Ham kits business models

Recent posts on this blog mentioning the Chinese DIY scene and the explosion of offerings have prompted a very interesting exchange of views and reflections on how best to nurture this business and make it accessible to the global ham market.

Most recently Sivan Toledo has posted thoughtful comments drawing possible inspiration for the emergent Chinese DIY industry from successful amateur kit operations like Tony Parks’ Softrock. And the secret appears to be finding the right balance between the great product and crowdsourcing the support and handholding that is as much part of the product and building experience as the device itself.

Elecraft clearly enjoy the best in solid detailed step-by-step documentation (reminiscent of Heathkit) and they have the added advantage of an amazing online community dedicated to solving any problems, assisted by the designers and principals of the company. Part of the success of their online presence is a well moderated space and volunteer heroes like Don Wilhelm W3FPR who don’t appear to need sleep!

Doug Hendricks’ QRP Kits shows you can fill a niche and still keep your day job. While many of Doug’s star attractions are designed by Steve Weber KD1JV, Steve has his own website which I visit frequently to see whether a new batch of ATS-4 Miniature 5 band CW / digital mode HF transceivers are available or not, knowing they’ll probably sell out in a matter of hours. Users of this and its predecessors rave about them. Steve WG0AT took an ATS3 on his latest adventure with Rooster and Peanut.

Dave Benson, K1SWL’s Small Wonder Labs also offers quality kits at really good prices and a very efficient service. (My SW-40+ arrived in Sydney in record time.) Hunt around his site for a minute and you’ll discover how how the SWLabs fit into his lifestyle on 4+ acres near Newport “(we get a lot of winter here)” NH.

K1SWL’s approach to support includes email – “If you run into trouble during alignment and test, I’ll guide you through the troubleshoot process as far as we can get by e-mail. If that doesn’t do the trick, my repair person offers prompt and reasonably-priced service- he’ll troubleshoot and repair the unit and let you know what he found.” And you have a fair sense of what Dave means by ‘reasonable’.

It’s not unlike the successful formula for a restaurant or café – to offer the number of dishes it can do consistently well rather than attempt to cater to everyone’s tastes.

Tony Parks KB9YIG seems to have achieved production numbers of SoftRock kits that would appeal to any business backer, even if they are only made available in batches of 20 or so depending on availability of components and time. The very reasonable prices charged – including international shipping – play a part in this success by attracting a broad base of committed supporters keen to share experiences and grow the platform and everyone’s skills.

And today I noticed Julian G4ILO wrote about a range of kits from Fox Delta Amateur Radio Projects and Kits in India. They have the advantage over Chinese offerings of the English language and they accept PayPal. The range of kits on offer is impressive. Julian had ordered a APRS Tracker Module.

And of course Australia has its own GenesisRadio with its amazing line of SDR Kits such as the G59.

What an amazingly exciting time to be involved in ham radio!

Speaking of global reach, a prominent link currently on eHam.net has helped boost traffic to this site as well! (Welcome to all new visitors to the blog! I hope you find something interesting here.)

Stephen Rapley, VK2RH, is a regular contributor to AmateurRadio.com and writes from New South Wales, Australia. Contact him at [email protected].

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