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© 1997-2006
Gareth Knight
All Rights reserved


- ...but not forgotten!

The whole truth about Escom

Written by Andrew Elia
HTML Editing by Mark Cunnell
Graphics scanned by and manipulated (with Photogenics) by Andrew Elia


This is what you might call an insider's view of what REALLY went on behind the scenes at Escom UK. I'm not claiming that I knew everything that went on in the company, just what I observed from my time there. This is an attempt to provide a complete story of what went on from start to finish. There are also some bits which seem to have crept in which read more like an autobiography, so please bear with it! So here it is, but be warned, it's pretty lengthy!

After a year of tortuous waiting, someone eventually put their money on the table and coughed up for Commodore. Escom were relatively unknown to the Amiga population at the time (not to mention every other population), but had somehow managed to sneak out from nowhere and snatch the prize before anyone could do anything. We haven't heard much from Alex Amor since, but David Pleasance is still an Amiga dude, and has an Amiga-based music business to prove it.

When the subtle combination of joy and relief set in, people found many nice words to say about the Amiga's new owners. With promises of new technology, advertising, and competent management, things were looking up. Ex-Commodore man, and then Managing Director of Escom UK (curiously located in Holland), Bernard Van Tienen couldn't sound happy enough, "Everything is possible, ja, ja". What a sincere guy.

The important deadline was set for around October -the date when Amigas would begin to hit the shelves once more. From reading the magazines, this was the first thing that the new company should work on. Once Escom announced the birth of Amiga Technologies, and introduced the new team, it looked like things were beginning to move along nicely. Petro Tschthingy set to work to bring together all the components along with a quality manufacturer to set the ball rolling. Much to everyone's surprise, the Amigas were produced in a tremendously short space of time and with an incredibly high-quality bundle of OEM software. The unfortunate price was the £400 that people had to pay (which is in fact what my Batman Pack A500 cost all them years ago). What the hell, the street price would have been lower anyway. Speaking to John Smith (formerly the head (if not the only) guy at AT UK) at the World of Amiga show, he seemed very impressed with Petro's speed and efficiency. The A4000s weren't quite as prompt, despite the fact that they had been promised a few months afterwards. I was dying to get my hands on an A4000/060, but didn't have the money. Oh well.

The crunch was the stores that Escom had bought just before they got hold of Commodore. People naturally assumed that Escom had bought the old Rumbelows stores as a firm place to start selling Amigas from. Why not ? They would have the market more or less to themselves, after all. I was one of those people. In fact, there was a nice little puzzle that I had managed to fit together. Wouldn't it be really cool to have a hand in the re-introduction of the Amiga ? I'd even get paid for it, and if I played my cards right, I could get a staff discount. Wow. So I sent off my CV, and a couple of days later was asked to an interview. Of course, I didn't let my enthusiasm block my way, so I made sure that as Escom were initially a PeeCee manufacturer, I'd apply for the job as Technical Manager so that way if the Amigas were a little late, I didn't have to endure a job selling people PeeCees.  -
Wow, that`s one whatless firm!

Some time passed after the interview, and I was under the impression that I hadn't got the job. Then on a Saturday, I received a letter thanking me for accepting the position of sales assistant (even though I didn't!). I have to confess to having been a little dubious about being given the job in this fashion. The letter went on to say that I had been enrolled in a week-long training course that was to start the coming Monday. Unfortunately, I had one more exam to do during that week, therefore I could not attend. I had no way of contacting them because obviously their offices were closed. Major panic. It was just as well that my new manager was already aware of my situation and telephoned me the same day to sort things out.

So I started my existence as a sales assistant, undaunted by the task ahead. As it happens, the shop that I was allocated hadn't actually been opened. So for about two weeks I got to know my new colleagues quite well as we fixed up the shop. We weren't too bothered about being used in favour of professional decorators, but hey Escom was just being born, and it was like helping to build the future. When the first delivery arrived at the end of June, I inspected the complement with interest, hoping to see a shiny new A1200 (even though I was pretty sure that they wouldn't be around for some time), but did a pretty fair job of hiding my disappointment. Naturally, my colleagues were hand-picked (non-Rumbelows) staff, so I made sure I watched my step given my assumptions that they would be the nerdy "Yes, I've got a 486 with Windows 3.1, but I built it myself" type.

Probably the hardest part of the job was "helping" people who wanted to "upgrade" (although the term is more accurately described as "retrograde") from an Amiga to a PC. Although I had to be the salesman, I never SOLD a PC to anyone. I just had to grit my teeth and say "that's what it does, we're cheaper, and we know what we're talking about". That's it. I never lied to customers, nor did I give them the whole dirt, because if I did, they'd never buy anything and I'd be sacked on the spot. I was put on the spot once when a husband and wife asked me the dreaded question "would you buy one ?", and after many feeble attempts at avoiding the question, I had to concede that I wouldn't touch one with a barge pole. They still bought it, though. Up until the Amigas were ready to ship, I was hoping that word about Escom's purchase of the Amiga had been spread around sufficiently to put a stop to anyone who was considering the backwards leap. It didn't seem to stop.

