Horror Stories from the PCB Wars


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“You’re not going to believe this!”

“Did you hear the one about the company that…”

Did you ever live through something that was so insane, and so stupid that you couldn’t believe it was happening right before your very eyes? I have, and many times. But I’m no different from anyone who has sold PCBs, or anyone who’s spent years in our industry, for that matter.

Then, late at night when PCB sales teams get together with just enough brews to lubricate their tongues, they begin to tell their stories, these tales of terror they experienced over their years on the circuit board trails. So, let’s reach into the vault and pull out a few of these gems.

Are you ready? Remember, these are all true stories.

I once worked with a company whose management did not believe in shipping on time. They made an almost justifiable argument that the customers did not really care of if they got their boards today or tomorrow. They claimed that on-time delivery was, well, over-rated and that they got along just fine without the bother of being on time. One of the managers was even emboldened to say, “Look, no one is calling us about it, so the customers must be OK, right?” That company went from $9 million in revenue to $4 million to $ 2 million and then, poof! Just like that, they were gone. They were right about one thing: no one was calling them anymore.

Then there was the company that decided to “re-engineer” their entire organization. Certainly an admirable endeavor, that. The only problem was that they shut down their entire operation and spent their days with all of their key people in a conference room, debating about where to put the semicolon in the mission statement. Meanwhile, the phones rang and rang, their customers could not get their boards quoted, built, or delivered. They went into Chapter 11 bankruptcy and then straight to Chapter 7 and died a very quick and sudden death. But I think they might have got that mission statement done, though.

Then there is the board shop owner whose motto was, “We’re not worse than anyone else.” I am not kidding.

Then there was the director of engineering who grew tired of hearing the sales team complain about the company’s poor quality and delivery. He stood up and yelled, “Why don’t you guys just shut up and go sell boards that we can do here?”

To which some smartass director of sales (who shall remain nameless) responded, “Oh, like overpriced, poor quality boards that are always late.”

You can’t make this stuff up.

Oh, and let’s not forget that company president who was having a hard time booking enough business, so he decided he needed to have a lay-off. He let his entire sales team go. Actually, more than one company can lay claim to this story.

Or, did you hear the one about the company that hated its customers so much that they got together every day to have a bitching session about them? They even went so far as holding an election to vote for the absolute worst customer. Have you heard that one?

Just one more, I promise. This is getting to be sadistic, I know. There was a company that insisted that those four-layer boards they were quoting were really $1,200 each, even though the last time they built them the price had been $80, because the new system was spewing a new price of $1,200 each!

Yes, I promise you these are all true stories. Some of them I have heard from other people, while others I have lived through myself. Ah, the good old days.

But there is a glimmer of hope: Not one of these stories is more recent than 18 years ago. Most of them occurred in the late ‘90s. I am happy to report that times have changed, and we are all getting a little bit better. Most board shops of today are better-run than the ones cited in these horror stories, and most board shops try to be the best they can be at all times. Most board shops try to provide their customers with everything they need to be successful. They try to service their customers to the best of their ability…at all times.

But then again, when I say most board shops today, I mean the fewer than 200 that are left in the US. Over 1,000 U.S. board shops have gone out of business. Could the aforementioned bad actors bear some responsibility for that turn of events? Hmmm…I wonder.

It’s only common sense.

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