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Russ Ellis
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PostPosted: Tue 14 Jun, 2011 8:55 am    Post subject: State of the Industry         Reply with quote

It's not exactly a surprise to everyone that the economy kind of stinks right now. Even those that have managed to hang on to good jobs have become increasingly conservative with their disposable income. There's a whole lot of "let's just wait and see" out there right now. Or else, people are buying knives or scabbards or whatever instead of swords. These are all perfectly understandable reactions to uncertain economic times. I've been fortunate in that I don't do scabbards full time and don't rely on it to pay the bills. For most of us swords are a fun hobby.

However, for some of us they aren't. I know we've all seen those "A call to arms" type threads over the last couple of years. "Quick buy something from this vendor or else they will go under!" This post was not intended to start such a thread, but rather to put a sort of industry progress report out there as I see it based upon the discussions I had at the Blade Show this year.

After conversations with a whole lot of vendors, production guys and custom makers I think I can safely say that as goes the economy so goes the swords industry. For the most part the high end custom guys are going to be fine. They after all have high end custom customers that still have disposable income and that are willing to foot the bills. The low end production guys are probably going to be okay as well. After all, there is always going to be that college student that is willing to eat Ramen noodles to buy that low end production sword. The guys that are having the hardest time are the high end production and the low end custom makers. Their prices in many cases are roughly the same and so are their target markets. That customer base has been the hardest hit in this economy and are the folks that are being the most cautious with their money these days. They aren't spending hundreds or a thousand dollars or so on toys right now. That's very bad news for those of us how have been pleased with the state of the sword marketplace over the last decade or so. In the future unless something changes in fairly short order I expect that there are going to be a lot fewer offerings in the high end production and low end custom markets. People that were making swords are going to have to go find a paycheck elsewhere (in fact some fairly well known names in our community have already done so).

I guess what I'm trying to say is that that right now the sword market appears to be contracting not expanding, and that if you have had your eye on that particular higher end production or lower end custom piece for a while you might think really hard about it right now, because it may not be available tomorrow. That and I want to say thanks to all the production and custom makers out there. I hope you guys make it, and I need to do what I can to support you as well.

Again, this post is NOT intended as something self serving on my part. People are buying scabbards right now instead of swords, I'm fine and not going anywhere. It's the sword and armor guys that have it tough right now.

Thanks for listening.

TRITONWORKS Custom Scabbards
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Bryce Felperin




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PostPosted: Tue 14 Jun, 2011 10:06 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks Russ, some good points and observations to consider as a customer, user and lover of this industry.

I myself have spent about two grand this last year on swords, daggers, knives and scabbards. There are many other things I would like to get, but as you say times are tough, and my new wife and new house are demanding I cut back on my outlays in the future. I just hope that some of the nice items I have seen in the marketplace and posted by makers on this site are available for me to buy in a year or two when I can spend some money again. Not having the ability to buy some things I want in the future because the makers are no longer in business would be tragic in my opinion.

I would like urge a lot of you on this site who might be on the fence deciding if they would buy something to do so in the hope that this industry that we all love will still be around in the years to come.

Thanks Russ and the rest of you out there,

Bryce
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Dan P




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PostPosted: Tue 14 Jun, 2011 11:10 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I am fortunate enough to have a reasonably well-paying job which covers my minimal expenses and debt, but even still I am becoming more and more conservative with my discretionary spending. There is a saying that someone with less extra income gets more satisfaction out of every dollar spent because he has to consider very hard what exactly is worth the most to him. So for the last year and a half or so I've stopped buying production weapons and focussed simply on upgrading my collection with things from good, but inexpensive, custom makers like Merc Tailor, Darkwood, and Privateer Armory.
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Jean Thibodeau




PostPosted: Tue 14 Jun, 2011 11:22 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Obviously someone struggling or not too sure about keeping his or her job is going to be reluctant to spend $500 to $1500 for a sword or other things, but those still secure should try to buy now and not defer too long buying from the vulnerable mid range priced but quality makers if we expect to still have the current availability of very good swords.

Probably a slowdown in buying frequency is sort of unavoidable but buying a major piece 2 or 3 times a year instead of 4 to 5 times a year would still help keep some makers " alive " until things hopefully get better.

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Nathan Robinson
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PostPosted: Tue 14 Jun, 2011 11:37 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I have a short list of makers these days that I work with. I also try to encourage new makers by commissioning pieces now and again with an attempt to generate exposure for their work and spark the growth of their skill or expansion of their experience.