The months passed by, and I began to notice a few little competence-related niggles in the Head Office structure. The first mild hint was when a gentleman walked into the store wanting to buy some of our hyper-cheap format-resistant discs (£1.86 a box, would you believe -well, I guess you would if you ever tried formatting them). In fact, he wanted 16,000. To sell in Ghana. My colleagues gleefully took the deposit and got in touch with our warehouse. We were given the green light on that one, and proceeded to assure the customer that everything would be fine. Later that day we received a phone call from someone else in that particular department telling us that they would not give us such a large quantity of discs in one go. Unfortunately, our Ghanese (if that's what he is) entrepreneur had already walked away happy, having made a financial commitment and would not be let down. So our dedicated team drove to all the stores around London (and undoubtedly beyond) collecting boxes containing the packets of discs. We eventually managed to accumulate the desired amount, robbed the bloke blind, and filled up the till. Now, we didn't fail to notice that the till itself was based around an Escom 486, and was programmed by monkeys, but we did kind of miss the dodgy stock replenishment system which decided to place 16,000 boxes of discs on the latest delivery note. We spent the rest of the year trying selling them (although to be fair, they sold quite well).

There was also an occasion when the assistant manager-cum-assistant manager was opening the day's post. Inside the first of the two envelopes was a collection of display cards advertising a finance deal of some description. In the same post, another letter had a picture of the very same cards along with instructions to destroy them immediately. I guess it must have been cheaper than hiring someone to tear them up!

Probably one of the most hilarious (and let's face it there have been more than a few) instances of Head Office incompetence happened, if I remember rightly, around Christmas time. The assistant manager impressed the area manager with his skills in splicing together mangled stock in order to produce something that worked straight away. His resourcefulness did not go unnoticed by the powers that be who promptly offloaded a lorry-load of faulty stock onto our shop. Now, our shop was small. In fact, it was probably the smallest shop in the London region judging by the many other shops I had been to around the region during my many travels as the ever-expendable Escom troubleshooter, "Got a day off ? Good, you can go to Brixton. They're short-staffed.". So there we were hoarding a massive stockpile of duff goods (although needless to say they were duff even when they did work!) in what ought to have been the busiest period of the year. Where did all the Christmas stock go ? Well, we had to squeeze it in somehow! Head Office's thoughts at this point were more along the lines of "Where did all the Christmas business go ?"

Disturbingly, my attempts to seek out some information relating to the whereabouts of the Amiga usually ended up with the response "That's funny, I thought we only bought the Commodore logo and nothing else.". Having said that, the customer enquiries flooded in. All branches that I spoke to (and certainly countless others) reported that they were getting tonnes of enquiries each week. We could have been onto a winner.

There was a tremendous will-they-won't-they air to the whole beginning of the Escom-Amiga fiasco. Amiga Technologies told the Amiga magazines that Amigas would definitely be carried in Escom UK stores. Escom UK told me that they had no intention of stocking them. Yet, Amiga Technologies told the Amiga press that Escom stores would without a doubt be stocking them. Worse still, they said that Escom staff know the product well. I can't imagine what possessed them to say that. Tentative questions directed at certain people in the company didn't look too promising, but I was certain that it would turn around. When I found out about this contradiction, I wanted to show the Amiga community that things weren't quite right. It wasn't out of any malevolence on my part. It was simply to both make sure that they had the truth, and to hopefully provoke a response. That response being that they would start hassling Head Office and if enough of them did that, assuming that their Customer Services system was up to it, things would start moving more quickly. I spent a lot of time thinking about whether or not to go through with it, because I knew that if I got caught, I'd be in real trouble. I finally did it after reasoning that Escom being what they are would never read the comp.sys.amiga newsgroups. After I realised that I had got away with it, and it seemed to have hit home with the Amiga community, I started to make it a fairly regular posting, keeping the people up to date with what wasn't going on, desperately hoping that people would overwhelm Escom with complaints. I made sure that it was easy. I posted addresses, telephone numbers, and names of people to speak with. I don't know how many people ever responded to that.

There was a snag. My colleagues thought that they would play a trick on me (they didn't know that I was informing the Amiga community about what was going on). They told me that they had received a fax telling them to send back all the 1200s. I thought that this was good news because Amiga Technologies must have had a better offer. So I posted the message on the usenet. I immediately got a number of replies which seemed to suggest that people were disappointed about it. I was rather surprised by this response, myself. People started to speculate that it was a move intended to replace the Magic packs with Surfer packs. At the time, I definitely wouldn't have gone with this given Escom's previous track record. When I eventually found out that it was all a hoax, I spent a great deal of time trawling through the Usenet to find any mention of the disappearing Amiga story, and squash it there and then. I was pretty certain that I'd managed to clear all of that up. Besides, I didn't want people to think of me as an unreliable source of information, because I was only out to help and I wanted to put something back into the community that I feel had given me so much. My relief was, however, met by distress when I found that CU Amiga had published it! I can still taste the humble pie now. I can't have made many friends from that one! After I had recovered from that one, any further communications only went to Jason Compton (which I guess was pretty rude of me considering he never asked to be bombarded with all that stuff). It continually amazed me how Jason seemed to know everything that went on in Escom UK, and yet lived across the pond. Hopefully, VISCorp will use those skills wisely! In actual fact, he told me that he had another informant -one that had a little more discretion than I did. This fellow Escom UK worker kept anonymous the whole time. I never found out who it was... but if you're reading, it can't hurt to come out now!

