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Bryan W.





Joined: 27 Oct 2007

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PostPosted: Mon 21 Feb, 2011 5:11 pm    Post subject: Communication and industry standard         Reply with quote

In light of recent topics seen on this forum (and others), I thought I'd post a little editorial comment as a separate, civil, topic. Please do not use this topic to negatively comment on others as this is more about process than specifics.

I'd be curious to see what others think and hope that some of the good people who do custom work might weigh in on this as well. In the efforts of full disclosure, I've considered myself very lucky to have developed (at least what I consider) good relationships with providers over the last several years and thankfully have never encountered any horror stories on my end of things as a client, but that does not mean I have been immune to anxiety and concern during wait-periods.

The recent discussion raises a very interesting point that both custom smiths and customers face. The industry standard seems to involve paying some money up front (usually a portion up front, likely to cover materials and a downpayment before one starts a custom project) and then the remainder upon completion, although some now require the entire sum up front.

From the merchant's standpoint, this is their livelihood and they can ill afford a client that cheats them or wastes their time, effort, and materials when they could have been working on a project that would actually make money for them. They are dealing often times with someone they have never met or heard anything about before. On the other hand, the client runs a risk by investing at times potentially a substantial amount of money on something they have not seen, and with a person they may know only by reputation alone. Both take a risk and this anxiety can certainly make one impatient, short, and angry particularly when large sums of money are involved. I find it difficult to see that both sides do not recognize the risk the other is taking as well.

Clearly trust is the issue at stake here and communication is important. We have seen time and again where a little communication goes a long way in terms of not only allaying fear but also to ensure that the details are correct so both sides are "happy", and many complaints from the client side seems to stems from lack of such. In my own experience, despite the great experiences as a client in the custom-world I have had, I find it very curious that only one has ever given me unsolicited updates and made the effort to contact me first after money was sent. Every other time I have had to be the one to email or call for an update up until more money is due (ie: the project is completed) and while I have no issue with that personally, it is interesting. Perhaps it is because I tell people up front when terms are agreed upon and I send that first payment that I will attempt to contact them about once a month for a brief update once the project has been started.

I realize people are busy and that time spent on email could be time spent working, but this is a job for the custom smiths and I am surprised that such communication has not become standard with regards to large custom projects. I don't know if high resolution photos every month should be standard but simple updates probably would go a long way. I typically expect just a sentence or two on where things are and an updated estimated time frame.

Usually most respond in a timely fashion but there is nothing more anxiety-provoking than sending an email and waiting a week to get a reply. "Oh I'm sure he's busy" for some quickly can turn into "I hope nothing happened." to "I hope he didn't forget" or "I hope he's not going to steal my money". I'm sure on the provider side it is more along the lines of "I hope he's not going to skip out of this deal after I put all this time and effort into this." I think some of this is while the internet allows for broader advertisement, it is impersonal and the connection and relationship between client and provider is lacking.

Of course there are horror stories about clients and providers both (true or not and all of these tales of woe give all of us a bad name) and each story I'm sure comes to mind at some point on both sides of the fence.

Thoughts? What do others do?
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Michael R. Black





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PostPosted: Mon 21 Feb, 2011 5:45 pm    Post subject: I've had good experiences         Reply with quote

I appreciate your starting this thread.

One of the things I have enjoyed about being a collector has been the courtesy and personal attention provided by different custom makers I've met through this forum. Its one of the factors that keeps me coming back to the hobby. Specific arrangements regarding payment and wait times have been different depending on what the maker prefers, and what my disposable cash flow has looked like. I like to think that in most instances, the maker and I have developed a mutually beneficial relationship with a fair degree of trust.

I've had several custom sword projects, and numerous scabbard projects completed. I usually try to give the maker a general idea of what I want, but have found there is real benefit to letting them wok out the finer details themselves.

In the case of one sword project I encountered significant delays. I wont go into detail as to why this happened on a public forum, but l will say the maker encountered life circumstances that made the time lag necessary, and also that they offered me my money back if I wanted to bail after hearing how long it was really going to take. The difference between escalation and calmer appeasement on my end was the maker's consistent updates for me through email.

