Handi-Calc goes out of business after eight years!

This announcement has caused quite a surprise among my many customers, and I feel that it is worthwhile, as well as cathartic, to share what has led up to this decision. It is only a little bit due to the changing circumstances in my life (which includes a recent divorce); it is mostly due to the changes in the business environment caused by Hewlett-Packard itself. I once felt a sense of pride in being associated with HP, but the events of the past year or so have changed the feelings to embarrassment, annoyance, and even bitterness. Hewlett-Packard is not supporting the manufacturer-reseller relationship at all, and in fact seems to be actively antagonistic to it, and in addition it is doing as little as it possibly can to support the manufacturer-customer relationship. Let me explain.

As you all know, HP started retailing its calculators about a year ago on their Shopping Village. They chose to heavily discount their retail prices, instead of selling the calculators at the Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (God forbid they should price them as they suggest!). Clearly this was not an effort to supplement the reseller community by providing a source for those customers who could not locate a conveniently located reseller; it was an effort to compete directly with the resellers. (You can guess who has the resources to win that competition.) HP has been quoted as saying that they wanted to sell the calculators at a fair price, but the fact is that most of their prices are below what retailers can realistically afford to sell the products for. This has caused a dramatic drop-off in business for retailers such as myself; this drop-off coincided exactly with the opening of the Shopping Village. The only time I can make decent sales these days is when a new model comes out. I have a history of having new models in stock before any other retailer, as was demonstrated last year with the HP6S Solar, the HP6S, and the HP49G. Sales on these models were very good up until they became available at HP's Shopping Village, at which point the sales dropped precipitously to insignificant levels, far lower than my historical average.

As the year wore on, I listened to more and more customers complain that they couldn't get to talk to a real person at HP about their calculators. They kept getting bounced around from one menu to another, the process almost never leading to a real human being. A few people reported that they actually did get to talk to a real person, but invariably that person hadn't a clue about the calculator product line, and the customers were left feeling very frustrated and angry with HP.

A little later in the year, I received a call from an individual named Sean at Calculating Edge, indicating that there had been a question (about whether I serviced calculators) in a conversation he had with a lady at HP's "KICS" facility. He explained that "KICS" stands for "Keep Incoming Calls Short." No kidding. For those of you who had acquired the impression that HP did not want to waste any of its precious time talking to you, their very own customers, here's your proof. It's a matter of intentional policy. (I spoke to the lady at the KICS facility, and told her that I don't do servicing. But that isn't the point here. Their call system, by its very name, indicates HP's desire to Keep Incoming Calls Short. That includes your calls, my friend.)

Yet later in the year, I tried to obtain from HP a battery cover for an HP28S, which was owned by a rather famous customer of mine who had co-developed the FFT algorithm. I called HP Parts, and the lady who handled my call gave me a 48-xxxxx part number. I explained to her that the HP28S had a completely different package design than the HP48, and the battery covers for these two models were definitely not interchangeable. She clearly had no knowledge about these models. She transferred me to another person who ostensibly handled discontinued models, and he rather gruffly told me that HP doesn't support that model any more. He even refused to obtain a part number for me. He said that I could probably get help at another number, and, as he was giving it to me, I realized that it was the Calculating Edge number. He confirmed that it was, and told me that I had no other choice. So, to continue to play this sad game, I called Calculating Edge, and my call was answered by someone identifying himself as Sean (sound familiar?). I didn't tell him who I was, and I'm sure he didn't recognize my voice. I asked him about obtaining a battery cover for the HP28S, and he immediately announced to me that the HP28S was the same thing as the HP48G, and that I could use the battery cover for the HP48G. Really, can you believe this? Needless to say, I was never able to get a battery cover, but the incredible thing is that not one person I spoke to in this whole episode had the foggiest notion of what the HP28S calculator was, and how it differed from the HP48G, and I am galled that HP could not be bothered to even provide me with a part number. Imagine the poor customer who doesn't know any better and calls them up for help, and believes what they tell him or her, orders the part, gets it and realizes that it is wrong, and then has the hassle of trying to return it for a refund, eventually realizing that the return shipping cost exceeds the value of the part. The HP experience for this person will be an enormous annoyance that will not be forgotten.

I had another customer call me who had become so very aggravated trying to get coherent information from HP related to her calculator, that she will never again purchase another HP product of any sort. She was so fed up by her experience with HP that she went out and bought an Epson printer for her PC rather than an HP printer, solely because of the hassle she went through with HP about her calculator. So, the way HP calculator customers are being treated are affecting sales of their other divisions, too. Not nice. I am not proud of HP at all any more.

