Here or There by Peter Firmin G0FUU

I have just come back from a week’s holiday in New York USA, lucky me. Now we all know that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence but is it greener the other side of the pond? In other words, is amateur radio equipment cheaper to buy in the USA? Read on.

There are a number of main points to consider.
The £/$ exchange rate
The USA price
The actual importation

Back in the 1970s when Freddy Laker started his Airbus service to New York for £59 it was said that one could buy in $s in the USA equipment that cost the same in £s over here and at about $2.49 to the Pound bargains were to be had. Since then the exchange rate has been as low as about $1.30 to the Pound but as we all know it is back at about $2.00 to £1.00 at present. However, the price of equipment over there has changed, quite dramatically, and even at $2/£1 it was a struggle to find bargains.

Lets start at the beginning. I was interested in either a Yaesu FT-817, portable HF/VHF, and/or an MFJ 993B automatic antenna tuner (you look them up in RadCom). I borrowed a copy of QST from Jakey but could not find any advertisers in New York . It did however give me a first inkling of prices but more of that later. I then turned to the internet and emailed MFJ, Yaesu and the ARRL.

MFJ came back with five retailers selling their wears and although they were thousands of miles apart, there was a dealer in Lower Manhattan; Barry Radio. Yaesu did not bother to reply which is surprising for a commercial company not wanting to help someone to buy one of their products. Less surprising was the ARRL that did not reply either. I know I am not a member (a point I made clear to them) but I did expect them to have been a little more helpful to a visitor to their country and a member of the Amateur Radio family.

Now for some geography. The majority of Manhattan is laid out in a grid. Roads running north/south are called avenues and those running east/west are called streets. First Avenue is on the east with the lowest street number in the south. Just to make things more difficult, Broadway runs diagonally north-west to south-east. Also, streets to the east of Broadway are called East Street and those to the west of Broadway are called West Street. Still with me? It took me a week to get to grips with it. Barry Radio was No99 Second Avenue, between East 4th and 5th streets, which puts it in the low south east corner of the island. Our hotel was 405 West 45th street.

The bottom line is that we could not walk there and took the Subway (underground train) about five stops. Actually easier to do than to write and if you need the layout explained again – ask someone else.

At Barry Radio we received a warm welcome from Toni. Although she has never been licensed she was very knowledgeable about amateur radio. She explained that there very few amateurs left in that part of NY and even less would buy from her, mail order and internet being where the majority of equipment is purchased. She only kept in business due to her commercial side selling and servicing Motorola hand held radios and PMR. I explained my position and we got down to business.

We started with the Yaesu 817. I had flown thousands of miles across the Atlantic Ocean and she had sold out! Only that week someone had came in and bought up all her stock for an expedition. Better news was that she could probably get one for me within a few days and within the time scaled of us still being in the city.  The 817 she sells for about $825 or $805 with a special money off voucher. I did not actually have a voucher but all retailers can do that anyway. However, it does not take the brains of a bishop to work out that the £/$ exchange is now critical. We had purchased $ cash at 1.85 but the rig would be bought with a credit card that applies the best rate that day which was about 1.95 dollars to the pound. This still made the rig over £400 and as they are only £345.00 in RadCom adds there was no bargain to be had.

I had a copy of RadCom with me and showed her the ads. For it to be a good buy for me she had to get her price down below $600 and as that was less than she paid for them there was nowhere for either us to move. Remember, although it would have been brand new I would be buying it without a guarantee so the price had to in effect be that of a unit that was in a new condition but second hand if you can understand that logic. This was not altogether a surprise. I had seen some prices in the QST and for a Japanese manufacturer to import to UK or USA would cost about the same I guess so I cannot be surprised if there was no bargain to be had.

So we spoke about the MFJ and she had sold out of those as well!! Again, she said she could probably get one within a few days so again we did the sums. In USA this unit retails for $259.95, let’s Say $260. At 1.95 this converts to £133.33, let’s call it £133. Ads again in RadCom show the big dealers selling these for 5p short of £190. This would be a saving of £57 or the equivalent of a 30% discount on the UK price. Now I had to consider the morals of buying in the USA rather than support my local emporium. One second later I had chucked morals out of the window and just kept looking at the price.

I had to factor in a return trip on the Subway for the four of us, 4x$8/1.85(each)=£17.29, lessening that discount to £40 or 21%. Also, as before, there was no warranty. The reason why this unit comes out at a better price is because they are made in the USA so there is only local carriage but was it still worth buying?

My family, having no real interest in amateur radio, just hovered quietly in the shop whilst I pondered the figures. Do I, don’t I? Should I, Did I? No. I decided not to.

There were a number of factors, partly the price, partly my reluctance to spend a selfish chunk of cash on myself, the warranty. What about customs? Although one can bring back up to £250 worth of personal goods what about the gung ho yanks and their x-ray machines? “Gee buddy what you got in the bag? Electronic gadget?” It could not go in my hand luggage, so can you just imagine the baggage handlers in both JFK and LHR?

So there you have it. I may go back to the USA in 2008 so perhaps I will look again. One last thing. I am typing this listening to The Beatles ‘Love’ CD featuring The Beatles tracks re-mastered by George and Giles Martin (it came out at Christmas). And the track playing at this very moment is ‘Strawberry Fields’. Spooky or what?

Peter Firmin (G0FUU) VS May 2007.

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