Aye, where be the sheep?
After I made my first Usenet posting, someone contacted me saying that Gerhard Lindhout of Escom had already warned Amiga fans not to go looking for jobs in Escom. After thanking him for the advance warning, I wondered (and still do) why Mr Lindhout said what he did. Either he knew that Escom's plans for the Amiga were to chuck out all the monitors and conceal unopened boxes in the shops, or he was just looking out for members of the community who he knew would be bitterly disappointed if Amigas weren't there from day one. Hmmm. Difficult choice. 

The day the A1200s arrived on the EPOS system could have been the start of something special. By that time, I had subtly revealed my Amiga origins by defacing a certain piece of promotional crap to read "Intel Outside" (that same image is downloadable from http://www.dcs.qmw.ac.uk/~odin, by the way). We weren't given any monitors to demo them with, but at the time, I was grateful to have them, and I knew that one would follow as soon as it became available. Our first customer in search of an Amiga had come all the way from Canvey Island to buy a machine, and I was honoured to serve him. He wanted one with a hard drive, and when I went searching for one in the stock room, I was told that we didn't have any. As it seemed that we only had the non hard drive version, and we had some 170 meg 2.5 inch drives floating around, I thought that I could carry out the upgrade myself at a later date. After all Escom UK and Amiga Technologies were effectively siblings. The 170 meg hard drives (as used in factory-installed Amiga Magic packs), by the way, seemed to be something that Escom had picked up rather cheaply from Seagate as they tended to turn up in the most remarkable of places. For example, the bare bones 486s had the same 170 meg hard drives, as did the notebooks. Evidently, the Amiga was treated to some of them, too. Anyway, I set to work tracking down the necessary components and more importantly a warranty sticker to make sure that we didn't cheat our most prized customer (well mine, as no-one else seemed to give a toss). Amiga Technologies told me that they wouldn't give any soldering iron wielder a warranty sticker like Commodore used to, and that hard drives had to be installed at the factory. I suppose that was fair enough, as it meant that they could ensure the quality of the upgrades until they found their feet with dealers. I wondered if it would be possible to get hold of a true hard drive based machine for him, but the lady from Amiga Technologies told me that although they had offered A1200HDs to Escom UK, they refused to take them. Now that truly sucked. I contacted the purchasing manager, Martin Hanley, to see if we could resolve this, but after perpetually insisting that the Amiga was a Commodore product, not an Escom one, he admitted that the Amigas were "purely a box-shifting exercise for Christmas". A possible solution would have been to make the warranty with Escom rather than whoever else it was with, so I phoned Scala to try and get hold of MM300. They could only supply the install discs if they had approval from Escom UK Head Office, so as I knew that there was little chance of that, the customer had to get a refund. That was the beginning of the disaster.

I started organising a demo disc. I posted messages on the usenet, hoping that someone could produce some nice AGA and DSKRDY friendly looping demos with perhaps an Escom logo. My colleagues discouraged me from seeking assistance from Head Office, like a competition incentive or something. Don't know why I listened to them.

After some time of not selling any Amigas (although I couldn't think why after they were displayed in the extremely prime position of under the shelf, on the floor), it became evident that people would not buy what they could not see, and what the staff didn't want to sell. Call me paranoid, but crippling an Amiga in front of the PeeCees without a hard drive, and with no software or hardware support wouldn't look very good to even the most loyal Amigans. Thinking about it, if your favourite machine was so blatantly neglected by the people that own it, you'd be a bit miffed wouldn't you ? It seemed that Escom UK were using the Amiga as another weapon to try and convert our few remaining Amigans to the PeeCee. It seemed to work, too. The usenet was flooded with people complaining about the utter ignorance of Escom UK staff, which is unsurprising given the fact that they were never trained about Amigas. In fact, Escom UK said that they didn't have the money to train staff in everything Amiga, but a few weeks later sent their staff to hotels in Coventry and Stevenage to receive training on PeeCees from Intel and IBM.

