Ripping Off a Priest


Timeline: 1989.  Laptops are arm-numbing monsters.

Zenith had announced a new concept in computers, the "notebook" computer. It was called the Minisport, and was not intended to be an "only computer", but rather designed as a minimal "field" computer, where work would be done, to be later dumped to the "big" computer on the users desk.  Neat concept.  The machine had a unique 2" floppy disk (it was intended to be a new standard for laptops, but tiny and rugged hard disks appeared on the market about this time, and the interest in a new laptop floppy standard completely vanished), a very small but complete CGA screen, small (for the day) keyboard, and the primary storage was a RAM disk.

When we were first told about the machine, Zenith told us as they expected it to sell VERY well, we were NOT to discount the machines at all (the computer industry is weird.  Dealers offer big discounts on parts they can't get.  Supply/demand, people?).  So, that's what we did.  We got fliers,  We waited for the crush of people lining up to buy this tiny little computer.

The first person to come in looking for the machine was a Roman Catholic priest, who ran out to our store the day he heard about the machine -- it was EXACTLY what he wanted.  We reluctantly explained the company policy on pricing, and he understood. We took his name and number, and waited for the machines to show up.

When the first shipment arrived, we called the priest, and he hurried over to buy one.  He was the first person to buy one.

He was the only person to buy one at full list price.

In fact, as far as I am aware, until we started discounting the machine below store cost, he was the only person to buy one.

Zenith had goofed.  People were screaming for a small laptop, but they waited a full-function laptop, not a "second computer".

Zenith had goofed, and we ripped off a priest by selling him something no one else wanted, at full list price.

We all chipped in at the store to make sure this priest had service beyond anything he ever anticipated, and fortunately, he was pretty good natured about it.  We later gave him a very big trade-in on a significantly upgraded computer (one that had a tiny hard disk instead of the 2" floppy).  Don't quite know how, but we managed to keep him a happy customer.  We hope. After all, the guy has a friend in a very high place.

2021 update: Interesting how things change. The Zenith MinisPort was a good idea at a wrong time. When I wrote this originally in 2000, the idea of a "Second Computer" was still not a popular idea. However, a relatively few years later, the introduction of the "Netbook" computer format returneed the idea of a "not my primary computer" to the market place. And now, most of us carry a smart phone or tablet that offers us amazing computing power and connectivity. A few years ago, there was talk that "tablets" would kill off the desktop and laptop computer, but looks like that's not going to happen. Yet.

So why did the Minisport flop? Well, I suspect it was two big issues -- cost and connectivity. The cost of the MinisPort was higher than many low end (but more capable) desktops at the time. But then, some modern phones and tablets are more expensive than more powerful modern computers, but we've had some time to get used to it. The other thing is connectivity. The MinisPort predates the popular access to the Internet, and even easy network access to other computers in the office. Moving data from the MinisPort to your desktop was a non-trivial and deliberate process. But it was a machine that was before its time.



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