Major layoffs at PocketWizard following poor sales

LPA Design, the manufacturers of PocketWizard radio triggers, have made a number of staff redundant following “below forecast” worldwide sales.

In an e-mail to distributors, CEO Tim Neiley announced that the Vermont-based company was bringing its international sales and marketing in-house, terminating an 18-year relationship with consultancy firm Inovanti. However Mr Neiley stressed there would be “very little impact” on dealer relationships.

He has blamed the poor sales on slow economic recoveries across the world, changing customer behaviour and increased competition. “LPA has reduced staff at the company as well,” added Mr Neiley, “and will be focusing its resources primarily on engineering development.”

PocketWizard's headquarters in South Burlington, Vermont

Rumour has it that as many as 20 or more employees have been made redundant over the course of two rounds of layoffs, out of a total workforce of fewer than 50 people. Job losses have reached even senior management with vice-president (sales and marketing) David Schmidt gone after five years with the company. The former VP is now a “freelance photographer” and has been writing recommendations for other staff.

Nobody has publicly announced being laid off but portfolios and LinkedIn profiles are being discreetly updated, with technical support specialists, the marketing coordinator, production/repair manager, designers, engineers and logistics staff all ending employment in January and February 2014. Calls to PocketWizard customer service went unanswered last week.

LinkedIn screenshot: LPA staff

PocketWizard flash triggers have been widely used by professional photographers for decades, and are integrated into lighting equipment made by industry partners such as Sekonic, Profoto, Dynalite and Bowens. The brand has become synonymous with radio triggering.

However recent years have seen PocketWizard struggling to compete with Chinese manufacturers offering increasingly sophisticated rival products at lower prices. The back-to-basics PlusX transceiver released last year seemed to be an attempt to counter this, but it turned out to be not a very good one.

In August another pro-focused US manufacturer, Quantum, was taken over by Promark, which now owns eight different photo brands. But no one has publicly shown an interest yet in buying LPA Design. The company founder Jim Clark left in 2011 to work outside the photography industry.

Inovanti marketing consultant Lorenzo Gasperini confirmed PocketWizard is “no longer a client” but did not elaborate. Neither David Schmidt nor Tim Neiley could be reached for comment. A spokesman for the US distributor, Mac Group, said:

“We, MAC Group, handle sales, customer service and repairs of PocketWizard in USA and we have no reason to believe there will be any change in these areas we manage. We have been informed by the manufacturer, LPA, that they have made recent staff reductions in response to shifting worldwide production requirements, and so they can focus their resources on new product development.”

PocketWizard is billed to exhibit at the Wedding & Portrait Photography Expo (WPPI) in Las Vegas, Nevada on 3–5 March 2014.

  • Ranger 9

    Great: the only triggers I’ve ever used that absolutely always worked, now on the brink of extinction. I guess soon the only choice will be with which generic Chinese brand you want to roll the dice.

    And before you rush to post about how “my YongNix SPQR06420 has always been 100% reliable”… yeah, but the next one you buy, with a different circuit board bought from a different low-bidder OEM, maybe not so much…

    • JoeJohnBear

      I’ve actually had the contrary experience. Pocketwizard tt5’s were mostly unreliable, yongnuo’s 100% reliable. I wouldn’t care if they were the same price, but $300 vs. $30 is a huge disparity in pricing, and it’s not like the physical materials are any better. I think better third-party integration would have saved them a few jobs, i.e. integrate directly into more flash units from elinchrom and profoto instead of just the top-tier power-packs.

  • Boulderghost

    Serves them right. Over priced + unresponsive to customer expectations for features + late to market with a competitive product = poor sales. This is the free market at work, bravo! Maybe they will be bought by and competitor who will run the company in a progressive manner, responsive to the marketplace. And by the way I make my living as an architectural photographer and regularly use 6 -10 light sources all triggered remotely. I NEED 100% reliability and I need it from up to 10 receivers and one trigger. All my Yongnuo 622’s or 603’s are 100%j dependable and at a fraction of the cost of PW’s. I could buy Yongnuo 3x over and still be ahead. Anyone who is still touting PW’s as a superior or even competitive product in the last 5 years has been stuck in the 90’s and needs to do more research. If you use PW’s and they work for you, then fine, but anyone would pay 7x – 10x as much for the same performance/features today is either illogical or ignorant. Either way it appears the market has spoken.

