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Bryan W.





Joined: 27 Oct 2007

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PostPosted: Sat 21 Jan, 2012 3:08 pm    Post subject: Consumer Bill of Rights?         Reply with quote

The unfortunate truth is over the years we have seen errors, miscommunication, and unethical practices from both customers and providers. In the sword market, especially when dealing with custom orders that are not usually cheap with people you may have never met in person, these issues can become even more worrisome.

Sadly we see increases in deposits, sometimes as high as 50% requested with little time table given in many cases. Why is this? While I am not a provider, I highly suspect that with the economy as it is, a sword-maker needs funds to buy materials, allocate time, begin work on design and as this is his/her livelihood can ill afford someone they've never met before pulling out, wasting their time and affecting their job and family as a result. It's not a wholly unfair practice, its just the way it is and while I cannot speak for the consumers at large, for myself I am happy to provide that security in order to have a good working relationship and ultimately obtain the product.

But what happens when something goes wrong? Malignant intentions aside, people get sick, injuries can happen, machines break, materials go on back-order, welds do not always take properly, people get behind in schedule, and time passes.

Meanwhile the customer has placed a deposit, sometimes not a small, insignificant amount.

In an ideal world you're working with someone like a John Lundemo (Odinblades) or Craig Johnson (A&A) who (at least in my experience) proactively email, call, and otherwise communicate new time tables and what the issues are.

However not everyone is as dedicated, conscientious, or has that business savvy that focuses on customer satisfaction. Sometimes its a practical issue, where there isn't enough help or time in the day to get around to doing those things. Sometimes it may be a less noble reason.

Most consumers then take matters into their own hands and email or call the provider. Typically they get an email back. Sometimes it takes time, sometimes it does not. But what happens when calls are not returned, emails are not answered? Assuming that nothing terrible has happened to the point where the provider cannot physically return emails or calls occasionally, how long should a consumer wait for a response? A week? A month? Two months?

After that, then what? Most do not want to do something drastic such as asking for a deposit back or start calling up lawyers and credit card companies. Not only is that a lot of effort, it irrevocably damages a relationship not only with the provider, but possibly the community at large. Furthermore it would mean the consumer is not getting what they wanted in the end, a product.

You could complain on one of the community forums, but then the consumer risks similar issues such as obtaining a "bad reputation" and still can burn bridges. Even if it somehow achieves the desired results, there is the fear that you get less than what you paid for as a result of hard feelings. Everyone is human.

So what is acceptable? How much pressure is too much? What other options are there? One would think the producers such as sword and armor makers, distributors, and smiths would have a vested interest in the practice of their colleagues as someone burned once is less likely to buy from that new and upcoming artisan or even themselves. However, I cannot imagine it being good form to start interfering with your colleague's (competitor's?) practices.

If there is nothing to do outside of harsher measures, then how are we to educate ourselves and the community? No one really wants to put out bad-ratings and scathing reviews, particularly on custom artisans, and the topics always seem to get frowned upon or end up in a less than professional discourse. It is easy to hate the big faceless company with unscrupulous practices and misleading advertisement, but much harder to hate someone with a name and family.

Chad had mentioned to me once about trying to construct a "consumer's bill of rights" but what standards are reasonable? The goal would not be to put undeserved pressure on an artisan, while at the same time protecting the clientele.
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Jeremy V. Krause




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PostPosted: Sat 21 Jan, 2012 5:24 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

On the flip side. I've dealt with A&A, Albion, Leo Todeschini, Patrick Barta, and Allan Senefelder and have never had a bad experience in my years with the hobby.
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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Sat 21 Jan, 2012 8:52 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jeremy V. Krause wrote:
On the flip side. I've dealt with A&A, Albion, Leo Todeschini, Patrick Barta, and Allan Senefelder and have never had a bad experience in my years with the hobby.


I would add Michael Pikula and Kult of Athena ( Athough not a custom maker, a very reliable vendor of production stuff ) ) to that list of people very conscientious about high quality customer service.

I've had two bad experiences, one was I suspect a fraud artist or someone completely unreliable due to personality issues.
The second was a very long delay and no communication and only appealing to a friend of the maker finally got results, but it was also a case of health issues and possibly more forgivable than the first case, and I finally got what I ordered.

I'm much less concerned when there is no deposit involved as one can cancel an order if one doesn't seem to be able to get any feedback from the maker over an extended period of trying to get answers to questions or the delays get into ridiculous excuse territory. If a large deposit was given trying to get it refunded can be a problem and not always fair if the maker isn't the problem but it's due to a demanding and unreasonable expectations from the buyer.

