RIM: Watching a Looming Train Wreck

Call it morbid obsession, but I can't seem to stop watching the downward spiral of {complink 4644|Research In Motion Ltd. (RIM)}. At EBN, we've reported often on the mobile phone maker's malaise. At first, I discounted it as a few quarters of bad financials. Then it became evident that RIM was facing much deeper issues. A lack of innovation was quickly pushing it out of the two-ring smartphone circus dominated by {complink 379|Apple Inc.} and {complink 2294|Google}.

Today, I don't know if I find the Canadian company's latest “business update” just really sad or slightly comical in a twisted, cynical way. It's probably a little bit of both.

News popping up on the Internet points to a glut of BlackBerry smartphones and PlayBook tablets. RIM's stockpiles “have swollen by two-thirds in the past year because of slumping sales, raising the chances of the company's third writedown since December,” Bloomberg reports. “The value of RIM's in-house supplies grew 18 percent last quarter alone, a faster rate than at any other company in the industry… and that doesn't include the BlackBerrys gathering dust at RIM's carriers and retail partners.”

The value of RIM's inventory climbed to $1.03 billion last quarter from $618 million a year earlier, according to Bloomberg. At the end of 2011, after shipping only 150,000 of its PlayBook tablets in the fourth quarter, RIM took a $485 million pretax charge. For the quarter that ended in March, it tallied up another $267 million of BlackBerry inventory-related expenses.

A billion dollars in inventory? Really? Is that just sad or laughable as a management strategy? What is it going to take to keep this train from derailing? Yes, innovation. The problem is that RIM isn't likely to be able to invest significantly in innovation right now — or innovation-centric people — because it will have to spend its time and money on stopping the bleeding.

How do you do that? With layoffs. MSNBC reports that RIM is planning a global restructuring that could cost 2,000 employees, about 12 percent of the company's workforce, their jobs. The report cited an article in Canada’s Globe and Mail.

The company keeps saying a new line of phones based on BlackBerry 10 software will be coming to market soon. Naturally, no one wants to buy the old stuff if new stuff is in the pipeline. As a result, we have a sick cycle — RIM can't sell what it has, it can't get to market fast enough with a product some may find appealing, and the longer it delays innovation and a market launch, the more likely people will be to buy from a competitor. That means less sales, more inventory, and more writedowns. I just want to shake executives and ask, “What the heck are you doing?!?”

RIM is scheduled to report quarterly results on June 28. Maybe I'll keep a box of tissues near my desk. Then again, maybe it's not worth shedding any tears at this point.

11 comments on “RIM: Watching a Looming Train Wreck

  1. Anna Young
    May 31, 2012

    Jenn, I don't get this, will laying off 12percent of its workforce resolve this bewildered company's dilemma?

  2. elctrnx_lyf
    June 1, 2012

    RIM is suffering and I do not see if they have any plans to come out of it. They ignored that there is a lot to do and they are going to sink. Next step would be to seel their phones at throw away prices before going to shut down completely.

    June 1, 2012

    I recently saw a free competition where 1st prize was a 1 RIM Playbook, 2nd prize was 2 Playbooks and 3rd prize was a McDonald's 2for1 voucher.

  4. Anna Young
    June 1, 2012

    @FlyingScot, hilarious!

  5. bolaji ojo
    June 1, 2012

    Flyingscot, Don't tell me people were jostling to come in third?

  6. Anna Young
    June 1, 2012

    Elctrnx_Iyf, Well If the next step for RIM is probably to sell its smartphones at giveaway prices, (I hope not) I'm sure there'll be many willing customers ready to grab it. I included.

  7. t.alex
    June 1, 2012

    We have been complaining about RIM for sometime and we will continue complaining 🙂

  8. Barbara Jorgensen
    June 1, 2012

    That inventory number is overwhelming! Yikes! I doubt there is much RIM can do but write it off, or donate everything to charity and hope for a tax credit. It does seem that both bad management and bad luck have conspired to wreck RIM. It doesn't seem as if the management track is changing, either.

  9. Daniel
    June 5, 2012

    Jennifer, globally RIM sales may be down sized, but a recent article shows that playbook is in third position in most of the Asian countries in account of Play book sales. In Asian countries RIM holds about 15% sales in both Blackberry and Tablet together.

  10. Daniel
    June 5, 2012

    Elextrnx, in most of the Asian countries, they had slashed the prices of both Black berry and Playbook. Now playbook is available for a starting price of $225. But it seems that they have no planns for any h/w or s/w upgradation with tablets.

  11. prabhakar_deosthali
    June 5, 2012

    RIM is just seems to be trying to clear its dead stock of Balcberries and playbooks by offering these products at throwaway prices.  But the support issues will soon crop up and those who were lured by the cheap prices will be left high and dry.

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