With families stuck at home, slot car company Carrera sees sales shift into high gear

Even as the COVID-19 pandemic has seen many businesses suffer devastating consequences, some others have seen a rush of customers — particularly those that provide old-school entertainment options during stay-at-home social distancing measures.

Frank Tiessen.

One of those businesses is Carrera of America, the 55-year-old U.S. unit of the European slot car and remote control car company.

Carrera, based in East Brunswick, said sales in March rose more than 52% compared with the prior-year period, as shoppers turned to traditional, non-digital entertainment options.

“We were certainly surprised by the sudden rush in February and March,” President Frank Tiessen told ROI-NJ. “What is normally a bit of a slow season for the toy industry became suddenly very busy. The sudden rush was definitely caused by the stay-at-home orders. People were looking for fun and engaging activities at home that can be enjoyed by the whole family.”

Carrera, which has seven employees in New Jersey and another in a California sales office, offers more than 500 different car-racing toy and hobby products, ranging from complete race track sets to RC cars and accessories, and has licenses including Nintendo and Disney characters and more.

The company was able to handle the rush, Tiessen said, despite COVID-related restrictions affecting manufacturing and warehouse operations.

“Our manufacturing capabilities are definitely up to par to meet the demand,” he said. “Besides that, we will do what we have done for the last few decades, which is driving innovation and integrating new play patterns and licenses into our range of products.”

Some of Carrera of America’s licensed products, including “Cars” and Mario Kart racing sets.

Tiessen pointed out that the green flag for sales was an extension of a recent uptick in sales.

“Carrera of America has seen an increasing interest in our slot racing and RC products in the recent years,” Tiessen said. “Due to that, and placement of the products at a variety of retailers from specialty toy stores, hobby stores, over big box retail to various internet platforms, our turnover showed steady and significant increases over the last few years.”

And, while the hobby has lost some of the momentum of its heyday in the 1960s and 1970s, Tiessen said, the pandemic is clearly bringing in a new generation of fans. And he’s a believer that, once they experience the fun of racing, they’ll only want more.

“We were able to get a lot of new and old fans to experience the fun of slot car racing in the past few weeks and months,” he said. “They will certainly not give it up, but rather will try to expand their racetracks with new cars and accessories. …

“We heard from so many people that discovered and rediscovered slot car racing, and how many hours of fun they had with it, how it brought people together and that it’s really something that the whole family can do together.”

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