As far as disputes regarding project details; there have been a few instances there have been minor errors or misinterpretations of what I wanted. Once or twice I've asked the maker to take the project back to make some final adjustments. There have also been several times where the maker made a minor change or two, but I liked things better that way once I saw the end product.

Truly, the only real issues I've had with the process of dealing with custom projects has been shipping, and I've never seen this as a makers fault. Rather, I have had occasions where I've been frustrated with shipping companies. In one instance I complained about the shipping company on this forum. Since that time, I have come to regret doing so, as I re-read my thread a month or two later, and realized I'd been too reactive.

Michael
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Joe Fults




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PostPosted: Mon 21 Feb, 2011 6:09 pm    Post subject: Re: Communication and industry standard         Reply with quote

Bryan W. wrote:
The industry standard seems to involve paying some money up front (usually a portion up front, likely to cover materials and a downpayment before one starts a custom project) and then the remainder upon completion, although some now require the entire sum up front.


It all depends who you work with but your reputation also plays into things. At the end of the day if you don't want to front the money there are people out there who won't require it. I find that this is better for me (and the makers dealing with me) so I chose vendors accordingly. I eventually get tense and testy when somebody has too much of my money and starts missing deadlines and expectations for delivery that they helped set set during negotiation.

Which sometimes seems to happen for one reason or another, no matter who you're dealing with.

On custom jobs I try to give the artist some design lattitude. I've had poor luck trying to be highly detailed and granular about what I think I want from custom projects. Even when I have a known historical piece that I'm trying to get copied this comes up because there are always expectations that change or that I'm not fully aware of during planning. On the other hand, when just I give some idea of what end result I want is (period, type, maybe some reference examples) and allow a for a bit of grey in my expectation, I've usually recieved far more than I anticipated getting. For me, custom jobs end up being capture the spirit and feeling exercises. I try to let the artist have some fun with the project. Hell, I want the project to be fun so it gets worked out of excitement, not just out of a sense of obligation, so I try to avoid micro managing. Once past go, I try very hard to only ask questions when I'm near previosly set deadlines, and that has worked for me.

Guess it comes down to deciding to box the craftman in, or letting somebody who is artistic and creative, be artistic and creative. If you can't deal with that, in my opinion, you are better off learning to make stuff yourself, or sticking to off the shelf and previously owned items. Otherwise custom projects are going to drive you, and your craftsman, completely crazy.

"Our life is what our thoughts make it"
-Marcus Aurelius

"Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable."
-John F. Kennedy
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Joe Fults




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PostPosted: Mon 21 Feb, 2011 6:16 pm    Post subject: Also..         Reply with quote

When custom projects haven't worked out for me I've found it best to just sell them and move on quietly. The commission almost always appeals to somebody out there, often it appeals quite a bit, even if it does not appeal to me. Dragging somebody through the mud only devalues the art you hold (in my experience).

Admittedly this a luxury not everyone has, but custom is never cheap, and you need to understand what you're getting into before making a commitment. Custom projects are not smart impulse buys.

"Our life is what our thoughts make it"
-Marcus Aurelius

"Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable."
-John F. Kennedy
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Jeremy V. Krause




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PostPosted: Mon 21 Feb, 2011 8:10 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I've never had to put any deposit at all for custom work. I pay in full when the job is done and I have approved it. I like it that way.

I have sent back a great project to have an alteration and offered to cover the craftsman for their time. In this case the artisan gernerously offered to do the work free of charge.

I have had some delays in communication regarding projects but these may be due to the artisan not speaking English fluently. Communicating with smiths with little English can be a little frustrating but I have found that their understanding tends to be better than the ability to express themselves in English. And heck, everyone doesn't speak English so I have no real expectation that they be able to express themselves in the most eloquent way.

In general though, I have felt fairly comfortable with the amount of communication that I have received during projects.

I really would always prefer to have progress shots of my projects. One of the artisans I work with does this and the other does not. I do wish that this was more standard. At the same time taking progress shots may reveal some of the artisans' "tricks" so to speak, so I can see how this could be a delicate matter.

I am happy that I seem to work with folks whose budget is not so tight that my single project would adversely affect their situation- at least Ive never heard about it. Their financial situation is none of my business and mine is none of theirs.

I like the folks I work with, at least as far as I know them. Happy


Last edited by Jeremy V. Krause on Mon 21 Feb, 2011 8:56 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Thom R.




