TONKIN REPLICAS EARLY YEARS 2000-2005 PART TWO
TONKIN REPLICAS EARLY YEARS 2000-2005
Part Two in a Series by Jack Tonkin
I sold Tonkin, Inc. and retired in July 1998 in order to care for my wife who was suffering from Alzheimer’s. After several years I decided to work from home producing scale models for North American Fleets. Because I had some experience in manufacturing scale models and through past sub-licensing of other scale model makers, I had a good grasp of how that industry worked, what the models were and the markets that were buying scale models. I felt none of the model makers were pushing the envelope enough when it came to features and details with their models. This was understandable as most makers wanted to hold pricing to attract the retail markets or simply to market their models with detailing “good enough” for their buyers. From my years of dealing with the OEM’s, their dealer base, fleets and owner operators, my sense was their tastes for higher quality models was not being addressed by the current crop of models offered so I set out to build a scale model that would replicate the exact same or real features the OEM’s were building into their tractor and trailers.
I knew this endeavor would not be easy for several reasons. First, the assembly of so many parts would create manufacturing problems that would slow production and add more rejects than the Chinese factories were accustom to. Second, the tooling costs for each model would be far more expensive than the average model costs which would result in higher costs per model and third, the buyer unit costs would be higher than the existing market was paying due to the detailing, assembly part count and tooling. Nonetheless, my goal was to raise the bar on quality and prove the market would accept a better replica even at the added costing. Moving forward with a concept of building the most expensive product after I retired was a much easier decision compared to my younger years of trying to build a company as few risks as possible. I was just as motivated to see if I could accomplish the job as I was to see if the market agreed with the result.
It was very gratifying for me to be well received by the customers I had served for so many years. Kenworth, Peterbilt, Volvo and Freightliner extended licensing and the fleets welcomed the concept so we turned our efforts to see if our Chinese friends could deliver. Our first models off the line were okay but not close to what I wanted but the fleets started to buy them so we started a process of improving the tooling and production issues with each order.
In fairly short order I recognized I needed to some help to pull this off. Erik Anderson was general manager of a marketing company I knew so I approached him with an offer to share my home office, free lunches and an occasional after work glass of wine with a possible dinner bonus. By that time my wife’s disease had progressed to needing full care in a nursing facility so I was able to travel with Erik to China and visit the US fleets. Erik spoke fluent Mandarin Chinese which was an advantage with the Chinese factories and after hiring some quality control people in China and staffing more people here, we were making good progress meeting our goals. I was back in the game working in the industry I loved….trucking.
Next issue: Handing off the torch.