No Chromebooks Available feat. Mark Pinkerton

  • Intro:

Hello, you’re listening to the K12 Tech Podcast bringing you insights into the world of education technology. Stay tuned as we discuss the past, the present, and most importantly, the future of technology in our schools.


  • Zack:

Alright, thanks, everybody for joining us for this week’s K12 Tech Podcast, I have Mark Pinkerton on again, I’m not going to have him do another introduction of himself, because you should have listened to the last one. So you can have it. So go back and listen to that. But this podcast is going to be a little bit different. We’re gonna do a little bit of kind of what happened in the situation where his school had made a purchase of Chromebooks, like everybody else did. You know they follow everything by the book, and guess what school year comes up, and there are no Chromebooks. So this is going to be kind of the story of that I’m going to get a little bit into the economics of what happened on the production side of it. And then just kind of where we are today, and how we’ve adapted through that. So, Mark, thanks for joining me again, and look forward to it. Why don’t you start me out? RFP? When did you officially make your order of Chromebooks?


  • Mark:

So we would have done an RFP back in like, February, March… picked a vendor late April. I don’t know the exact day that my business office submitted the order, which would have been early May of 2012. Which should have been plenty of time to get devices before school started.


  • Zack:

Yeah. So RFP, February previous to everything shutting down. COVID was just kind of hitting the news. Not really sure how big it was gonna be. You pick a vendor, obviously, in April, follow all the protocol, you put your order in May. Now, was there any communication from your vendor? Also wasn’t us on this one. Just want to say. (Laughter) Was there any communication from your vendor? Like you might not get your Chromebooks in time? Or was it like, no, hey, you’re gonna be good. It might be later on in the summer, what was that communication like?


  • Mark:

So we had a feeling that things might be delayed because of COVID-19. And all of the different things we were hearing about factories being shut down. So we had communication back and forth with the vendor. And then ultimately, it was not so much the vendor, but the company, Chromebook manufacturer, which was a Lenovo, and so we had some communication back and forth, but we were still confident that we were going to get them, you know, might not be two weeks before school started, but at least we could get them that week or so school started and we could start handing out devices as soon as we could get them out of the box. Yeah, did not end up.


  • Zack:

So just kind of like outlining, most people are going to be listening to this or in the education realm probably in technology, you kind of understand. So basically, with COVID, hit China shut down. Unfortunately, every single Chromebook that exists is produced, you know, Shang Zen or China somewhere around there, they shut down. So production already, even January through March was delayed, but they thought they were going to be able to catch up. But there was kind of some unique things happening as well. So with COVID, schools are now going fully virtual for the first time. So schools that weren’t one-to-one are scrambling buying everything possible in the market. So not only do you have production shut down for a couple of months or and I don’t think they were even up to full production from what they said, until April, we talked quite a bit with our vendors over there. You know, April, May. So you’ve got maybe 50%, over that time of production, on top of demand doubling at the exact same time. So schools that weren’t planning are going to Best Buy. They’re going to all of these buying up every single Chromebook that’s on the market. And then this is kind of where we’re stuck in language. And I can I don’t I’m not going to get into specific because of, you know, just some knowledge I’m not 100% sure on but from what I understand a massive, massive amount of devices were on a boat, probably your devices, were on boats coming to the United States to be collected. And they were in customs, I believe, and they were turned away. And I’ve heard different numbers, but I heard it could be close to a million devices turned away and sent back and were not allowed to be sold in the United States. There’s some speculation on exactly why that was. I’m not going to get into that. So you take that. So the things that were produced for three months that were produced, got turned away, double the demand, take away the production. You’ve got a nightmare. So at that point, like we had worked with you on the buyback side, and we were waiting kind of until it was like, No, you’re getting your devices, you’ll have them by the end of June. So we’re like, Alright, go ahead. We grabbed them. We were processing and they were gone. And you said, You came to me. You’re like, hey, Zack, we’re not getting our devices. So kind of walk me through the day, you get the call, you’re not the day you find out. You’re not getting your devices before the beginning of school.