In August, the HP49Gs came out. The product was not anywhere near being ready. It had bugs, of course, but the inexcusable problem is that significant advertised features did not work properly, even doing elementary things. I have never before sold an HP calculator that was refused and returned to me by a customer because it didn't work properly. But it happened with an HP49G. He had called HP customer support and they worked his problem through, and they agreed that the calculator didn't work right. They also told him that there were lots and lots of problems with that model. The customer stopped payment on his check and mailed the HP49G back to me, stiffing me on the outgoing shipping charges. The calculator clearly was not ready for release, but HP released it anyway, no doubt because marketing insisted that the calculator be available for the fall college semester. It is ludicrous to think that you can develop a product like this in six months. Even a year's development time is very optimistic, and, indeed, software updates were still coming out regularly at the one year point. I recall hearing the comment recently that the HP49G was "getting stable" - this is the kind of comment one makes about Microsoft operating systems, not about HP calculators, right? Not any more.

And the HP49G owner's manual (excuse me, the User's Guide - HP doesn't provide "manuals" any more, only "guides") continues the decline of what were once universally regarded as the industry's best manuals. Frankly, the decline began after the really excellent HP28S manuals, but it didn't get really bad until the HP38G owner's manual (oops, User's Guide), which was an unmitigated disaster. (And the HP6S guide was so poorly proofread that I felt compelled to provide my customers with a synopsis of how to operate the calculator, and this information appeared on my website as well.) In the HP49G User's Guide, the first mention of how to do a simple arithmetic operation does not appear until the seventeenth page (not counting the preface and the table of contents), and the next few examples of simple calculations are much further along, on the thirtieth page. Pity the person buying the HP49G as his first HP calculator, wading through the excessive volume of "preliminaries," the content of which will no doubt confuse, annoy and frustrate all but experienced HP48 series users. All of this stuff is unnecessary to getting the inexperienced user started, and I bet that more than a few will give up before finally being shown, however grudgingly, how to do simple stuff with the calculator. HP obviously has no concept of how to structure an instructional guide for a first-time user. Lately, I've had the feeling that the manuals (er, guides) are simply afterthoughts to HP, and are not properly regarded as important development items in and of themselves. HP is not what it used to be. This is embarrassing.

In September, HP escalated their war on the calculator retailers. They decided that they would no longer allow the resellers to carry any of the books (reference manuals, owner's manuals, etc.), and I have recently heard that this has since spread to the accessories (printers, plug-in cards, etc.) as well. I have often been able to make the add-on sale of the books when customers order their calculators, and it is really for the customer's benefit as well as mine and HP's. When customers order their calculators from HP's Shopping Village, they aren't likely to hear about these books, and the add-on sale obviously won't occur, which is bad for the customer as well as for HP. Amazingly, I continue to get calls from customers who complain that they cannot obtain the books (owner's manuals in particular) from HP! The customer right now is completely cut off from any way to get them. HP has so little concern for the needs of its customers that it will lose those customers - for good.

This is not the HP way. I can no longer make excuses for HP's behavior when the subject comes up in a conversation with a customer. When customers tell me their plight, I agree with them that HP has become a lousy company with which to do business. I used to think very highly of HP's organization and its products, and after one level of frustration and/or embarrassment followed by another, and another, and another, with sales plunging to levels that aren't worthwhile, it's time to get out. I prided myself in being thoroughly knowledgeable about all of the HP calculator products, including the operation of all of them in detail, and in giving honest, correct, and relevant information, advice, and help to my customers. Needless to say I don't feel good that there is no longer any place for customers to go to get competent technical support. (Incidentally, HP has referred quite a few people to me for tech support.) All of the significant HP calculator retailers have gone out of business. I would find it incredible that HP's intended business model for this product group is to retail the products individually to the customers. But that is what it is coming to (with the obvious exception of college bookstores, which have the luxury of captive customer bases).

I want to thank my many customers (numbering in the thousands) over the past eight years, a great many of whom made many repeat purchases, for their business, of course, but also for their kind words of satisfaction with dealing with me, and their encouraging words of support. It's been really nice for me, too. I'll miss it, in many ways. But it simply isn't worth it any more, thanks to HP (or, perhaps more correctly, what's left of HP). Unfortunately, the business environment that Hewlett-Packard is now forcing on its calculator resellers is untenable (direct retail competition with undercutting prices, and denial of access to major product categories). Any relationship requires the support of both partners in order to succeed, and this includes the manufacturer-reseller relationship. In this case, the manufacturer has made it impossible for even an enthusiastic reseller such as myself to justify continuing the effort. Hewlett-Packard will win the war against its resellers, but it will lose the war against its customers. HP may never be able to remove the tarnish that has so damaged its reputation.