IBM had, I am told, put quite a bit of money behind Escom themselves. This is one of the primary reasons why their PeeCees were initially pre-loaded with OS/2 Warped (which turned out to be the bane of many a techie because no-one knew anything about it). Many of us agreed that the advent of Windoze 95 meant that Escom would find a way of worming their way out of their little marriage of convenience with IBM. Yet it seemed that Escom wanted to give people the option of OS/2 or Windoze when it eventually landed (and we had finished mopping up the puddles of Brylcreem from the army of anoraks who had come in to buy it). Windoze took over through sheer hype and the fact that salespeople were indirectly told by their techies and managers to avoid selling OS/2 bundles in order to reduce people coming back for help. Another little aspect to the arrival of Windoze 95 was Micro$oft's decision to recall every last piece of 16-bit software they made. They then swiftly replaced every single one with so-called 32-bit software (ie Windoze 95 specific) Why ? Work it out! If some sad individual wants to fork out many weeks wages for a piece of their software can't buy it unless they also fork out for Windoze 95 as well. Extortion ? Never! Would Escom go along with it ? Of course!

Getting ever so slightly peeved at Escom UK's snubbing of the Amiga, I got into letter writing mode, and wrote to everyone I could think of, the Area Manager, the Marketing Manager, and even Manfred Schmitt the MD himself. I suggested the idea of a simple fax survey which could be filled in quickly and faxed back to me so that I could compile the results and present them to someone in the upper management. I even sent them a sample of a carefully-worded questionnaire that would demonstrate clearly that Amigas were in demand, and shop staff didn't have the right attitude towards them. None of them ever replied. I'd even go as far as getting anyone that came in asking about the Amiga to write to Escom UK Head Office to complain about their attitude. By that time, I was so fed up with the situation that I was quite prepared to risk getting into trouble to make my point. At the end of the day, I knew that I was doing that right thing, and it was for the company's own good if nothing else.

John Smith had told me that he really wanted to arrange some sort of training for Escom UK staff. Although I felt that the staff in general were untrainable (IBM had tried it for OS/2 Warped), I agreed that it would help. Just to have someone come into each shop and say "this is how to connect the monitor", and "this is how to demonstrate Photogenics" would have been a start. I knew for certain that there were tonnes of people willing to help out on the Usenet who would work for nothing (myself included), and I was dying to contact them. The time to organise all of this wasn't 100% appropriate for me as I had exams, so I put it on hold until my exams were finished. By that time, Escom had hastily packaged off the Magic packs never to be seen again. John told me at the show that he was presently negotiating with Escom UK about the hard drive situation. He agreed that a hard drive-less machine was hardly a fitting advert for the Amiga, and was trying to get the warehouse load of stock (I believe there were about 3000 Magic packs) swapped round for hard drive machines. When the Magic packs disappeared from Escom stores, I was under the impression that John had succeeded. I didn't post anything else on the Usenet when this happened. Judging by the response I had before, I didn't want to risk passing on that information for fear of what it might make people do. I kept quiet for once. Ash, one of my colleagues from the WOA show, phoned John Smith up about the disappearance, and was told that they were making way for the Walkers. I have to admit to being a little dubious about that reason, but I accepted it.

Being the trusting kind of guy I am, I greeted the much talked-about Trade in deal with some cynicism. Although it seemed pretty good that you could save 150 quid off the retail price of a shiny new A1200 (let's not forget the added bonus of the absent hard drive), it was a sure sign of Escom clutching at straws. Now I happen to know that the cost price of an A1200 (to Escom, at least) was £300, which (calculators at the ready) meant that Escom were prepared to loose fifty quid per machine to get rid of them. Out of all the commission (or SPIVs as they were called -a term more aptly applied to the people that conceived these pathetic ideas), contrary to popular belief, the Amiga had the highest SPIV out of any other product in the store, with the re-badged Microvitec monitors coming in a close second. Due to the nature of SPIVs, they were never really an incentive anyway.

John Colbert was, for much of the time that Escom UK were around, blamed by many of the ex-Rumbelows people as the cause of both the downfall of Rumbelows and also Escom being the way it was. He was ex-Rumbelows as well, which is why I always dismissed their views as sour grapes. The SPIVs were his own idea. They were designed to encourage teamwork (which, in all honesty was never a problem in Escom UK stores -certainly among my region). The idea was that if a product had a SPIV of say £15 attached to it (like an A1200 for example), if the said product was sold, this (virtual) money would be placed in a (virtual) kitty. When pay day came around, the total would then be divided among the team. The hardened salespeople didn't really take to it, because they would only be thinking of themselves. After all, if there were four people in the shop and you were the only one selling a particular product, you'd have to sell four before you'd even get fifteen quid! If that system had been better arranged, there would have been a fighting chance of selling the Amigas, monitors or not. As it stood, with a comparatively cheap price tag, a pile of unopened boxes, and a volley of ignorant insults coming from some greasy salesperson, it's no wonder they didn't move. Having said that, ALL the ex-Rumbelows people without exception hated Amigas, because in their Rumbelows days, when someone had a problem (hardware or software), they'd come back to the shop to get advice. As they didn't know their Agnus chip from their arse, they did get rather vexed. That was combined with the rather sorry truth that they were built in the far east and had a rather frustrating warranty system to boot. Apparently, the A500 was the worst offender. It was mainly things like PSUs, and modulators that were to blame though.