  • Mark:

Yeah, so we’re, it was a weird day, because I was scrambling to get situated for school anyways. And I can’t have to go back I was trying to find you know, how much before school was that we found out that I had a couple of emails from the vendor we bought from, and then looped in, and I got to my, I got to my phone and I see, you know, this email from the vendor, I see an email from Lenovo, and thinking, man, why’s Lenovo reaching out what’s going on. And before I can even do anything my Superintendent calls me is like, I just got off the phone with a vendor and with Lenovo, and we’re not going to have our devices until maybe September, October. Like man, like, like, it’s like, I left my office two hours ago, and I go do something and I get out to my car there’s no cell phone signal inside this building… It was like getting a phone call, and find out that that we have no devices. So that… the cool part of this story, one of the coolest parts of this story is my superintendent, Brett Garrett, he’s, you know, he’s, he kind of knows my personality. And we always like to have things done on time or ahead of time, we’re always prepared whenever we can to, to put the best foot forward for our students, or staff. And he’s like, this is an opportunity to lead. He’s like, this isn’t a disaster. He’s like, you know, he listed here’s what a disaster is. To try to see what a disaster was when it was like humans human life, like this is not one of those times. It’s an opportunity to lead and to grow. And we’re gonna figure it out. So that was the day I found out. I don’t know if you want more specifics on Lenovo side. But I guess my response from that point was, I’m a little bit of a freakout mode, right? Because it’s like, we’re starting school in less than two weeks. Our kids have teachers and the students have had devices for eight years in a row now. Like, I can’t imagine coming back to school, and we just ended COVID. No one knows. No one knows what school is going to start like, Are we going to be in for four days? And then we’re virtual? Or are we going to go in and be half schedule? So for those of you who, who might be in a different situation than us, we’ve actually been on site since day one, like we’ve never had any sort of the shutdown or half days or partial schedules. We’ve had some snow eLearning days, but not a true shutdown. So but going into that we didn’t know. We didn’t know what we’re going to make it till October 1, and then school shut down again, we didn’t know so that not having the device was…


  • Zack:

Yeah, and just so people understand, like scarcity on the level that it was, you know, our largest district that we cover, they needed to buy 8,500 devices. And the only person that had them was Staples. So if Staples is selling directly to schools, you know that there’s nothing on the market. And I’m relatively confident that they may have gotten the last couple of thousands of devices that were even available in the United States at that point. So, you know, I remember Mark you calling me and I was actually I was more nervous I think maybe than you were. I feel horrible. You know, we don’t have devices to support you. I’m reaching out to every single one of my vendors to see, and, you know, it’s hard when it’s like, Hey, I have to now I have to buy used devices to give me devices until I get my other one. So it’s like there’s grant money out there. You don’t know when you’re going to get it. You don’t have the budget, all these things. And I think what happened next was probably one of my favorite stories of the year. So can you talk through just kind of how the education community came together and like helped you guys out in this time of need?


  • Mark:

Yeah, so I started just picking up the phone. And even that day, I’m in in the driveway in my house, and I’m calling the IT director at Oak Hill, and I’m calling someone who actually used to be a technician of ours call from over at Southern Wells. And I’m just saying tell me you guys have devices on your shelf that you haven’t sold because I knew both of those schools who had bought some new devices. And we just started reaching out. And Brandon at Southern Wells had had a decent amount of devices. I can’t remember the exact number we had from them, but five or six hundred devices, which was going to get us part of the way there. You know, we knew that we had some iPads we were going to order. We thought about ordering some iPads. And so I sort of built this whole long list of things. And this must have been a Friday and I the following Monday we get back to together we have a meeting with all of our admin team and Superintendent and just give them this like long list of like, here’s all the things that we could possibly do. You know, we could try to buy MacBook Airs, we can try to buy this or that and I think just me saying hey look I’ve called all these people and asked, can they help us out? Can we get devices? I called you guys to call Mike Sumpter cuz he had his hands in some schools. Just anywhere I could and then our Superintendent I think just took that lead Brett and he kind of emailed out some Superintendent contacts and said, Hey, this is where we’re at, you know. So people emailed him and including me, and said, we’re in the same boat. Like, if you find devices, let us know, because we need these devices. And we had a contact at a school district up north, which actually, I think you guys work with them as well. And they had not yet sold their old devices, but had new ones in hand, and actually sold us their devices.

