Thursday, November 16, 2006


METS wraps up today. The remaining members of the KE team will be packing up the booth and heading for home. Ian, Jim, and I will be winging our way back to Boston in the early afternoon. The distributors are departing for offices around the world. And we're left with the question, "was it worth it?"

Yes. Absolutely.

METS was a tremendously impressive show and KVH acquitted itself well. We gained tremendous recognition thanks to the DAME Award. People would come up to the booth or see the KVH logos on our badges or shirts as we walked the aisles and call out "Congratulations." (A number of people also commented that they couldn't understand how we lost to a winch handle for the actual DAME Prize...maybe next year.) The distributor meeting prepared an already energetic, committed group for what promises to be an exciting new year. And the booth was a focal point for activity during the show.

"The booth was always busy," Jim remarked last evening. "There were always distributors in the booth with another one waiting in line to talk to us. You can see that we're a bigger part of their business. Where a few years ago we might have had to convince them to carry our products, now they're coming to the booth and asking to carry our products."

Ian seems to agree with that assessment. "At METS you saw evidence of KVH's rising stardom in this industry. We're a company that people want to do business with; we're in demand as a business partner."

And what did Mads think? After all, this was KE's show.

"It's been a very good show and the M3 is definitely an eye opener, a gate opener to new connections. Other shows in the past have been about maintaining our relationships. This year was about creating new relationships. Winning an award in the DAME competition also creates so much awareness and so much traffic...Our plan next year will be to improve and expand the booth with new office space. We can use it."

As we were leaving the exhibition hall for the last time, we were handed souvenir luggage tags that read "See you at METS 2007!" It's nice thought. I look forward to coming back.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

A cultural interlude

Amsterdam and its culture are built on more than 800 years of history and wherever you turn, there is some of it around you.

There's the Oude Kerk church, which was first the site of a small wooden church in the 12th and 13th centuries and is now a massive, stunning building originally constructed in the 14th century and gradually expanded. It's so big and so old, small shops and homes have been built into its sides like barnacles on a ship's hull.

Rembrandt lived here and you can visit his house and see his works, the most significant of which were painted in his first floor studio between 1639 and 1656. And, if you're feeling particularly frisky, you can also go see the Netherland's most successful musical star, Henk Poort, in the local hit, "Rembrandt: The Musical - The Unknown Rebel!" But hurry, it closes on December 10th.

Amsterdam is the site of the Anne Frank House, now a museum open to the public so you can see where Anne, her family, and two other people hid for two years until they were betrayed to the Nazis. I won't have time to visit it tomorrow before departing. Even if I did, I honestly don't know that I would be able to bring myself to go. I think it would be a tremendously upsetting though no doubt unforgettable experience and probably not the last thing I want to see before an 8-hour flight back to Boston. It looks like a very very quick visit to the Van Gogh Museum will have to be the last thing Ian, Jim, and I squeeze in before heading to Schiphol Airport and the welcoming arms of Northwest Airlines.

Everyone here rides bikes. Next to every sidewalk, there is a bike path, and special crossing lanes and lights for cyclists. But no one rides 10-speeds or mountain bikes. They ride single-speed, sit-up straight bikes, like Margaret Hamilton rode in "The Wizard of Oz" before she changed from Mrs. Gulch to the Wicked Witch of the West. And they're everywhere. Riders politely ring their bells as they pass, bikes are locked up alongside every building. We saw probably 50 of them stacked up, tumbled over, covered in leaves, next to the Haarlem Central Rail Station, almost like a secret elephant graveyard but for 1930s-era bikes and, well, not so secret.

This is where Mr. Kits, chief scientist, chairman of the board, and co-founder of KVH, served in the Dutch Resistance during WWII.

The trams here are clean, new, and always on time. The transit workers are also terribly polite. After going on an 8-hour strike today to put some pressure on the city during the lead-up to this evening's Holland v. UK football match (1-1 tie if you're interested) due to wage disputes, the transit authority then offered all rides for free this evening to avoid making anyone too upset.

