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Friday, August 11, 2006

Big Little Companies

by Paul Butzi
I mentioned the end of production of Durst enlargers to a friend of mine, and he was unconcerned. He has a pretty extensive wood and metal shop, and he opined that if he needed an enlarger other than the one he currently owns, he’d just build one.

Now, not everyone has access to the machinery needed to manufacture photo equipment. But just last week, I ordered a BH-55 ballhead from Really Right Stuff, and when it arrived, I was stunned. It’s wonderfully designed, exquisitely manufactured, and so nicely finished it’s a joy to behold. Better yet, it’s a joy to use in the field; it’s much nicer than the Arca-Swiss B-1 that I’ve been using for the past 8 years. It’s the best tripod head I’ve ever held in my hands.

The most wonderful thing is this: it comes from a little company. Not long ago, it would have been economically infeasible for such a small company to produce one ballhead design, let alone the three designs that RRS now sells. But the wonders of CAD and CNC machining, access to worldwide markets via the WWW, and fast and easy worldwide distribution via UPS and Fedex have made it possible for companies like Really Right Stuff to produce not just parts like Arca-Swiss style quick-release plates but complicated, sophisticated products like the world’s best ballhead—and do it at prices that are competitive with the big camera manufacturers.

That means that clever, creative people all around the world can be busy designing, building, and selling world class products that fill niche markets that were simply too small to interest major manufacturers. And it means it will be easy for you to buy them, too.

I hear a lot of complaining about the demise of silver based photography products, and the end of major manufacturers producing things like enlargers. Very little is said about the little, niche filling companies like Really Right Stuff, Kirk, Wimberly, et al – little companies producing incredible world-class products to suit every preference and need. As the entire photo industry goes through a big upheaval, the small, agile companies may well be the ones producing the really great, innovative, high quality products you want.

Posted by: PAUL BUTZI

8 Comments:

Blogger nielsen said...

These companies also seem to be in closer contact with the end users - incorporating features based on feedback. Try phoning RRS and Nikon - what a difference!
You can also observe the same trend in software - like Photo Mechanic.

12:47 AM  
Blogger eolake said...

Yeah!!
What he said!
(Me, I love the new world.)

Also a blog/site like this one is the perfect place to spread the word about such things.
I encourage you to keep pointing us to interesting companies and products like this.

8:58 AM  
Blogger Max said...

I think that's a really refreshing perspective in this time of overwhelming world wide statistics and faceless industry.
It seems very much to me it follows the analogy to great writing online and information in general. I habitually read several blogs because they are interesting and some are a joy to read. And there's a person with something interesting to offer, and here, a consumer. And these are micro forces of offer/demand interacting.
The big players in the equation will be the "educated search engines", the persons who provide the link, or opinion formers, as they call them in marketing. This blog, for example.
Basically, knowing intelligent and people who share our interests on a suubject will lead us to smart products especially suited for our needs faster than ever.

9:27 AM  
Blogger eolake said...

... OK, I found prices in the catalogue.
Which I recommend: lots of info, and big, beautiful photos.
This small company really have astounding products, I'd love to know how the heck they do it.

9:35 AM  
Blogger dyathink said...

Another great example of a small entrepreneur filling a void for demanding photographers is Doug Fisher. He produces fixed and variable height negative carriers for medium format or extra long panoramic film for use with various makes and models of flatbed scanners including the newest Epson V700/750 models. He also provides high quality etched glass anti-newton ring glass inserts for these carriers. His prices are incredibly low (how do you do it, Doug?) Amazingly, i have e-mailed him at 10pm and received Doug's personal reply by 10:30. wooo..scary!

10:21 AM  
Blogger Svein-Frode said...

Yepp! The WWW can be a blessing for many small companies like RRS. Most of my equipment are now bought online from small companies offering tailored products. Most of my software is also made by realtively small developers. I was about to buy a few products from Kirk Ent. a year ago, but they didn't reply any of my e-mails... Glad they didn't Now RRS gets my business instead!

12:54 PM  
Blogger Adrian Malloch said...

Such a clear insight deserves more attention Paul. How about (someone)? setting up a database on this site of "Big Little companies" with a short description, links to their sites and some (moderated) opinions about their products and services.

4:56 PM  
Blogger Dave New said...

Sounds like a perfect opportunity for a sponsored click-through link on the main page, with a percentage of the sale going to support this blog. Wonder if RRS participates in such promotions?

9:26 AM  

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