Actually, I think that particular corporation just said, when we’re done to get them that we’re going to sell back to you guys. And so what they said was this, when you’re done with them, turn them over, and we’ll collect whatever’s left to collect at that time. So we, we ended up getting the 1,500 devices that we needed, within a matter of a week, a week and a half. Yeah, because we had no device. We had devices. And, you know, we worked some long hours that couple days before school started and that weekend, but I think by Tuesday, the like second or third day of school, every kid in our district had a device in their hands. And it wasn’t what we had intended. But they all worked. And again, at that time, we thought this was like we’re gonna do this till October. Then October came, and they’re like, no, it’s gonna be into November. So then it’s like November, we’re not hearing anything. And it’s like, well, it might be first of the year. Then it’s December, and it’s like, well, might be March. So at this point, I just sent the email to our whole staff group, because we’ve talked about it, but I just said, just in case anyone is still questioning, even if we got devices between now and the end of the school year, logistically, we can’t collect and distribute. And, you know, we’re just, we’ve got these devices from now until the end of the year. Which I think most people were in that assumption. But we did have one teacher that emailed said, “You know what, it’s fine, they work, the kids can do what they need to do. You know, we’re just so glad that we have a device to use.”


  • Zack:

You know what I think? I think one thing, you know, a lot of terrible things that come out of COVID. But one thing I’ve experienced so much of is I think people have been forced just to give grace on things. You know, like, it kind of forces you be like, life isn’t perfect, and it’s out of control. And people are like, you know, what I understand and with, like, what you guys went through, I remember we were with the school that you got a majority of your devices from I was talking with them and they’re like, Hey, is it okay if, you know, we send these devices? I’m like, absolutely. You know, like, what, what good is it for me to get these devices, if it’s going to help a school go on through a through a school year, and, you know, it kind of already worked out, because when you guys were done with them, we were just going to pick them up anyway.

But, you know, that’s kind of like the relationship aspect of everybody pulling together and helping and, and you know, I love that story. Because it was kind of fast. Like when you think about by the time you find out you’re not going to get them a couple weeks before school starts to now. It’s like, oh, a couple weeks later, you have all the devices you need. Sure, they’re in pretty rough shape. But you know, you have everything you need to launch for that school year. And I loved the story. Because I think a lot of people– I know, I know, schools that have known about they just don’t have devices, you know, they’ve had they’ve got five or six year old Chromebooks that are barely, not even fast enough. And I did have a specific question for you. Because I actually don’t know the answer to this. Did Google do anything special with Google console? Or did they force you guys to buy additional licenses?


  • Mark:

So we had already bought licenses because we were under the impression that the cost was going to go up. That was pre-COVID. And so cost was going to go up, I think March 31, was the cutoff date in there. And then Google extended that. So we had already bought 1,600 licenses. So we didn’t have to worry about that. Our concern was, especially when we thought that we were only doing this till October was, hey, look, we’re gonna spend, like not only did we have to buy devices, excuse me from the one school, but the other school, like I said, just let us use it basically. We were we contacted the Google rep. and we tried to work with them and the vendor, and actually Lenovo got involved as well, because I mean, I as you know, there’s not like big money to be made on Chromebooks sales from reseller standpoint. So it’s not like we could get some crazy discount. But someone talked to someone at Google and convinced them that whenever we get our new devices in that they will somehow do a same model replacement or some other piece will work so that we don’t have to buy those licenses.


  • Zack:

That’s awesome. And that was my main concern was, Hey, I’m going to use these Google licenses for six months. And for people who don’t know, Google licenses right now are right about $25 a license somewhere around there. And I think Google did announce they’re raising their prices again, on those. But I appreciate that. That’s I mean, really, ultimately, how much does it cost Google?