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PostPosted: Mon 21 Feb, 2011 8:39 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I go back to what the title up in the right hand corner says

A Resource for Historic Arms and Armour Collectors

To me, that means sharing information, learning from each other and improving the quality of information that is out there on the internet with respect to historic arms and armour and their reproductions.

Sharing experiences with regard to custom arms and armour commissions is sort of a grey area imho. I think Nathan was very tolerant allowing that thread to evolve the way it did for three days. I don't think it did either party much credit.

In my opinion ( I am not the park ranger), this is just not the place for arbitration. Nor is it a place to vent just for the sake of venting. I would suggest talking offline to work out a problem or if you need to just vent frustration and clear out emotion. I just would hate to see more of those kinds of threads. I just don't see that thread as providing much of a service or resource to the community at large or helping with that mission statement shown above.

On the other hand it is a free market system and people shouldn't feel intimidated to express their experiences, good or bad, with a business or artist or craftsperson or product or re-seller. There is value to that as the cost of some of the stuff involved in this hobby are not lunch money for most of us. But for guidance as to what is and is not appropriate one can look at the reviews on this site. They are not uniformly all positive on all aspects. If you think about it the review section provides a format for properly sharing information about ones experiences with an available arms/armour product, business service or a custom commission. Maybe you don't have time for a formal review with all of the high quality pics, but you can still follow the format and publish a short review here in Off topic or in the Historic section if warranted. Just keep the personal stuff and accusations out of it. Thats just cognitive dissonance and doesn't really provide much in the way of valuable information imo.

Also when it comes to the internet, a good rule of thumb it seems to me is waiting for a month or two or three before sharing your experience. Your emotions will settle down and you can be more objective then.

With regard to how to work with a custom commission, as you stated it's a trust issue and a little communication goes a long way for both parties. Progress updates are very comforting to the customer in whatever form (even if it is simply a notice that you are still in the line awaiting a start). Trust is a very very fragile thing, its hard to recover once it is broken. But faith and politeness are also important. Faith that the customer isn't going to back out, renege on the final bill, or be fickle. Faith that the smith is going to listen to what you want and wants to please you and have you as a repeat customer. And politeness when disappointment happens, expressing yourself in a constructive way.

As for the contract side of things, I think people who take on work should have rather clear written policies on payment and refund, and be willing and able financially to back it up if something goes wrong, just as people who commission work on a down payment should be able to come up with the remainder upon completion. Its a mutual financial obligation. Personally, I have no problem paying 100% up front on a commission if I trust the person and there is an unconditional refund policy.

just my $0.02
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Craig Johnson
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PostPosted: Mon 21 Feb, 2011 8:56 pm    Post subject: Craftsman and Business         Reply with quote

Good Topic Bryan

One that, while discussed in the past, probably will always be a pertinent and interesting to both makers and clients. Every maker that I know has had good and bad patches of being able to meet the communication expectations of their clients. It is much different than even ten years ago. Todays ability to send emails and access to cheap long distance has made it easier to stay in contact and give and receive information.

Overall I would say this has improved the industry. Though the volume of information that a maker must deal with has probably risen 10 fold or more. In the days of phone and snail mail that info flow could be handled pretty easily. Today at any given time a popular maker maybe dealing with 5, 10, 20 or more emails a day. Some will be progress related others will be queries on quotes and new commissions. Add a phone call or two and it can be a good deal of communication to deal with. Add some pictures to take download and send and you really need to start including this part of the process in your cost figuring. Most makers I know do not.

Add a few shop problems, a sick helper or family member and a supplier with problems and you can really have a day Eek!

The idea of an industry standard is probably a tough one to define as many makers will have a style they operate in. Some of these will be quite regimented and consistent, while others will be far more free form and change over time. The concept of practice and procedures usually does not penetrate to deeply into the craft world. Would it help a lot of makers? Yes. Would the majority agree to what these would be? Probably not. There are to many variables between makers from the basics of what equipment and skills do they have to hand to how do they approach their work. I know some who have a raft of detailed documentation before they put hand to material. Then there are others that grab a chunk of something and start. Some will make prototypes or try different methods to see what works best others will start with a plan and follow it through to the end with little deviation, while others will start headed one way and mutate as they go to achieve something they are happy with. No way is better than another as long as the results make the customer and the maker happy.

