Wednesday, March 01, 2017
Back when we were readying to leave Brittany to return to the US, we had to choose what we brought and what we left behind. We brought all of our morta stock, all of our briar stock, and roughly 20,000 rough-turned Ligne Bretagne stummels in medium and larger sizes. What we left behind, however, were entire crates of tiny stummels... Group 1-sized billiards and others.
I opted to leave most of the smallest bowls behind because they cost shipping money and were commercially unmarketable. Despite the fact that tiny pipes take as much labor as larger ones, buyers tend to equate size with value and when they see a very small pipe, they expect an equally small price. That puts the maker in the difficult position of either slapping together a cheap pipe at very high speed, one whose craftsmanship would reflect badly on the rest of his offerings ("I bought one of X's $45 pipes and it was really poorly done, why would I ever spend three times the price for one of the others?") or of taking a big financial risk by producing a lot of very well-done tiny pipes that would be costly for their size, and might very possibly sit unsold for weeks, months, or years.
Recently, however, two events came together perfectly here. First, we created the Ligne Bretagne Classic - A line of standardized designs that could be made to order here in our shop, thus negating the financial risk of carrying a lot of inventory that might or might not sell. Secondly, my wife came in the other day from the garage holding a bag of small turned bowls. She'd been digging in some long-unopened boxes of briar for something else, and found a bag of small bowls that we'd decided to bring along with us just for fun.
At that point we both realized... We don't have to gamble on making a bunch of tiny pipes that might not sell. We can make them to order, just like the LB Classics. That way, fans who want a tiny pipe can get one, and I don't have to risk sitting on hundreds of dollars of stock if they're not popular.
Then, of course, the idea of GNOMES hit me, and that was that, a whole new pipe series for Ligne Bretagne! The bag of bowls that Emily found contained roughed shapes that could be turned into 24 sandblasts and a couple of smooths - The usual ratio for any pipes not being spackled with putty. But... We've got plenty of other smaller bowls that don't get used a lot, just because they're smaller than normal and people already complain that Ligne Bretagnes tend towards the smaller size range. Grouping them all into the new "Gnomes" category seemed like a grand idea - Fun for me to do, fun for the specific buyers who wanted small pipes, and no risk for production time or sales.
Et voila, a new stamp marking was born:
We've already got a great big florid "G" for Goblins, so the new mark is suitably small and focused, instead.
Pricing was the next big decision. "Slap 'em together" and sell them for $40-50, scratches and stem gaps and all, or "Do them right" for twice the price because of the labor time?
It took about two microseconds to realize this was no choice at all, because I'm incapable of just leaving flaws that bug me - I'd end up sitting and tweaking and detailing regardless.
So, with that in mind, I'm pricing and crafting them for what they are - High-quality, high-detailed little jewels. Airways are tapered and coned, bits are filed thin and comfortable, buttons are reshaped and thinned, bit slots are internally fanned for smooth airflow, bowls are magnifier-inspected to be scratch-free, and there's enough labor time built into the pricing to allow for some fun. In these first ones, that fun equals two-toned finishes, with natural rims that fade down into rich brown bowl stains.
So how small ARE the Gnomes? Small enough to easily fit into a shirt pocket, to easily fall into the 10-20 gram weight range, and to be so light as to be effortless clenchers. But, they're still big enough for a decent smoke - I'm not into making Kiseru, here. To wit:
So that's the Gnomes! The guiding principles:
Keep them small.
Make them quality.
Make them sprightly.
Make them fun.
Make them creative.
Keep them featherweight.