Hoping for some " regulations " or written code of ethics from so many independent makers with work and business ethics that go from superb to abysmal is probably futile and unenforceable except for maybe expensive litigation that most of us would find more expensive than the loss of a deposit !

Having general guidelines and advice how what should be the norms of good quality customer service might be useful.

Individually we can take our money to people who have a good reputation or people we have had a good experience with in the past.

I also favour buying in stock custom work available for immediate delivery whenever possible as it eliminates a lot of waiting and frustration. This is also great when makers let us know about what they have available and it happens to be something we really like.

There are obviously custom products that are customer initiated when they want to have something made to their design that one has to wait for and go through the whole process of design and feedback during the making of.

Well, if people have constructive suggestions to make I would certainly like to hear them.

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




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PostPosted: Sat 21 Jan, 2012 9:26 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

It could be possible if went about the right way.

It could be done as a verification or certificate. A standardized contract (in our hobby and in general commerce) that outlines the consumers rights and the makers responsibilities, as well as a standardized way of remedying the issue. This could either be an optional consumer and retailer protection, its presence or absence effecting the business, or as a legislation based commerce reform.

The same style of document could also be implemented by the middle party in the commerce. Credit cards, pay pal, etc. that allow the purchaser to get a refund if there is a sufficiently major discrepancy in service or product received.

If implemented properly it would be a two way street, protecting the purchaser and the retailer from the unfair demands of their counterpart.
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Julian Reynolds




Location: United Kingdom
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PostPosted: Sun 22 Jan, 2012 1:33 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Excuse my ignorance, but here in the UK our Consumer Rights are covered by the Sale of Goods Act 1979 and its amendments:

http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/Governmentcitizen.../index.htm

There is a whole set procedure for resolving these matters, which is relatively inexpensive. Also, every county has its own Trading Standards teams as part of local government, who can investigate and shut down irresponsible traders.

Do you not have similar nation-wide legislation in the States, or does it vary from State to State? Or do you have to always resort to lawyers to sort disputes out?

Julian
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Paul Hansen




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PostPosted: Sun 22 Jan, 2012 5:20 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The "problem" is that most makers are one-man companies, and that the maker him/herself is usually not a businessman (or a lawyer) but rather someone who is good at working with a hammer and/or a grinder and has a passion for historical weapons. I think that this situation isn't bad in any way (quite the opposite, really) but it does create at least many misunderstandings.

In this sense, I think it would be a GREAT idea if makers would provide at least some kind of "terms and conditions" document, either on their website or via email before placing the order. As litigation is usually much more expensive than any deposit, this probably does not even have to be watertight.

Perhaps an initiative like this one could provide a template for makers to adapt to their own needs, as there are many variables in the custom sword making process.

For example:
- Should there be a deposit? When? How much? How should it be paid? What if the customers changes or cancels his order?
- What is the estimated delivery time? How accurate is that estimate? What if the piece is ready too early or too late?
- How much would a custom sword cost?
- What if the design is changed after the quotation?
- When does a design become unchangeable?
- Etc. etc.
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Chad Arnow
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PostPosted: Sun 22 Jan, 2012 6:53 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

This is a tough topic on a number of levels. Disputes are tough to resolve because the craftsman may live half a world away and may not be subject to your local laws. It's usually impractical to bring legal action for that reason. Imposing an industry-wide standard for deposits and such would be tough.

Here's what I would propose at a minimum:

-That each maker clearly and obviously list their terms of sale on their website and stick to them.
-That each customer familiarize themselves with those terms and abide by them.
-Usually there's a final email (or phone call) from the customer that says "Yes, cool, let's run with this." For everyone's sake it should be laid out overly specifically:

Quote:
Dear xxxxxxx,
I'd like to go ahead and order the Type XV sword we've been discussing, based on A460 in the Wallace collection. The goal is to be as close to published specs as is possible, except that the grip should be 1 inch longer, have cord risers, and be colored green. Construction should be peened, with a rivet block. The blade should be sharp as well.

The scabbard should be wood core, covered in leather that matches the grip. A simple steel chape should be included, but no suspension system.

You quoted $XXXX with completion by June.

Is this all correct? If so, let's book it. Thanks!


All of these details would have been discussed in prior emails, but sometimes there are multiple emails about what color you wanted the grip (or other details) and you don't want the smith to have to search through an archive of 30 messages to find your decision. Lay it all out clearly on one place, and make them have to reply with something like "yes" or "okay" to acknowledge they received the email and agree with the specs. I prefer this being in email rather than on the phone so there's a written record of what was decided.

-If you're in a situation where it's not difficult to generate and have everyone sign a written-out contract (with all the info as stated above), it may help, though enforcement across varying jurisdictions is always hard.