But that is usually the key! Reaching a result where the customer is pleased with the transaction. As you stated clear communication is something that helps this a great deal.

Today it is far easier for a customer to research the person they are considering doing business with and get a sense of how people feel about doing business with that person. No one will be free of problems in their past. It happens to everyone. There are orders that just go wrong sometimes but it is how they handle these that will usually be the biggest distinction between makers who have good reputations and those that are less so.

I think the current economic stress probably makes these elements even more important for both partners in the transaction and, I fear, sometimes tougher to achieve.

Best
Craig
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Tim Lison




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PostPosted: Mon 21 Feb, 2011 10:12 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Wow, heavy topic.

I haven't bought "off the rack" in a few years, prefering to work with a small cadre of makers with whom I enjoy a good working relationship. On occasion, I will use a new or up and coming maker, hoping that they become a regular. Those that I work with regularly have been fully involved in creating that good working relationship. Here is what I think goes into making those relationships work(and leading to great results!):

    Sound initial idea. The quality of the maker cannot overcome this and it can scuttle a project before it starts.
    Good Communication both ways. I think it's particularly important during the initial consultation but can be important throughout the process, particularly if there is a snafu or delay. Pictures can really go a long way here.
    Patience and tolerance(for the customer). Things can go wrong. Makers have other customers. Makers have lives outside of their livelihood.
    Patience and tolerance(for the maker). It is nervewracking at times waiting for a custom piece. Niche businesses are based on an obsessive(not casual) customer base. For a customer, swords can never be done(or emails returned!) soon enough.
    Respect for the artistic process. Makers work differently. Some projects need to be tight, some need to be loose. Understanding which is which is both parties responsibility. Some makers may not be right for some projects! Some makers may not be right for some customers, and vice versa.
    Excellent finished products that meet(or exceed) expectations. There is no getting around this for me.
    Timely shipping. A detail, but important nonetheless!
    Timely payment. Our responsibility to makers is to pony up the cash when it's time. Not half. Not 2/3. All of it. (I like to avoid this by paying up front)


I have 3 projects that are in process at the moment all of which have been managed differently:

One is with a maker who I have worked with many times. We have a project going now that has been paid in full for close to a year. I am not worried. The project was something that was going to be a learning process for him as he hadn't done anything like it before. We agreed on that before the project started or any money changed hands. I knew it may take time and indeed it has. He has put the time in and I can do nothing but respect his need for perfection and understand that it may mean delays but that it WILL mean a glorious finished project. We have communicated regularly throughout the process and all is well.

The second project is with someone who is not a full time maker. I understand that this will mean more waiting and his communication is spotty. The quality of his product and the current terms of our agreement far outweigh the wait and the spotty communication.

The third project is with a seasoned pro. He emailed me last month to tell me my wait in his queue was over and I emailed my idea. He suggested changing the blade length and adding a feature to the blade. I liked his suggestion and agreed. I asked that the scabbard have a belt. He agreed. We discussed no details about the scabbard or about the blade other than those listed. I know he will deliver as he has in the past. He will submit photos for my approval upon completion. Once approved, he expects payment immediately. I have the total sum in a savings account waiting for his email. It should be finished in March.

3 different projects that are handled three different ways but sticking to the above points. It's worked well enough so far...
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Hadrian Coffin
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PostPosted: Mon 21 Feb, 2011 10:24 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hello,

This is an interesting topic. Everyone has very set opinions on the matter, and nearly everyone can relate to the topic. For me this is particularly interesting being both a buyer and a seller. I have purchased a great deal of items on commission, and more recently have been dealing with pieces being commissioned from me. I suppose this has given me a different perspective on the matter than I would have had five years ago.

I suppose I have always been fairly lax (as a buyer) on deadlines, a sword or piece of armour is a luxury. If the item is delivered in one month or six it doesn't really matter to me... I won't starve if it takes an extra week to get my item. Having sold items on commission I have learned the pressure of a deadline to complete an item and get it out the door. These experiences have taught me to be even more lax as a buyer.

