Airfix model maker goes into administration

 

Airfix, provider of plastic aircraft kits to generations of schoolboys, has been grounded by a combination of debt and supply chain failure.

Its parent, Humbrol, is understood to have debts of more than twice the annual turnover of £10 million (€14.86 million) and yesterday announced that it had gone into administration.

To many, Airfix is a quintessentially English brand, but the company was founded in 1948 by Nicholas Kove, a Hungarian businessman, after he was asked to supply Harry Ferguson with a promotional model for the new Ferguson tractor.

Long before the threat of glue-sniffing, the smell of polystyrene cement permeated the homes of millions of boys struggling with the difficult parts.

For the English postwar generation, the model Spitfire commanded the air in many bedrooms, becoming the biggest-selling plastic kit.

Airfix has certainly had a quintessentially English industrial history, including both a previous bankruptcy and a three-month staff sit-in in 1979. In 1986 it was bought by Humbrol, a UK maker of the paints used on the completed models.

A complex series of deals left Humbrol as owner of the Airfix brand and distribution rights while Heller, a French company, held all the moulds and manufactured the kits. Heller itself went into redressement judiciare, the French equivalent of administration, on July 21st.

With the supply of parts cut off, the Airfix business became untenable.

Humbrol's total sales over the past five years have fallen from about £16 million to £10 million a year and losses have been mounting.

Keith Hinds, one of the company's administrators at Grant Thornton, said it was unlikely that Airfix would find a buyer but that the brand had some value.

Toy and hobby enthusiasts admit the market for kits has declined in the age of computer games but other makers such as Tamiya and Hasegawa of Japan and Revell of the US are continuing to find buyers.

Revell recently started remaking some of its kits from the 1950s and 1960s, complete with original artwork on the boxes, to cater for the nostalgia demand fuelled by eBay sales of untouched Christmas presents discovered in lofts.