They certainly made no effort to hide the fact that they didn't want the Amigas. I could phone someone up in Head Office and start talking about something and then mention "the 1200s". At this stage, the person's tone usually dropped "Oh. The Amigas". I suppose I'm fortunate in that I never needed to phone up the technical division. Having said that, though, even when Amigas weren't the topic of conversation, no-one ever wanted to take responsibility for anything up there. It wasn't just once or twice, but every time I phoned someone in Head Office, it was "pass the buck" time. Each person would say "Not my department, therefore not my responsibility. Call him/her in that department". Once I had rapidly worked my way around everyone in Head Office and got the same response, I'd eventually end up being directed towards the first person who I called. At which stage, they'd either grudgingly attempt to assist by providing me with blatantly incorrect and minimalistic information or I'd just give up and find another route.

I ended up writing quite a few Amiga-related documents for the management in the vain hope that they would eventually get their butts in gear and do something with the Amiga. Among them was one that the manager had asked me to write concerning the reasons why Amigas weren't selling. I reeled off a good page or so of reasons ranging from untrained/antagonistic staff to the fact that we weren't given any monitors. This was to be presented at the manager's meeting. I'm not sure whether it was or not, and what response it got if it ever was. Did anyone listen ? Does Windows 95 multitask in 256K ?

All this time, Uncle Bernard had been the stumbling block for Amiga Technologies, according to John Smith. I did mention the severe lack of help I got from Martin Hanley (and the golden words "purely a box-shifting exercise for Christmas"), but John said that Hanley was OK. Van Tienen pulled the strings. Two-faced git ? Ja, ja.

There have been countless horror stories from many disgruntled customers (or potential customers). They're all true. I did put a stop to it happening in my store, because my colleagues were certainly more knowledgable than most, and also knew never to challenge me in any Amiga-PC related matter.  -
Now that SUCKS!

It was around December when I decided that I'd had enough. It seemed obvious that Escom had no intention of pulling their finger out as far as the Amiga was concerned, and would never be the focal point of all things Amiga as I had hoped. I could see that the company was run by people who really couldn't organise an evening of intoxication in a brewery. I felt that Escom's perpetual attempts at shooting themselves in the foot would eventually end in disaster. Industry analysts said the same after Escom announced huge losses (which Escom UK promptly, and quite ignorantly blamed on "bad investments" completely overlooking the fact that the company had thrived for five years before they ventured into the UK). This was also combined with the fact that I was exceptionally whacked after trying to juggle the job and University at the same time, and that I had finally managed to raise the cash to get that A4000 I always wanted. Escom had outlived their usefulness. So, I typed up a letter of resignation which contained a nice little dig at the company indicating that I was leaving because they were crap. The final words were something like "my future is in a different direction" which probably summed it up nicely. There was a shadow of doubt about this decision for a couple of reasons. Firstly, my colleagues who may not have been Amiga people, knew how much it all meant to me and would always pass on Amiga customers to me, give me the go-ahead to send letters to various people in the company, and would help me chase up phone calls that I made to Head Office about the whole situation. Secondly, there was this little business about the regular Usenet postings I made. How many people appreciated them or not (I'm sure that the numbers would have dropped after the last incident), I don't know for sure, but I felt that I might be letting someone down. Nevertheless, I took the letter in and found a quiet moment with the manager to pass the letter on. I knew that it would upset him because he had high hopes for the company (you could say the scales had yet to fall from his eyes) and for the shop that we'd all built and contributed to as a team despite the ingratitude of "them upstairs", and I couldn't think of anything I could say. Naturally my timing being what it is, it turned out that it was his birthday and he thought that the nice white envelope was a birthday card. Oops. Well, in the end he talked me into changing my hours to Saturdays only. That seemed to solve a lot of problems in that it wouldn't interfere with my University stuff, and it gave me a chance to see what was going on, or at least how it would end.

One time, I made a direct prediction about the future of Escom UK to the manager when he was driving me home. I said straight out that Escom UK was going to pack their bags and go back to Germany fairly soon. He seemed quite hurt when I mentioned it. I shouldn't have said it really, but I was rather miffed at the fact that the middle management would not let me have the Technical Manager's position officially (as I was already doing the Technical Manager's job anyway) after the previous one had left to seek a lower ranking position in Mac Warehouse both because he felt that Escom sucked, and that PeeCees did as well. After realising that I shouldn't have said it, my response was simply "I hope I'm wrong, but I'm usually right when it comes to things like this".

All my "campaigning" for want of a better word, did at least have one bonus. Sure, I was completely ignored, as I was but a small component in the big erratic Escom machine. I did catch the attention of the area manager and regional controller, and was given the chance to represent Amiga Technologies at the World of Amiga show last April. That was a good opportunity for me to drum up some support for people to hassle Escom a bit more. I remember a guy who upon hearing that I was from Escom began hammering me about the incompetence of the staff at his local Escom store. He wouldn't let me interrupt him, and just kept on until he finished. When he did so, I silenced any further attempts to use me as a scapegoat (I'm sure Escom would have liked that) by just saying "Escom are crap. They're the most incompetent bunch of idiots I've ever had the misfortune to work with". That seemed to do the trick, because most people still had difficulty in coming to terms with the fact that I was on their side!