Regarding the short list, some of the makers on it would consider themselves struggling to one degree or another because of the state of the economy. Regardless, I must say that I have more work for them than they can handle. Yes, you read that right: there is more work available to some of these makers than they are able to complete.

The reasons for this are many, of course, and some are related to the nature of the economy not affording them the ability to scale to handle more workload. But when one looks at the fact that demand is greater than supply in a declining economic climate, we have to ask ourselves if the business model might be flawed. I bring this up to encourage makers to not just sit back and blame the poor economy but instead to analyze what their role in the whole thing might be.

Alright, so that's one side of the fence, but many makers are experiencing quite another thing. For them, the demand for their products has not kept pace with their need for growth or in many cases, their need to maintain their current size. In these cases, I propose that they are not doing enough to expand their reach into new markets, to expand their base of consumers, or expand their product offerings to be more attractive to a wider audience. Fishing in the same over-fished small ponds won't generate new results. Additionally, a critical analysis of their product offerings is in order to see if it keeps pace with their competition, consumer expectations, market trends, etc. Again, this requires makers be accountable for their business and not simply be content to sit back and blame a poor economy for their waning business.

I am a partner in a small technology-based start-up company and am constantly tweaking our own go-to-market strategies, processes, methodologies, and whatnot based on the results of some very self-critical assessments. We do this daily. It's a lot of work and many times is not very fun, but we run our company. It doesn't run us. We don't hang our hopes on things outside of our control, but instead act proactively to iterate our business model to achieve the results we want.

In one form or another, I've had my own business for nearly 15 years now. In these years I've learned that there are very few things in which I have been helpless. Death comes to business owners who sit back and blame the boogie man (the economy, the customer, the marketplace, outside vendors, what have you) for their troubles.

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Craig Shackleton




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PostPosted: Tue 14 Jun, 2011 1:17 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I agree pretty strongly with Nathan.

Yes the economy makes things difficult. Yes some revenue streams are lost. Yes it is difficult to modify your vision to meet the demands of the market, especially in an industry where most people are doing what they do because they have a passion for it rather than out of their expectation to get rich.

But I'm still out here, spending an unreasonable portion of my budget on swords and training equipment, including armour. I purchase extra pieces as loaner equipment when I can, sometimes in an attempt to help keep the industry afloat.

And yet, there is a huge HEMA community out there, looking for better head protection. Windrose can't keep their WMA helmets in stock, Terry Tindall has a waiting list a mile long and it's really hard to find other reliable dealers. A few people are adapting to that niche, but a surprising number of manufacturers have flat out refused to put a perf plate mask on their existing helmet model or modify a spaulder to attach to the back of a fencing mask. Some of them refuse because they have enough business doing what they are doing, others, clearly not.

This is only one example of a revenue stream that is being overlooked. I'm not a sword or armour manufacturer, I don't pretend to have all of the answers, but I do know that when I want a product, I'll go to the guy who will make it, not the one who won't.

I do hope things turn around for all the makers and manufacturers we love to buy from, and they can do what they love for a living, but until that happens, they need to look at what will work for them now.

Ottawa Swordplay
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Joe Fults




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PostPosted: Tue 14 Jun, 2011 3:55 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Maybe this only applies for me but its not just the economy at play when it comes to my discretionary spending. I'm still spending quite a bit of money on toys. Probably more than I was during my sword buying sprees. I just bought my third road race bike in less than 18 months and I know darn good and well I'll buy another within a year. The toy money is all there but my interest in swords and such has slipped a bit, which is a problem for this industry. However, to me the bigger issue is that some annoying stuff about this hobby that I was willing to overlook in the past, I'm not so willing to overlook anymore.

Essentially it boils down to this...

...execute on your estimates...

...deliver the work on time....

...innovate to create some excitement...

I've got two commissions out right now. I've got the cash sitting in the bank to pay them both the instant the invoice arrives and its been that way for at least six months now. Bottom line, get the project done and its paid in full...same day. But both are months overdue and show no sign of seeing the finish line anytime soon. Communication is fair enough when I ask about things every few months, but why the hell do I have to sit here wondering if my commission has fallen off the face of the earth until I get annoyed enough to send a polite email? I generally don't front money on projects anymore (unless I get some kind of consideration for doing so). I'm not out anything this time. That being the case, I'm not quite totally annoyed yet, but in both instances there is going to be a point where I'll send "piss off" emails and not do business with the makers in question.

