News from the Pipemaking Workshop with the Funk.
Talbert Pipes Website - Kentucky Fried Popcorn - My Web Comic.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

A View of the Workshop

I didn't have any grand ideas for a blog post today, so I thought I would simply post a few photos from our workshop for a tiny window into how we work. First, however, I should mention that I've just posted two new Talbert Briars to the website - one is a smooth-finish unstained freehand, and the other is a chubby, unstained sandblast. These are the last pipes to post at the old 2005 prices - I'll be applying inflationary price increases across the catalogs shortly. This will be the first price change in over two years, so it's a bit overdue. Fortunately for US buyers, the euro has declined a bit against the dollar and I doubt they will see any difference - If anything, the pipes are probably getting cheaper! Oh, and there is still one Morta Bettafish remaining after the last two mass Betta-postings, so have a look!

Speaking of morta, that is what Emily is rough-shaping in the photo above. Look closely and one can see two morta Prince shapes in progress. We usually have several projects underway at once - at the moment, I am also trying to finish another Talbert Briar and complete our last-ever run of Ligne Bretagne "fat dwarf" pipes. Here is another picture from the shop:

Shown above are some examples of the wooden, antique sanding and buffing spindles I use. On the left is a typical modern metal one, but the two to the right are my favorites - handmade wooden spindles that probably date to the early 20th century, all of which seem to be hand-turned in decorative styles and some even carry maker's marks. Compared to the utilitarian steel spindles, they are virtual 'objets d'art', and I have to admit that (Silly though it may sound) there is a certain romance about working daily with such tools. Many more of them can be seen in this photo:

For our first year, these things were everywhere because we had no good place to store them when not in use... and of course, they were always in use. No sooner would we tuck them away somewhere than they were back out, scattered around the work tables being swapped on and off of our buffing motors. Finally, when we revamped our shop to better accomodate two people, we rigged up this simple-but-handy rack to store them in. Now, either of us can simply turn, select the wheel we want, and easily swap and replace the one we're using. Note that most of them are the old wooden ones, fitted with threaded wooden spindles to hold their buffing wheels or sanding discs in place, and there are only a few of the new metal ones among them. I debate about this some times, thinking I ought to buy more steel ones and retire the antique models for storage or posterity, but at the same time, they were made to be used and it would seem a shame to polish them up and stick them on a shelf somewhere just so someone could look curiously at them fifty years from now. Assuming, of course, that anyone even remembers pipemaking fifty years from now...

Thursday, February 23, 2006

The Curse of Being Unoriginal

First in the news today is that I just posted some new pipes to the site - three new Morta Bettafish and one very nice Talbert Briar sandblast. I hope to have many more updates over the next week, including (finally!) some more Ligne Bretagnes. The first LBs will be a run of the "fat dwarf" shapes - the final run, in fact, since we have exhausted our supply of these stummels and once these last ones are posted, there will be no more in this shape.

In other news of things pipe-ish, someone posted an excellent article link to Alt.Smokers.Pipes the other day, and I wanted to repost it here in case anyone missed it. It isn't often that we see articles in modern media about pipes, and it's worth spreading the word.

Today's photo is a picture of my own pipe collection, which I'm not sure I have ever shown in this blog. It isn't very impressive, though it has grown a bit since this photo was taken thanks to several rejects. Prior to our move to France, I sold most of my high-grade pipes that were worth anything to raise cash for the trip, and donated a lot of the middle grades to a charity for starving pipe smokers (Yes, really). Thus, I was left with about 1/3 of my original collection. For the curious, all those little yellow tags are Christmas mailing labels for a bunch of Emily's handmade snowflake ornaments - This was taken at Christmas time, just prior to mailing out gifts.

The title of today's post refers to my recent horror at discovering how similarly pipe people apparently think. When I set up this blog and my American Pipemaker in Brittany blog, I picked these page presentations for their simplicity and style, having never seen another pipe blog in my life. In fact, when I set up this page, it was the only existing pipe blog, as far as I knew. One can imagine my embarrassment when I was looking through the blog links at FumeursdePipe and found that Stygian Smoke was already using this same format, and it predated me by a solid year (Though I have them beat for regularity of posts). On top of that, the Pipe and Tobacco Collectors Blog (of which I was, again, totally unaware) is using the same readymade setup as my other page format, the one from Pipemaker in Brittany! At least I had mine up before theirs, though... by about 20 days. So, alas, it looks like pipe people really do all think alike, or at least gravitate naturally to the same graphic designs. Now I'm really going to have to do some customizing of my pages to set them apart....

