Hess truck will be back but only online after this year

The toy's 50th anniversary also marks the last year of in-store availability.
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Sign outside Hess store.

“The Hess truck’s back, and it’s better than ever …”
–Commercial jingle

I had never heard of Hess toy trucks until I moved to Pennsylvania in 1991. That holiday season, my business writer colleague at the York Daily Record, Peter Krouse, wrote about the trucks.

I’ve watched for their annual rollout each year hence, and I’ve been buying one for my son since he was born in 2001. That year featured a helicopter (with two battery-powered rotors) that contained a land cruiser and a motorcycle.

Of course, I bought this year’s version, a flatbed truck that doubles as a transporter and launch pad for the space cruiser that accompanies it. The lights and sound effects are what Hess truck fans have come to expect, but this year is a little different for a couple of reasons.

First, it’s the 50th anniversary of the trucks, which Leon Hess, founder of Hess Oil, first broached with a toy-maker friend during a football game in the early 1960s. (Hess was an owner of the New York Jets.)

Second, and more significant, this is the final year that consumers will be able to purchase a Hess truck at a Hess gas station/convenience store. Starting next year, the trucks only will be available online.

Nearly 10 percent of holiday toy truck market

That’s because Hess-branded stations are going away. They will be rebranded as Speedway stores as a result of a $2.87 billion sale to Marathon Petroleum announced earlier this year.

Leon Hess conceived of the trucks as a thank you to loyal customers, according to the company. The first truck in 1964 cost $1.29 – or a little less than $10 in 2014 dollars. By comparison, this year’s truck is $29.99.

The trucks are lucrative – capturing nearly 10 percent of the annual holiday toy truck market – and huge part of the Hess brand.

The “Hess Bridge to the Future” float has been a part of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade since 2000. On Thanksgiving weekend this year, the Hess Mobile Museum rolled into Hershey on Sunday, specifically the parking lot of the Antique Automobile Club of America Museum.

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The mobile museum made a seven-week tour of the East Coast, with a stop in Hershey.

While my wife, son and I waited in line to board the museum, we struck up a conversation with a man from the Scranton area. His wife was in another line, queuing for a chance to spin a wheel and maybe win a miniature Hess truck.

One to collect, one to use

Although the couple planned to spend a couple of nights in town, it was the Hess museum that brought them, the man said. I lamented that we hadn’t kept the Hess truck boxes (we never saw them as investment opportunities), complicating storage. The man said that was why they buy two trucks each year: one to use and one to collect.

In fact, that’s typically what collectors do, according to Hess. Collectors apparently also value the plastic bags that the trucks come in when purchased at a gas station. In a frequently-asked-questions section of its website, Hess explains that the bags won’t be produced starting in 2015.

Ever since I read Pete’s story in 2001, I’ve looked forward to the unveiling of each year’s truck (each model takes several years to design and produce). I like the way Hess stores gear up for the truck sales, the boxes already in bags, and how a separate pack of name-brand batteries always is included.

For the most part, I prefer the online shopping experience, if only for the sheer volume of options. But with the Hess trucks, there’s only one choice each November.

And with the ubiquity of Hess stores, it was never a bother to stop in and pick up one. Oddly, the prospect of having to purchase one online seems like more of a hassle.

Either way, it’s a habit I won’t break. Next November, the Hess truck will be back, presumably better than ever.

 

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