Never would have done that before.

Innovate...can't remember when I saw anything really new and exciting. That's part of the game more than ever when fighting uphill. Albion sure created a stir not that many years ago by innovating. The product was like nothing else and the community engagement (even-though that proved painful at times) was unprecedented. They changed the market overnight. People got in line to buy products that didn't exist (which has also proved painful at times).

Its been quite a while since anybody's been exciting to me.

So I'll just buy bikes. I'll buy wheel-sets. I'll watch the classified ads. At least the deal making can create some excitement there. You just have to pay a bit of attention to who you're buying from. Better still, items come when they are supposed to come, and that's almost universally faster then going through a vendor. Selection is a bit more limited at times but a little patience works.

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

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


Last edited by Joe Fults on Wed 15 Jun, 2011 5:16 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Jean Thibodeau




PostPosted: Tue 14 Jun, 2011 6:08 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Joe Fults wrote:
Maybe this only applies for me but its not just the economy at play when it comes to my discretionary spending. I'm still spending quite a bit of money on toys. Probably more than I was during my sword buying sprees. I just bought my third road race bike in less than 18 months and I know darn good and well I'll buy another within a year. The toy money is all there but my interest in swords and such has slipped a bit, which is an problem for this industry. However, to me the bigger issue is that some annoying stuff about this hobby that I was willing to overlook in the past, I'm not so willing to overlook anymore.

Essentially it boils down to this...

...execute on your estimates...

...deliver the work on time....

...innovate to create some excitement...
.


Yeah, my patience for slow delivery or spotty communication is somewhat thinner these days and I now only order from those who communicate well and proactively and that I don't have to pester to get info about a project.

With the makers that deliver this good customer experience I do repeat orders, with those merely slow or annoying I think twice before ordering again, and for chronic repeat non-performers I just don't buy or order from them unless it's in stock/available now work.

Even my favoured makers I prefer buying what they currently have in stock.

All this to say, that I appreciate makers who promise less but deliver more and those that keep you informed about the status of an order.

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Jeremy V. Krause




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PostPosted: Tue 14 Jun, 2011 6:49 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Well, the vendors I have been obtaining items from seem to be doing rather well.

I like the work that they do and their excellent customer service thus I will continue to purchase from them.

Plus, it's been years since I purchased any mid-level or low-level items. If I buy a less expensive item it is a less expensive item from a craftsman with whom I have dealt, and with whom I am confident.

I don't have enough money to experiment with makers and risk aquiring something I am not pleased with.
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Nathan Robinson
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PostPosted: Tue 14 Jun, 2011 6:50 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Joe, i think you nailed it on the head and start to expand on the things that I was introducing. All of those things you mention are all examples of poor business plans (or execution therein). If makers could improve the way in which they conduct business, the health of their business will improve. The potential for this to improve due to market expansion activities (branding, positioning, communication) adds further hope for success.
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PostPosted: Tue 14 Jun, 2011 6:59 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Joe has nailed the vague dis-satisfaction I have had with this hobby for the last few years. Due to this I haven't purchased anything arms and armor related in the last while, but have spent a considerable sum on my other hobbies. I, as the consumer, should not have to put up with things like having a 30% deposit on a new design for over two years, a 6 month lead time turning into 2-1/2 years, "in stock" turning into six weeks, and several others. I personally see the following problems;

1) Communication, I have spent my toy money on a custom rifle instead of in the arms and armor hobby because of poor communication. If you are too busy to take on a new client please have a form response, a polite letter that boils down to "sorry, too busy" is all that is needed. If the contact links on your website don't work it is your own fault that you are not getting my money. I will email a maker twice, just in case, we all miss emails. Missing two emails from a prospective new client is just unprofessional. After having to hound three different manufacturers in the last year for updates my patience for it is nonexistant. Clear, immediate communication in case of delay is very important. Emailing me to tell me that your heat treating subcontrator screwed up the day after it happens, with a revised delivery, means that I know what is happening. I shouldn't have to find out in a note in the shipping box that shows up 8 months late. I think most of us are understanding when problems arise, especially if we know about them right away.

2) Accurate lead times. I work in an industry where calculating lead times is an art form. In ten years I do not think I have dealt with more than perhaps two makers who understood lead time. Of my last six purchases, all have missed their estimate by a minimum of 50%.