Anyone who read "Band of Brothers" or saw the HBO film will be familiar with the region surrounding Amsterdam (By the way, I recommend the book and the movie very highly.) We're only 80 miles from Eindhoven, one of the cities that Easy Company helped to liberate (though apparently Eindhoven looks nothing like its pre-war self as it was flattened by Allied bombing and completely rebuilt following the war). While the movie was filmed on sets in England, based on what I saw during the train ride to Haarlem a few days ago as well as my walks through Haarlem and the older sections of Amsterdam, the producers did a remarkable job of capturing the sense and feel. There were moments when it would have been perfectly reasonable to see Major Dick Winters and Captain Ronald Speirs come running around the corner leading Lipton, Guarnere, Malarky, Randleman, and the others.

I'm 6'0 tall and feel very short here in Amsterdam. Apparently, the Dutch are now the tallest population in the world. After 4 days of walking around here, I believe it. Has someone told the NBA about this?

The city is starting to be lit up at night in preparation for the Sinterklaas Parade this Sunday (the traditional arrival of the Dutch equivalent of Santa Claus by boat). On December 5th, the Dutch will celebrate Sinterklaasvond, the traditional day of holiday gift giving though from what I've read, December 25th is taking on more of the gift-giving aspect now rather than just being a day of religious observance.

And now, boys and girls, here endeth the lesson until tomorrow, when we wrap this all up.

Ingenuity will take you far

“Hey honey, what do you think about heading for Lebanon on vacation this year?”

Yeah, most readers will have the same reaction: “What you talking about, Willis?” (special thanks to the always brilliant Gary Coleman – actor, security guard, gubernatorial candidate). However, spending time here in Amsterdam and with our distributors from around the globe quickly disabuses you of American preconceptions.

Boats can go virtually anywhere and apparently, many boat owners enjoy Lebanon – it’s a popular destination and stopping point for luxury yachts operating in the eastern Med thanks to its beaches and pleasant anchorages as well as available yacht rental businesses. It’s a market that KVH doesn’t want to ignore and hasn’t – TracVision is fully compatible with services like Arabsat – and distributor Joe Barhoush is covering it well.

Joe Barhoush discussing TracVision M3's technology with Hans Henrik Danevig

Joe, who is in town for METS and Monday’s distributor meeting, started carrying KVH products 5 years ago, took part in the comprehensive KVH Customer Support Network (CSN) training program 3 years ago, and is like many of our distributors. He brings a wealth of local knowledge and an in-country infrastructure to KVH's sales efforts. In fact, he serves not only as a distributor but also as a dealer and technical support resource for vessels that make Lebanon their home, those visiting or just stopping over, and for private customers throughout the region. So far, it’s been a beneficial relationship for all involved. Joe explained as we chatted in the booth earlier today:

Everyone counts on TracVision. It’s the only entertainment they have on the sea. Working with KVH? They’ve been super good and super available. KVH Europe offers really good support, orders are received quickly, and it’s one the best companies I’ve ever worked with. They let me feel like I’m KVH. In Lebanon and the area, we have a good reputation and we get that in part from KVH. Customers trust us and see that we’re there when they need us, not just there for the holidays.”

Joe with Paul Schwartz, David Tropp Hag, and Henrik Kok Valbirk in the KVH booth

That sort of track record has led Joe to have an energetic sales approach, an aggressive loyalty to KVH and its products, and a willingness to be flexible in the face of changing circumstances. That’s necessary in the volatile world in which Joe works. His business’ strong growth faced a challenge during the recent military conflict in the area. You didn’t find many luxury yachts hanging around the Lebanese coast as bombs and rockets were hurtling about. However, by equipping his SUV with a TracVision L3, Joe found a new, temporary career supporting international media in the region who needed to stay on top of breaking news.

Now that’s the sort of ingenious thinking we appreciate here!

What's a 10-letter word for "award-winning satellite TV system"?

