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Monday, April 23, 2007

Why have Grading? Part 1

Biz Stuff - I've just made some catalog additions. Newly posted are several new Ligne Bretagnes, including the hilariously short & fat Collector grade piece shown to the left. Also posted is a sandblasted Morta Classic, the first of several more which will be posted over the next week. See the News page for full info and details.


Why have grading?

It's a serious question. And it touches on all sorts of issues of the human psyche, and how people buy and why, AND squarely cuts across pricing levels to reveal the different buying "thinking" going on with purchasers of middle-grade and high-grade pipes. I've meant to write about this for a while, and I realized finally that I'd never fit everything I've observed into one article, thus this is the first of..... who knows? A couple, at least. Before I even start on the issues of grading, I want to write a little about these differences in market mentalities as one hops through different price points.

What is the rarest Ligne Bretagne, the grade that has only a few examples in existence in the world (In fact, IIRC, there is only one)? A grade 5. That's the top of the line for the standard-line Ligne Bretagne and sells for a princely 176 €. The one example that I made sat unsold for several weeks, too, due to being such an "expensive" example of its line. It was a magnificent piece of briar, about as perfect as I have seen, with excellent grain. A Talbert Briar of equivalent grain quality would be 750 € or more, and would likely sell almost immediately, yet the grade 5 LB was a slow sell.

What is the rarest Talbert Briar? A grade 5? One of the incredibly-rare M grades? None of the above. The rarest Talbert Briar is the grade 1, of which there is only one example on the earth. This was a smooth Talbert with "so-so" grain (Half beautiful bird's-eye, nearly half bald) that was had for as cheaply as $275. Yet today, I never produce this grade - for all practical purposes the grade 2 is the "standard", entry-level grade. The highest grade Talberts I've made have all been pre-sold - in fact, I have entire lines of standing requests for any new examples of my M grade that might appear.... quite a difference from the poor grade 5 LB! But LB grade 1's fly out the door, yet that grade 1 Talbert Briar sat unsold for nearly six months IIRC.

What lessons can be drawn from these two curiously opposite experiences? At different price points, buyers want different things. The guy looking for a good middle-grade pipe hunts around the $100 mark and has probably never in his life bought a pipe that cost more than $150, ergo that entire market segment will balk at the "extreme" price of the 176 € grade 5 Ligne Bretagne... Yet conversely, buyers of high grade pipes often aren't interested regardless of the exceptional quality of the briar, because it's perceived as a "middle grade" line.

Jump to the Talbert Briar price category and buyers are after something different - They want a high grade pipe in all respects. That means that they don't see the lower price of the entry-grade Talbert as a positive selling point - to them, it's the "bottom end" and not desirable, and they want the grade 4's and Signature pieces. It's an almost complete reverse of the middle-range buying market, and reflects the thinking that, "Heck, if I'm spending 400 € already, I'll splurge a little and get the best I can, rather than save money on the cheaper model".

It occurs to me to wonder if the same carries over into autos - I imagine plenty of Twingos are sold in base model form with no options, but probably damned few Mercedes.

So, having established that sellers must contend with a rather fickle market that goes in different directions at once, in the next post I'll talk about just what grades mean, why they're assigned, and even, yes, question their usefulness! Stay tuned...