3) Poor web design, if you are trying to sell a stock design to me but only have a five year old cell phone photo posted, I won't buy it. If you do mainly bespoke work, have a very extensive gallery of good photos. Having a website where a good portion has a "website under construction" banner up for several years doesn't help. My first point of contact with you is your website, if it is unprofessional it colours my perception of you. If you are going to have a "shop news" section, make sure it is updated, seeing the most recent update as 2007 is disconcerting when contemplating spending all of my toy money with you.

4) Difficult purchasing, most of the $700-$3500 market seems to be high end production and lower end custom work. You should be taking at least one of the major credit cards and PayPal. Your retail price should have this factored in as a cost, those who prefer direct deposit, cash or cheque are gravy for you. Make it easy to make a purchase, post your prices, even "starting at $$, as shown $$$$" makes a huge difference, I will spend hours looking at your photos and pricing before making contact. Charge the actual shipping cost, as a Canadian it is irritating when I get charged $78 in shipping and the package shows up with total postage marked as $27.50.

I hope that the economy doesn't harm the hobby badly, but it seems that a fair sized portion of the industry is hobbling itself. I don't mean to offend anyone, but it seems that there are at least a few of us who feel the same.

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Brian K.
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PostPosted: Tue 14 Jun, 2011 7:15 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I was watching this thread and decided to throw in my two cents. I do my very best to provide the best customer service that I can provide, and I also stick to a quote. My promised schedule is always on time or earlier as well. As a result, my fruits of labor have paid dividends in both quality of work & service, and the amount of business I have received. I thank everyone for their patronage, and will continue to provide the service as good or better in the future.

On the flip side, I've emailed multiple custom sword makers within the past 9 months about a custom sword I have wanted done, and each email went unanswered. I went as far as to resend the email. So I don't understand (the lack of) customer service these days by some vendors. As a result, I've taken my business off the table and given up.

Tsk...tsk...

Brian Kunz
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Eric G.




PostPosted: Tue 14 Jun, 2011 7:57 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Brian K. wrote:
On the flip side, I've emailed multiple custom sword makers within the past 9 months about a custom sword I have wanted done, and each email went unanswered. I went as far as to resend the email. So I don't understand (the lack of) customer service these days by some vendors. As a result, I've taken my business off the table and given up.
Tsk...tsk...


I have had this problem too. In addition, I have had custom makers respond to a single question in an email with multiple questions. That shows me that they are not paying attention to what I am asking. If I don't feel like someone listens to my basic questions then how am I going to trust them to pay attention to the details of the piece that I am trying to commission? It is very frustrating and discouraging.

Eric Gregersen
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Jean Thibodeau




PostPosted: Tue 14 Jun, 2011 8:17 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Eric Gregersen wrote:
Brian K. wrote:
On the flip side, I've emailed multiple custom sword makers within the past 9 months about a custom sword I have wanted done, and each email went unanswered. I went as far as to resend the email. So I don't understand (the lack of) customer service these days by some vendors. As a result, I've taken my business off the table and given up.
Tsk...tsk...


I have had this problem too. In addition, I have had custom makers respond to a single question in an email with multiple questions. That shows me that they are not paying attention to what I am asking. If I don't feel like someone listens to my basic questions then how am I going to trust them to pay attention to the details of the piece that I am trying to commission? It is very frustrating and discouraging.


I agree completely that asking 3 or 4 questions you need answered before deciding to make a commission official and getting an incomplete answer is not very encouraging or confidence building that the rest of the ordering/buying experience will be a happy one.

On the other hand I have had some makers who where easy and fun to work with and all it needed was 1 or 2 e-mails to agree to the design details. ( I can name Leo Todeschini and Michael Pikula as examples of great customer service and great communication skills with custom work that I got exactly what I expected and more and on time or even surprised me by delivering earlier than estimated ).

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PostPosted: Tue 14 Jun, 2011 11:02 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Eric Gregersen wrote:
Brian K. wrote:
On the flip side, I've emailed multiple custom sword makers within the past 9 months about a custom sword I have wanted done, and each email went unanswered. I went as far as to resend the email. So I don't understand (the lack of) customer service these days by some vendors. As a result, I've taken my business off the table and given up.
Tsk...tsk...


I have had this problem too. In addition, I have had custom makers respond to a single question in an email with multiple questions. That shows me that they are not paying attention to what I am asking. If I don't feel like someone listens to my basic questions then how am I going to trust them to pay attention to the details of the piece that I am trying to commission? It is very frustrating and discouraging.


