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

Saturday, June 09, 2007

The Cold War

Biz News - I've just posted a bunch of new pipes over the past week. Some are already sold, but there are still plenty available! Posted are a number of new Ligne Bretagnes, including many of our popular Canadian shape (Several in smooth natural finish, no less!) and some new Talbert Mortas, including a large sandblasted Signature grade piece that sold almost instantly.

Today's pic is an example of how I use my Taig mini lathe as a handy stem mount while filing handcut stems. It lets me avoid holding the stem in my hand, helping guard against carpal tunnel problems in future.

There is a Cold War taking place in the pipe hobby, and it isn't doing us any good. Anyone who has spent any time around pipe forums has surely seen threads with titles like these:

DO NOT DO BUSINESS WITH X!!

X brand pipes have fills!

Bad experience with company X

And so on. These threads, often ill-thought, are nearly always the result of buyers angry over some perceived, possibly misunderstood, problem, who believe they are doing the community a favor by alerting them to the dangers of some insidious crooked business. And indeed, there have been a few crooks in the pipe biz in the past, so this can occasionally serve a good purpose. However, FAR more often, it's considerably more damaging (pointlessly) than it is accurate. In the majority of these cases that I have seen, the problems were simple, and could nearly always have been remedied by the customer contacting the vendor directly before venting their anger to a public forum. Because that's the problem, see..... The mantra of, "Where there's smoke, there's fire" is ingrained in everyone's consciousness, and even when dubious claims and complaints are publicly exposed to be false, the memory lingers on in the minds of everyone who read the thread.

And the pipe community is a pretty small and tight one, so one bad word can impact a HUGE slice of the buying audience.

This is the problem in a nutshell - The angry customer doesn't really realize that the vendor he's slandering is just another working guy like himself, trying to make enough to live on, and that a few bad words spoken in flame mode can have a sizable impact on small family businesses like those that make up so much of the pipe biz. Instead, he thinks, "EVERYONE knows about X brand tobacco, so they are a huge rich business, and I am going to show everyone just how crooked they are!" A couple of examples:

In recent years, a buyer purchased a high grade pipe (not from me) which proved to have an unseen internal fault in the shank that caused the shank to actually crack. Rather than seek remedy from the vendor of the pipe, said customer went immediately to the online messageboards and announced that pipemaker X used "rotten briar" - That it was obviously rotten and poor quality, and that the buyer was deceived.

In another case, a buyer purchased a pipe from a company which stakes its rep on using no fills. The buyer found what he believed was a fill, and immediately posted another "exposé" style thread on a public forum, alerting all potential buyers that said vendor was being deceitful in their advertising.

In both of these circumstances, the whole of the problem was simply down to the unpredictable quirkiness of briar. It's easily possible for briar to have internal flaws, unseen by the maker, that never show until the pipe has been in use enough to cause them to become evident. Selling a pipe with an unknown internal flaw is no example of "using rotten briar", nor is it evidence of deceptive business practices - It simply means the pipemaker could not see the potential problem during the creation. We're all aware of this, it happens, and every pipemaker I know would quickly repair or refund for such problems if they are addressed to the maker. Unfortunately, all too often the problem turns into a public torching of someone's very hard-earned reputation. The same was true in the case of purported fills - Briar really does have strange pulpy areas, naturally occurring, that can strikingly resemble fills and yet are not.

So how is this a Cold War? So far it sounds more like a shooting gallery with industry businesspeople as the targets. Well, it becomes a Cold War for the ill feeling generated - Pipemaker X isn't Sony, or some wealthy faceless business that pays no heed to public pillorying. Instead, pipemaker X - and everyone else in the pipe business - is an ordinary guy (or family). He watches these flame fests happen and gets pissed. As the saying goes, forgive your enemies, but remember their names. Vendors increasingly turn defensive, feeling under siege. Names of repeatedly difficult customers are shared, and we start working to avoid and isolate those buyers who believe the internet is their personal battleaxe, to be used as a weapon to bludgeon down businesses that they don't like.

It just plain isn't a fun situation.

Plus, defensive thinking dampens quality. I like making very thin stems, but when people bite through them - despite being warned in advance that they're thin for comfort, and best recommended for people who aren't heavy clenchers - and then tell others that the stems are "poor quality"... Well, I'll make them thicker next time. I won't be as happy with the work and other buyers may not be as happy either, but over the years I've increasingly seen online sellers forced to be more and more ass-covering in their relations with buyers, lest they wake up the next morning to find their name smeared all over some online forum for a problem they could easily have corrected had they even been told about it. Reckless attacks generate far more bad feeling than they're worth in almost every case. And so much of the Cold War could be avoided if people would only think twice.... If there is a problem, contact the seller of the pipe or tobacco. Almost always, they will make it right, end of story. Public shaming should be reserved strictly for those businesses that legitimately deserve it, that ignore complaints, that take payments and don't ship pipes, etc. There's a vast difference between the businesses (the majority) that stand behind their work and fix what's broke, and those that cash your checks and then don't answer phone calls.