Hornby reports 'significant growth' as its models remain popular

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The Independent Online

It is funny how people crow about their latest PlayStation or Nintendo Wii. But bragging rights seldom attach to owning the latest Hornby train set, Scalextric racing car or Airfix model kit.

Yet their popularity remains as enduring as ever to the young and old.

They are all made by Hornby, the £74m hobby group, which continues to satisfy a nation's need to rediscover the toys and games of childhood.

The company reported "significant growth" in the run up to Christmas while the current order book remains strong.

Although its products may be traditional, the company keeps up with technological advances and its train sets and cars have all been upgraded into the digital age. So now a Scalextric system includes an electronic chip which enables more cars to be raced around the circuit at greater speeds.

The Margate-based company saw a 30 per cent increase in Scalextric cars after a tie up with the McLaren Formula 1 team enabling it to make replica cars and feature the image of star driver Lewis Hamilton.

"He has had an amazing impact on Formula 1, lifting the profile of the sport and also increasing our sales," said the chief executive, Frank Martin. The model maker has also won the rights to produce a Scalextric version of James Bond's silver Aston Martin DBS which will feature in the next Bond movie, Quantum of Solace, due in the autumn.

The company suffered a slight shunt when production difficulties meant it failed to meet demand in Europe for its model trains losing £1m of sales. "In Europe you are trying to cater for all different kinds of locomotives, colour schemes and logos," said Mr Martin.

Hornby, which acquired the Airfix brand, best known for its Second World War aircraft, in 2006, plans models based on the TV series Doctor Who. Mr Martin says three-quarters of sales of Airfix are to "adult hobbyists aged between 30 and 60 and from all walks of life". But he hopes to start selling more to children.

The spill in Europe prompted analysts to trim 2007 profit forecasts slightly to about £9.5m on sales of £58 million. The shares rose 5p to 202.5p.

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