Scourge of Service for Media Professionals
I won't mention any names, but these scalding comments are directed specifically at Vitec / Manfrotto / Gitzo.
I am beginning a second week of trying to get parts for a professional level carbon fiber Gitzo tripod. Specifically I need a Gitzo G1380SPG spring kit for my G1380 "Fluide" head. (Because the original springs were shorted from the floor sample I bought at NAB, and the head is setup wrong for DSLR.)
This has become an ordeal of abuse. I've completed web forms - no response. I've called and spent hours in IVR hell, with 12 deep menus "Press 3 for ..." I've been dumped to voice mail and left messages multiple times. Nobody returns calls. I reached a guy in the parts department, and he said it was another division. I've been cut off and gone back to telco dial tone during transfers.
Contrast this to a lowly auto mechanic anywhere in America. I live in a smaller town of 50,000 people, and there are at least a dozen auto parts stores where a human answers the phone, and fleets of vehicles scurry about to deliver a needed part to any mechanic in the city within 15 minutes.
There is a difference when companies regard their customers base as serving professionals vs. predation on suckers. I'm sure there are bean counters in upper management at Vitec who think this all makes sense. But it is time to call out this kind of bureaucratic brutality at the exact point of customer contact. I don't care anymore if your website is beautiful if your employees and business practices stink.
My livelihood depends on the professional equipment I purchase. And I deserve the same prompt service consideration as an average auto mechanic.
I've been using Gitzo products for 30 years, but unless they correct this situation immediately, their reputation with me will be at the same level as Behringer (easy target, but I mention their name for cause).
First and foremost, I sympathize. It is getting harder and harder to find companies responsive to customer needs in an era where labor costs are viewed by corporate types as the single most controllable ongoing expense. (They are sadly, correct, by the way)
On the other hand, you have some culpability, as well.
You went after savings over safety. You willingly took your transaction out of the retail channel. You didn't want to deal with a middle man (the pro dealer) who might have had more power to protect your purchase after the fact since the company/dealer relationship drives a WHOLE lot more profit for both the dealer and the manufacturer than selling a tripod off a trade show floor to a solo guy yields.
So here you are.
You got the savings. Now you've got more hassle than you bargained for.
Not good. But understandable.
There is no way a video tripod manufacture can operate like a auto parts dealer. How many Hondas are in your town vs, that tripod or any professional tripod.
But I understand your pain, it is frustrating but we work in such a low volume business which means we pay through the noise for service and parts.
I know this is not a car. But we should still have next day parts, given the power of FedEx.
You can't tell me B&H is going to get too motivated over a $150 service part special order. Or that they will be any less enthusiastic, or even bother, to look up whether I bought the tripod from them originally.
And I'd bet I'm a fairly good customer to them, on the scale of individuals.
At any rate, maybe that's what I need to do, place a special order through B&H. Which still stinks by any real standard of service, considering production equipment not being operable for many days or weeks.
After Sony consolidated their broadcast service centers, I was left hanging for 3 months while they sent a board out of my camera to Japan for repair. Yes, the camera was over 36 months old, but so what?
What we are facing are management theories which forget the customer. Going forward, I'm going to be more careful to exclude this type of vendor and forget these companies.
My opinion, if you are going to sole source the entire United States to a single service center and a single parts depot, fine. But you better not keep cutting corners, running too lean an inventory, or grinding down employees with poor internal management practices. That's getting complacent, and festers staff attitude typically seen in government bureaucrats. Because the psychology of anything that gets over concentrated and removed absolutely from any need to hustle -- owing to the fact there is no where else to turn -- this acts to offset any perceived efficiencies achieved by flashy management and instead corrupt the reputation and value of the brand.
If I were a financial analyst, this is exactly the type stunt I would be watching for, indicating ownership or management pumping short term results and valuation by doing a supernova trick with the stock. And maybe I should pay more attention to my own investments to be alert to the type activist investors and their proxy board members who ruin companies this way.
I realize I didn't buy the Gitzo tripod locally, and didn't even bother to patronize resellers in Texas. The fact is, I'm not an auto mechanic, and the stuff I use is not common as Chevrolet parts. Even if I were to waste time shopping in Dallas or Houston, both of which are overnight trips for me, I would more than likely be bothered by the retail channel. Forty years in the business, the more typical scenario is I educate the retail employee, who outside major media markets like LA, Chicago, or NYC are not always very savvy. No retailers in my part of the country don't stock much, except the stuff used by schools and churches.
Gitzo has a long history of standing behind the products they make, and supplying parts for many years. That's why I buy Gitzo. Even today, Gitzo publishes exploded diagrams and parts information on their website. But I fear they are a company in transition, and not for the better.