  • http://pireze.com/ IL

    Sometimes the industry standard isn’t the industry best. I get a bit wary of the claims of “home grown” companies that their (usually costly) stuff is necessarily of a better quality because they are assembled in the US/UK/other “first world country” — there seems to be a bit of a “magical thinking” going on there. What matters is QC and R&D innovation, and that’s applicable whether your facilities are in China or US.

    That said they’ve still got a market out there with many/most professional teams swearing by their products and using them as the go-to kit. Many professional photographers also see them as the golden standard and there’s been no lack of goodwill given to them and their products via the popular blogs. And as mentioned in the article, they retain a firm foothold in terms of integration with many big-name brands.

    So it’s a bit surprising that even with the professional market’s loyalty and their first-mover advantage, they’re still facing tough times. These troubles seem to have more to do with inherent issues within the company (high overhead costs, tapering off in terms of R&D innovation), than some kind of crazy market change.

    Yes, the world does change, but it’s a business’ job to read the winds, keep in touch with your potential growth markets, and modify your offerings according to the needs of your customers. The PlusX (price point vs target market, functionality, useability) seems to indicate they have failed to do so.

    • warlock110 warlock110

      I don’t believe that no one saw this coming, I’ve known about the existence of PW since I started buying my 1st DSLR, and there it never crosses my mind to buy one, one simple reason is that it’s too expensive. 200+ for 1 trigger (flexTT5), add the flash on top and we’re looking at 400 bucks a unit, pop 5 of those in a bag and we’re looking at over 2000 dollars worth of flash gear (without any modifier), and we’re not even sure that this will work since the 200 dollar flash are yongnuo flashes, as far as we know PW only support real nikon flashes. So really to be 100% sure that everything is working we need to have the nikon flashes (which is 500 bucks each minimum). So really we’re looking at 700 dollars a flash, that’s 4k of gear in a portable rig.

      Now we step over to yongnuo, with the new transmitter it’s even better than the flexTT5 because it’s got an LCD, 5 X 622N = 200 + the transmitter = 100. Then you stack on 5 yongnuo flash for 1k and you got a better rig for 1.3k (and even then it’s still expensive).

      And people wonder why it’s going under, their marketing team needs to look around, who can pay them, the pro will pay, but how many “pros” out there that can afford 4000 dollars of lightning on top of their 3000 dollars cameras + lens? not many, the top dog can afford it easily, but most “wedding” photographer really can’t be doing this as their investment.

      The mass market are on the hobby folks, I’m not talking about the ones that buy rebels, I’m talking about the ones that buy the 60D, the D6 ect… and their price range at most is the price of their camera body (flash + trigger). I swear if they come out with a 100 dollar TTL HSS flash and 20 dollars trigger, they’ll blow up this market wide open (and it’s not like it can’t be done, TTL/HSS trigger are going 25 a pop now, HSS flash (lithium battery) are going for 100, don’t tell me this can’t be done, it’s been done, all they need to do is put it together.

      .

      • Realist

        How much do you think professional mechanics pay for their tools? 4K is cheap in comparison.

        There are great $100 flashes and $20 triggers, in imagination-land.

        • Wrentham

          Woe is me , they need to step up. They were intelligent enough to emerge as market leaders: Okay they cater to professionals, but if they can’t keep you in business, then open up to the masses. I’m one of those in the ‘rebel’ group mentioned above, and an avid photographer. Havin read, and been indoctrinated by top photographers that PW is the standard i intended to buy a set for my first flash, a metz 52af 1 by the way. Then i heard of the yn622n …..well the rest is history. Nikon user.

        • Boulderghost

          Actually, the tools Professionals are usually defined by three primary criteria: function, reliability (quality) and affordability of redundancy. When you can hit all three (Yongnuo or Phottix) yoû will dominate the market. When you can only prove one or two…you will loose market share. When you take the sentimental attachment to an old tool out of the equation, the answer adds up, professionally speaking.

