My Leica dealer just informed me that my M9 which was ordered in October and “promised” for end of January will unlikely be available before March….maybe! In fact he has only received two units since the beginning of the year and has had to refund several customers their deposits. The M9 was announced in September to huge fanfare; now 5 months later, nada.

The Leica S2 professional camera was similarly announced two years ago yet has still to make an appearance on store shelves. In the meantime, new competitive offerings promise to be available shortly, essential preempting much of the potential market for the S2.

The X1 luxury compact was also introduced in September at the same time as the M9. Still no sign of it. But the real diagnostic is the shortage of routine lenses that form the backbone of any dealer’s inventory. In fact, with the exception of “demos” there does not appear to be any Leica inventory to be had, anywhere! Now, I can understand how a shortage of a critical part may delay production of any given model. But in this case the problem transcends any one model and appears to be a far-reaching phenomenon. As a corporate turnaround specialist, the natural question that springs to my mind is: “Is this just a case of demand outstripping supply, or does it mean that the company has reached a critical point in its cash flow and is unable to find the money to buy the parts and pay the labor, to make the products that will save its skin? We call this the point-of-no-return on the spiral of decline. It means that one doesn’t have the cash to save oneself from disaster.

I remember a tragic individual case some years ago. Our Human Resources group had arranged a job interview for an excellent candidate who had lost her job some months previously. On the afternoon that she was due to meet the client, I received a phone call from her. She explained tearfully that she didn’t even have the money to put gas in her car to go to the interview (some kilometers away and not accessible by public transit). I had to send one of our local people over with a $50 loan so she could make the interview. THAT’s the point-of-no-return on the spiral of decline.

Speaking to the Leica dealer today, we both agreed that we had never seen such a case of lavish product introductions without any follow-up inventory. Had Leica simply kept mum, they might at least have kept selling off old inventory. Once the cat was out of the bag, people just stopped buying the “old” technology. Sheer craziness. We know that in today’s technology world, if you can’t get stock on the shelves in a few weeks, you’ll likely lose all momentum and customer confidence. Two year and even five-month delays are unconscionable and downright stupid!

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