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Friday, March 25, 2011

Reflections on the Pipe Raffle for Japan

Wow.  Well, as I've posted elsewhere, this turned out to be a huge success, far beyond my initial expectations.  I thought we might make a few hundred for donations, but never expected we'd top two thousand!  It was a really gratifying experience, and I was happy to see so many people among the pipe (and non-pipe) community rallying together to donate to a good cause.  With it all finished, the bottom line for me is that somewhere in Japan, a quake victim is getting a bed and food and shelter because of us, so I hope everyone who participated can feel good about that. 

This was my first experience ever at running this sort of fund raiser.  I apologize for all the things I undoubtedly did wrong, but after the quake, I felt it was more urgent to get the donations coming in quickly than to take the time to really familiarize myself with the ins and outs of running this sort of charity event.  My big regret is changing charity mid-raffle, which I would think is a big no-no in this sort of thing, but when I learned that my initial choice could not guarantee that all donations would actually go to Japanese aid, I felt it was more important to find a charity that WOULD guarantee this, for the sake of all the folks who had already donated.  Next time I'll know better.  I also could have let it run longer, as we still had donations coming in the last day, but I felt it was more urgent to get the donation money in the pipeline as fast as possible. 

I'm happy it went well.

Oh, and to answer a question a couple of people have asked - What is the Japanese text under the flag on my home page?  When I was putting together that graphic as an attention-getter, I wanted to include some sort of text to go with the flag, and I wanted to post it in Japanese.  Unfortunately, I know hardly any Japanese and I seriously mistrust Google Translate due to what I've seen it do between English and French, never mind a totally different language with a different character set.  At least in French, I can read French well enough to catch any major problems - With Japanese, I had no such luck.  So, complicated sentences were out.  I would have liked to post something like, "Helping out the victims in Japan", "Helping our friends", "We support the Japanese people in this time of crisis", etc, but I was (to put it mildly) terrified that Google would give me some insane and unrelated translation and I'd never know the difference until some Japanese person read it and was totally insulted.  I follow - I know how bizarrely this stuff can turn out.  So I cast around for a while, trying to think of something really simple, something so simple that no translation website could screw it up.  Then it hit me - I had a flashback to Christopher Reeve's' first appearance as Superman, and what he says to Lois Lane after the rescue, and I knew I had my text.  Here it is below - You can fast forward to the 5:30 mark if you just want to know what the text says, and skip the rest of the scene.  I should also point out that I'm nowhere near as cool as Superman OR Christopher Reeve, but I thought that simple answer summed up everything I wanted to say perfectly.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Important Ligne Bretagne News

I write today with news regarding our Ligne Bretagne pipe brand.  I regret to inform of this change, but we will no longer be able to accept any special requests or commissions for Ligne Bretagne pipes.  Back when we started the brand, we operated under this "No Orders" rule for seven years, but I though I would try taking some orders after we re-opened our business in the USA.  Alas, it just hasn't worked out in a profitable way.  This was brought home to me recently while doing some labor/time calculations for a batch of special-ordered LBs versus regularly produced ones.

The Ligne Bretagne pipes are priced as low as I can manage while producing a pipe that I'm personally happy with, but their pricing is built around maximum speed and minimum "padding" - That is to say, they are profitable when I can reach into a box and pull out a stummel and make the best pipe from it that I can, but rapidly become less profitable when I have to exchange emails with someone about what they want, search the garage for the right shape type and size and grain quality, refer back to request specs, etc.  This leaves me with two options - Either institute some sort of tiered pricing plan making special requests cost extra, or stop doing them.  I dislike price hijinks so I'm choosing option #2. 

There are other reasons, the prime one being that I'm simply getting too many requests.  I can't even begin to handle the requests I have piled up in house now, and this leads directly to the problem that one ends up with buyers complaining on pipe forums that they ordered a pipe from that guy 6 months ago and STILL haven't gotten it, and thereby this pipemaker is a horrible person.   When you have 10 orders in-house, you can remember the distinctions of each and realistically work on satisfying them.  When you have 50-100 orders in-house, they become a blur that you'll never get on top of, you forget what most of them want anyway, and it creates an aversion to doing any of them.  By the time you get to an order that's 5 months old, the buyer has lost interest, spent his money on something else, etc, so probably 2/3 of the "stale" orders end up being a waste anyway. 

Another problem is in detail - Namely, that too many people are treating orders for Ligne Bretagnes like orders for discount Talbert Briars.  If someone says they want a sandblasted bulldog, any finish, like #XX, that's fine, but too often I'll get LB requests that read like, "A large billiard, bowl canted 2 degrees forward, stained in red-gold contrast like your #XX with a shank 4.5cm long and a tapered bit at least 6cm long but no more than 6.5, with bit 3mm thick and weight no more than 40 grams."  I don't deny a buyer their right to get what they want, but that's an order for a $400-500+ Talbert Briar handmade, not a Ligne Bretagne factory pipe.  Since I don't want to muddy the waters with a lot of specs on what kind of orders I can and can't afford to do, I feel it's best just to stop doing them.  I am going to try to finish out the orders that are currently in-house as best I can.

Finally, there is the problem that LB sales are eating up Talbert Briar production, and my pipemaking love resides in high grade handmades, not in factory pipes.  I enjoy having a line to offer to those who can't afford the more expensive work, but lately there has been so much demand for LBs that I haven't had time to make Talberts, and this is going to change.  So, from here on, we're re-instating our previous rule - No special orders for Ligne Bretagne pipes can be accepted, sorry.  Buyers looking to have a custom pipe made just for them, to their specific preferences, are still very welcome to talk to me about Talbert Briars, however.