-Both parties should then follow up at appropriate intervals, without being annoying. Examples for a June 1 completion estimate. Customer: email/call in June (I'd do mid-June to give the smith a little flexibility) to check in if you haven't been notified of shipment. Smith: Ship on time or email/call in late May letting them know the new estimate of completion. I usually let a deadline pass by a week or two before following up. I try not to bug them before the deadline asking if they'll hit the deadline.

Just my thoughts.

Happy

ChadA

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Chad Arnow
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PostPosted: Sun 22 Jan, 2012 7:37 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

My first post was probably not too controversial. This next one may be more controversial.

I think there is tremendous value to the objective, negative report. People should feel free to objectively report problems with orders without fear of reprisal by the smith or ridicule by other posters. But this is much easier said than done.

First, most people think you should give the smith a chance (perhaps multiple) to work things out before reporting to the public and I understand that. But most of us don't give Walmart, Best Buy, Target, Amazon, etc. the same treatment. The bottom line is that we often treat hobby purchases differently than every other purchase we make. If both smith and customer treated these transactions strictly as business transactions, much heartache could be avoided. But both parties have so much wrapped up in the project, emotionally and financially, that objective, rational discussions can be difficult when things go awry.

If customers could objectively report positives and negatives, it would give other consumers more info to use when they make their decisions. If a smith is great about fixing stuff, that's good to know. If they always have to fix stuff, that's good to know, too. Happy If they have issues responding to complaints, that's good to know. If they regularly miss deadlines, I want to know that, too. If they hit the deadline and specs with no trouble, I want to know that as well.

The bottom line is that the community of buyers, as a group, is largely responsible for the current situation. Years of cutting slack (some would say being flexible and understanding) instead of holding accountable have led to a marketplace in which customers routinely assume deadlines won't be met (as an example). As a group, we've decided that being able to interact on a personal level with smiths trumps other concerns. And we either have to live with that or create a new reality.

And that's the tough part. Forging (no pun intended) these personal relationships provides so much value for us personally and for communities on sites like this one. But it does blur the line. We mix business and pleasure, with mixed results. If you're a banker, you tend to treat a borrower at your bank differently than your buddy to whom you loaned money; you're more strict with the borrower (and probably have legal documents they signed) and more forgiving of your friend. But when your bank loans your buddy money, things get complicated.

That's what creates issues here. If we can find a way to keep the personal relationships but strengthen objectivity and, with it, accountability, things might be different. But that's tough.

Happy

ChadA

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Last edited by Chad Arnow on Sun 22 Jan, 2012 8:36 am; edited 2 times in total
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D. Phillip Caron




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PostPosted: Sun 22 Jan, 2012 8:04 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Is there any information out there on how the old Guilds handled these situations? Their major purpose was to protect their produce by way of regulating the makers.
The first casualty of battle is bravado, the second is macho.
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Paul Hansen




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PostPosted: Sun 22 Jan, 2012 1:40 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Chad Arnow wrote:
Here's what I would propose at a minimum:

Sounds good to me. Happy

Unfortunately, most makers do not have any published terms and conditions.

Chad Arnow wrote:
First, most people think you should give the smith a chance (perhaps multiple) to work things out before reporting to the public and I understand that. But most of us don't give Walmart, Best Buy, Target, Amazon, etc. the same treatment. The bottom line is that we often treat hobby purchases differently than every other purchase we make. If both smith and customer treated these transactions strictly as business transactions, much heartache could be avoided. But both parties have so much wrapped up in the project, emotionally and financially, that objective, rational discussions can be difficult when things go awry.


It's a complicated thing, and from my experience it's true of most small companies, especially those run by a single craftsman.

On one hand, we are all human and while we try to do our best, we do get ill, get family problems or whatever. So being in something that is close to "friendship", you are inclined to forgive hick-ups easier then you would a faceless corporation.

On the other hand, bad business practice are much more difficult to weed out.

But at the bottom line, I think that the level of "customer attention" that can be offered by big corporations can't be matched by one-man companies. But perhaps it's not a bad thing. I myself prefer to do business on a human scale.

PS: in a way it's interesting to see that many makers are considered "friends" to us, collectors. In the marketing world, "friendship" (or the perverted notion that marketeers have of that word) is the highest attainable status of a brand.
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Jeremy V. Krause




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PostPosted: Sun 22 Jan, 2012 1:59 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

How many craftsman are really asking for deposits? I've never come across it myself.

Well actually, I did hear that Barta asked for a deposit one time because someone was using gold in a commission and if I was using gold or a gem or something precious I could imagine a deposit but how thin are these craftsmen's margins if they can't start a project without a deposit and if so are they really ready to get into the A&A business on a scale beyond their own aquaintences?

