Flite Craft Model Co., a family-owned business, started with one man’s passion for a hobby that turned into Kitchener’s No. 1 store for model airplanes and remote- control cars, boats and helicopters.
Owner Steve Gray, 60, has been enjoying model making his whole life.
“When I was young, it was actually in Scouts. I built a hand launch glider which was nothing more than an airplane you tossed into the air by yourself. My uncle helped me build it and that was how I started,” Gray said.
Through his teenage years he discovered that there was a need for parts locally as friends complained that the nearest store was an hour away. This paved the way for a business opportunity that he jumped at – he turned his basement into Kitchener’s first model airplane part store.
“I had parts delivered to my basement and to the post office sometimes. I would also go out and buy the items needed then sell them out of my basement on weekends and evenings,” Gray said.
After five years of running the business there he moved it to its current location at 1595 Victoria St., Kitchener, in November 1985. The store has been serving the region for over 30 years.
“The first year at our new location was tended to by my sister while I had a real job. I’d work here on weekends until it got busy enough so I could work full time,” Gray said.
Business was booming and interest in the hobby stayed pretty consistent until the mid ’90s when remote control cars came on to the scene. Then the hobby surged in popularity.
During the winter it gets quiet at Flite Craft Model Co. as the hobby is seasonal.
“The main season for model racing and flying is during the summer. Some people do put skis on their planes and play around in the winter months but most people just stay in their basements and upgrade their plane for next year,” Gray said.
The hobby has a very dedicated fan base. Although not as big as cycling or any type of car racing, there are still some huge races held across the country and internationally.
“There is a racetrack near Hamilton called Hardcore Speedway. They have the biggest turnout and the biggest races but it’s not considered a national event, in fact, there are no national races held in Canada.
“In the United States there are nationals that are held in different places each year. World championships are held across the world for all models and all different styles of competition like racing and aerobatics,” Gray said.
Gray’s son, Bob, has been very successful in the competitive side of model racing. He finished second in the world in aerobatics helicopter flying. He is sponsored and makes money flying model helicopters while also travelling the world doing demonstrations. Anyone in the model helicopter or competitive helicopter model racing knows his name.
Steve has also travelled the world for these events, participating in Japan, Turkey and England. In addition to competing in the events he also has taken his business on the road.
“I have sold at some conventions. There was a hobby show at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium that I sold at for five years. I have attended one in Toronto and even in Vancouver, but it was a lot of expense for little reward. We’re more of a local shop so we don’t reach out that far anymore,” he said.
Steve offered advice on how to get into the hobby.
“It’s relative to how far you want to go and how much you want to spend. You should start out with a beginner’s car or beginner’s plane and you should also take into consideration if you want to fly or drive indoors or outdoors. There really is something for everyone on where you want to start,” he said.
The planes strung up throughout the store are not just for decorative purposes, they are actually made by customers and Gray is helping sell them. Two of the most expensive items ever sold at the store were a plane for $6,200 and a turbine F15 jet for $10,000.
The hot item right now is a small squad helicopter.
“Most people have heard of these small squad helicopter. They’re not too expensive and you can fly them in the house or outdoors. Some even have cameras on them. They start at just $50. They are really popular right now and attracting new people to the hobby,” Steve said.