been to RC Fest make sure and come see us next year!

Thanks to Chris, Steve, and Everyone at Horizon Hobby!

I want to thank Chris and Steve for taking time out of their day to talk to me and everyone on our sites. I want to thank Horizon Hobby for making great RC products that allow all of us to enjoy our hobby. I also want to acknowledge the great things they do to help propel the hobby into the future!

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Jun 27, 2019, 11:03 AM
A man with too many toys
I hope that they get all those "out of stock" and "temporarily unavailable" ARF's back in stock soon. The list does not seam to be getting shorter very quickly.



I get tired of being asked "when can I get a PT-19 like yours, they have been out of stock forever".
https://www.rcgroups.com/forums/show...e-46-GP-EP-ARF



.
Last edited by RC Man; Jun 27, 2019 at 11:08 AM.
Jun 27, 2019, 12:42 PM
Registered User
Would be great to hear the future plans for the Great Planes/Top Flite stuff.
Jun 28, 2019, 09:49 AM
Registered User
So why no questions we really want answered? Like are there going to be any kits? What will happen to Hobbico and Great Planes kits? Are they to stop selling glow motors, etc?

Basically the article told me that both Jim Graham and Chris Dickerson are out of touch with modelers who actually like to build or fly glow.
Last edited by Sport_Pilot; Jun 28, 2019 at 09:54 AM.
Jun 28, 2019, 02:33 PM
Registered User
speed2004's Avatar
Hmm, ELECTRIC Plane Talk- that is this forum, correct?
Jun 28, 2019, 11:18 PM
Registered User
Quote:
Originally Posted by speed2004
Hmm, ELECTRIC Plane Talk- that is this forum, correct?
Maybe but the article said nothing about that, and discussed gas powered. So it seems to be in the wrong forum. Besides there are kit built electric models.
Jun 29, 2019, 11:13 AM
Registered User
Got nothing other than "feel good" stuff..... No real answers given and No direction of the company other than "we have a great game plan"....
Jun 29, 2019, 01:06 PM
Damn that dog can fly.....
JPJI's Avatar
Lets hope Chris can do a better job that his predecessor. I used to be a big fan of Horizon Hobby, but completely stopped buying any of their products several years ago after some truly awful customer service - a personal letter to the CEO was even ignored.
I used to be happy to pay the sky high HH prices in the UK, because I incorrectly believed that I was paying extra for good customer service. How wrong I was.
I never did get my issues resolved.
Jul 01, 2019, 03:08 PM
Registered User
Quote:
Originally Posted by Sport_Pilot
So why no questions we really want answered? Like are there going to be any kits? What will happen to Hobbico and Great Planes kits? Are they to stop selling glow motors, etc?

Basically the article told me that both Jim Graham and Chris Dickerson are out of touch with modelers who actually like to build or fly glow.
I know what you are getting at, but the difference between electric and nitro planes is now pretty much nil except power plant. Perhaps a better differentiation is between "big" airplanes and small RTF/BNF airplanes. They seem to be pretty happy with that BNF market while the bigger ARF/kit market withers.
Jul 01, 2019, 03:28 PM
Registered User
Quote:
Originally Posted by rcsoar4fun
I know what you are getting at, but the difference between electric and nitro planes is now pretty much nil except power plant. Perhaps a better differentiation is between "big" airplanes and small RTF/BNF airplanes. They seem to be pretty happy with that BNF market while the bigger ARF/kit market withers.
What does that have to do with kits (not ARF) and glow engines?
Jul 01, 2019, 04:06 PM
A man with too many toys
Most of the ARF's that I have purchased in the past few years are EP/GP. I have built them both ways. I hope the continue with that policy.

As for kits I also like to build them. Most all the popular designs are available as short kits. I like that better than the old smashed wood die cut kits of the past. There are also new companies like CCK (Caroline Custom Kits) that make full kits. Since Horizon holds the copyrights to GP, TF and other brands they should contract out kits to some of the new startup companies. That would not cost them anything, make a profit, and make kit builders happy.

One thing that I have noticed is that it's quite a bit cheaper to buy a wood ARF than build and cover a kit. I sure wish that they would make wood ARF versions of the popular GP designs like the Super Sporster series. The kit prices for those have goon through the roof on ebay. It's obvious there is big demand for those airplanes.

That's exactly what SIG did, they have both kits and ATF's of their popular design. Turned out to be a very wise business decision. I have noticed that they sell so fast that Tower has a hard time keeping them in stock. Last time I had to buy direct from SIG.


.
Jul 01, 2019, 05:44 PM
Registered User
Or, you could "manufacture" your own kit. Use one of the cheap or free CAD programs to design the wing and send the wing rib files off to a laser cutter like National Balsa. Most sport aircraft use slab sides, which can be cut out in an evening. Sheet or stick built empennage is quite easy. Before you know it, you have a kit ready to assemble.

I've assembled a couple of wooden ARFs, and it almost took the same amount of time as if I'd built a kit. The workmanship, parts, and materials were only "good" at best, and I'm being generous. Besides, with a kit, you can more easily access the innards and make accomodation for your gear and accessories while the airframe is still "in the bones".

Doug
Jul 01, 2019, 10:21 PM
Registered User
The content lite fluffy interview just about typifies the general attitude towards customers here in the UK. With activities moved to Germany we have no easy reliable route to solving product problems or getting good customer service.
Horizon seem to run their operation for their own convenience rather than the paying customer.

I should add I do like their products regardless.
Last edited by Jcflippen; Jul 03, 2019 at 11:38 AM. Reason: added info
Jul 02, 2019, 02:35 PM
Registered User
An interesting interview. I am a fan of HH but I think one thing that is lacking is a more comprehensive electric glider line of models, including a full house affordable ship. A digression outside foamies in electric gliders would be great too !

Cheers

Joao
Jul 03, 2019, 09:10 AM
Registered User
rpstar's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by DougSter47
Or, you could "manufacture" your own kit. Use one of the cheap or free CAD programs to design the wing and send the wing rib files off to a laser cutter like National Balsa. Most sport aircraft use slab sides, which can be cut out in an evening. Sheet or stick built empennage is quite easy. Before you know it, you have a kit ready to assemble.

I've assembled a couple of wooden ARFs, and it almost took the same amount of time as if I'd built a kit. The workmanship, parts, and materials were only "good" at best, and I'm being generous. Besides, with a kit, you can more easily access the innards and make accomodation for your gear and accessories while the airframe is still "in the
Doug
I agree. With the preponderance of 3d printers, laser cutters, and excellent free cad tools and also many excellent free and paid plans you have no excuse for not being able to model what you want. Yeah, a pre-cut kit is handy but profit margins are probably so low that it makes little sense to produce them. I personally am into 3d-printed planes at the moment but hybrid 3d printed/balsa makes most sense so I'll probably also get myself a little laster cutter or at least cnc for that at some point.


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