Quality is another issue. As a buyer I always want to get the highest quality of work from the maker. If a maker feels the pressure of a pending deadline I could theoretically see a product sent out that isn't the best possible work. I have yet to see this happen from any maker, but wouldn't want to take the risk.

The other problem with extremely tight deadlines is the fact that everyone is human. Unfortunately unforeseen circumstances arise that the seller (or the buyer) can't have predicted. Cars breakdown, power goes out, people get hurt, etc. This can be frustrating. It is easy to forget that the person on the other end may have had a problem arise that caused a delay.

Third parties can also be a cause of problem. Almost every single maker relies on a third party in some way. Very very few makers mine their own steel, smelt it themselves, forge it, grow their own trees, cut their own wood, raise their own cattle, tan their own leather, and make every single tool they use in their shop. Third parties can be unreliable. I have had to deal with this numerous times on both sides. An commission may seem like a three month job, the third party may say it will take two weeks to get their item out... run into a problem and take a month to send the item... causing a delay in the commission.

The problem with an industry standard is that everyone tackles these problems differently. Some over estimate their timelines in prediction of unforeseen circumstances, others give a window of time, others just pray nothing happens. For some progress pics are problematic as well. Pictures can be hard to take. A good picture can make a lousy item look marvelous, and a bad picture can make a wonderful item look shoddy. Uploading and sending pictures can involve a whole range of technical skills some makers simply do not have. To top it off picture taking can disrupt the makers pace. I have tried to document every step on items and have suffered because of it. Sometimes a maker gets into a flow, the grinder is spinning just the right way.... the belt has just the right amount of wear... disrupting this process can cause mistakes and/or increased time. It takes me almost twice as long to make something if I keep having to stop to take pictures.

Communication should be a priority. For me it always is on both sides. Sometimes a maker simply forgets to contact the buyer, especially if multiple commissions are running at once. As a buyer it can be helpful to ask the seller how things are going every so often. As a maker I think it is very important to update the customer, not only should the customer know if there is going to be a delay and how the commission is going, but it also adds a human element to the experience. Getting to know the other party involved can help mitigate problems, and prevent them before they arise. The detail to keep in mind with communication is that it isn't always perfectly reliable. Phone calls get dropped, rings not heard, messages deleted, etc. Emails get sent to spam folders, addresses get mistyped, emails get accidentally deleted, etc. Occasionally a maker/buyer is not ignoring the other person... they simply do not know they've even been contacted.

In conclusion, I feel that everyone should try to be more understanding. Recognize the difficulties of being a maker, and the difficulties of being a customer. Predict problems arising and understand that a three month predicted wait could end up being a five month wait. Realize that the other party may not be ignoring you and after a reasonable time period try to contact them again (preferably in another manner). Lastly only purchase from people you trust. There are a few makers I would never deal with because I have just had, or heard of, to many issues to be able to attribute them all to other factors. On the other hand there are many more makers I trust wholeheartedly.

Best regards,

Hadrian

Historia magistra vitae est

www.hadrianscustomshop.com
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Chad Arnow
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PostPosted: Tue 22 Feb, 2011 8:03 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

An industry standard would be nice, but achieving it and enforcing it will be impossible.

There are issues with custom projects that happen on both sides of the transaction as well as issues specific to maker and issues specific to customers. In a lot of cases, both sides could do better at expectation management, leading to fewer issues. I'm making generalities in the following statements and they don't apply to every smith, customer, and/or transaction.

Issues common to maker and customer. The biggest issue is often the inability for one or both sides to see an order as a business transaction, plain and simple. What happens is that smiths, as artists, are emotionally more invested in their work than a factory worker is in the widget they make a piece of. That emotional investment is good for the product but can be bad for the transaction. Similarly, as hobby, non-life-essential purchases, the customer is often more emotionally invested in the commission than they are when they buy a toaster or other item. The toaster might get use everyday and be cheaper, but no one conjures up illusions of knighthood when they pop a bagel in the toaster. Happy Both sides are sometimes unable to step back from their heavy emotional investment and see the business transaction for what it is. This makes dealing with disagreements over delays and the final product really difficult.