        • warlock110 warlock110

          the TT850 is 100, it’s pretty good, very usable IMO for a universal flash. 25 bucks ttl trigger for canon is all over the place now, and reported to work with the TTL yongnuo flash, those are 70 bucks a pop no HSS.

  • Sincity

    Too bad about LPA.. I know they paid for the frequency from the FCC, so there is no interference from other xmtr’s and from my experience they have been good. Probably they can license the radios and the firmware to others like Canon, so they don’t have to use all of those little items.

  • ChrisH

    Without even looking at the products themselves, I am not at all surprised. Combine expensive products with extremely poor customer service and this is what happens. I bought a set of FlexTT5 triggers at great expense back when there was no TTL triggering alternative in Europe (Radiopopper were still US only). The TT5s were awkward to use and unreliable. I sent a constructive email to PW detailing the issues and asking if a fix was on the way, and got no reply, so I returned them as faulty, got my money back and swore never to buy their products again. Not because the product was bad (which it was) but because they couldn’t even be bothered to reply to an email. Contrast this with my emails to Pixel and Phottix; both replied promptly and politely to my questions and Pixel even admitted that their product was not the right one for me and I should return it for a refund! I have used Phottix Altas II triggers and Phottix Odin triggers for years with no problems whatsoever, and my new Radiopopper JRx system has been great too. Never nice to see anyone lose their job but it doesn’t surprise me.

  • jefflivesinchicago

    The Pocket Wizard TT5’s were not great, they were very tweeky in my experience…

    Even the vaunted old pocket wizards were not 100% reliable for me in all buildings, so I kept a bunch of chinese triggers in a plastic ziplock in the bag just in case the 2.4 ghz frequency might work in situations where the PW’s might not… and yes, they did a few times… so after a while, I found the chinese triggers just as reliable. The plastic foot on the old pocket wizards was much too fragile and made the price seem like a ripoff, I’d pay $65 or so for a pocket wizard plus, if it had a metal foot and was that good, but too little too late for too much in my book….

  • http://wilcfry.com/ Wil Fry

    “…20 or more employees have been made redundant…”

    Does this mean “fired” or “laid off” in today’s market speak? (I’m actually asking, not being coyly corrective.) I thought redundant meant something different than what the context indicates here.

    As for the product itself, I’ve never bought one, though I did use a friend’s PW setup a few times. They seemed very reliable and sturdy. And one huge plus over other trigger brands is backward-compatibility (new models work with old models).

    But as a non-pro, I simply could never justify the cost. As others have said, you can buy 10 or 20 Yongnuo triggers for the price of one PW, and they’re just as reliable. I went with Cactus instead — slightly higher than YN, but still not in the same ballpark as PW.

    The *only* times my Cactus triggers didn’t fire 100% reliably were when I had near-dead batteries in them. (And if I was a pro, I’d put charged batteries in before any shoot.)

    • http://www.lightingrumours.com/ David A. Selby

      “Redundant” is synonymous with “laid off”, which is not the same thing as “fired”; the latter leaves open the possibility of the worker being at fault. Perhaps British English is your undoing once again, Wil…

      • http://wilcfry.com/ Wil Fry

        Perhaps! :-) Thanks again. Though I’d guess it’s more likely business jargon, probably similar here in the States.

  • roberttjohnson

    Yes very much over priced and due to increased competition. Why would anyone new to photography pay high end prices when you can purchase triggers for cheap everywhere that does the very same thing, that’s crazy not to think that you would have to not compete with cheaper triggers. Follow the market and introduce a more competitive priced trigger, because even I could make a diy trigger. If the company closes it’s doors someone else will step in and take over the market, be it at a more affordable price and greater features. Just because it cost more does not mean it’s better.

  • photog

    Had Poppers and Wizards and resold them both. Seriously. Got the Phottix Odin and never looked back. Every bell and whistle I need and rock solid. I mean ROCK SOLID. If you’re looking, check them out.

  • bontiball

    boo hoo….yes it serves them right….way overpriced items, and that’s why I never bought them, bye bye PW

  • Ridgecity

    Announces layoff due to poor sales instead of lower prices. LOL

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