----- Original Message -----
From: "WA2BPE" <email@example.com>
To: "Pete Smith" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Cc: "Alan C. Zack" <email@example.com>; <Towertalk@contesting.com>; "Bruce
Osterberg" <firstname.lastname@example.org>; <email@example.com>
Sent: Sunday, January 09, 2005 11:09 AM
Subject: Re: [TowerTalk] Force 12?
> This is indeed a disconcerting topic. I am due to replace my aging KT34A
(original mfgr) and the list of candidates is shrinking. Surely F12 should
realize that "..there's trouble in
> River City..." and that bad PR can bury them regardless of product
performance. Surely they understand $$$ - or do they?
> Tom - wa2bpe
Having worked for small manufacturing companies in the past, perhaps I can
shed some light, although not any on Force 12 in particular.
Many companies that sell to the ham market are selling in very small volumes
and are fairly small operations to begin with. And, the antennas might be a
sideline to a primary (but not very big) business. (Just how many antennas
of one particular model do you think a company like Force 12 sells in a
year? A dozen, perhaps?... There may be half a million licensed hams, but
very few of them buy an antenna in any particular year (especially since
they tend to last forever.. otherwise why would you get questions about
refurbishing 15 or 30 year old antennas on this list).
I worked for a company that sold, among other things, specialized fans used
primarily in the motion picture production business that cost many hundreds
of dollars. Our manufacturing department consisted of ONE person, who made
ALL the fans we sold (some dozens in a big month, typically), as well as all
of the other 3 or 4 products. Sure, if he went on vacation, the owner could
go back and try and assemble fans, but, in general, you'd be better off
waiting for him to get back. Our service department was the same person,
plus one other person, who also did deliveries, but could do basic repairs
(replace a knob that had fallen off, etc.). If we had a big manufacturing
order for another product, your fan order might sit for quite a while before
we could fill it from the factory. This is one reason why we counted on our
distributors to hold some stock, and we really, really discouraged factory
sales (to the extent that it was *always* cheaper to buy from a distributor
or retailer than the factory).
For another example, from a small high-tech company that did work mostly on
government contracts, and hence, whose cost structure, timekeeping, etc.,
was all designed for excruciating detail to pass DCAA audits. Over many
years, at times, they had a "product" of sorts that they would sell in
limited quantities (say, a few units over the period of 12-18 months), and
then we'd go onto other jobs. We weren't really a retail company, although
the owners might periodically think about it. If you were to call for help
or support on that product 5 years later, several issues would come up:
1) the person who designed that product might no longer work there, and in
any event, there's no staff assigned to support the old product.
2) the documentation might be in a box somewhere in storage, and not
particularly well organized for retrieval.
3) there is no budget for support (aka "and what charge number to I put on
my time card for this work?"). If someone had a question that could be
answered in (literally) a few minutes, it's not a problem, but if any sort
of files needed to be retrieved, faxes sent, photocopies made, etc., you'd
have to find something to charge the work to, and in a small company, there
may not be any sort of "marketing" account that you could legitmately charge
Heck, this situation arises where I work now, at JPL, when someone calls up
asking for some information on some spare parts used in some subassembly, in
some assembly, in some subsystem, for a spacecraft that was launched 15
years ago. I might have "inherited" the documentation, but I may never have
actually seen it, since it's in some document storage warehouse miles away.
I'd certainly have no idea which individual file box to retrieve of the 200
that the information might be in.
Finally, there's just the reality that in a small company, there may not be
much margin for error or unexpected events. They may have more work to do
than there is time to do it in, and may not be very good at triage. If
you've got a $50K delivery that has to go out in a month, you're behind
schedule, and there's a hefty penalty clause, you might be totally focussed
on that order, to the exclusion of other things. Often, what gets short
shrift is marketing (why a lot of small companies go out of business...
they're so busy working on today's business that they don't have time to go
get tomorrow's), but responding to enquiries and product support on old
products can also get buried in the "to do" pile. You also tend to
concentrate on your bigger customers. The ham who spent $1K a couple years
back on you isn't a very big fraction of today's business.
The cyclical nature of business takes its toll, particularly in small
companies. When there's lots of business, there's too little time available
to respond, because you're up to your rear in reptiles. When there's no
business, there's no budget or people left to answer questions, because the
remaining two or three are desparately scrounging to keep the business alive
(or have gotten a full-time job, so they can eat and have a roof over their
In some ways, the ham market is sort of cursed. It's a small market,
overall, and not a particularly spendy one.(yes, hams are cheap.) There's a
lot of products out there, really good products, that came about because
someone built one for themself, found it worked well, and was convinced to
sell it to others, but the volume isn't enough, or consistent enough, to
really make a living at it. These are the folks with 2, 3, or 6 employees,
or even, the guy and his wife at the kitchen table, but basically a "labor
of love". Then, there are huge companies (like Kenwood, Yaesu, etc.) that
have enough "other" business to make the ham side finanically insigificant.
There are very few "in the middle" sorts of companies (say, able to hire
50-100 people) where they're big enough to ride through bumps and waves of
business, and have enough "slop" in the budget to accomodate casual
See: http://www.mscomputer.com for "Self Supporting Towers", "Wireless Weather
Stations", and lot's more. Call Toll Free, 1-800-333-9041 with any questions
and ask for Sherman, W2FLA.
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