Issues with customers. As Craig said, the ease of modern communication has been both boon and bane. It's easy to shoot off emails to chat, check in, request quotes, hover, etc. Smiths are small, often 1-man, shops and time spent on the phone or email is time away from the work. It seems many haven't built that into the price. I think there are cases where potential customers shoot off an email that took 30 seconds to compose, but the smith must do research, check photos, check with a supplier, etc, in order to reply. The 30 second email may require a 30 minute response. In a number of cases, I'm sure potential customers are feeling the smith out and checking prices and never place an order. I think customers should do as much research beforehand and limit (or eliminate) communications, especially if they don't intend to order right away. Time = money after all.

I think some customers check in regularly for progress update. Some check in more often than necessary, taking time away from the smith's work and delaying the receipt of their product. I try (and occasionally succeed) to bug as little as possible until after a deadline has passed. Then I check in and wait for a response. When a new deadline is set, I wait for it to pass and try again. I try not to ask about when a piece will be ready until the deadline has passed. Give them the chance to meet the deadline first. If they don't ask politely, but firmly, for a new estimate.

I've never asked for a in-progress photos that I can recall. I've usually received photos of complete, or nearly complete, pieces for approval. That's not unreasonable to expect. If you don't see enough detail in the photos to ease your mind, ask for more. It's cheaper and less time-consuming to ask for more photos at that point than to have to send the item back and forth for correcting issues. Asking for photos of complete pieces should take less time away from the smith than asking them to stop periodically in the middle and document the project.

Issues with makers. The thing that makes me the saddest in this industry is seeing how many of us have come to expect makers to miss deadlines. This means that, on some level, we've decided they won't hold to their word. Worse than that, it means we have come to accept and, in some cases, condone that behavior. I know crap happens: suppliers flake, people get sick, equipment breaks, another project before yours in the queue takes longer than expected, etc., but at what point should someone be held to the deadline they set? When I do project work under contract, I try to build in extra oh-crap time to account for unforeseen delays. I think some makers could do a better job building that into their schedule. No one will complain if you deliver early, but no one is thrilled with lateness. I know some customers will be unhappy and may back out if the quoted wait time is perceived to be too long. But is that worse than pissing people off by under-estimating timelines and missing deadlines? I think deadline expectation management is an area where this industry could still improve. Some makers are great with deadlines; some miss frequently and badly. The customer's willingness to accept delays in many cases does nothing to correct the problem.

Communication can be another issue. Again, makers are busy and inundated with emails that take time to answer and may never turn into a commission. But sometimes replies take longer than we'd prefer. For example, I sent one well-known maker an email more than 10 days ago and haven't heard back yet. While I don't expect same day or next day replies to emails, I think that more waiting more than a week can be problematic. If customers can cut down the emails and makers can find a way to respond as quickly as they're able, fewer issues will arise.

In summary, customers can do better at respecting the smith's limited time by limiting their pestering. Customers can also do more homework prior to a commission to have an idea of the maker's specialties, abilities to meet all expectations, return policies, etc. Makers often can do a better job a meeting the deadlines they set and communicating as quickly as they're able to do.

Both parties could often do better by taking a step back and treating these transactions like every other business transaction. Don't treat a custom sword commission different than a toaster purchase. It's business: the exchange of money for a specified good or service on a specified schedule.

Happy

ChadA

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Allan Senefelder
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PostPosted: Tue 22 Feb, 2011 8:25 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
Don't treat a custom sword commission different than a toaster purchase.


Like to see a $1700 toaster.
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Mark Routledge
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PostPosted: Tue 22 Feb, 2011 8:32 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

My ethos when making a commission for any one is always the same.

You only pay me when you are happy, if I make something and it is not what you wanted, you do not have to buy it.

Works for me and I hope for the client as well.
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Chad Arnow
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PostPosted: Tue 22 Feb, 2011 8:43 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Allan Senefelder wrote:
Quote:
Don't treat a custom sword commission different than a toaster purchase.


Like to see a $1700 toaster.


Allan,
Price was not my focus, as I think you know. I'm talking about the research, rationality, reasonability, and clear-headedness with which a transaction is treated. Obviously higher prices hype people up more because the investment is greater, but it's still business.

Happy

ChadA

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Russ Ellis
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PostPosted: Tue 22 Feb, 2011 8:55 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I believe that there are as many different ways of doing business as there are makers. Unfortunately, many custom folks aren't particularly good business types and / or may not be the best at communications.