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The Annoying Side of Sandblasting

Much apologies for the delayed and scattered blog posts of late. We are into the countdown race to next month's bills, and I am in very high gear trying to pull us out of the hole. Thus, lots of pipemaking but little internet time.

The act of sandblasting is loads of fun. I love the feel of the blaster and it brings back memories of everything that I enjoyed about airbrushing... but also all the annoyances that go with it. When we moved here in 2002, we purchased our Skatblast sandblasting cabinet and all of our hoses and accessories from Matthys. It has not been a pleasant experience in quality, compared to my previous system in the US. I used my original equipment hard, and it consistently delivered. This system, unfortunately, has been trouble from the story of its installation (See entries for October 15th, November 6th, and December 4th).

Through the course of four years of use, we have replaced the vacuum motor once, had the replacement fail, tossed the entire vacuum for a newer and supposedly improved replacement vacuum, replaced two sets of gloves due to them wearing through and developing holes (which never happened with my previous cabinet gloves), and we've done ongoing battle with the poor-quality air tubing that Matthys supplied. For the past six months, it became a regular occurence to hear a pop from the workshop, and find that a hole had blown in the tubing and compressed air was blowing around wildly.

Finally, after lots of wasted time cutting and patching the hose, we had to replace it. I do not plan to order anything from Matthys again, if I can help it, because of my bad experiences with their products, but this meant searching out replacement bits en français... which turned out to be no problem at all! A quick trip through the phone book turned up several local compressor shops, and a little bit of driving and asking questions led us to a wonderful professionals-only supply store in St. Nazaire, where we bought a much tougher replacement hose (Made in France, I must note, while the one that fell apart was made in the USA. Imagine my annoyance!). The last hour has consisted of me crawling around in scattered sandblasting media, tightening clamps and fiddling with the system from end-to-end in the eternal quest for the mythic land of No Leaks. It's so nice to be productive with my time....... :/

And did I mention the hole that opened in the cabinet's media tube, that I had to patch with duct tape?

I look forward to the day when I can boot this irritating cabinet out the door (and its little vacuum too!) and replace it with a better unit, possibly something from Cyclone. Oh yes, and did you notice the hammer in the photo above? It's there for the really delicate repairs....

Friday, February 17, 2006

The Cutting Room Floor

This is a common expression en anglais to refer to unused edits, discarded photos or video, etc - "All the shots that showed Van-Damme tripping ended up on the cutting room floor." I toss out tons of photos all the time, in the process of editing and assembling the pictures that go up on the website, and here is an example of one. I shot this in much higher resolution than was needed for a web picture (forgetting, as usual, that I'd changed the res for taking scenery pics). I figured I'd post it today, though, in case anyone wanted to see a really big pipe photo. The pipe in question is that Ligne Bretagne Collector that I posted yesterday - already sold, happily.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Pipe T-Shirts, and More

Today's image is a shot from a very nice site I was recently introduced to - For anyone interested in showing off their hobby, this site has some excellent t-shirt designs for sale. There are also some intriguingly different pipe racks there, somewhat similar to the "Pipe Tree" made by Toren Smith some years back. The nice thing about such designs is that they will hold a lot of pipes that won't fit in any normal pipe rack (like, ahem, many Talbert Briars that I've made.. I often wonder just how Bruce stores his Grendel pipes!).

I don't have a lot to say at the moment - too busy buried in finishing more pipes - though there is much I want to comment on when I get the time, like Britain's recent inane decision to ban all public smoking. But, of course, alcohol is still fine for your health, so keep hitting those pubs. In the immortal words of Jim Beard of ASP, "No one ever killed an entire family driving home because they'd had one too many cigarettes." (And no, I have nothing against alcohol or pubs, I simply find it very hypocritical to consider the things we demonize - smoking - compared to the vices we blithely ignore - drinking to excess, automobile exhaust, industrial pollution, urban over-expansion, etc)

One last bit of news for today is that I just posted a new Ligne Bretagne Collector. I'm in the middle of finishing a batch of Talbert Briars and this was intended to be one of them, but unfortunately I had a bit of drill-bit wander through the long oval shank and it hit a little off-center - dead level with the bottom, but not perfect enough to be a Talbert, so the price dropped by half! Anyone interested in a large-bowl LB with a very nice blast at a bargain price, take a look.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Variance in Sandblasting

This is a photo that I posted to our News page last year, illustrating the level of variance possible between different sources of briar. I chose to repost it since I got an email from a fellow asking about the photo. The pipe on the left is Greek plateau briar, the pipe on the right is Algerian ebauchon. The comparison illustrates a couple of things that make pipes interesting.

