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What to ask when purchasing wildlife GPS equipment

Friday, April 3rd, 2015

If you are a first time buyer in the market for GPS tracking devices for wildlife research you might have discovered by now that you have many choices when it comes to suppliers. There is no shortage of supply, new companies appear and old ones go away, this market is in a state of flux. That should be one of your primary concerns, how long has a company been in business? Will they be there when you need them?

You may also want to consider the location of the company you choose. While it is not too difficult to transport equipment over vast distances, what about customer support? Will you be getting customer support in a timely manner or is your vendor just wrapping up their work day when you are just starting yours, or vice versa?

Think about whether or not you are willing to use GPS tracking devices that are off the shelf with little choice of nuance or are they custom made for the species you are working with?

Ask how long the product has been in production. This is a double edged sword. While it is desirable to have a long history of successful field work done with a particular type of GPS collar or GPS backpack that may mean that the technology has been surpassed by something better. On the other hand, if a wildlife GPS design is brand new will you be buying a reliable product? Can the vendor supply you with references who you can speak to before buying?

Is there enough information about the product available online? Are there video tutorials and FAQs so that you can help yourself when you run into the inevitable difficulty?

Of course you have to be able to afford the equipment but what is the point of buying something for a low price if it isn’t the right tracking device? And don’t forget when thinking about price that most manufacturers do not offer refurbishment services for small GPS collars and GPS backpacks. Refurbishment at Telemetry Solutions is offered on everything and at a fraction of the cost of a new device. Therefore you can fairly amortize the equipment cost over multiple years.

purchasing wildlife GPS equipment

Is there a correlation between GPS reliability and salespeople working on commission?

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

As the owner of Telemetry Solutions, over the years I have directed various surveys intending to put our finger on the pulse of our customers and our potential customers.  We often ask wildlife biologists what they want but are not getting from telemetry companies making GPS tracking devices for wildlife projects.  The answers vary widely but one of the most common is “reliable equipment.”

That desire for reliable equipment seems reasonable enough to me.  As a satisfied customer told me just today, “….it is expensive equipment so we try to find a product that will fail the least.”   Of course there are many reasons why GPS for wildlife projects don’t work as well as the GPS that was mass produced and resides snuggly inside the controlled environment of your family car but that doesn’t mean that these things can’t be mitigated.

The subject of one of my recent blog posts was how we (I) select what I believe to be customers who have a reasonable chance for success.  Most of the time this is really obvious based on just a few email exchanges.  Today, talking to this customer, she mentioned that in the past she had tried a collar from company X and that the salesperson promised her the moon.   But the collar didn’t deliver.  So what was that sale person’s motivation for taking this approach, that’s what I started to wonder about.  Why promise the moon?  What’s the motivation for that?

Could it be a commission?  I don’t know because I don’t know which company it was and I don’t know how any other company compensates their sales people.  But I can say that we no longer hire salespeople to work on commission, I stopped that a long time ago.  My sales people will earn their wage regardless of whether or not they make any given sale.  Additionally I don’t think it’s fair to the rest of the team anyway that one person……doing one of the easiest jobs…..has the ability to earn so much more than everyone else.  In fact my last sales person left in August 2013 and rather than hire someone new I just slid myself back into that roll.  Maybe it is time to consider another person in the sales position.  And when I do make that decision they will be taught that 1) we will not over promise on performance and 2) the sales person will not run amok in any way, there are boundaries that we operate in and those boundaries  have been established so that our customers have the best result possible and continue being our customers…..which most do.   My job isn’t to sell GPS tracking equipment for wildlife research.  My job is to operate a profitable company that grows and gains strength over the long term.

Wrapping this up…..last night before I left the office I responded to a sales inquiry in which the potential customer clearly defined his project as well as his GPS collar expectations.  I completely understood, he left no question about what he intended and wanted.  So I told him that we can’t meet those expectations and that I doubt any other company can either (this was a performance issue not a features/benefits issue).  His expectations were far beyond reality.  I offered to discuss this with him over the phone and I did this with no intent of selling him anything or changing his expectations.  I just wanted to tell him what I know and how it directly relates to what he is trying to do.  He needs this information.  If someone does take the rather large order for GPS collars that this person is getting ready to tender I hope that the “expectation” conversation takes place first.  Just as we try to learn from our customers the reverse can also be true.  It takes time and it takes thought but it would go a long way toward this reliability issue.