Thanks again to all for your support. May the new millennium treat you kindly.

Jim Lawson   686 Cassville Road, Jackson, New Jersey 08527   732-928-9528

Feb. 13, 2000



HP’s Calculator "Business"

I received the write up below from Jake Schwartz. As an old HP customer, I bought my first HP calculator in 1972, and I have used all their high end models since then. I probably have talked to more HP customers than most through my activities as User Group Organizer since June 1974, and Technical support Manager at EduCALC for ten years. What Jim says below is accurate. I would even say that it is understated. When you look at the business side what HP is doing makes sense if all you care about is the business. The HP engineers have always been passionate with their designs and that is what has made HP machines exceptional. Marketing, however, has had difficulty with their "vision" of how to market their products. The issues are challenging, but not impossible to over come. The question really is, "Do I want to be another ‘me too’ supplier of calculators?" At the moment, the answer for the new division, is yes.

I personally have experience with ACO’s attempt to understand the history of HP machines. Ignorance is not the issue. Passion, love of the product line, and understanding of the customer are the issues. HP Marketing has not done well in grasping their traditional customers. These customers want excellence.

Not all customers have this as a purchase criteria. That is the problem. HP isn’t satisfied with these users as their only customers. They are too few. In the to days market volume is God. It is difficult to have excellence and volume.

The masses will not pay for excellence. One of my selling points in the past was to ask the customer, "How many products do you own that you can honestly say you have the very best?" The price should not be an issue. I know one student who sold his car to buy an HP-65A. That is how expensive the early models were relatively speaking. Not today. It is difficult to get personal service over the internet. Is there room in the market place for the personal service that Jim Lawson strives for? Can a company as large as HP grasp this idea? Is it possible? From the results, the answer is clearly NO!

I am afraid there is no solution to this dilemma — except one. HP will eventually realize that they can’t compete with TI in the only sizable market for calculators. It could sell its calculator business to a small company who will make the product to sell and support it the way it must be in order for excellence to survive. These people will conduct their business will love, passion and support. The profits will be small, but the excellence will be worth the effort. Count me in if that time comes. I will put my very small life savings into the venture because I still believe in the goal of excellence. Thanks Jim for sharing your passion.

Richard J. Nelson

February 16, 2000

From - Thu Feb 17 09:53:06 2000
From: Stephen J Thomas <sjthomas@netrox.net>
Newsgroups: comp.sys.hp48
Subject: Re: Please Read: HandiCalc Closes Its Doors
Date: Wed, 16 Feb 2000 18:04:09 -0500

I have watched as HP has moved from supporting their dealers, to competing with them. It is sad that the situation has come to this,
as has also happened in other fields (try to find an "independent" Celestron Telescope dealer these days!) Some of these same factors
detailed by Jim Lawson also contributed to EduCALC closing its doors.

HP no longer seems to realize or care that by essentially dismissing their dealers, they are also going to lose customers. The HP dealers
have often taken up the slack when HP's own customer service began to decline many, many years ago. There is no real HP calculator customer
support anymore, other than those employees who choose to help out in this newsgroup.

In recent history, I think that it was a grave mistake after the company split to assign the ACO group to HP, rather than to Agilent. I
don't think things are going to get better.

At any rate, I thank you, Jim, for your support of our obsessions over the years -- especially since EduCALC closed. I have always been happy
with the service you have provided, and the knowledge you have shared.

Stephen J Thomas

From: Wayne Brown fwbrown@bellsouth.net

Newsgroups: comp.sys.hp48

Subject: Re: Please Read: HandiCalc Closes Its Doors

Date: Sat, 19 Feb 2000 00:23:26 -0600


Vince Tessier wrote:

> Damn. Eighteen months ago, after I had purchased my first new HP calculator in ten years, I poked around and found HandiCalc on the web. Jim talked with me for over an hour about HP calcs present and past, and sold me the memory card I wanted. He made the add-on sale, too; I bought another $50 worth of books based on his recommendation, plus an HP-logo knapsack.

> I hadn't realized the situation had become as bad as Jim describes. I'll miss him.

> take care, -- vlt

> Vince Tessier <vlt@home.msen.com>


You're speaking for me, too. I bought an IR printer, a 48 link cable kit, and one of those HP-logo backpacks from Jim last year. Like you, I spent a long time on the phone with him discussing all sorts of things. You just don't get that kind of personal treatment from HP. We need people like Jim, and I'm sorry I didn't do more to support his business.

-- Wayne Brown fwbrown@bellsouth.net http://betsyrandle.cjb.net


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