An Update on a Bigger FlexRadio Systems (2020)

This arrived a few days before Christmas from FlexRadio:

Dear Valued FlexRadio Family,

I’m not sure how to paraphrase 2020 except to say that this year has taken us all by surprise.  As we approach the holiday season and the end of a very challenging year, I hope this letter finds you and your family well.  Here at FlexRadio, we have been fortunate to stay healthy and strong amongst the many challenges we faced throughout the year.  Like most companies, we have worked at home more than we have ever done before, but we have also had to make adjustments as our vendors have had issues. Supply chains have been strained, components have become unavailable and we even had a manufacturing partner close shop. While we’ve put our contingency plans in place for each of these challenges, as we have many times before, we have never had so many of these challenges arrive all at once demanding simultaneous attention. As a result, we’ve spent more time this year adjusting to the challenging business environment and less time communicating with our many friends that comprise our customer base. 

As the American novelist E. L. Doctorow famously said, “You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” So we, like most of you, found we must take it day by day and remain flexible to address the next challenge that lies ahead. We are truly grateful for your support and partnership during this time as we all face these unprecedented challenges of a global pandemic together.  Here’s what has been going on with FlexRadio in 2020.

The FLEX World Pre-COVID

We entered 2020 with an optimistic view of the opportunities in front of us.  In 2019 we won a large government contract in partnership with a division of Raytheon later acquired by BAE, which opened new doors for us in government and commercial HF markets. As we’ve mentioned before, we look for synergistic business opportunities that allow our amateur and commercial/government businesses to share technology and capabilities. It is exciting knowing that much of the technology developed in conjunction with this contract can be leveraged back into our amateur radio product line (and vise versa).

As has happened many times in the past, this new work has fostered growth in our company. Our engineering department alone has tripled in the last year. In the short term, many of these additions are assisting with our largest contract. Longer-term, many of these individuals will contribute to the amateur product line as well. With this unprecedented growth, you may imagine that we periodically discuss the role that amateur radio plays at FlexRadio. Any business leader would be remiss in failing to discuss the details of each product line and how to grow or phase out those lines as business dictates. As has been since the beginning, we continue to see huge benefits from our amateur business to the overall health of the company. Without exception, our key decision-makers have continued to reaffirm our commitment to the amateur radio product line and community. In short, we’re here to stay!

Since our last in-person interactions during Hamcation and the Yuma Hamfest back in February we have roughly tripled our employment and square footage.  Our new space has a custom build-out including two new state-of-the-art ISO-9001 certified engineering laboratories to accommodate this growth.  Growth has brought additional talent, equipment, and technology into the company that we would not have been able to acquire as an amateur radio only company. While it takes time to harvest the fruits of this expansion, we can already see many ways that you, our amateur customers, will be the beneficiaries.

Unbeknownst to us and the world at the time, our personal and working lives were about to drastically change.  We couldn’t have predicted that those first two hamfests of the year would have been our only face-to-face interaction with our customers in 2020.  On March 13, in the wake of COVID-19 realizations, we made a shift to “quarantine and work from home.” This impact on our daily lives forced us to construct new ways of doing business and engage with our customers. Of course, many or most of you are intimately familiar with the new way of working!

Since the early lockdown we introduced a complete brand refresh and launched a new website along with a new FlexRadio Community tool.  We’ve spent more time on customer education through increased presence on social media.  Our own Michael Walker, VA3MW, has conducted numerous Facebook live events on our FlexRadio Enthusiasts page on Wednesdays and Fridays around 2:30 pm CST.  If you missed them, these videos are also available on our YouTube channel.

COVID Era Challenges

The loss of one of our manufacturing partners led us to shift the load to our other partners (who were experiencing the same demands from other customers). Prior to COVID-19, our strategy had our manufacturing partners performing our test procedures on individual circuit boards, assembling these into finished units, testing these units, and collecting completed radios and accessories into a box that was ready to ship to you. We saw a number of benefits from this strategy, but it takes considerable effort to work with a manufacturing partner on everything from executing test procedures through ensuring a quality product is boxed before shipment.

When we lost one of our manufacturing partners this year, we opted to bring this capability — testing our products through the completed “box build” — back into our facility. This allowed us to more closely control product quality and diversify our manufacturing capabilities to protect against future business-impacting events. We mentioned this process of transitioning some of our amateur products to one of our other long-time manufacturing partners in the last FlexInsider. Today, our shipping and service center and our manufacturing floor are housed in the same building to keep those teams working together on quality improvement and faster turn times on product builds.

Update on Deliveries

Like many businesses, we were unsure how the demand for our products might morph in 2020 under COVID-19. We have been pleasantly surprised that the demand for the FLEX-6000 line of radios and our other products has continued to rise sharply throughout 2020. But this, combined with our manufacturing and supply chain challenges, have seen us accumulate a significant backlog in radio orders.  Our original published lead times of 4-6 weeks on radio shipments were not sufficient. With the continued rise in sales, it now appears that could take up to an additional 8-10 weeks to ship our complete backlog. For those of you with orders in this backlog, we truly appreciate your patience. We are working extended hours to ship your orders as soon as possible.

On another note, I would like to address our on-going delay in delivering Maestro, one of our most popular products.  The integration of a new display on the Maestro has provided some unexpected engineering challenges, but we have a team working on the issues and hope to have all of them resolved soon. To clarify, the Dell tablets used in prior builds of Maestros are no longer available.  Therefore, we are working to incorporate the same display that is used in M model radios which require changes to the charging circuitry, movement of the power button, and more.  Functionality remains in line with prior offerings and only the display change out is being addressed.

As with radios, we have accumulated a sizable backlog of Maestros that we will need to work through quickly when the issues are resolved. In anticipation of this, we have continued to order long-lead parts (industry standard term for parts that are more difficult to obtain and require advance purchase) and keep our inventory on those parts at levels more than sufficient to fill the outstanding orders. Our current expectations are that we will begin shipping in the first quarter of next year.  As is standard, your order reserves your place in line and you will not be charged until we have your Maestro ready to ship.

So To Recap 2020

Here are some actions and facts specific to our amateur radio business during the past year that has kept us moving forward in times of uncertainty:

  • Tripled the number of employees, organically scaling administrative, engineering, service, support, sales, manufacturing, and operations functions.
  • Expanded international distribution.
  • Moved production and board build manufacturing twice, once to a San Antonio plant and then back to Austin.  And, in parallel, installed an in-house manufacturing floor and process for 100% final box build assembly and test in-house at the FlexRadio facilities in Austin. Today, all of our amateur transceivers are built here.
  • Released two maintenance versions of SSDR software/firmware (multiple versions of each) and will soon release another.
  • Released two versions of our PGXL firmware and software.
  • Developed and released a new web site and online presence.
  • Sunset the old and rolled out a new community web site.
  • Improved our service backlog and turnaround time from 5 weeks to typically 5 days.
  • Solved over 5,016 HelpDesk inquiries/incidents
  • Added and improved documentation and self-help materials.
  • Plus a lot more we can’t disclose.

Looking forward…

As this year comes to an end and a new one begins, we want to say how much we have appreciated you sticking with us on this crazy journey known as 2020.  We here at FlexRadio wish you and your family a safe and happy holiday season and we look forward to serving you and seeing you again in the New Year.   Thank you so much for your endless support.

Happy Holidays,

Gerald Youngblood, CEO & the Entire FlexRadio Team

All sounds good!

73

Steve
K9ZW

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