This article also appears at dropzone.marketing.
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When it comes to customer service, talk is cheap. Companies acknowledge the need for it, but few can pull it off. Larsen & Brusgaard sets the standard for service in the skydiving industry. Ask any DZO, dealer or skydiver about Larsen & Brusgaard (L&B) and the response usually involves a story of great customer service.
L&B is seldom at U.S. boogies as they’re based in Denmark, yet they have a global skydiving presence. The reason? Their marketing derives from the most powerful medium ever: their customers. We at Drop Zone Marketing love their products, but we love buying from a company that takes care of us even more. Because of their international location, few know the L&B story, so I reached out to co-founder, Mads Larsen, to learn more about his prolific company that’s in our ear on every skydive.
Larsen & Brusgaard: How It All Began
It is said that the best products are the ones that fill a need. The birth of L&B is no different. During the mid-1970s an exciting new skydiving discipline was introduced and it caught fire: relative work. The concept of jumping with your friends in freefall while creating formations was exciting but it also created a new problem: a lack of altitude awareness.
Mads Larsen and Niels Brusgaard were RW pioneers on the weekends but worked as mechanical and electronic engineers during the week. Seeing the issue of dangerously low (sometimes fatal) deployment altitudes, Mads and Niels decided to fix the problem. Their vision was to create an audible alarm which would beep at a preset altitude, alerting a skydiver it was time to turn and track away. They took their grandmother’s wall barometer, attached a switch and a loudspeaker and the first blueprint for the DYTTER™ was born. Jumpers loved it and before long a new company with an intricate name was born: Larsen & Brusgaard. The rest, as they say, is history!
An Interview with Mads Larsen
James La Barrie: The progression of the Dytter has had a steady rise since it was first introduced. What was the moment that you realized you could actually build a business around this device, especially when considering how small the skydiving industry was at the time?
Mads Larsen: Back in the late ‘70s my partner, Niels Brusgaard, and I brought a few of the very first models of the original DYTTER with us to the World Championships in Relative Work in Mourmelon-le-Grand in France where we represented Denmark in 4- and 8-way. These devices were not even in molded cases and had to be put inside the top of the helmet with the loudspeaker connected via a cable. They were really first round of prototypes, however we sold all of them the very first day! After the championships we went back home and built more units that were sold just as fast. We soon had earned enough money ($ 5,000) to invest in toolings to build the real DYTTER and soon sales started rising. Even with the small skydiving industry at that time, we got so busy after about one year that we had to quit our “normal” jobs as engineers in fine mechanics and electronics.
L&B is renowned for its elite customer service. Everywhere I go, people rave about how fast the turnaround times are for repairs. The word-of-mouth on L&B has spread quickly, not just because of the product, but also because customers are treated better than most other manufacturers. Was there a point that you recognized that great customer service was also a great marketing tool for growing your exposure?
Being skydivers ourselves, all our customers at that time were our friends and we wanted to give them the best after-sales service as possible and instead of having them wait for the repair work to be done on their units, we kept them happy by quickly replacing with new units, free of charge. The customer was happy and told the story to his friends and we got more customers. We have kept this policy through the years and although it has a cost, it pays back in the long run. However, I should mention that this year we have been forced to stop replacing some first-generation audible and visual altimeters due to components becoming obsolete, which prevent us from repairing and reusing the electronics.
Was there a moment where you saw your product catch fire and really take off to skydivers globally?
The moment we saw our product catch fire and take off was when we introduced the PROTRACK™ to the market. This device has three freefall warnings, a built-in logbook, option to download data to a PC and a large LCD screen to display freefall data immediately upon landing. We worked nearly five years on this project. None of the other competitors’ products at that time could match these features and the sales went fast since this type of device seemed to be exactly what the customers wanted. 15 years later, it is still a popular product and being used as the primary recording device at speed skydiving competitions.
It seems like L&B was everywhere once color combinations were available for your products, along with wrist bands. Would you say this was a critical moment in the growth of your sales? What led you to create the multitude of colors?
One of my creative employees saw an example of a primitive wrist band one jumper had made to mount his VISO™ and immediately started to move on with the idea and developed an improved model. Seeing jumpers match their helmet/rig/jumpsuit colors made us believe that a matching color (choice of 12-14 different colors) VISO wristband would fit very well into this—and it has become a hit.
There has never been a time in history where we have we seen such rapid advancement in technology. How do you continue to grow your own knowledge base while being so busy with the daily operations of your company?
Thanks to my employees who are on top of the matters, especially technology-wise where components become obsolete faster than we can start using them in future products. We are using the latest state in electronics and it is a challenge to always have to plan 12-16 months ahead.
The challenge of being an industry leader is to remain a leader. How do you stay motivated to continually create and update your products although you’ve been doing this since the mid ‘70s?
Skydiving has become very dynamic. In the early days, one beep in the ear was sufficient when doing 2-ways. Nowadays people are doing wingsuit flying, head-down, big-ways and swooping and luckily I have a good team with very talented people who are all eager to come up with ideas to match a new product to a new discipline. Then it’s a breeze to stay motivated.
Since starting L&B, what has been your most challenging day?
It’s a difficult question to answer. I have had many challenging days. One that stands clear in my mind was about five years ago when we were to supply piles of paper work to a large military organization in connection with a contract for delivery of Military Altitracks. It was difficult and new to us and we were running short of time, however succeeded in the last minute.
Of all that L&B has accomplished, what has been your proudest day?
When I saw Felix Baumgartner on the platform just before he jumped and the ALTITRACK we had developed for this purpose showed the needle at 128,000’.
Being an entrepreneur is tireless. What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs looking to start their own companies?
Believe in what you are doing even when things don’t look so good and be willing to work 24/7.
Another aspect of owning a company is work-life balance. Has this been a challenge for you and how have you managed it?
Luckily, I have a very understanding family, and I/we manage to find the balance even though it can be difficult at times.
What other skydiving companies or organizations do you admire and why?
Airtec. Helmut [Cloth] is as tireless an entrepreneur as me and I have followed his growth since he showed me his very first CYPRES.
Of all the products you’ve created, is there one you’re most proud of?
The Military Altitrack.
If there was one thing you would like the skydiving industry to know about your company what would you like them to know?
That we strive to do our best to keep the customer happy.
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