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Interview with Head of Zeiss Sports Optics UK and their Official Repairer

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Old Wednesday 27th November 2019, 09:28   #1
Troubador
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Interview with Head of Zeiss Sports Optics UK and their Official Repairer

Zeiss started its UK retailing of binoculars from premises in London some time before 1897, and then opened their offices / workshops in Mill Hill, London in 1909, but today this business is managed by the Zeiss SSC (Sales and Service Company) based near Cambridge and I am here to interview Luke Tait, Manager of Zeiss Consumer Products in the UK, which consists of 4 businesses including ones handling sports optics. Also joining us today is Gary Hawkins, a well-known and respected Birdforum member, who now has his own independent optics repair business, which has been appointed the official repair centre for Zeiss sports optics in the UK.

First up is Luke and then we will move on to Gary.

Troubador: Gentlemen, thank you for attending this interview and thanks to you Luke, for providing the venue. May we start with you, Luke, giving an overview of the organisation in the UK?

Luke: Certainly. Based here in Cambourne, near Cambridge, we have Consumer Products as you described in your introduction, but also the Electron-Microscopy and Medical businesses. In Rugby there is Industrial Metrology and in Birmingham we have Zeiss Vision, dealing with spectacle lenses and also forming part of Consumer Products. In all, there are 373 employees, and, in this building there are 4 people directly employed by Consumer Products, as well as some we share with the other businesses. These cover functions such as IT, HR, Marketing and so-on, and they bring the number of employees involved in Consumer Products to 10. Gary and his assistant, Joanne, are not directly employed by Zeiss, but they contribute the Service side of the sports optics business, and so bring the Consumer Products body-count to 12.

Troubador: Do you manufacture on site?

Luke: Not sports optics, but on site we do manufacture electron-microscopes. This activity has been moved from Germany to this site due to our success and achievements here, and those products are distributed all around the world. The sports optics activities here revolve around the sales and distribution of our products to the dealer network, marketing those products in the UK and the Republic of Ireland, as well as customer service, which is Gary’s domain, and the linking of customers and dealers with Germany, by providing feedback in both directions.

Troubador: Please describe the Consumer Products group.

Luke: As you mentioned in your introduction there are four businesses. The biggest is certainly Cinematography. We estimate that 2 out of 3 movies are shot using Zeiss lenses. The second in size is Nature, meaning binoculars and spotting scopes for birding and nature observation, then Photography and the smallest is Hunting.

Troubador: How many dealers do you have, and how would you categorise them, because they are not all the same are they?

Luke: No they aren’t. We have approximately 100 dealers, of which about 50 would be regarded as binocular specialists and the other 50 might be, for example, photo-video outlets with a selection of sports optics. Of the 50 binocular specialists around 6 are super-specialists, with exceptional in-depth knowledge and experience.

Troubador: Do you keep stocks of products in the UK?

Luke: At the moment yes, normally, no! The ‘if and when’ uncertainties of Brexit have meant I felt it prudent to lay down a stock of fast-moving products, at least until the situation becomes clear. We have a 2-3 day delivery time from Germany, and this is normally more than satisfactory. Our preferred position is that stock should be at the dealers, within reach of the customers, so to become a Zeiss Premier Stockist a dealer is required to commit to maintaining stocks at certain minimum levels. We will maintain our ‘Brexit’ stock in the UK until it is clear that a Brexit solution has been found and implemented that does not threaten our supply chain.

Troubador: What happens when a dealer sends in an order? How is it processed?

Luke: The dealers use a Consumer Products email address to send in their requirement and any one of a team of half a dozen people will capture that email and ping it across to the order-entry system where it will appear as a requirement in Germany and they will do the necessary to satisfy it, with delivery taking place from either the UK stock, if there is one, or from Germany.

Troubador: Some dealers are finding that they are selling more 32mm now. Is this reflected in your experience?

Luke: No, not at all. In fact whether it is our Terra ED, Conquest HD or our Victory SF binoculars, it is the 10x42s that are easily our best sellers in the UK.

Troubador: That is very interesting. Do you organise events up and down the country where customers can try out binos and get advice?

Luke: Well, they can certainly do that at any of our Premier Stockist dealers, but we do organise mini-events like this during the course of the year. This year we have done about 10 events, some with prominent figures like Simon King, others without, and we expect to organise a similar number next year.

Troubador: What training do you give to dealers?