I'm sort of on two sides of this, since I both build projects for customers and also patronize custom and production makers.

On the maker side of the house, I am in a different situation then many makers since I don't do this for a living. I have a day job that pays the bills, provides insurance etc. Since this is the case I don't have to require any sort of deposit up front for materials etc. Rather I can take that out of my business money (which is a different pot of money then what pays for lights and groceries etc.) This helps in many ways. It means that the customer has fewer worries. I don't have their money, so they are not worried that I'm going to abscond with it. The customer doesn't feel like they need to stay on top of me because they are not out anything. This leads to less stress on my part.

I don't quote hard delivery dates ever. I have no control over my suppliers. I have no control over when the car is going to break down, or the roof gets a leak or whatever other distractions might occur. I tell my customers that I try to finish their project within 4 to 8 weeks. Usually I do. Sometimes it is much longer.

I don't give out my phone number much. Firstly I'm not going to be there when someone calls during the day, I'm going to be at my day job. Secondly, I don't want calls at 10:00 at night from someone who decided that adding that pink trim to their barbarian scabbard sounds like a fine idea. However, communication is the absolute key. If you send me an email I almost always respond within two days and usually I will respond that night. If a problem has occured chances are I will call you. If I've told you I will ship today and for some reason I don't, I will contact you and let you know. It's when there are problems that communication is the most important.

I don't spend your money until you have the item in hand and I know you are satisfied. I have that luxury because I'm not using your money to keep my lights on. This allows me to send the money back to you if you demand a refund.

If the customer isn't satisfied for any reason whatsoever I try to make it right. I always send pictures but pictures don't always tell the whole story. If the customer wants me to tweak the project I will. If they want me to redo the project I will (assuming that they ship the original back). If they want a full refund for whatever reason (no matter what that might be) I provide it assuming they send the project back. In the long run my goal is a satisfied customer. Does this mean I get some unreasonable demands sometimes? In my view, yes it does. For the most part though that is not the case. Most customers are fair in this part of the world it seems.

As a customer...

For whatever reason many craftspeople are flaky. They don't communicate, they don't hit deadlines etc. That's many craftspeople not all of them. There are people that aren't like that. It's those guys that I do business with. They communicate, they hit their deadlines, they ship when they say they will or they send me a note letting me know what is going on unprompted. It's these folks that I do business with. The only way to improve the industry is to vote with your wallet.

TRITONWORKS Custom Scabbards
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Colt Reeves





Joined: 09 Mar 2009

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PostPosted: Tue 22 Feb, 2011 11:58 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

In an attempt to put a little humor in this thread, I believe there was talk of wanting to see a $1700 toaster: http://www.katom.com/085-VCT20009210116.html?CID=nextag Big Grin

(Ok, so it's actually $1925. Still, closer to $1700 than the $3000+ one above it.)

"Tears are for the craven, prayers are for the clown.
Halters for the silly neck that cannot keep a crown.
As my loss is grievous, so my hope is small.
For Iron, Cold Iron, must be master of men all..."
-Cold Iron, Rudyard Kipling
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Jeremy V. Krause




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PostPosted: Tue 22 Feb, 2011 1:14 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Colt Reeves wrote:
In an attempt to put a little humor in this thread, I believe there was talk of wanting to see a $1700 toaster: http://www.katom.com/085-VCT20009210116.html?CID=nextag Big Grin

(Ok, so it's actually $1925. Still, closer to $1700 than the $3000+ one above it.)


Toast in 10 SECONDS!!!!!!!!!

Where's my credit card?!?!?
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Ken Speed





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PostPosted: Tue 22 Feb, 2011 1:35 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

What is one buying and from whom is it being purchased? A custom order is exactly that and it will never be the same as buying a production item. Sometimes things go wrong, sometimes the producer isn't satisfied with the result, a custom order isn't really a sure thing.

I placed a custom order some time ago and I was very disappointed with the delivery and the lack of communication from the builder, I was highly skeptical of the reasons for the delays as well and was quite literally on the verge of asking for a refund when I was told the job was finally finished. In all honesty I have to admit that while I'm still not completely happy with the way my order was handled I do feel that the quality of the work is very good.

