AAFES in Europe struggling to meet AFN decoder demand
January 31, 2006
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — Customers hoping to buy the cheaper American Forces Network decoder for this weekend’s Super Bowl will have a tough time scoring one before the big game.
Military stores have had a difficult time keeping the TV-top boxes in stock since they began selling them in November, and it could be weeks before another shipment arrives at some locations.
The new models are in such hot demand that Army and Air Force Exchange Service customers have been put on waiting lists as long as 200 people at some locations. Few stores around Europe, especially those in large U.S. military communities, have any decoders in stock because so many customers want them.
“They’ve just been blowing out of the stores,” said Debbie Byerly, an AAFES spokeswoman in Mainz-Kastel. “And from what I can see, right now if any store does have any, it’s onesies and twosies. Nobody has any large quantities.”
Exchanges want more for their customers, but the supplier — Scientific Atlanta — hasn’t been able to produce enough of the boxes to meet the demand in Europe, Byerly said. The units allow customers to view AFN programming, from sports to news, by satellite and cost $279 each. The older units cost between $535 and $565 at military exchanges across Europe.
“I don’t think the company that supplies the decoders expected such a high demand,” Byerly said.
Jeffrey Sweetenburg, store manager at the Vogelweh BXtra in Kaiserslautern, said he gets about 100 requests a week for the decoders. An order of 300 boxes due to arrive in the next couple of weeks will never reach the store shelves because they will go to customers who are on a waiting list.
“It seems like you’ll never meet demand,” Sweetenburg said. “You’re just never able to get caught up.”
AAFES has sold more than 700 of the units since the first decoder went on sale, Byerly said. Another 1,500 decoders are on the way to store shelves across Europe. But Sweetenburg, who works at one of the busiest exchanges in Europe, said the supplier will have to turn out plenty more to help keep up with the number of customers who want them.
When he gets a shipment in, three store employees start calling people on the waiting list to come and get their decoders.
“It’s lot of work,” he said. “But you have to do something if you don’t have the product.”
To get an idea how much the decoders are in demand, many people are selling the units for more money than the exchanges. In the Stars and Stripes classified ads, used decoders go for $350-$400 each without the satellite dish.
While getting a new box is difficult, those who aren’t high on the waiting list for a decoder aren’t totally out of luck, Byerly said. Customers can rent the units for a monthly fee until the new decoders arrives.