A failure of telemetry companies selling wildlife GPS

Thursday, March 27th, 2014

I spent 13 years with extreme back pain.  It never went away.  It affected every aspect of my life.  It got so bad that I found myself in crosswalks, having started crossing the street when the sign indicated “walk” and only being halfway across when the light turned red.  Yikes!   By the end of the 13 years there were days when I couldn’t walk at all.  I used a cane in the house.  This lasted from the ages of 33 to 46.  I had long since given up the idea of a remedy, seems I had tried everything and had been kicked out of several doctors’ offices with the refrain, “Get used to it, there isn’t anything we can do for you.”

Ok, so I gave up trying to solve it.  But I had this friend who was experiencing serious neck problems that also affected his arms and it got serious.  He found a doctor who turned him on to a surgical solution.  After he was whistling Dixie he said to me, “You have to go to my doctor, she’s the best.”  That reminded me of a Seinfeld episode in which Jerry said something like, “Yeah, everybody has the best guy.”  My wife chimed in and between the two of them and their prodding I found my way to this doctor.  She looked at my MRI and said she had good news and bad news.  “Bad news first please,” I said.  The bad news was that it was severe (I already knew this).  The good news was she thought it could be fixed!  Boy that made me happy.  Hope at last!

She sent me to the next doctor, a surgeon in Walnut Creek, California.  Doctor number 2 met me, looked at my MRI, asked me some questions and suggested to me, “I think we can help you.”  I thought I was dreaming.  This was November 2009.  By February 2010 all that pain was gone and it has stayed gone.  I was given an artificial disk made of titanium and UHMW plastic.  I’m 4 years in now and there is still no pain.  It is as if it never happened.  Sitting down used to be death for me, last October I drove for 12 hours per day for 3 days straight, no problem.  I sat the entire time then turned around and drove back for 3 more days.

After the surgery I was told that I would have to take time off work, no driving for 2 weeks and that I would need physical therapy.   I walked slowly and deliberately for a few days and I still used the cane and I took 1 week off work.  After 1 week I went to see the doctor for a follow-up.  He told me that I could start driving, could go back to work and that I would not have to go to physical therapy after all because I had so many plans to start undertaking physical activity again.  He said my motivation was enough to preclude me needing that P.T.

Ok, that is my back story.  Probably only mildly interesting and what the heck does it have to do with GPS for wildlife telemetry?  Bear with me, it’s coming.  Every time I went back for a follow up my doctor was very happy and finally I asked him how successful these surgeries usually are.  He told me that his success rate is in the high 90s.  Then he told me why.  It’s all about patient selection.  He only chooses patients that fit the profile which he determined makes them good candidates for the surgery.

Wildlife telemetry companies do not practice good patient selection.  The sales process goes like this.  A potential customer makes an inquiry.  We get excited because we are sure we can do this.  How hard could it be?  We’ve done it many times before.  But we fail to get to know that potential customer and their needs as well as we should prior to taking that order.  Many times that customer doesn’t know enough about the product to know where the weaknesses are in their plan with the product in question.  It has to be up to us, the telemetry companies, to determine if this project has a chance for success with our product.

Just the other day I had an inquiry from someone in California for a species for which we have sold a lot of equipment.  We have customers placing repeat orders for this product on this particular species so that would imply that everything will be fine for the new customer right?  Not necessarily. Luckily the person making this inquiry was open to my request for a phone meeting.  Emails are great but the level of communication in email is not conducive to the back and forth one can achieve in a phone call.  Things can be hammered out on the phone.  BANG!  We found it!  The sticking point.  I stopped him in his tracks and red flagged the product for his project.  Same species as some others but one big difference……unlike others using this equipment on this animal, he would be unable to get within the range of the data download feature on the collars.  We continue to talk and look for ways around this hurdle.  My point is that it had to be up to me to stop the forward progress.  The burden to get that information out of him was on me.  This time it worked.  Often times my request for a phone conversation is turned down.  Whether that be out of fear of being subjected to sales tactics (which I do not employ) to not really needing equipment but only being interested in the cost for funding reasons, folks usually do not want to get on the phone with me about our equipment (Australians excepted, they love to call on the phone).