This was my first real face-to-face experience with Amiga Technologies. To be perfectly honest, I liked what I saw. They seemed like a very hard-working, dedicated bunch of people. Mitradevi Kupper (someone from the Marketing department) was effectively our boss for the duration of the show. Despite the fact that she didn't really know much about Amigas (that's the impression she gave me), she was tremendously protective of the equipment that had been driven all the way from Germany. She would go completely ballistic if she saw that we let anyone even touch the Walker. Gilles Bourdin, on the other hand was a rather quiet chap who I didn't speak to that much. I'm not sure whether it was because he was just quiet, whether his English was as fluent as my German, or whether he couldn't be bothered to talk about anything Amiga. I honestly don't know. Chistoph Guelicher was the guy that really kept the stand running. It seemed appropriate to play "Flight of the Bumblebee" as I would occasionally see him work his way through the crowds of people to set one thing up, and then attend to another. There was no doubt that he was a true Amigan, because not only did he know a great deal about them, but he was even good enough to bring his own A1200 across from Germany to help with the demonstrations. John Smith of the UK division was a thoroughly decent and down to Earth chap. Although he confessed that he was a salesman and not a techie, he was constantly cheerful and enthusiastic about his work with the Amiga. He was the only real member of Amiga Technologies UK that I saw (I'm not even sure if there were any others at that time), but despite being completely stipped of his team by people at the very top of Escom AG, he remained in good spirits. I have to confess to not actually meeting Petro Ty... you know who I mean! I did glance up at one stage either before or after the show (I can't remember when) and noticed him walking along with some other gentleman whom I didn't recognise. He did glance back at me, but he made no effort to come and chat. I was also rather disappointed that he didn't join the rest of the workers in the bar afterwards. I'm not sure if it was because he wasn't invited, didn't have an exceptionally good grasp of English, or didn't want to mingle with the lower ranks.

There was a rather large TV/Monitor that was placed at the front of the Amiga Technologies stand (the was supposed to be a Point Of Information system as well, but that never survived the trip from Germany) that the nice people from Scala were kindly providing demonstrations upon. Suffice to say it didn't survive the weary trek back to Germany. Four of us managed to lift the thing off the stand and place it on the floor while we figured out how to put it back in the case (not as easy as it sounds!) Cries of "Ash! Careful!" were followed swiftly by the large grating sound of the screen being scratched onto the case. The deep, four inch long gash across the £2,000+ screen was barely noticable by even the sharpest of moles. Someone must have got it in the neck for that one! Another classic example of Escom UK incompetence, it's just that I participated!

The only thing that really surprised me about working alongside the Walker at the WOA show was that I actually had to defend it to the members of the Amiga community that had travelled from far and wide to see it. Whether it's because they thought that I was some whatless individual hired to make sure no-one nicked it who just might have some inside information, or whether they were expecting a RISC-based, AAA chipset machine, I don't know! I was stunned that after all the letters I'd seen in Amiga Format and Shopper, all the postings on the Usenet about "a mid range machine with an '030 minimum, hard drive and CD-ROM as standard" that people were still saying "so where's the '040 and the built-in memory protection ?". In general, though, people seemed very pleased at the development, and like anyone else who could like the Amiga if they bothered, once they knew a bit more about it, they loved it to bits. After seeing a picture of the Walker from a picture taken at the CeBit show, I was a little dubious myself, but after being stationed next to it for two days without moving from the spot (if nothing else, due to the sheer volume of people), I really did feel that it was the work of a highly dedicated team. To be able to develop something like that in such a short space of time was truly a miracle. Only the Amiga makes it possible.

An Amiga ? Dunno!
Just to set the record straight, I REALLY didn't know anything about the potential VISCorp takeover at the time! As I was still revising for my exams, I hadn't been on the 'net for some time, and was unaware of what was happening. Silly of me, really. I was soon put in the picture by the masses of people waving printouts in my face! 

Something that interested me greatly (apart from the sheer volume of people -and that is NOT an exaggeration!) was that an oriental gentleman approached me, and asked where he could find Petro. Cunningly attempting to give the impression that I'd known Petro for years, I said "I haven't seen him all day", and further enquired as to why he wanted to meet up with him. He wasn't too specific, but he did mention something about wanting to licence the Amiga's technology for something. I never heard anything since. I also spoke to David Pleasance after the press conference that happened shortly after the show. Admittedly, it was my colleague that decided to jump out and talk to him (despite the fact that he was heading for the bog at the time!). Nevertheless, he revealed that the mystery backer behind Commodore UK's management buyout attempt was a Chinese company called "New Star". It seems that they changed sides (and names) at the last minute, and backed Escom instead. They changed their name to the "Tietsin Trust & Investment Co." which might ring a few bells. Whether that's true or not, I really don't know.

