Monday, January 4, 2016

Ramsey Electronics shuts down it's hobby kits division


Another long-time electronics hobby kit manufacturer and retailer has closed down.


Today I went to visit a website I'd relied on as a staple source of electronic kits, only to be greeted by a static page that read, in part:
For more than 4 decades, the name Ramsey Kits has been synonymous with some of the neatest and the greatest electronic products and hobby kits for the do-it-yourself hobbyist.  In those 40+ years, we always thought “outside the box” when we designed a new kit, making us known worldwide as the number one hobby kit manufacturer. 
...Therefore, following our well respected predecessors like Heathkit, KnightKit, Eico, and others in the past, we are discontinuing our Hobby Kit Group January 1, 2016.
This is a summary of the full statement that can be found on their main page, here. Besides the front page, I couldn't find any other news about it on the tubes.

For now, there's some inventory left selling on Amazon herere.

In case you hadn't heard of Ramsey Electronics and their kits, you can browse a snapshot of their site from Nov. 30, 2015 via the Internet Archive WayBack Machine here. Ramsey had over 400 kits for everything from Amateur Radio gear, Nixie tube clocks, PIC programmers, etc. Even very esoteric kits like one for controlling airport runway lights (which I almost bought for the hangar at the news helicopter I used to work in).

One of my very first electronics kits (circa early 2000s) was from Ramsey - an active RF antenna, seen here:


The hobby electronics & kit industry has been a tough market for a while. However some newer companies like SparkFun, Adafruit, etc., seem to have figured out a couple things that maybe Ramsey, Radio Shack, and some others may have not. In my opinion, these may be a few:


  • Open Source - Many of the kit companies were just using designs from magazines, books, and other prior art sources, but in a closed source fashion. Even if the kits were designed in-house, most of the time schematics weren't available unless you purchased the kit. For the companies that did make schematics or instructions available for download, the explanation of the circuits were usually still too technical. Which leads me to my next point.
  • Documentation/Instructions - Many of the kits I've assembled, while having an explanation of the circuit, were too technical. My outlook was, if someone is assembling a kit, they probably don't have any or much electronics background and need a very basic (layman) explanation of the circuit. Even better if there's...
  • Video - A video of the final kit, or maybe even an assembly video to show any "gotchas" is invaluable, in my opinion. Even if it's just to show how the kit works vs. just reading the description on a product page. 
  • Social Media - Like it or not, social media is pretty much required for a business anymore. A lot of the kit & hobby electronics companies that have gone by the wayside either didn't have any social media presence, or just never figured out how to utilize them.
  • Community - All of the above four points lead to a community. Just like many of the defunct companies failed to have any of, or the right combinations of the aforementioned points, it lead to them not having a community. Just the old Seller/Buyer or Seller/Shareholder/Buyer relationship.
I'm not saying I have it all figured out, but it seems plausible anyway. It also makes me wonder about a couple of the other "old school" kit companies still left like Chaney Kits, Velleman Kits, Paia, etc.

What do you think the future holds for the hobby electronics and kit industry? What is/was your favorite kit maker? Comment below.