Writer’s note: Newspaper journalists have been hearing the warning for years – your industry is going the way of the horse and buggy. Ever wonder what life was like for wagon makers back during the last days of their industry? The following parody consists of bits of text I have appropriated over a period of years from news reports and blogs concerning the state of the newspaper industry. I have replaced newspaper references with appropriate “horse and buggy” language.
“What is happening in the wagon and carriage industry now is unprecedented and therefore unpredictable. No one saw it or COULD HAVE SEEN it coming. While U.S. Wagon's revenues are down, along with the rest of the industry, a new wagon wheel design that replaces steel rims and wooden spokes with vulcanized rubber and metal spokes will allow us to build a smoother-riding wagon and therefore charge a premium.” -- Josiah Shepard, president of U.S. Wagon Manufacturing Co.
Letter to the editor:
The continuing layoffs at U.S. Wagon Manufacturing Co. and other buggy builders are bad news, but not unexpected. There is something really unnerving about watching the precariousness of the wagon maker’s position, with new reports coming of layoffs and bad reports to stockholders on the ticker machine every time I turn around. I have to admit I’m a little scared and sad that it’s now being said that the horse-drawn buggies, which my father used to praise as the “educated” way to get around, as opposed to horseless carriages which were for the hoi polloi, are perhaps going under. Nevertheless, I must have participated in their demise, because I stopped riding in them a few years back.
A proud Model T owner
Horse and Buggy Associations Forced to Re-examine Role as Membership Declines
In a reflection of the turmoil in the horse and buggy industry, organizations such as the American Wagon Manufacturing Society (AWMS) and the American Society of Buggy Dealers (ASBD) are seeing fewer checks in the mail and more empty seats in convention halls. Membership has dropped by as much as 20 percent, according to an informal survey of 12 of the 40 or 50 horse and buggy associations in the U.S. Convention attendance is just as bad.
In related news, here are highlights from the AWMS/ASBD joint conference’s keynote address by Josiah Shepard, president of U.S. Wagon Manufacturing Co.:
"While the horse and buggy industry is losing some market share to automobiles, the internal combustion engine is a specialized technology and will never completely replace horses. Note that the power generated by these engines is measured in "horsepower." Clearly automakers understand that horses will remain the standard power source of our ground transportation industry for decades to come. ... The problem with buggy manufacturers is not outdated technology, but debt. If you take away the cost of debt service, these companies are still profitable. They are making money. The problem is Wall Street. ... Why are young people no longer buying buggies? We must redouble our efforts in order to remain relevant to the new generation and deliver to them the innovations in buggies that will bring them back to our business and away from this infernal combustion fad. ... The new business model will likely feature a combination of horse-drawn vehicles and automobiles. After all, what is an automobile but a buggy equipped with an engine instead of a wagon tongue? The problem is that we can't make nearly as much money selling an engine as we can selling a wagon tongue... A company that specializes in automobiles only cannot possibly hope to generate the income that has long been enjoyed by the big buggy makers."
Raising prices key strategy for troubled buggy business
NEW YORK (AP) -- The decline in wagon and buggy sales is accelerating as the industry continues to struggle with consumer defections to the automobile. Buggy sales have been declining since the early 1900s, but the drop has accelerated in recent years. Still, some wagon makers and buggy builders are actually increasing their retail prices. "In the face of declining sales, our strategy is to charge more for our product," said Josiah Shepard, president of U.S. Wagon Manufacturing Co. "We plan to rehire some of the craftsman we laid off last year. This will allow us to build a better buggy, and we feel consumers will pay extra for this heightened quality."
"Wagon makers and buggy builders across the country saw sales tumble an average of 10.6 percent during the April-September period as the industry dealt with automobile competition and a sluggish economy… " You've probably already seen this report or one just like it but for those former U.S. “Wagoneers” outside the market, this is for you. We all knew this was coming for buggy builders when we saw 20-30-40 percent price increases. So while per unit revenue is up due to the increases, the drop in overall sales is certain to have a negative impact. Someone is going to have to say "when" on the sales "cuts" -- because that's what they are rather than losses in the traditional sense. These losses are NOT mostly due to conversion to the automobile. They are planned (though I refuse to use the word "strategic") cuts in manufacturing or due in part to the recession. Retrenchment is deliberate or at least acceptable. Fewer buggies to build saves money.
President of the U.S. Wagon Alumni Association
U.S. Wagon asks customers for donations
U.S. Wagon Manufacturing Co. is using its fledgling automotive division to invite customers to donate to the company. A plaque appears on every new horseless carriage that reads, "Support ongoing transportation" and provides a mailing address where customers can donate any amount they’d like.
"If you value U.S. Wagon’s traditional transportation products, but prefer the convenience of the internal combustion engine, please consider a voluntary payment for the technology that matters to you," the plaque reads.
U.S. Wagon said last week that sales trends had improved. The company expected revenue to decline in the low- to mid-20 percent range in the fourth quarter compared with a decline of 28.1 percent in the third quarter and 30.2 percent in the second quarter.
U.S. Wagon factory realignment aimed at putting horseless carriage first
"Because the way we design and build transportation products has changed rapidly the past few years, U.S. Wagon Manufacturing Co. is realigning our factory work groups as we accelerate the transition to a transportation organization that is focused on the internal combustion engine. Our main goal, as it has always been, is to provide unique, relevant transporation products. But today's technology offers new tools for ground-based transportation. The traditional focus on the buggy -- the way we've operated for decades -- hampers the ability to change rapidly to a horseless carriage-first operation that delivers the technology that matters most to our customers." - Josiah Shepard, president of U.S. Wagon Manufacturing Co.
"Today, the factory staff at U.S. Wagon Manufacturing Co. is being cut by an astonishing 50 percent as the owners move to a new, automobile-centric strategy and cut back daily buggy building to three days a week, come September. (The entire staff is being reduced by a third.) You don’t have to have worked there, as I did, to know this is a disaster for a once-great institution. The real problem is, U.S. Wagon's owners are destroying their professionally-run wagon making firm in favor of a terrible horseless carriage company with no discernible internal combustion engine strategy. I think that’s been mostly overlooked in the coverage of what’s been happening, which tends to focus on the buggy building issue while remaining agnostic on the question of the automobile strategy. Surely, putting all your chips on the internal combustion engine is forward-looking, right? Well, perhaps for generating revenue, but not for transportation." - a former employee of U.S. Wagon Manufacturing Co.
"The golden era for the buggy business is over, but the silver era could also end up being quite good. Our view is that we’re not defending horse-drawn wagon transportation, rather we’re defending horse-drawn-wagon-style transportation. That will survive, I’m convinced about that. I believe the horse and buggy industry will live a lot longer than many people believe.” - Josiah Shepard, president of U.S. Wagon Manufacturing Co.