Escom's appearance at the Ideal Home exhibition showed me just how little regard ("contempt" is probably more accurate) they had for the Amiga (like I didn't know already). John Colbert's cheery weekly newsletter (because it was always good for a laugh) made a big fuss about the whole thing. It was brimming with praise directed towards the people that were waving the Escom flag and had worked so hard to make sure that the Escom stand was the centre of attention. There was never any mention of the three nameless individuals who helped out at some strange event somewhere in Hammersmith. In fact, I was even told by John Smith to keep the fact that I worked for Escom a secret! I wasn't after praise, and neither were my newfound friends/colleagues. It was just insulting that both we and our beliefs were so easily discarded as trivial.

Tony Hendy, an ex-Policeman was the tool that the Escom UK management had hired to reclaim their lost pennies. To me it really epitomised the their pass-the-buck, "don't look at me, look at him" attitude. Mr Hendy was introduced at the manager's meeting, and immediately started bragging about how he had sacked managers who didn't bank five quid's worth of takings the same night on the grounds of negligence, and how he'd saved the company hundreds of thousands of pounds in his quest. He sent a chill down the spines of all the managers present (and enjoyed it, too). My manager was quite distressed by his attitude. My personal opinion was that Head Office were too blind to see that they were the ones at fault, and decided instead to look for other people to blame. At the same time of course, I guess it meant that they could slim down their staff complement and no-one would really challenge it. One of the victims was a friend of mine who was with me at the WOA show. The owner of gigabytes worth of hard drives, he was accused of pinching one of the ubiquitous Seagate 2.5 inch 170 meg hard drives. He had placed one of these drives in the box that normally housed a 3.5 inch drive, and when sifting through his boxes on a quiet day looking for things to throw out, he discarded that box as well (as those drives weighed practically nothing). Someone found it, and accused him of making preparations to pinch it. On this circumstantial evidence alone, he was dismissed. He never received his pay for working at the WOA show.

After they closed the first 65 stores and sacked eight area managers (including the one for my region) in the process, we were treated to Robin Porter, a fairly young nerdy-looking gentleman that knew his work... in the poster business. When we first met him, he indirectly indicated that our staff weren't doing our jobs properly because "Enfield is a goldmine. After all I used to work here.". When we politely asked where abouts he did work, he described the poster shop, Athena, just down the road. I pointed out that Athena had long gone out of business and was now occupied by a junk shop. That must've gone down a treat. It certainly inspired confidence in his ability... to run a company into the ground. He looked around and commented on the various boxes of stock that were piled in bulk displays on the shop floor. His exact words were "We're not some `stack 'em high, sell 'em cheap' organisation", and were met by mutual thoughts among the team of "yes we bloody are" as we all glanced in the direction of the 20 boxes of re-badged "Commodore" printers. That little trick of producing bulk displays was conceived after we had the rather unfortunate incident with the lorry-load of faulty stock. His gormless attempts at lifting spirits only served to amuse, with classic faxes like "They think it's all over. It's not now!". Hmm. Not now, but later. Faxes were of course the preferred form of communication, which is why we got a tad suspicious when we were all told (by Head Office, not Robin) to cut down on sending faxes, and to use the postal service instead. This penny-pinching (which happened before stores started shutting down, by the way) only made us more suspicious of the grim fate that awaited Escom. Naturally, Head Office set the example shortly after this message was received by sending faxes to every branch in the country, gloating over England's loss at Euro 96. How mature.

Towards the end, our shop ended up receiving what was termed as a "floating-manager", which was basically the title bestowed upon someone who kissed so much butt that they just didn't have the heart to sack him. It's either that, or the cost of keeping him on was less than that of cleaning up the cocktail of tears and saliva off the floor. In essence, his job was to make sure that spirits remained high after the powers that be decided to sack the most qualified staff, and close the most profitable shops. Effectively, if Robin was the organ grinder, then this guy was certainly the monkey.

I did find it rather amusing that Escom UK were so convinced that they were holding the company up with their amazing knowledge and experience that they decided to disassociate themselves from the Escom group in order to continue as a separate entity. Naturally, they thought that they could stand by and watch the rest of Escom crash and burn, while they counted their profits. Just a slight problem: what profits ? Briefly ignoring the fact that my store among several others had, since about April, hardly seen anyone enter the shop let alone buy anything, and that the prices had been hiked by a couple of hundred quid (which was Escom's whole selling point in the first place), there should have been no reason at all why they weren't raking it in. I took great pleasure in watching Escom UK fall flat on their pompous, Amiga-bashing faces. What was that about bad investments again ?

Despite their constant battle to stay in business, the companies that they relied upon had already given up on them. Intel, who had so enthusiastically pumped their shady money into Escom, funding their advertising, their Point Of Sale material, and even their shop signs had already divorced them and started putting money into Gateway and others. ICL terminated all the warranties (which according to a teeny weeny bit of smallprint in the warranty agreements is perfectly legal) because Escom hadn't paid them. The company that owned up to programming the EPOS software, BIT pulled out of any technical support (which wasn't a bad thing given their definition of "help"). Even Boeder tried to take legal action against the company because they hadn't been paid for the vast collection of consumables that they provided Escom with. In fairness, cheapo crap they might have been but their products were the only things that really sold in the stores towards the end. It's just a shame that we never saw their merchandiser again, because he was a marvellous source of entertainment! We had many a fun time attempting to take his pulse to see if we would find one, and trying to hold up a mirror against him to see if he had a reflection. We even tried talking to him. All in all, the companies that were so friendly to Escom when they were first venturing out into the UK were the first to turn their backs on them. It must have hurt them quite a bit. What a cryin' shame.