I'll third this. Its even more concerning when it's someone you're currently working with such as when people are communicative right up until they have a deposit. I would think in the custom market people would thrive on repeat business and word of mouth.

So on a positive note I'll give some props to A&A and Odinblades as two providers whom I have worked with and excelled in this area.
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Chad Arnow
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PostPosted: Wed 15 Jun, 2011 8:57 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

This thread really brings up mixed feelings for me. First, I think everyone here would agree that they don't want to see makers starve nor go out of business. No one wants the marketplace to contract, especially since we're in the golden age of variety and quality in the replica arms and armour marketplace. So from that standpoint, I think everyone would want to be able to support their favorite makers as much as they're able.

But that brings up the next parts: "favorite" and "able." As has been mentioned, some makers have worked themselves into a place of limited desirability for one reason or another, whether it's quality of work, communication, or timeliness. Personally, there are a small handful of makers I trust and whose work fits my needs. I send them as much work as I'm able to.

Which is the last, and most important, part for today's buyers. Those with good amounts of disposable income are still able to buy fairly freely, which is great for them and the makers they patronize. For those of us in less certain situations, we have to prioritize and choose how we spend. For me, my main job has cut my guaranteed income by 25% in the last 2 years and further cuts are on the horizon. Things are tight. Therefore, what little money I have has to be allocated carefully. I can't afford to waste a purchase on sub-standard work, so I'm unlikely to try any maker whose work I'm not 100% certain of. Also, with so many makers having long lead times, it's hard to have money tied up waiting for an item to be completed. If something major comes up in the year or more I'm waiting for an item to be completed and paid for, I run the risk of lacking funds for something necessary and/or having to weasel out of my order with the maker. So I'm loathe to get into a long queue since I don't know what my situation will be like when the order comes due. So I tend to order small items (because that's how my money becomes available) from a small handful of makers who work I trust and whose lead times are what I consider reasonable.

People who are hesitating to make purchases for financial reasons problem have some uncertainty in their financial lives. They should be encouraged to do the safe and responsible thing for them and their families more than just being encouraged to spend their money on their hobby(ies).

Yes, makers are hurting, but so are consumers. Makers are hurting because of the economy and in some cases because of how they've chosen to run their business. Consumers are in the same boat because of the economy and because of purchasing decisions they've had to make in their real and hobby lives to stay afloat. Those who can spend are still doing so. Those who are pulling back on their purchases have valid reasons for doing so.

It's rough out here.

Happy

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Jeremy V. Krause




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PostPosted: Wed 15 Jun, 2011 10:23 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks Chad,

You've really fleshed out many of the ideas I have related to this issue.

I would love for all the makers to be making a great living providing for my hobby, but to be honest, I am really primarity committed to the makers I already have and am most conserned about their continued viability because I know them and want to continue to have their products available to me..

Arms and Armor are really such a luxury item and probably the most indulgent stuff I spend my money on, besides the occasional video game, but that's 50 bucks a pop. I don't feel comfortable stretching myself much at all to obtain something as unneccessary as weapons, no matter how great they. are. My hobby money is truy discresionary.

We're not talking about donating $25 to fund NPR or $$ for earthquake victims; we're talking hundreds of dollars. I must say that I don't take the viability of the industry into account when making purchases. I take my situation and desires into account. We're not talking about a charity here we're talking business.
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Jean Thibodeau




PostPosted: Wed 15 Jun, 2011 9:29 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I have to agree that I have a short list of makers who I trust and have had good buying experience and since I can't support the entire industry by myself, and for some of the same reasons that Chad mentioned, I won't risk money and long wait times on makers who have been frustrating to deal with: It not just the money, it's also that life is too short for the agravations and I will favour those who gave me a good buying experience and that I have also developed a good relationship with and like their work.
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Eric G.




PostPosted: Thu 16 Jun, 2011 9:01 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Several of you have mentioned a reasonable wait time. Could I get some responses as to what a few of you consider a reasonable wait time?
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PostPosted: Thu 16 Jun, 2011 9:06 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Eric Gregersen wrote:
Several of you have mentioned a reasonable wait time. Could I get some responses as to what a few of you consider a reasonable wait time?


It will vary smith by smith and project by project. My first criterion for "reasonable wait time" boils down to how close the delivery date is to what I was quoted.

Some makers run queues of a couple months or less. Others have work booked out 3 years.

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