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West Marine Responds to Swivel Failure

In Friday’s ‘Lectronic Latitude, we shared John and Gilly Foy’s story of how the Kong anchor swivel on their 55-lb Delta anchor failed, causing their Alameda- and Banderas Bay-based Catalina 42 Destiny to drag. Luckily, they were able to set their secondary anchor before any damage occurred, but it scared the living daylights out of them.

The story also caught the attention of West Marine CEO Geoff Eisenberg:

"We read the article about the Kong swivel that apparently failed and I thought you’d be interested in what we’re doing. First, an email alert went out on Saturday morning to our key Associates who manage anchoring products, our Product Development Team, and our Quality Assurance Team.

"The first question was whether anyone had seen, heard, received any data that could point to other cases of Kong swivels failing. The answer was ‘no’. (Note: if the answer had been ‘yes’ or even ‘maybe’, we would have instituted what we call a ‘Quarantine’. The inventory in all 342 stores and our two Distribution Centers would have been immediately pulled from the shelves and not allowed to be sold while we investigated.) As of this moment, we have not quarantined the swivels, though we certainly will if we find reason to.

"On Monday morning, our teams met and concluded the following:

  • We simply don’t have knowledge of product failures with the Kong swivels. (Over the past two seasons, we have sold approximately 3,350 of these swivels in three sizes. We have had a normal number returned for size and applicability reasons, but not for failures.)
  • We can’t tell from the picture in ‘Lectronic whether there was a product failure, design error, or operator error. As you probably know, this product is designed in a particular way. There is a drive screw that holds the swivel together. That feature is an excellent one on the one hand, as it makes it easy to install, but on the other hand it absolutely adds risk. If the screw is allowed to loosen, the swivel of course comes apart. Note: I am certainly not attributing the swivel failure to operator error, but it is one of the possibilities that we need to investigate.
  • It sure appears that either the screw came loose, or the non-pictured portion of the product failed. From the image you showed, the remaining piece of the swivel appears to be in good shape, with the edge appearing to be smooth, which would point towards the screw coming loose. But maybe we just can’t tell.

"So here’s what we at West Marine are doing:

  • We searched our West Advantage database and found the name and email address of Mrs. Foy, the customer.
  • We’ll try today to get in touch with her and ask to get the remaining swivel piece returned to us so we can inspect/test it.
  • We have a product testing lab here in our Watsonville Support Center. We will pull some swivels from our shelves later today and break them in our machines. We’ll figure out whether they perform to spec. Assuming we get permission from Mrs. Foy, we’ll do the same with the piece we get back from her.

"I should point out that, while the current evidence doesn’t suggest it, we must take the approach that this could simply be the first of multiple problems. Just because we have not seen defects in the past does not mean there aren’t any, or won’t be any. We cannot assume anything! Once we get as much information as we can, we’ll decide what to do next.

"This is a really big deal to us. As you would imagine, the last thing we want to do is sell bad products. Kong has been an excellent manufacturer. I personally found them while at the Genoa Boat Show in the early ’80s and we’ve been doing business with them ever since. They are certainly nowhere near being the cheapest, but they’ve had the best combination of quality and value we’ve been able to find. That being said, we’d drop their products in a minute if we found them to be poor quality, inconsistent, etc.

"We approach this with total transparency. Our people are empowered to find out the truth and act accordingly. They don’t have to worry that they will be ‘in trouble’ if there is a problem with a product. We simply want to know the truth. If there’s a problem, we’ll solve it. If we’re carrying something we shouldn’t, we’ll drop it. If the manufacturer did something wrong, we’ll for sure make them fix it. Too often, people and companies are out to ‘CYA’ (as in covering their proverbial asses). I am very confident we will not do that.

The Kong anchor swivel must be maintained and checked regularly so the screw holding the whole contraption together doesn’t come undone.

©2009 Latitude 38 Media, LLC

"It’s a tough call as to whether we should sell anchor swivels that require proper use and routine inspection. Our history with these products indicates very good quality of manufacturing, but that doesn’t address the design characteristics. I assure you that the financial rewards for selling the Kong swivels are immaterial. Of course we profit from selling them, but of the 50,000 products we regularly offer, these three are basically insignificant. We carry them because we’ve been under the impression they are good products. If we find that is not the case, no amount of sales would alter the decision to drop them. I only mention this in case there are any who might suspect that capitalism could overshadow good judgment in this (or any other!) case.

"It is certainly true that we could easily stop selling the Kong design because of its requirement that the screw remains tight. It would certainly be less risky. On the other hand, thousands of customers have successfully used the product for many years. We sell all kinds of products that, if improperly handled, will lead to problems. I suppose what I’m really saying is that we want to do the right thing, but at this point, don’t yet know what the right thing is!"

We don’t know about you, but we find this kind of quick action and response refreshing in today’s, as Eisenberg put it, ‘Cover Your Ass’ business climate. If you’ve had first-hand experience with a Kong swivel failure, shoot us an email with the details.

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