According to our ever-optimistic, and let's not forget obtuse, floating manager there was talk of Micro$oft and Intel buying Escom for use as a medium to ply their dubious wares. This would of been the worst thing to happen, but fortunately it was speculation given that Escom owed them so much money that it was feasible that they'd take bits of Escom as payment.

At the end of the day, the cold hard facts are that Escom had the market to themselves. It's pretty darn obvious that everyone (the Sainsbury's PC is on the way, I'm sure) is making a packet out of flogging cheap 70s crap that will always need an upgrade of some description every so often, and is far from reliable in terms of hardware as well as software. It's easy money. You don't even need to train people, just make sure that they can give the customer the impression that they know what they're talking about. It worked for Escom, and it sure as hell works for PC World, Dixons etc. What Escom didn't realise is that the PC market is highly competitive. At first I thought that they understood this because they were going to use the Amiga to prove that they were more than "just another PC manufacturer or retailer". Evidently this was not the case.

It has to be said that in the whole time Escom had the Amiga, they did 3 things right. Firstly, they hired the right people at the Amiga Technologies side of things. Secondly, they managed to track down three people from selected Escom stores around London to help the newly slimmed-down Amiga Technologies exhibit their new creation, the Walker at the World of Amiga show, next to some dodgy magazine publisher (if only I could remember their name!). Well, perhaps not everyone agrees with me on that point! Call me sad, but it was an honour to represent them. Finally, they sold the Amiga to VISCorp.

Undoubtedly, it will be said that Escom's downfall was due to them overstretching themselves in buying Commodore, and in acquiring the Rumbelows shops (in actual fact, the Rumbelows stores were never owned by Escom, just leased -Thorn EMI, the people who originally owned Rumbelows, still owned the stores, but had given them to Escom rent-free for a year. This was rather convenient as they were only IN business for a year! Having said that, as the leases did start to run out, bailiffs started to make an appearance at certain stores!) etc. In my opinion, Escom killed themselves through management incompetence and basically shooting themselves in the foot as far as the Amiga is concerned. The irony of it is that after all the wrong that Escom did the Amiga (Escom UK more than anyone else) with their blatant attempts to destroy it, the Amiga came out on top. Overall, this is another amusing case where Amigans can smugly show a V-sign to those that have tried it on. It's certainly one in the eye for people that bought a PC.

"But is the loss of Escom a major hardship to the industry ?" I hear you cry. Of course it isn't! I mean, it's not like they sold decent products or anything (save the albeit hard drive-less 1200s). Their 8-meg SIMMs, for example were still firmly fixed at 200 quid when you could buy them for about 60 quid elsewhere. No-name products where traded alongside their identical counterparts from which they had been re-badged (coupled with an extra twenty or thirty quid price hike) as Commodore. Consumables were provided by the ever-present Boeder who also supply Makro, Comet, and Silica therefore thwarting any attempts to buy any decent products anywhere else. They never listened to demand or the latest trends. Zip drive ? Whassat ? Floppy discs that retain data for more than a couple of minutes ? Huh ?

I have to say that one thing I did learn about from my time at Escom was the sheer stupidity of the PC-buying public. Sure, we talk about it on the Usenet, but witnessing it first hand is something quite phenomenal. Consider this: Next time a PeeCee owner (and it would only be a PeeCee owner, because Mac owners ought to know better) harps on about how crap the Amiga is, ask yourself where they got their facts from. Can they say that they have honestly used an Amiga, a Mac, and a PC and chosen the PC because it is the best machine ? I think not. I, and many of my friends who use Amigas use them because they HAVE used all three machines EXTENSIVELY (and not just by judging them after spending a few minutes using the "Say" utility).

Regrets ? Nope, not really. Escom deserved everything they got. They ended up doing a great deal of harm to the Amiga, and to the confidence of both users and developers. The only regret that I have is that a week after the all the shops were closed, the new Vision Express store 2 mins away from where I worked was opened by Kimberley Davies. Damn. One thing that I should make clear is that I'm not really bitter (well not much!) about how Escom treated me and my collegues. Disappointed yes, and certainly darn annoyed as far as their inert attitude towards the Amiga is concerned, but that's as far as it goes.

You may well ask "where are they now ?". Well, many of the former Escom staff have gone over to Byte. Others, including John Colbert are now working for Time Computers. Predictions for the next computer company to take a nose-dive anyone ? I did find it rather entertaining that even the Man from Escom had moved on. It seems that he is now a regular in Emmerdale. Whether you consider that moving up in the world or not is entirely up to you.


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