Visually, METS is unlike any U.S. trade show I've attended, either with KVH or other organizations. Shows like SEMA and CES present a remarkable sense of organized chaos (well, sometimes just chaos). Exhibitors pay for X square feet of exhibition space and anything goes within that space. Exhibits are wide open and sprawl throughout the space with an explosion of color, banners, things hanging from the ceiling, noise, all designed to be more compelling, louder, and suck you in like a carnival attraction while allowing a free flow of traffic that, conversely, makes it difficult to navigate and find what you're looking for without excessive wandering.

METS is regimented, framed by right angles, walls, and clearly marked booths that gives you the sense of exhibiting inside a giant crossword puzzle. It's easy to find what you want, provided you have a show directory with the halls and booth numbers listed. However, it does take some of the surprise out of the booths themselves. On the other hand, it levels the playing field a bit as the products are forced to live or die on the skill and professionalism of the staff manning the booth and answering questions, rather than on noise, flash, and other eye candy.

OK, I've got to get back to work. If you need me, I'll be in 1 Across, "a 3-letter word for world-leader in mobile satellite TV and much more."

A visitor's eye view of the METS show

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Let the real work begin

With the conclusion of the awards ceremony and the opening of the trade show, the real work is underway. KVH has a tremendous location - near the entrance to the main hall and with an end cap, allowing the entire booth and the complete display to face all of the attendees as they enter the building. With more than 1,120 exhibitors, a prime location is key. I feel for the poor souls tucked away at the back of the hall. Maybe they brought a deck of cards...

The KVH Europe Booth, highlighting the TracVision M3

There has been an unending series of meetings among our distributors and members of the KVH team. With two office areas within the booth itself, we have plenty of space. Conveniently, we're also located next to a small food court serving Chinese food and with plenty of extra tables to serve as spillover office space. (Personally, I recommend you skip the Chinese food and go for the homemade crepes with fresh strawberries...what a difference from SEMA and Las Vegas where it's hard to find anything but burgers, hot dogs, and chicken nuggets.)

The office space is necessary because KE is booked solid with meetings with the individual distributors. While yesterday's meeting set the ground rules and the foundation for next year, it's in the meetings taking place today, tomorrow, and Thursday where the real work gets done as KE and distributors discuss every aspect of the business as it applies to their individual regions.

There's been a steady crowd and ongoing meetings

And now for something completely different...

On a non-METS note, KVH entered the pop culture mainstream this weekend, sort of. Apparently KVH and our TracNet 100 made it onto Saturday Night Live this past Saturday following last week's Associated Press story about TracNet. During the "Weekend Update" sketch, anchor Amy Pohler reported on "a company in the news that now brings Internet to drivers who can log on to Google Maps and watch themselves as they smash into a tree." Of course, TracNet is only for passenger use but we appreciate the attention. Too bad more people aren't watching SNL these days...

A good start to the day

Well, you can’t kick off a show with much better news than this – a short time ago Mads Bjerre-Petersen (managing director, KVH Europe) accepted the DAME Prize Marine Electronics Category Winner award for the TracVision M3. Bestowed each year during the Marine Trade Show (METS) in Amsterdam, the Design Award METS (DAME) Prize is recognized worldwide as one of the leading competitions for marine design, technology, and accessories. This is the second major award bestowed upon the TracVision M3 in recent weeks – the U.S.-based National Marine Electronics Association also selected the TracVision M3 as the recipient of its NMEA Industry Award in the Marine Entertainment category. Keep an eye out for the official press release on later this morning.

Mads with the TracVision M3 and the DAME Prize Category Winner Award

Prepping the network for 2007

The differences in how we do business internationally vs. domestically are on clear display at today's meeting. Unlike our North American operations, where we often deal directly with individual dealers or a limited number of national or regional distributors, KVH Europe and our international business operations are almost entirely focused on working instead with national distributors, each of which cultivates, trains, supports, and manages a large network of in-country dealers who sell and service KVH products. It's a model that works. In the third quarter of this year, KVH's international sales were up 40% from the same quarter in 2005, and are up more than 25% for the first nine months of the year.

