SparkFun’s Cheap Chinese Multimeters are Impounded by Customs, Unleashes Rage of the Internet, and Fluke Gives SparkFun Free Merchandise.

imageSometimes, I have to shake my head.

Yesterday, SparkFun posted a blog post which generated a lot of hatred for Fluke, entitled, “Fluke, we love you but you’re killing us.” 

A cyber lynch mob formed and legions of SparkFun defenders started immediately monkey hammering their keyboards in unison, indignantly telling Fluke they will never buy a Fluke Multimeter.  Fluke responded by promising to give SparkFun a truckload of their products, for free.

SparkFun is a multimillion dollar company, with over 130 employees, but still publically acts like an mom-and-pop shop with altruistic values.  I get it.  It works.  In 2010, SparkFun pulled in roughly $18.5 million in revenue1, almost all of it from products imported from China.

SparkFun had a shipment of 2,000 Chinese multimeters stuck in customs, which were impounded because they looked remarkably like the trademarked Fluke multimeters, even down to the curve of the sides of the meter.  These were made by an OEM manufacturer for SparkFun, complete with SparkFun’s own packaging and logo.

When U.S. Customs impounded them, without Fluke’s direct intervention, Nathan Seidle (CEO of SparkFun) threw a temper tantrum and threw down the “we-are-a-small-business” card being crushed by unfair rules.  Oh the tyranny.

Nathan stated that they were out $30,000.  I call bullshit on this.  $30k would be 2,000 * $15, the full retail price, not the actual price of the units.  But let’s not let facts get in the way of a good story.


So what did Fluke do?  In a classy move, Fluke decided to give SparkFun a shipment of genuine Fluke products to replace the trumped up losses.  That’s right.  It would give SparkFun, for free, a truck load of merchandise to sell or give away.

While I respect this as a brilliant public relations move to squelch the virulent firestorm, I’m somewhat saddened that SparkFun can rake in so much cash on the business model of selling Chinese merchandise not suffer any losses given the risks of selling only Chinese made merchandise.

On a side note, the $15 multimeter is listed as “CAT III Max 600V.”  There is absolutely no way that that multimeter would be able to handle CAT III power applications safely.  When questioned about this, SparkFun responded with…

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1 Bootstrapped, Profitable, & Proud