Luke: Some of our dealers do not need training at all, but some, and I am thinking particularly of photography retailers, do. For example the Wex Photo Video outlets joined us last year and I and the other account managers gave them training on binocular basics and set-up. Dealer training is an on-going process.

Troubador: The Victory Pockets appear to have been well-received around the world. Has this been mirrored in the UK?

Luke: Absolutely. They are selling really well and have even attracted the attention of an extremely up-market retailer in London, who is keen to stock them.

Troubador: Thanks Luke, for that overview of the sales and marketing activities. Gary, it’s over to you now for the service side, starting with a bit of background on your personal career.

Gary: I actually started off in retail, selling binoculars, but in the early 1990’s joined Leica where I trained as an engineer, and worked on sports optics, cameras, camera lenses and slide projectors, for 20 years. When Leica moved to London, the workshop personnel were made redundant, and I was offered a job as sports optics engineer at Zeiss, and did this for 8 years. However, this involved a very long commute to work and back, around a 160 miles per day in fact. Eventually this simply became too much, and I decided to go independent and start up East Coast Binocular Repairs. I work there with Joanne who is fully trained on all Zeiss binocular repairs.

Troubador: If a customer finds they have a problem with their Zeiss sports optics instrument, should they contact you or should they contact the dealer?

Luke: Please allow me to answer that. In all cases, whether the bino is new or was bought some time ago or was bought second-hand, we recommend the customer contacts the supplying dealer, or if this is not possible, any other conveniently located dealer. Our dealers and their locations can be found on our website by using the dealer locator. We cover the costs for dealers to provide this service, so they will receive the instrument, pack it up and send it to Gary for attention, and all with no charge to the customer. Their point of contact will remain the dealer and Gary will inform the dealer when the instrument is received and when it is on its way back. Having said that there is absolutely no reason why the customer cannot package the bino up and send it to Gary at East Coast Binocular Repairs, but most people find it convenient to leave that to the dealer, who, as I mentioned before, provides this service free of charge and does not add any ‘margin’ to the cost of a chargeable repair. Sometimes the cause for concern can be addressed simply by advice and guidance from the dealer.

Troubador: Gary, what kind of questions do you get asked over the phone and does this take up a lot of your time?

Gary: The most common questions following a brief description of a problem are ‘how much will it cost and how long will it take’. It does consume an enormous amount of time but it comes with the job and I accept it.

Troubador: OK, let’s say you have received binoculars for repair. What happens next?

Gary: The binoculars are booked into our system, and an email is sent to advise the customer that the binoculars have been received. About 95% of repairs to Zeiss binoculars are either done under warranty or free of charge as a goodwill gesture. If the repair is chargeable, the customer is informed and asked whether the repair is to proceed or not, and if it is, then the repair is effected as soon as possible. When completed and the binoculars are sent back to the customer, an email is sent informing the customer of this.

Troubador: What is the commonest reason for a repair being needed?

Gary: Actually the commonest cause from birders is people dropping the binos so that they are out of collimation, or occasionally, something is broken. With hunters, we find that they are not so careful with their lens-cleaning technique and seem to wipe the oculars with anything they have to hand, such as the corner of a shirt or jacket. So in their case the commonest cause for return is scratched ocular lenses.

Troubador: What is the ratio of Dialyts to more modern models such as HT or SF?

Gary: Dialyts are 75-80% of models we work on, we see very few HTs and SFs.

Troubador: Do DIY repairs cause you problems?

Gary: Only one kind does. Zeiss products don’t have external screws visible so unless they have special tools, customers aren’t tempted to open the products up. However some customers do get tempted to squirt WD40 into the binoculars and this is a big mistake. WD stands for Water Dispersant, and it was invented to remove water from the ignition systems of cars and motorbikes. Because it is a water dispersant it is not easy to clean off and creeps around inside the binos over lenses, prisms and focus-drive components. If a customer has done this it can easily double the cost of a repair. Because it disperses water you can’t use water to wash it away, in fact the affected components can only be cleaned by putting them into an ultrasonic ‘bath’ and ‘scrubbing’ them.

Luke: Sorry to butt-in here at this point, but one thing we should mention is that if for some reason a customer has lost or damaged their eyecups, rainguard/ocular cover, objective covers or even their strap, if they contact either us or Gary, we will send replacements free of charge.

Gary: Yes, absolutely. We don’t get asked for straps so often, but all of those are available free of charge.

Luke: We can see there are different levels of usage of binoculars, from the occasional birder using their binoculars for an hour or two per week, and the more hard-core birder using theirs for between 4 and 8 hours at every opportunity. The latter is bound to put more wear onto accessories such as eyecups and rainguards etc. and we want to support them, and the more casual user to the fullest extent.