  • Mark:

You know, the point was, we’d already had licenses. I mean, it’s just, it’s not like we were going anywhere we had already bought them four years prior, and we had them here, the devices that we had, someone had paid for a license on them. So it’s not like they were not not licensed. So the other part of it is you guys at K12. Right. So I mean, it. Here. We talked a little bit about this in the last one, but building that partnership, and so we had, like, you guys sold us a warranty on a Lenovo 300e and Dell 3100s and 3100 touches. I don’t know if that’s even the model. I don’t know what model? I think that anyways, like you, you guys told us that. And I’m sure that there are plenty of companies, who would have been like, well, we don’t have the device that we sold your warranty on. So you’re out of luck, which was not what you did. I mean, you guys have supported us from day one. In fact, you’ve probably done more lifting this year. Because we didn’t with our repair class, we didn’t send devices out the door. Yeah, we’re on our third round of sending devices to you, because we just cannot keep up. Again, devices are older. And so knowing that, you know that, you know what I called you that one day and the devices were tough for you to get to. The one thing I remember from that call was knowing that whoever we get devices from, that you guys were there to support us. Regardless, it didn’t matter what the device was, you guys had a contract with us to support devices. Regardless of what that looks, so yeah.


  • Zack:

I appreciate that. Like, you know, that working with schools, for me has always been a long game, you know, a long game, not a game, but like long term relationships and, and building that and, you know, doing to others what you want to have them do to you and it’s like, I can’t just leave them hanging, you know, I gotta take care of that. And I appreciate that shout out with that, you know, and going back to like your devices too, you know, people are like, Well, you know, you’re going to get them in March, it doesn’t matter. Basically, if you don’t have them by the beginning of this year, there isn’t enough time to roll them out and do this, it’s not even worth it. You might as well wait, you know, extend out your warranty with Lenovo another year. That way, they’re kind of covered in that realm. And, you know, at least you’ll be on time for next school year, hopefully.


  • Mark:

Yeah, I hope.


  • Zack:

You know, one thing I do want to say for everybody who’s listening who is kind of on the cuff of what they’re doing. This production and demand problem is going to be a problem again. So if you are on a refresh cycle, everyone’s like, Oh, you know, the market’s getting caught up. Like no, like, the market is just getting caught up from 10 months ago. And I anticipate there’s going to be another pretty large shortage again. So what the issue is, I would say maybe 20% of the Chromebooks that were put into circulation with schools, were devices that were four or five years old already. I mean, the US, the US Chromebook market, we still use Chromebooks, we were sold out there was nothing in existence, which tells me that schools were buying up whatever they could, and which means is they’re in their fourth or fifth year. Chromebooks are great devices, that’s pushing it, you know, batteries aren’t making it motherboards are starting to fail. So those schools that 20% that backfill the market, they’re gonna have to replace those. And that’s just another huge demand in the market. They’re not quite there. I haven’t really heard about production right there. So anybody who’s holding off and like, you know, hey, we’ll get to it, you know, we’ll make our order.. Get the item ordered now and make sure that you’re in the front of the line.


  • Mark:

So we ordered in May of 2020, we’re going to be almost a full 12 months out and I know that last time we had a call with Lenovo, there were still people who had ordered in March who hadn’t been fulfilled. So we actually meet with them next week, and I’m just hoping that they tell me someone in the line has gotten devices delivered, you know.


  • Zack:

I really think it is like a great story of like community and schools coming together and scrambling. I love your ability to adapt. And you know, what Brett Garrett said like, this is an opportunity for leadership not disaster and having that attitude throughout this is what I think is so important. And, you know, for anybody listening, you know, like life is gonna throw you stuff like COVID has kind of showed us you know, you can be pretty resilient and reach out to people in your community and your other schools. I think sometimes there’s that pride if I’m reaching out, you know, it makes it look like I don’t, I don’t have I’m not on top of my stuff, but ultimately, you know, reaching out and building a good network is what’s gonna allow your school to be better and what you can learn from people on. So, Mark, I really appreciate your time today and you know, your expertise, your professionalism in that. Appreciate it.


  • Mark:

Alright, sounds great. Thanks, Zack.

Show transcript