I also only deal with well-known craftsmen who would be pretty unlikely to "disappear" or do anything really messed up as they are fairly established in the community. I guess someone has to be those first customers but I leave that up to others I suppose.

But, no, I really don't see any overarching or regularized set of business norms being established in the industry.
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Joe Fults




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PostPosted: Sun 22 Jan, 2012 9:10 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Best advice I ever got in this hobby was something to the effect of never make a commission with money you can't afford to lose, and if you can't afford to lose some money, you probably shouldn't play at this hobby. I think that came from Patrick Kelly (its been years ago now), and although he and I don't always see eye to eye, its still the best advice I ever got in this hobby.

Makes almost every transaction much smoother for me now.

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Walter Stockwell




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PostPosted: Sun 22 Jan, 2012 9:52 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Chad Arnow wrote:

I think there is tremendous value to the objective, negative report. People should feel free to objectively report problems with orders without fear of reprisal by the smith or ridicule by other posters. But this is much easier said than done.


This should not be controversial. Good craftsman will welcome the good feedback; potential customers will feel more confident is placing their hopes, time and money with artists that have a proven track record. The negative feedback will protect the community from the bad apples and keep everyone honest. That includes buyers as well as makers.

I can think of other sites that serve as examples of the importance of feedback. One has an active feedback section. Many scammers have been stopped. Another has a policy of no negative feedback at all and has in fact facilitated unethical makers in stealing money and goods by squashing discussion of problems.

Feedback is important.

Walter
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James J




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PostPosted: Mon 23 Jan, 2012 2:11 am    Post subject: Rating system         Reply with quote

First post here. Longtime user. Perhaps a rating system similar to the online auction sites. Purchasers could post their experience with a vendor or swordsmith in a designated area of the forum. Sort of like a Better Business Bureau for arms and armor makers and vendors. Happy
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Allan Senefelder
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PostPosted: Mon 23 Jan, 2012 5:43 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
But at the bottom line, I think that the level of "customer attention" that can be offered by big corporations can't be matched by one-man companies.


Actually i'd say in large part the opposite is true. We don't expect our auto mechanic to send us email and photo updates on our car as its being worked on , nor our harware store as they get the lawn mower running again nor would these places agree to do so. When theres a billing dispuite with the cell phone company, we get passed off from one cubefarm dweller to another on the phone and as often as not getting no satisfaction, and go on the internet and complain about that all you want Verison really couldn't care less, your single complaint online will not affect thier percieved public image one whit, unlike one single person going on the AA and here and voicing thier unhappiness will. So much greater care must be taken if one wants preserve ones reputation in this trade. I highly doubt that anyone here has spent 2-3 hours on the phone with the annoymous cubefarmer over at the power company just shooting the breeze with questions about how thier nuclear reactor is or how do you build a coal fired power plant, but I have spent untold 1000's of hours over the years as i'm sure many still in this business have with people on the phone, sometimes for extended periods of time, an hour, on occasion 2 answering questions about medieval and renaissance arms and armour. And all of this is non value added, margins are so thin and people so broke that you simply can't charge for it but have no choice but to do it to preserve the rep and hopefully get a sale. I seriously doubt that your cable provider offers half the customer service that many still struggeling to work in this trade do in simple hopes of keeping thier rep clean and maybe, just maybe getting a commisions in, because the odds that you'll get one if you don't do it are alot less.
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Chad Arnow
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PostPosted: Mon 23 Jan, 2012 6:51 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Allan makes a good point. Customers should be respectful of a maker's time and not fill up the maker's time with idle chit-chat, general questions the customer could answer with a little legwork, or questions about an order you may not place any time soon. All the time they spend with us on the phone or answering email/PM is time away from your work or someone else's.

This is where the personal relationship interferes with business yet again. Remember that time is money and think how expensive your project would be if they all started charging an hourly rate that included the time they spent on the phone or answering things on the computer for you. Most makers don't build this time into their quotes.

Yes, there are issues with some makers in regards to following through on what they've told you or other business terms. But customers can play a part in delays by taking up time unnecessarily.

Maybe we're now getting into a maker's bill of rights. Happy

Happy

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Chad Arnow
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PostPosted: Mon 23 Jan, 2012 6:55 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

To get back to customer's rights:

-I think a customer has the right to believe what a maker told them and take courteous, civil means to hold them to it.
-I think a customer has the right to objectively report their good and bad experiences to the public to help others make informed decisions. A maker has the right to objectively respond.
-I think the customer has a duty to do their homework and know what they're getting in to before they start. This includes knowing return policies, setting a clear goal for the project, and seeing that things follow through.

Happy

ChadA

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