Troubador: Gary, what is a typical turn-around time for a repair, if there is such a thing?

Gary: Our aim is to have binoculars on their way back to their owner by the end of 5 working days. This isn’t always possible due to our workload, or sometimes to parts availability, but that is our aim, and we are successful for much of the time. We are able to turnaround some repairs in one working day, with the binos reaching us on day one, and being dispatched back to the owner on the following day. We can repair all Zeiss models apart from SFs, but this will change at the end of January/beginning of February next year, when I will go to Germany to collect a full set of special tools required for working on them, and be trained. On my return I will pass this training onto Joanne so that we can both undertake work on this model.

Luke: What about if a binocular has been smashed or really badly damaged? Wouldn’t that have to go back to Wetzlar, or is even that unusual?

Gary: It’s unusual. Have you seen our warehouse? It’s about the twice the size of this room (Troubador: that makes it pretty big!) and it’s stuffed with spares, and we also have hundreds of scrap binoculars that we can raid for unusual or rare parts. All of this means that we can do at least 95% of repairs in-house without sending to Germany.

Troubador: When a binocular has been returned via a dealer for repair, who should the customer contact for news, if they feel they need to? Would it be Customer Care in Cambridge or you, Gary, and would this be different if the customer has been told the instrument has gone to Germany for repair?

Gary: The customer should always contact the dealer if it has been returned through the dealer. If the customer has returned it themselves they should contact me at East Coast Binocular Repairs, even if they have been informed the unit has gone to Germany.

Troubador: Gentlemen, many thanks for devoting so much time for this interview.


Lee

Last edited by Troubador : Sunday 1st December 2019 at 09:25.
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Old Wednesday 27th November 2019, 13:58   #2
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Very nice interview Troubsey. Looks like UK customers are well taken care of for any servicing.

We have the Zeiss Kentucky service center over here, but I was informed they don't do all repairs there yet.
If I had to send my FL for repair they would mail it to Germany and it could take 6 weeks for the service.
They want to be able to fix most Zeiss models eventually in KY.

I think being a repair tech like Gary and Joanne would be a job I could feel proud about.
Several years ago I called Leica since they're locating in NJ where I reside and I asked them
if they had an optics repair training program and they said no.

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Old Wednesday 27th November 2019, 14:51   #3
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Originally Posted by Gilmore Girl View Post
Very nice interview Troubsey. Looks like UK customers are well taken care of for any servicing.


I think being a repair tech like Gary and Joanne would be a job I could feel proud about.
Several years ago I called Leica since they're locating in NJ where I reside and I asked them
if they had an optics repair training program and they said no.

Thanks GiGi. I guess Leica really meant they weren't hiring repairers at the time you contacted them.

Lee
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Old Wednesday 27th November 2019, 23:00   #4
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Thanks Lee,

As with your other interviews a variety of interesting insights

One takeaway that should be shouted loud and clear, and far and wide, for the benefit of some optical tinkers is:

Quote:
Originally Posted by Troubador View Post
Gary: . . . some customers do get tempted to squirt WD40 into the binoculars and this is a big mistake.
WD stands for Water Dispersant, and it was invented to remove water from the ignition systems of cars and motorbikes.
Because it is a water dispersant it is not easy to clean off and creeps around inside the binos over lenses, prisms and focus-drive components.
If a customer has done this it can easily double the cost of a repair.
Because it disperses water you can’t use water to wash it away, in fact the affected components can only be cleaned by putting them into an ultrasonic ‘bath’ and ‘scrubbing’ them.

John

Last edited by John A Roberts : Thursday 28th November 2019 at 00:02.
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Old Thursday 28th November 2019, 03:19   #5
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Lee,

Thanks for taking the time and your guests for providing insight how things work in your neck of the woods. All my Zeiss are a-ok, no problems here. It is nice to know that they still work on the older Dialyt models too.

Andy W.
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Old Thursday 28th November 2019, 07:36   #6
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Thanks Lee,

As with your other interviews a variety of interesting insights

One takeaway that should be shouted loud and clear, and far and wide, for the benefit of some optical tinkers is:


John
Thanks for emphasising this John, it can't be over-emphasised.

Lee
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Old Thursday 28th November 2019, 21:39   #7
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super, thank you Lee.
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Old Friday 29th November 2019, 07:42   #8
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super, thank you Lee.


You are welcome!

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