Firstly, there is obviously a difference in the sandblast finish, despite the fact that the two blocks were both blasted by me using the same media and techniques. The Greek plateau suffers from two connected difficulties - The wood is hard and more resistant to the blasting, and the ring grain is much tighter... again, making it more resistant to blasting. The most dramatic ring patterns are best obtained using wood with more open rings - Since the growth rings themselves are what resist blasting depth, the more densely they are packed, the more challenging it can sometimes be to achieve a deep and strong sandblast. The paradox to this is that tight rings are often desired, since it means more years of growth have gone into the bowl.

The other difference between the two blocks is in their color. The color of briar is widely (and sometimes hotly!) debated, with many people claiming that paler, whiter wood smokes better. The logic put forth in this is that darker wood contains more tannin, and tannin is what makes a smoke bitter, but there are other factors at work. For one, briar darkens as it ages, and the above Algerian block was over fifty years old, compared to the Greek block which had only been cut and drying since the early 90's (making it about 10-12 years aged, at my best guess). It is impossible to say how much of the color difference is down to age and how much is from varying tannin levels, which brings me to another personal opinion - tannin is not neccessarily bad. I find the darker Algerian blocks to offer a somewhat fuller, richer smoke sometimes, when allied to the right tobaccos (A wine comparison I could offer would be that tobacco in Greek and Italian briar is like drinking wine from a fine wineglass, while Algerian is more like an earthenware mug).

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Another Neat Idea goes Boink

Here is the classic example of a discarded idea, something that looked good on paper but proved unfeasible in real life. In the profile sketch at the lower right, one can see the original design concept - a freehand design accented with multiple crescent shapes. My intention was to turn an olivewood blank to the size of the joiner, then curve the briar of the outer crescent smoothly into the olivewood.

Unfortunately, this proved unfeasible in reality - curving outwards from the olivewood left the edges where the briar met the olivewood very, very thin, and they wanted to split and chip. To strengthen the briar, the curve was gradually filed backwards to a flatter meeting, which lost the curve of the sketch and ended up looking dumb. A bit of thinking and sketching produced a new idea for a stem that will (I hope) be equally distinctive but a good bit more practical in assembly. In retrospect, I should have made the whole crescent from a single piece of briar instead of adding the olivewood for the join. Sometimes pipemaking seems to be en eternal journey into the land of What-Not-to-Do!

Friday, February 10, 2006

On the Art of Not Being Seen

Today's picture is one of the many test shots I took of my first Morta Bettafish, back in 2002, while setting up the photos for the morta section of our website. I picked this image as the photo of the moment because I just posted three new Bettafish shapes yesterday. All sold almost immediately and we ended up with requests for more, so look for some new fishies to swim onto the catalog pages in coming weeks.

The topic title today refers to the fact that we are currently suffering another ongoing attack of "having been seen" - by the wrong people, that is. A regional nature & craft magazine did an article on the Briére, and in it they included a sidebar mentioning morta and providing a brief description (with photo) of our morta pipes. Unfortunately, they did not include our website URL, which would have answered all inquiries with no cost to us, but instead they posted our phone number. Thus, for the past week we have been getting calls all through the day from "interested craftspeople" and similar curious types, plus loads of the usual calls from folks with no clue of the prices of quality handmade pipes. Typically, this latter bunch phone here expecting to get a unique, "crafty"-level oddity for around 20-30 euros, and are shocked to find that prices start at 200... In short, we're experiencing a brief deluge of people who don't know much about genuine high-grade handmade pipes. And that isn't even counting the people who just think morta is interesting, and want to call up and chat about the subject.

My feelings on this sort of thing are split, because on the one hand it is always good to see pipes represented in popular media in a way that raises interest, but on the other hand the interest raised is virtually useless to me but still costs me time and annoyance. High grade pipemakers tend to be a hard-to-find bunch, often reclusive, and this is an excellent example of why - We sell most often by word-of-mouth to a specific market of pipe/art/collectable enthusiasts, and every contact and exposure outside of that circle is essentially wasted time for the pipemaker... "Yes, it's nice that people find it very quaint that this traditional craft carries along in modern times, but can I get back to work now please?"

