Heathkit Closes, Again. This time for good?

May 9, 2012
Commentary on the announcement that Heathkit Educational Systems has suspended its business.

>> Electronic Design Resources
.. >> Library: Article Series
.. .. >> Topic: Looking Back at Electronic History
.. .. .. >>Series: Rise and Fall of Radio Shack and Heathkit

I got word today from editorial colleague and fellow ham Dave Maliniak that he had heard that Heathkit closed, again.  This has been difficult to verify but it does appear that the doors are closed.

What closed, of course, are the remains of Heathkit’s original business, Heathkit Educational Systems (HES).  After the kit business shut its doors in 1992, the HES group continued on in Benton Harbor, Michigan.  This group developed educational materials and lab equipment on electronic and microcomputer fundamentals, telecom, alternative energy and robotics.  They sold these products mainly to schools and colleges through a national rep organization.  Overall the business did well, at least up until recently.

Apparently, business has not been good.  And it seems that the falling sales lead to financial difficulties that could not be overcome.  Even with some positive rumors late last year that the company would get back into the kit business and even consider making ham gear again.  All that might have been the result of an attempt to find a way out of financial trouble.  Anyway, word is that all the employees were let go in March and formal operation was suspended.

I really hate to see this as I was so involved with this business.  I went to Heath in 1973 to start the Educational business.  We launched the first self study courses and kits in 1974 and the business grew rapidly.  When I left in the early 1980’s revenue had increased beyond $15 million and the Hero robot really brought in even greater revenue.  It was a great business.  After the kit business shut down in 1992, HES was spun off and was bought by an independent group of investors.  Generally it has done well, but those with HES were not the kit people or the ham radio people.  Education was a separate and very different business than kits.  Education required different knowledge and skills.  No doubt that is why HES was not successful in transitioning back to kits and ham radio.

Some of us ex-Heathkit managers had hoped HES would successfully get back into the game.  But we all had our doubts because of that lack or real kit or ham experience.  The name Heathkit is golden and no doubt would have helped the company make a comeback in the hobbyist/experimenter/ham arean.  But lacking the expertise and the funding and managers without the necessary background made it impossible.

This is a sad day as the potential was there.  Today, kit and DIY businesses are really booming.  Kit and DIY companies like Make and SparkFun are doing great and many other similar small businesses have started recently.  Even ham radio kits are doing well.

Maybe someone will come along and buy what is left of the business and bring it back.  That needs to be someone with kit and/or ham knowledge and experience.  Otherwise, an icon of electronics will be lost.

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