So what’s the moral of the story?  It is this,  the next time you are asked to “give me a good time/day for a phone conversation” put aside your fears of being sold something and realize that this request is being made with your best interest in mind, it’s all about patient selection after all.

-Quintin Kermeen

When will GPS transmitters get small?

Thursday, December 26th, 2013

If I had a nickel for every time someone asked me that……..  First of all, GPS are not transmitters, they are receivers.  GPS data are often transmitted but that’s not a function of the GPS.  Am I getting grouchy in my old age?  Maybe.  But I need to be quite specific so that there are no misunderstandings.  Over the years I have made it a habit of using consistent language to describe our products in order to be as clear as possible with potential and existing clients.   So we agree that GPS are not transmitters?  Good.

Now on to the next thing….when will they get small?  Small indeed!  I started in this industry in the 1970s and at that time not only was there not GPS for wildlife but the VHF transmitters available were not exactly small.  The folks who are old enough to remember those big transmitters as well as the large receivers and heavy batteries can probably appreciate how far things have in the wildlife tracking field.  But there are a lot of young people out there who are not only new to this field but also expect GPS data and expect it to pop up on their mobile phone without having to set foot in the wild.

I know that is the way things seem to be out in the world these days but it’s still hard for me to reconcile this attitude in relation to wildlife tracking very small animals.  Even so there are ways to get these things done.  I have been kicking one idea in particular around for a couple of years.  But just because something can be done doesn’t mean anyone is going to buy it.   4 years ago we brought out a GPS that had a total weight of 2 grams and people were not exactly beating a path to our door to purchase it.

For less than 10 grams we can make a GPS with remote data download and a solar rechargeable battery that will give thousands of GPS points remotely.  So when will GPS transmitters get small?  Answer:  They already are!  Next question!


A day in the life of a wildlife tracking manufacturer

Wednesday, October 17th, 2012

For me, coming to work in the morning is a pleasure. It starts in the parking lot. I usually arrive just after we open and entering the parking lot I scan the cars to see if anyone is missing. No one ever is but this is a bad habit that I have developed. I know that the day at work will get pretty intense so after I turn off the car I usually just sit and watch people arrive at work across the street from us. This will be the last peace and quiet I get until I leave work at the end of the day. So I enjoy it. When I get out of my car I can usually smell the salt air and hear seagulls overhead. This really is the most serene part of the day for me.

Due to the nature of the work there is no question that each day will be interesting and filled with challenges. Manufacturing GPS wildlife tracking equipment, the goal is always to get quality equipment into the hands of our customers in a timely manner. We always have both new orders and service work going on and the orders are all in various stages of completion. Just today, for example we have new and service orders for swamp wallaby, feral cats, pygmy rabbits (2 of these), bobcat, various birds including skua and emu, wolverine, grizzly, bighorn sheep, fox and feral pigs.

On top of this we have development projects to be overseen and I’ll have meetings with the sales department, engineering department, production department and customer support. Toss in a few questions from vendors, accountants, bankers and lawyers. Sometimes it is enough to make you want to just sit down and blog about it.

After 16 years as the founder and president of Telemetry Solutions this year I had to remove myself from the front lines so that I can orchestrate this madness effectively. I was anxious about turning over the reigns in the sales department but my fears were unfounded. The much younger sales person that heads up that department has digitized everything that used to reside in my head. And his cohort has it all up in the cloud to be accessed quickly and easily regardless of where one is. I should have turned over the reigns sooner maybe.

In the afternoon production ends their day and they filter out. The next to go is engineering followed by customer support and finally the sales team. Then it is just me and lots and lots of GPS equipment. I could stay all night, just move a cot in. But eventually I realize that work has to end for the day. I go out to an empty parking lot and always wonder, “Where the hell is everybody?” I load up the car with several GPS units that will have an overnight test before shipping out, push the on button in the Prius and head home. For sure tomorrow will be another good day. I cannot wait.