Monday, May 14, 2007

How not to do business

The amateur or "ham" radio world is filled with an interesting cast of characters, to say the least. It's no surprise then that the companies who sell amateur radio equipment are themselves somewhat odd, which makes doing business with them often a challenge.

As with all companies, the leadership and more specifically the founders lay the foundation on which the company will build itself. Because amateur radio is not mainstream technology (although it often serves as a model for later commercial developments) there is little commercial development and so most companies are started by radio amateurs who have a unique idea and want to sell it. However, being a technical genius and knowing how to build a company are two separate things.

When I worked in sales we had various customer profiles each with a corresponding strategy. This is much like the way Best Buy profiles their customers. Nearly every amateur radio company I've ever encountered (with the exception of the main radio manufacturers; Kenwood, Yausu, Icom, etc) would have fallen into the category named "Fred In The Shed". "Freds" as we termed them were technically gifted but often financially inept. They run their businesses as an extension of their hobbies, and either don't bother to develop a corporate "face" or in many cases deliberately eschew the entire concept. Websites are poorly done, manuals horribly written, eCommerce infrastructure is weak, etc. In short; Fred is more concerned about being smart than being successful.

Fred also tends to run a very lean operations, and while he might offer a lot of different products he doesn't stock inventory. It's this more than anything that annoys the living daylights out of me. I can honestly say that every single item I've ever ordered from an amateur radio equipment company has been backordered. Fred and his folks don't tell you this up front, because then every item on their entire website would have to say "Backordered". What they do is take your order, then later (if you're lucky) they tell you it's backordered. What this really means is that they're hoping to gather enough orders to justify an order to their assembly house, presuming that their assembly house isn't the kitchen table at Fred's house. It's one thing to do this if you're up front with your customers, but the duplicitous bait & switch thing really annoys me.

Complaints about Fred's lack of alacrity have always fallen on deaf ears. Fred isn't concerned about losing my business because there just aren't a whole lot of people out there who are building what he's selling. In his mind I'm already a bozo because I'm not building the whatever-it-is myself.

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