So, if you try to telephone us for the next week and are annoyed that you can't seem to get anything but the answering machine, c'est pourquoi....;) Normal sevices and non-stealth mode will be reactivated as soon as this magazine is off the stands and into the landfills.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Early Talbert Calabash

I was recently talking with someone about a calabash design, and it spurred my memory to look up this pic from 1999 (or perhaps 98, I'm not sure). It's an interesting early example of my particular design aesthetic, and I also noticed the flat bit. When I first began to make pipes, I made them 100% according to my own preferences in pipes, and among those preferences is a love of really thin, nearly buttonless bits, because I rarely hold a pipe in my teeth anyway. So, this is why most of the Talberts from the late 90's have these really flat bits. As I started selling to a wider and wider market, I eventually had to change my ways to adapt to different people's styles - especially in the two key areas of button size and bit thickness. The extremely thin bits that I loved proved too fragile in the wild when subjected to super-clenchers, and once you've done a couple of repair/replacements, you start changing your methods quickly!

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Flame On!

When my friend Paul Tatum wrote me to talk about his latest work in acrylic casting, I knew I had the next blog post. Today's pic is one of the first examples of his new "flames" technique, where he is casting unique acrylic stem rods with classic hot rod-style fire decor. One can see this pipe and another, similar flame-stemmed piece (plus plenty of other stuff) in his online catalog. I should point out that this is not painted on nor any sort of decal - The flame pattern is solid acrylic cast as part of the stem rod. Somehow I think this would look fantastic on a smooth, solid-black pipe.

Friday, February 03, 2006, the Geek-clusion

No pipe pic today, but instead some pics of pipemaker past (Say that fast!). This is relevant to my closing question for Sykes Wilford, in this conclusion to our three-part chat about pipe stuff. The photo above is from 1990, and shows (from left to right) my friend 'Mazing Mike, pipemaker Paul Tatum, myself (in the red and minus 100 pounds...), and on the right is Eric Bloom, lead singer of the rock band Blue Oyster Cult. This was snapped at the 1990 Atlanta DragonCon, where I had my first public art exhibition. And now, for the final question for Sykes:

What is the single geekiest thing you have ever done? I went to DragonCon in costume - can you top that?

I'm not sure. I'm pretty geeky. I once spent a whole night, about ten hours, rewriting our tobacco purchasing equations (those that take the raw sales data for individual items and tell us how much to stock and purchase and how frequently) so that they factored in all sorts of different data, with multiple logarithmic curves. Compared to the old ones, which were very simple, I think I saved the company all of about fifteen dollars over a year. Of course, if I had calculated ROI on that, I would have spent another six hours and I would still have done it just to amuse myself. Still, if I can call it work, I feel better about blowing ten hours writing absurd equations in Excel (to test and model) and translating them into SQL and CF
(so they actually use our data).

And, in my defense, sometimes I do things that seem silly when I do them and they end up shaving hours of labor out of a process (meaning that that person can do more and we can lower prices).

This reminds me of the definition of an engineer - a person who will spend three hours figuring out how to do a two hour job in one hour. However, regarding relative geekiness, I think I win over Sykes. I can counter his coding with the fact that I wrote entire adventure games in BASIC for my old TRS-80, AND have installed dual-boot Linux partitions on no less than four different systems... just for the fun of playing with them. Not to mention that I've donned elf ears on a couple of occasions (Though, to salvage at least a little personal respect, I have never, ever dressed as anything from Star Trek). To close up, here is another photo of Emily and myself dressed for a Halloween party. She's flashing a bit of leg while I'm wondering how long my makeup will stay on. It's worth noting that my wizard's staff was a fun hodgepodge creation of mine - I wired a few toys together to create a staff with buttons on it that would make bomb noises, explosions, lasers, and when I really wanted to be dramatic, another button would cause thunder rumbles as the globe on top lit and flashed. Oh for the days of mis-spent youth...

Thursday, February 02, 2006

More Chat with

Today's picture is another pipe from the site. This olivewood Spanu is gorgeous, in my opinion - I'd love to get one of these someday. I have a Spanu corkwood pipe which is an excellent smoker, and one of my favorites. Many pipe folks that I know think the corkwood pipes are the ugliest things since dirt, but I love them for their originality and sheer sense of fun (and they bounce!). The sheer endurance of mine for being stuffed into a pocket, scratched, and banged around has made it a frequent travel pipe.