Largely because I, too, am a custom builder in a different field I refrained from airing my grievances publicly. It took great patience and restraint on my part, more really than I thought I possessed, but I am, in retrospect, glad I kept my displeasure between my vendor and myself. I can barely believe it myself but I can imagine ordering from the same source again.

Communication is a huge part of a custom transaction and that is where the fabricator I was using failed in my particular project.
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Sean O Stevens




Location: Grovetown, GA
Joined: 22 Oct 2008

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PostPosted: Tue 22 Feb, 2011 1:38 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Chad Arnow wrote:
Allan Senefelder wrote:
Quote:
Don't treat a custom sword commission different than a toaster purchase.


Like to see a $1700 toaster.


Allan,
Price was not my focus, as I think you know. I'm talking about the research, rationality, reasonability, and clear-headedness with which a transaction is treated. Obviously higher prices hype people up more because the investment is greater, but it's still business.



I think Chad makes a good point...

As to the "$1700 Toaster"... consider it a fridge, or Washer & Dryer... the toaster is just a metaphor for any common purchase people dispassionately make in their day to day lives.

I'm guilty of what Chad is talking about myself. I often give a lot more leeway to custom sword makers/craftsmen then I would to, say, the guy who puts rain gutters on my house or puts a fence in my yard. By doing so, I sort of enable the somewhat 'flaky' nature (As Russ eluded to) of craftsmen I work with... making it alright that not meet deadlines.

I'm not 100% sure why I do this with swordmakers when I would never do it with my HVAC guy or a plumber... that is something I will have to give some thought to. In the end it is just a transaction like any other.
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J.D. Crawford




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PostPosted: Tue 22 Feb, 2011 5:17 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Well, I can only draw on 3 experiences with from-the-ground-up custom job so far. One of them was a complete flop after 2 yrs wait that cost me nothing, and two turned out very well and have been well-advertized around here. Although I have had several similar experiences with customization and putting-parts-together jobs.

Focusing just on the issue of communication:

i know I can get pretty obsessive-compulsive about these orders - I hate waiting, and like the rest of you I'm passionate about the project. But I also know the craftsman is busy with many other customers, so I have tried to...

1) From the start, match up the project with a craftsman who will likely find it interesting (and feel him out on this early on), so that I know he will enjoy doing it and enjoy discussing it.
2) control myself and not pester him too much (relative to what I would like to do). Especially when I know I'm just waiting in line and nothing is happening.
3) simply be nice and polite
4) make the communications useful and interesting, and not too much trivia (unless the craftsman feels like talking).
5) when requesting things like photos, make it clear that its not just for me but will implicitly be used to advertise the craftsman's product on a place like this. And really put an effort into that. I think there's no better way to showcase the company's work, so we both benefit.

This seems to have payed off in spades. I really feel like the people I have dealt with lately were really invested in the work and gave it their all. Especially in a current example that feels more like a friendly collaboration, and the craftsman has gone waaaay beyond any reasonable expectation of feedback. I would like to think that these exchanges could turn into a pleasant long term business relationship if the gods smile on all of us. Maybe that's best part of a custom job when it works out that way...but for sure its going to reduce the chances of misunderstandings and bad feelings in the end.

Regards, JD
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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Tue 22 Feb, 2011 6:25 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I have also found it much easier on patience and nerves to buy stuff that is " immediately available " from makers as these are custom work but not commissioned work which we could also make a distinction about.

As to giving too much slack I agree with Chad that our expectations have been lowered to the point where maybe we give too much slack to broken promises about delivery times.

That said we are usually dealing with one person operations and we have all heard the credible excuses for a delay in delivery and as long as communication is good this doesn't bother me unless I feel I'm being " played or lied to ".

Real problems causing delays are different than " flaky " craftsmen who are too disorganized to keep their customers happy or not courteous enough to communicate at least minimally.

If a maker has made the buying process long and painful it does make me look at other makers who are easier to deal with and those makers lose out on repeat business or at least I will think twice before going down the same bumpy road.

But overall I would say that really bad buying experiences have been rare but really good customer service is rarer than it should be. ( And why I make a point of praising loudly and often a certain handful of my favourite makers who do give first class customer service ).

You can easily give up your freedom. You have to fight hard to get it back!
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