The annual distributor meeting is the one time when all of these key players, together with KVH personnel, are able to get together to review the prior year and make plans for the next one. As noted earlier, this year is a record turnout, with 35 attendees representing 24 countries, including our two new Asian distributors.

KE Managing Director Mads Bjerre-Petersen kicks off the meeting

There was a tremendous amount of material to cover during the course of the 6-hour meeting, ranging from product updates and competitive analysis to service policies and marketing programs. Kudos to the team at KVH Europe, led by managing director Mads Bjerre-Petersen, and the outstanding job they did organizing and managing the event.

Paul Schwartz, satcom product line manager, and Hans Henrik Danevig, sales manager, chat with one of the distributors during a break

As someone who has always operated within KVH in the United States, I knew intellectually that KE had to operate differently and that the distributors added a new level of complexity. However, attending this meeting for the first time has been something of an eye-opener for me as I could see the give-and-take as well as the wide spectrum of opinions and requests from this diverse group. Where one distributor group might feel a product price level might be a bit too high for its dealers and customers, another distributor with a different marketplace might feel the price could be higher.

As the discussions progressed, it was plain to see that KE has developed a very strong set of cooperative relationships with each of these distributors. It helps that there is mutual respect among all the parts – a clear respect for the work the distributors do in their respective regions along with an appreciation for both the quality of KVH’s products as well as the support and service offered by KVH Europe.

Ian Palmer (r) discusses marketing and promotional materials

The distributors clearly know their stuff and for me, it’s been a pleasure meeting them. I think they’ll be a valuable resource for our communication and marketing teams in the U.S. and Denmark as we aim to increase our international media outreach efforts in 2007.

And the meeting winds down with small group discussions

And now onto METS 2006...

Monday, November 13, 2006

A meeting of the minds

One of the major events that takes place at the same time KVH attends METS is our annual meeting of our international distributors. This meeting kicked off just a short while ago with 35 distributors representing 24 countries (a new record) along with members of KVH Europe and KVH Corporate. This meeting offers everyone an opportunity to get everyone reset on product information, what's on the horizon, and to kick around new ideas and ask questions.

More to come...

Sunday, November 12, 2006

So, KVH sells navigation equipment, right?

Rather than wander Amsterdam all day waiting to get into the hotel, we hopped a train to Haarlem, a lovely old town perhaps 20 minutes away by train. Of course, we had to make it a challenge, getting off the train one stop too early – the conductor told us “second stop Haarlem” when we asked if we were getting on the right train so we got off at the second stop along the way, right across the tracks from a massive Ikea, a bus stop, and not much else. Apparently, the conductor might have been trying to tell us that we wanted to get off at the second stop in Haarlem. Of course, it turns out we got on the wrong train anyway. Our tickets were for the express which only stopped in the center of Haarlem, but we impatient Americans hopped the local instead. As a result, we got a lovely tour of residential Haarlem by way of the local bus.

So, which stop did we want?

Haarlem – source of the name of the section of New York City but nothing at all like it. Absolutely lovely, even in the grey and the cold, but even more quiet than Amsterdam at dawn. We joked that we felt like actors in some post-apocalyptic movie where we’re the only people left alive. Walking down these silent streets and alleys, it felt that way but not in a creepy way. More of a “wow, we get this all to ourselves” kind of way.

No, this isn't a movie set. Downtown Haarlem really was this quiet on Sunday

Jim and Ian dwarfed by the 600-year old Grote Kerk church in the center of Haarlem

The homes and canalboats along the River Spaarne

Of course, your intrepid blogger ended up with the guide book and when asked to point the way to the central train station so we could head back to Amsterdam, led us in entirely the wrong direction. Just for the record, I want it noted that I was operating on two hours of sleep, the guide book didn't show the train station, and we’d never actually been to the central station since we got off at the wrong stop the first time anyhow. I’m pretty sure I had us going back to the original stop so my new nickname “Rand McNally” probably isn’t entirely deserved. Besides, if I’d had a KVH TACNAV system I’d have been all set.