To continue with yesterday's pipe chat with Sykes Wilford of

I notice that a lot of folks really viciously price-shop tobacco online. I will plug you guys by mentioning that I recently wanted to order a good-sized pile of tobacco, and did a little price shopping. While JR's had some lower prices per tin, I calculated quickly that when adding in their shipping & handling costs, my JR's order was going to be about $20 MORE than the same order to SP. Do you catch a lot of flack and/or haggling about per-tin pricing? People writing you to say that net shop X sells Elizabethan for fifteen cents less than you do, and that sort of thing?

We don't haggle and we don't really get a lot of requests to. We realize that customers are primarily price-sensitive with pipe tobacco since a tin of Elizabethan from and a tin of Elizabethan from JRCigar (or whomever) are identical. Those are exactly the things that folks price shop on (contrarily, other factors tend to matter more for pipes, since you're not comparing identical widgets there). Anyway, that means that we squeeze as much internal efficiency as possible and reduce the price of the tobacco as much as possible. We really do sell it as cheap as we can. We're not always the cheapest on everything, but we're pretty close on everything and the cheapest on a lot of things.

Imagine I'm a new pipemaker trying to decide whether to sell all my work directly (setting up my own site, etc), or selling via a retailer like yourself. First, what do you look for from a pipemaker? If Joe Unknown has been making some decent pipes in his garage for the past year and now wants to sell them, what are you looking for from him? Style, consistency? How important is your estimation of his commitment? Do you deal with part-timers or do you prefer pipemakers who are full-time committed? If you had one thing to shout to all the pipemakers who might want you to represent them, what would it be?

It is such a mix of factors that they're tough to separate. When you get right down to it, it's about the pipes. We only carry thirty-six pipe brands, about half of which are individual pipe makers. I tell people that my default answer is 'no, I'm sorry I'm not interested right now', but I'll look at anything. We also have to expect to be able to sell a certain number of pipes for it to make sense, though we break that rule for some pipe makers because of the pipes they make-- Gotoh and Teddy spring to mind here. It's really all about the pipes at that level. For less expensive pipes, it has more to do with price, consistency of supply and other such things, of course.

Now, on the flip side, if I'm a new pipemaker trying to choose between selling my work direct and keeping the whole price, or wholesaling to a retailer like yourself, what is your pitch - what do you have to offer to make up for your chunk of the profit?
For myself, I can say that the biggest thing I like about selling via a retailer is the simplicity of it - no individual emails to answer, dozens of boxes to pack and address, etc (I hate shipping). But at the same time, I miss the direct contact with each buyer.

We're pretty straight forward about this and, to a great degree, you answered your own question. It depends on the number of pipes and the proclivities of the pipe maker. Actually, Trever, I frequently hold you up as an example of a pipe maker who sells direct who does a great job of it. You're pretty tech savvy, you speak two languages [I laugh!], you're a good writer, you're good at promoting yourself and you're dealing with a manageable number of pipes. You really don't need me. If you're like Tokutomi (or any number of other people), you do need me if you want your pipes to be widely recognized. For you, it's pretty obvious that going direct makes more sense. Now, imagine if you removed your ability to speak English and your ability to write HTML and suddenly, I look really good! The other trade off is number of pipes-- as a pipe maker makes more pipes, specialization is important and it's more efficient to let someone else do all of the marketing and selling bits. A lot of folks forget that it takes a lot of time and effort to sell pipes-- you know that you spend a lot of time and effort on these things, I'm sure. Further, there are some pipe makers who just don't want to do it. They'd rather be making pipes with that additional time than dealing with websites and e-mail or going to the post office. So, when pipe makers ask me what they should do, I tell them all of those things. I also tend not to really pitch us as a solution. I find that it's either an obvious fit or it really isn't a fit at all. As in, we are either obviously perfect for each other or it pretty obviously makes no sense.
Without going into detail, we do a lot more for the pipe makers we represent than is commonly the case-- we really see it as a partnership. And, likewise, for some pipe makers this is really important and central for them to be a success and for others, this just isn't stuff they need. And that's fine-- we look at it as providing a service to pipe makers (just as we serve customers) and sometimes, gasp, a pipe maker just doesn't need what we do.

(This chat concludes tomorrow as Trever and Sykes reveal the geekiest things they have ever done. Stay tuned....)

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

A Chat with

Before I get started with today's post, I should mention that I've posted some new pipes to our catalogs, for those folks who haven't already heard the news from our mailing list or our RSS feed. As I write this, both the new Talbert Briar smooth and sandblast are already sold (as well as nearly all of the mortas), but there is still one smooth, bamboo-shank Morta Classic left available, as well as a single Ligne Bretagne sandblasted chimney. Now that the sales are out of the way, on with the show!