There are a lot of crafty management practices that may manipulate short term results. That's not unlike anything else -- you can run anything faster and hotter if you are willing to sacrifice longevity and burnout the company.
Bill and Michael make very good points. It seems your options are:
 contact a pro dealer / reseller that'll have a much better pipeline with manufacturers than any individual and get them to order the part for you (at a reasonable markup, of course).
 Google it and roll the dice again with a DIY online purchase ... I didn't spend the time to check out the options thoroughly, but I found the following in a bout 30 seconds:
David, the Amazon thing is amazing. Problem solved. Thanks!
Who would have thought Amazon would have such an obscure thing in stock? I've already ordered!
This part is actually sold by Amazon, too, not one of their obscure retail partners.
Many, many thanks.
If manufacturers want to use Amazon as a parts depot, and are diligent about keeping inventory on hand, I can't complain.
Glad to help, Danny. I'm really glad you got a solution as it was obvious how frustrated you understandably were.
I've also had trouble getting obscure parts from any of the major manufacturers, which is why I always turn to Google first for such needs.
I'm certainly not defending the kind of greed-driven management practices you described, which I agree are based on short-term thinking and are part of the problem. At the same time, I think it's also that the industry as a whole has changed dramatically, largely due to technology advances. Manufacturers of specialty products like any kind of pro video equipment have very quickly gone from, for example, selling a relatively small number of $100,000 cameras to having to sell 20+ times as many $5000 cameras to make the ever-increasing profits shareholders demand. So, they're all struggling to keep the doors open already and, if they maintained the stock, staff and logistics pipeline to sell individual parts directly, they simply couldn't survive in today's marketplace.
Back in the days before there was any such thing as a "prosumer" market, it was one thing for manufacturers to keep up with the occasional calls from people at a Hollywood studio or New York broadcast center who needed some parts ... now that every college kid in the nation owns a "pro" camera, it seems manufacturers just can't maintain the infrastructure to provide the same level of support. From the change I've experienced and observed in recent years, that's not at all unique to Gitzo, Behringer or any other. I guess that's where resellers and/or the internet come in to pick up the slack.
Just my two pence.
Always had good luck with Spartan Photo Center in Spartansburg, SC. A human answers the phone and they know what they're talking about!
Best of luck in the future!
The spring kit arrived from Amazon today, and I am tickled pink. My G1380 head was factory outfitted with the #10 spring - heaviest in the range. It was setup wrong for the big DSR-500 ENG style camera for which it was originally purchased, and unusable for DSLR.
It is unbelievably difficult in backwater markets to correctly specify tripods and heads. The equipment selectors on manufacturer websites are invariably out of date.
With springs repaced in my G1380, it is like having a whole new tripod, and I am thrilled that Gitzo designed a head that can be refitted to new purposes.
At the same time, I will note that most of my complaints are entirely warranted. It comes down to doing what you say you are going to do. If the web form promises a response, then respond. If you put people into voice mail and promise a call back, then call back. It has been 10 or 14 days since my initial contact with Gitzo, and there has been no response.
The website is also silent on how to obtain parts and service kits. The only human I was able to reach at Gitzo was a guy in the parts department who said the spring kit was not sold through his department.
Production gear is not car parts, but manufacturers should keep a decent parts inventory in North America and take care of us next day with FedEx.
Gitzo customer service is unacceptable, but at least there's a happy ending. Behringer, on the other hand, I've been waiting a year for a cheap replacement batteries only available from China. There are no alternates from any US vendor. This is a little lead acid battery in a device that could have easily been designed to accept common batteries that power emergency exit signs in buildings. For the lack of parts, and also disgust with Behringer's lies, attitude, and forgotten promises, I'm ready to turn and burn, and toss all their equipment into the dumpster. It is worthless without routine maintenance parts!
Sorry so long. Too much bandwidth, but a cautionary tale about management and company quality.
11 Jan 2011 - after months of waiting, a box arrived today with batteries promised by Behringer.
I suppose a pure coincidence after my disparaging comments here last week.
Frankly, I had concluded several days ago to throw all the Behringer devices in the dumpster. Luckily, I had not got around to doing it.
In any case, unless these lead acid batteries last longer than the previous set, I will discard the Behringer equipment (portable battery powered public address systems) the next time the batteries fail.
I use these devices only twice a year, at a recurring public event, Spring and Fall. Behringer claimed I abused the batteries by leaving them installed in the equipment and not properly conditioning (I left them plugged in and charging continuously, because the batteries appear identical to lead acid batteries in emergency exit signage.)
There was no warning by Behringer to remove batteries and leave them uncharged between uses.
Whether I am right or wrong about the quality of the equipment or the conditioning of the batteries, one thing is certain: Behringer does not stock parts in North America, and promised replacements took 4-6 months to arrive.
3:26 PM today, Manfrotto finally returned call.