Day of the Dead

Working on little to no sleep, Ian, Jim, and I decided to take the little bit of spare time available on Sunday to play zombie tourists before meeting up with the folks from KVH Europe (KE for short). Some random, initial thoughts following day 1 of wandering Amsterdam and the surrounding environs:
Since it was too early to get into the hotel rooms, Ian debates falling asleep in this large shoe on an Amsterdam street

Everyone speaks English here and pretty well, too, along with probably several other languages. Despite 6 years of Spanish in school, I’m limited to asking for a beer and the bathroom so the multilingual denizens of the Netherlands are making me feel pretty inadequate. A perfect example of why kids in pre-school should learn multiple languages, I guess.

Walking through Amsterdam at 8:30 AM on a Sunday morning is a nice way to do it. Very few crowds, very quiet, and peaceful. Hardly any shops are open except the “coffee houses” which don’t actually sell coffee. All that changes by lunchtime, of course, when the crowds come out, even on a cold, grey, rainy November day. Even with the crowds and the traffic, I didn’t hear a single horn honk.

One of Amsterdam's canals, which criss-cross the city and are bordered by historic buildings.

For those of us on the east coast who take pride in buildings that are 200 years old, Amsterdam alters our sense of what “old” actually when you see a house built in 1608 or a gatehouse originally built in the 1400s. And drinking a cold beverage just seems to be more appealing in a tavern that is 335 years old and was apparently last remodeled 250 years ago (at least that’s what the bartender told us).

Jim George and blog author and communications manager Chris Watson toast their safe arrival in Amsterdam in the Der Hoppe, a 335-year old tavern, on Sunday afternoon.

Welcome to Schiphol International Airport, gateway to Amsterdam

Schiphol International Airport (pronounced “skipple”, apparently) must be one of the cleanest and quietest airports I’ve ever traveled through. No loud announcements blasting through the hallways, unbelievably efficient (total time to get off the plane, through customs, and luggage in hand? 20 minutes), and sparkling clean.

Of course, arriving at 7:15 AM (an hour early courtesy of a strong tailwind) before the crowds had a chance to muck it up might have made a difference. However, from what I saw, I expect that it will probably be nearly as clean at 7:15 PM. You leave the secure area and the main concourse feels like a very classy mall. I’d fly through here again (and will on Thursday afternoon but you get my point).

Flight Plans

This is the first visit to Amsterdam for both national marine sales manager Jim George and me. While the bulk of our time will be spent in meetings or working the METS show floor, we still wanted to find some time to see the sights and do the tourist thing, even if only for a few hours. With the distributor meeting scheduled for Monday and METS on Tuesday through Thursday, we took an overnight flight, along with executive VP of sales Ian Palmer, that departed Boston on Saturday evening and arrived on Sunday morning.

The flight isn’t actually that long but the six-hour jump ahead is a killer. You try your best to sleep on the flight, knowing that you’ll be landing at 8 AM and have a full day ahead of you, even though it’s actually 2 AM on the east coast of the U.S. However, doing it this way gives us a bit of time on Sunday before we need to meet up with the team from KVH Europe. They’ll be arriving later in the day to set up the booth at the exhibition center as well as prep for the Monday meeting. We'll be joined by KVH president and CEO Martin Kits van Heyningen, who will arrive on Monday morning via the Sunday night flight from Boston. All told, there will be 12 KVH team members on hand.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Heading for METS 2006

The 2006 Marine Equipment Trade Show (METS) is set to start early next week in Amsterdam and KVH will be on hand, with members of our European sales, marketing, and service office (based in Kokkedal, Denmark) leading the way. Several of us from corporate headquarters will also be attending to meet with distributors, dealers, boat builders, and the press.

Check back here soon for all the up-to-date news, photos, and thoughts from METS 2006.