Thursday, January 21, 2010

Be serious - or don't waste my time!

I get a request like this one about every second day:
I'm looking for my camp/hunting all purpose knife. basically a knife to rely on at all times in the wilderness.

I pretty much know what I am looking for, and I would like your feedback:

I am looking for a very simple blade made of 1095, extremely robust, with an overall design inspired of a Puma Whitehunter in terms of size and balance, and a slim handle made of osage slats ...and it would be a full tang.

What do you say? Is this something you would be interested to make, and if so in which price range.
Now that request came in about mid day on the 18th. After I normally do my e-mail and computer work (in the mornings). So a fast Google for 'Puma White Hunter' got me this:

Image taken from Knife
Puma White Hunter Knife Genuine Stag Handles
10 5/8" overall. 6 1/8" stainless blade with 2 1/2" sharpened section on top edge and 1" serrated section on bottom edge of blade. Full tang. Genuine stag handles with aluminum finger guard and lanyard hole. Brown leather belt sheath.
Now, I found the listed prices available on line from various retail sellers ranged from about $290 - $330 US for new, up to $400 for older collector's offerings.

I replied (very early) on the morning of the 21st:
I see that the original is stainless, rather than your requested 1095.
I don't have the system here to add the aluminum guard. I could use bronze, that would have to be cast separately from an original master pattern.
I'm not entirely sure if I have any Osage slabs in stock, but certainly could either get some ... Osage does present certain problems due to its toxic nature. Its also not the hardest of woods, but I'm assuming you are willing to trade colour appearance for durability?

To hand forge and finish a replica of this blade in 1095 and bronze, I would be quoting more than the roughly $290 US that the commercial blade costs. Something in the range of $350 - $400 CDN.
50 % down, balance due before shipping. Shipping on top (depends on your location) Taxes as applied if inside Canada. Should remain duty free under NAFTA, but thats on your end. Payment via Paypal or major credit card (could be international money order - no cheques)
The reply to this (later that morning) was:
Thank you for the answer but I have to decline.
I commissioned a blade yesterday afternoon.

For a number of reasons - I am not pleased by this whole thing. I am going to go over just why - in the (feeble) hope that future 'customers' will consider their requests more carefully:

1) One of a kind custom pieces ALWAYS will cost more than commercial mass produced items.
- It costs more for a man than a machine.
- You are paying for the years of accumulated skill - not just the hours on this object.
- Design, set up and production problems are fixed. They apply equally to making one, or making a thousand. If it is one object, the price reflects all the time and effort. If its a thousand, then those fixed costs get divided between ALL the number produced.

2) You get what you pay for - and expect to pay for what is being offered.
- Skill costs. Quality requires skill.
- Check the past work, both in terms of quality and range of prices.
I will not make any claims here. Check my portfolio (Even just the Knife Gallery). Read my CV, or at least take a look at all the past work and experience reflected on the Wareham Forge web site. Base prices are quoted. Do the math.
If you want a duplicate of a commercial product, what on earth makes you think a skilled artisan, with decades of experience, would work cheaper than some factory in China paying slave wages?

3) You want it cheap, you want it fast, you want it good? You can only have ONE of those!
This is such a true statement, it frankly shocks me how often we all have to keep saying it. In a world full of cheap mass produced CRAP, why on earth would anyone think a one of a kind object produced in skill hands would match Walmart prices?

4) Any creditable artisan does NOT copy other work.
If what you want is a duplicate, go to the original producer. Are you trying to steal their work, and at the same time beat their prices. You may have less honour than that, but I certainly do.

5) I ain't that hungry!
Again take a look over the web site. Read this blog. Does it really look like I'm so desperate for work that I will cut rate my prices?
The circle of experienced artisan blacksmiths in Ontario is small. Don't you think we talk? Generally when someone is just trying to price shop, everyone recognizes it.

If you have not bothered to look at the most basic descriptions as provided on the web site, why should I bother to spoon feed you?
If I can check easily on the web and find the original producer and get typical prices, who do you think you are fooling?
It typically takes me at least 15 - 20 minutes to research and thoughtfully consider a request for a quote. My time is valuable (check my consultant's rates).

The general process I use for any custom work is described in considerable detail on a carefully prepared, quite extensive article on the Wareham Forge web site : On Custom Designs

I suspect that some of those reading will be rolling their eyes (but secretly agreeing). I can't believe I have not written at length about this topic before (?)


Steve Muhlberger said...

You may have been too conscientious this time. I bet that with 15 minutes of searching you could come up with a ballpark estimate of costs and that the goof on the other hand if he was interested in something that pricey.

Maybe you could have enunciated the general principle without looking anything up. "It will cost more than a commercial product. Any artisan capable of making what you want will say the same. Is it worth the additional expense?"

But I am glad that you wrote the blog post.

Unknown said...

Interesting how he played that game. He neatly set YOU up to be rejected by him.
You never posted on this topic before because normally you place yourself in the cat bird seat.

I never begrudge the time calculating costs because I regard it as part of the dialogue with my customer...the "sales" part of the job. If there was an overwhelming stack of commissions piling up out there, then I would likely have to choose my fights, but for now, I have the leisure to apply the personal touch.


Andrew Goss said...

Great rant! One of the "joys" of having a website is answering these emails. I don't encourage commissions, but I have an image of a sterling bracelet on my jewellery site (it has binary code etched into it) and I have got perhaps half a dozen inquiries for custom quotes. After taking the time to respond with a detailed quote, none have gone anywhere and I'm sure the reason is final price. Now I don't waste my time but say something like:
"You're probably looking at $500 give or take $100, and $30-50 for shipping depending on where you live. If you want a more detailed quote, please email me again."

Cathy Raymond said...

Andrew Goss had the right idea to responding to queries like this. Don't waste a lot of time coming up with a detailed estimate; give an off-the-cuff ballpark estimate. That will give him a good idea of what he's in for if he really wants custom work, and if he is really interested, he'll write back for greater detail.

The only thing I might add to Andrew's suggestion is a warning that tailoring the item to the inquirer's needs likely will increase the price. That way, it's harder for him to treat the ballpark estimate as though it were etched in stone and binding.


February 15 - May 15, 2012 : Supported by a Crafts Projects - Creation and Development Grant

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