J Fritsche wrote:But I'd be afraid to buy one. I stick with Wills Wing. Why? From what I know, UP is a very small-time operation, a two-man company. They don't sell many gliders. They don't advertise. Do they even have dealers, or is all business done directly with UP? They haven't come up with a new design in, what, 15 years? Is there any R & D at all? What kind of confidence could I have that a "company" like this won't close for any number of reasons at some point in the near future? And if it does close, who's going to make and sell me replacement parts? In that scenario, I don't think my local dealers for Wills, Moyes, etc. are going to bend over backwards to help me find stuff for my out-of-production glider that I bought direct from the manufacturer.
Just some more food for thought before you buy...
First off. I'll let you all in on a little secret: unless you're selling a LOT of gliders (high volume) there's not much $ to be made in hang gliding. Yes, the same rule applies to almost any business, but even more so with hang gliding due to the very specialized and custom made parts and exotic materials. If you're not buying 1,000 units at a time of specialty item X, you're gonna pay noticeably more for it. Not saying John or I are greedy, but we do need a certain amount of reliable monthly income to live in southern cal and enjoy some sort of lifestyle.
Could we have made an attempt at going back to "big-time" production as the company once was (sorta)? Sure, but the risk/reward wasn't that appealing, especially knowing the additional risk of working so hard to make it "fly" that we burn ourselves out AND end up broke.
So instead yes, we are a "small-time" operation and that's how we like it. Our operating expenses are minimal and we don't have to hire employees, pay insurance/benefits, etc. We typically get enough business from word-of-mouth but have considered and probably should do some advertising. There's no reason for us to have a "whimsical change of heart" since we operate out of the love for flying and the products we make. Especially when the business doesn't require an excessive amount of time or $. And even if for some unforeseeable reason we BOTH decide to give it up, there are others interested in taking over so UP won't just disappear.
As for dealers, yes we encourage customers to order through their local dealer if they expect to get service from them.
No, we haven't made any major
changes to the Saturn or Predator. A lot of thought went into their initial design and they've proven themselves very well. It's not as if we changed 1 part and called it a new wing. No, we don't think they're perfect so we're always looking for little tweaks we can do to make incremental improvements. It's a fine line to walk though because certain changes require re-certification which is very costly.
As KC hinted, yes we are nearing design completion of new aero control frame fittings that will fit a WW (or other) streamline base tube AND the conventional round speedbar. This along with the Seedwings downtubes (same design WW cloned and called Litestream) we currently use will make for an all new control frame. There is also a possibility of offering carbon downtubes and kingpost again, but it will depend on interest from existing owners. We've been working with Seedwings to develop a new airfoil for the Predator. I've done several flights and have found positive results but we're still tweaking it. We offer flip-tips for ribs if the customer wants them, although we're not completely sold on them.
We have access to the same specialty sail cloth the other mfr's offer and will make a sail out of anything you wish. Although it's difficult to argue with the proven 800+hr lifespan of the plain ol' dacron sails we usually make. How many 8yr old (or longer) gliders do you know of that still perform reasonably well and are still loop-able? Surely none of them are made of mylar.
So no, we don't have to make continuous improvements to remain competitive and stay in business. Instead we do it because we want to make the products we love better, it's just happening at a slower pace. Since I've been involved, we've never advertised having the latest greatest competition level wings, rather quality solid products and personal support.