I was looking around the site today to try and find a suitable photo to accompany this article, and I couldn't resist this pic. This pipe is a Ser Jacopo, and I really like the balance of the shape and the radical tilt of the bulldog bowl. Better, the lines of the shank flow evenly into the lines of the stem (Pipes that have a sudden line change from shank to stem really bug me, visually - just another weird Trever quirk).

Following along in a series of chats I want to post featuring various folks in the pipe biz, I swapped thoughts and questions with Sykes Wilford of the aforementioned Our first exchange alone has provided enough commentary for at least a couple of blog entries, and I can carry it further if there is specific interest. Mostly, it centers around the life of an internet tobacconist today, and how it connects and intertwines with the real world of brick & mortar... Plus there are some comments regarding new pipemakers, how to market, and what retailers do for the trade. My questions are pasted below in bold, and Sykes' answers are in italics. Off we go!

I'll start off with a serious question. Smokingpipes got its start as a net vendor, then evolved into a B&M. Do you think that net vendors are the death of the traditional B&M pipe shop - or, at the risk of sounding cruel, are net vendors only dangerous to those shops that refuse to evolve and change?

I can't speak for net vendors in general. I think that there are some things that work better on the net and that there are some things that work better face to face. I also think that this is about the customer. The customer wants better prices, better service, more enthusiastic and knowledgeable people to work with and great selection. I don't get up every morning thinking 'how can I put b&m stores out of business'; I get up every morning thinking 'how can I improve the customer experience at and Low Country Pipe & Cigar' (and that sounds trite, but it is very seriously true). There are huge advantages to selling face-to-face, while the only big disadvantage is that you're stuck with the number of potential customers that are local to you (which is less of an issue in New York than it is in Little River, SC). It's a heck of a lot cheaper to sell a pipe in a B&M than online for us, for example. I guess what I'm getting at is that I really don't think a whole lot about this. And, furthermore, I think that spending time thinking about it is a dangerous activity-- it distracts us from doing what we should be doing and that's, of course, serving the customer.

As you probably know, I ran a retail shop here side-by-side with our net business for a couple of years, but I had to close it up because it was too costly and too much of a time nuisance - I was out in the shop for thirty minutes teaching first-time pipe smokers how to pack and tamp just to sell a corncob, when I could have been making pipes. Of course, I did not have any staff! Have you had any problems like this - the shop traffic impacting on your ability to run the website?

You answered your own question. We have a staff of fourteen. One of those is just oriented towards the store and two more (including me) spend some of our time in the store. I spend some time on store stuff, but it's about an 80%/20% split for me in favor of

What's your favorite thing about running a retail shop and what do you find the most annoying? For myself, my favorite bit was being able to help new smokers get started right, and the biggest annoyance was easily the moochers and time wasters. I never cease to be stunned at the gall of people who will walk in with a plastic bag to fill up with as much free tobacco samples as they can stuff in.

Well, it's fun being able to work face to face with someone, rather than across the phone or e-mail. My biggest frustration is that it's much more dependent on having people come in the door. With web sales, everyone who answers the phones here (Anna, Tony, Jeff, Bear and me) has other assigned duties (ranging from outbound sales to handling customer e-mail to pipe descriptions and pipe listing to, well, whatever it is I do these days). Those things fill up the time around the phone calls. We're not just sitting at a computer waiting for the phone to ring. In the store, it's harder to do that. When I cover in the store (usually on Saturdays), it's harder to be productive when there are no customers (and any retail operation experiences
this problem-- you provision for busy and have a bunch of dead time). So, I guess this is my biggest frustration-- having to wait for something to happen when I have a bunch of work that I could do if I could only move vertically ten feet. When the store is busy, there isn't anywhere else I'd prefer to be; when it's not, I'd like to be almost anywhere else. I try to mitigate this by taking my laptop down and working on more long-term projects, but it's usually not the same as working from my desk, or even from home.

I can relate to this very well - I heartily despised the time wasted in the retail shop when there was only one "drifter" in - Someone (usually a summer tourist, in our region) who was just bored, and looking for something interesting to look at. We both knew they weren't going to buy anything, but I still had to stay out there and look helpful as long as they were drifitng around the store, when I really wanted to be in the workshop making stuff. I agree 100% with Sykes - when it was busy, and there were real pipe people there, it was fantastic, like having your own pipe club and pub rolled into one, but the wasted time was really grinding.
I'll post more of this chat tomorrow!