Monday, March 24, 2008

A hobbyist guide to better business.

I've purchased alot of materials in the last couple of years from small independent business that cater to this hobby, These range from large public companies like Games Workshop to any number of tiny online sellers providing specialty products. I'd like to go over a bunch of them here and take the time to discuss and rate their customer service and some of the operational challenges I've witnessed as a customer. I should note this is merely my personal experience with each company others mileage may vary. I have owned and operated my own successful business for over 10 years. While I don't provide a physical product ( I provide technical services) I can easily say I feel I have the professional background to make such criticisms.

Games Workshop-
The biggest fish of the bunch by far, a 30 year established, publicly traded company on the London Stock Exchange with worldwide offices, stores and distribution. There isnt much else to compare GW to as a provider of a niche product. In a class by themselves, there isn't a independent gaming company I can think of anywhere that rivals these guys. The World Headquarters in is Nottingham, UK.

Money spent- $1000+
Problems- Several
Customer Service Rating- A+

I've spent a ton of money at GW, I capped it at a $1000, because I really don't want to know what I have spent. While I buy most product retail from the store these days in order to support my FLGS. I have previously purchased numerous items direct from the US website, or thru independent online dealers. My problems via GW direct are few and both had to do with not getting issues of White Dwarf in the mail, when I called I was immediately priority mailed a new issue. These problems went away when GW wisely changed its magazine distributor. Say what you want about certain business decisions within your favorite product line but as a company GW gets all aces in my book. Yes, the stuff is way too expensive but that's a whole other discussion.


Forge World-
I find Forge World a total conundrum. Any company would give its left arm to have the public demand for it's product that Forge World does, so that makes the current goings on there even more of a mystery. They are affiliated with GW but carry none of the positives of GW's great business model over into their own business, Saying Forgeworld is a train wreck as far as its business operations go could be considered an understatement by some. They make the coolest resin models in world, but somehow cannot keep up with the every increasing demand for their products. They have little to no quality control and don't seem to care to fix the problem, they also don't seem to have any decent international shipping options. Practically every order everyone I know has placed with Forge World has been screwed up, either a mispack, a QA issue or products just not showing up due to non trackable overseas shipping. From the debacle that was last years Games Day booth, to not being able to fulfill orders at XMAS placed BEFORE their own self imposed cut off date for holiday orders- these guys are a disaster.

Money spent - $200
Problems 3 orders/ 3 problems
Problems heard about from acquaintances and friends- countless
Customer Service: B

To their credit I have never heard of Forge World screwing anyone over and they make good on every order eventually. Even by giving me free expedited shipping from the UK doesnt excuse the basic problems. While I am not familiar with the inner workings of the company but from my own orders and what I witnessed at Games Day last year, the problems are obvious. Too many people trying to fulfill multiple roles in the company, Order Takers, Order packers and QA people need to all be separate jobs. When you are buying a $800 model somebody needs to be going over each piece with fine tooth comb, removing pieces of excess flash and making damn sure every cast is good. Screwing that up is inexcusable.

Plastic Legions advice-

How should they fix the problems? easy. Hire more staff, define specific personnel roles, focus on real QA, and while the U.S dollar is currently going the way of the peso, they need to expand into the US and open a new shop that only caters to the United States market. Invest in new molds and have two separate business arms- the US and the Rest of the World. Set up a direct exclusive deal with UPS for international sales to cut costs worldwide and let the US market dictate the domestic shipping. The demand for the product is there and US sales would double if they took away the extended shipping times and expensive shipping options, plus they would lower their retail costs on the printed books by manufacturing them in North America. The demand is there, so there is no reason not to make it happen.


Armorcast-

Armorcast is US company with a long history of manufacturing specialty miniatures and scenery, and had several notable run ins with GW over copyright infringement and licensing issues over the years. It was put up for sale and purchased by a couple of veteran gamers a few years ago and they began re-manufacturing most Armorcast products and are now selling other products by boutique miniature manufacturers. Armorcast operates out of the Cleveland, OH area.

Money spent $300ish
problems- every order
customer service A++

Despite that they screwed up every order I placed, I really like these guys. Matt personally emailed me back immediately upon every problem, made good and sent me some free product to compensate my time. I like the direction these guys are taking and their attention to individual customers. I will still buy from these guys in a heartbeat and would recommend them, despite the bumps in the road.

Plastic Legions advice- Hire a couple of people to pack, sort and QA orders.


Litko Aerosystems-

Litko is specialty manufacture of wargaming products- magnetic basing, move trays, tokens, some scenery. They operate out of NW Indiana.

Again I like these guys, they seem to have a good niche business model and make low cost, quality products. Their direct competition is the over-priced Gale Force 9, and in the battle for a niche business it looks like Litko is winning- if not doing very well for themselves.

Money spent $200+
Problems 1
Customer Service A

Theses guys seem to know the market and what they want to do, there product line increases every month as more and more people get turned on to them, in fact I am about to put in a big order myself for these guys. they also are reaching out to specialty games in order to strike deals to make specific gaming aids for specialty games- nice.

Plastic Legions advice- keep it up!

Gale Force 9

The most well known of the specialty gaming aid manufactures, GF9 operates out of Northern Virginia. GF9 suffers some backlash from being around the longest and taking too many of the wrong cues from Games Workshop in terms of how to price your products. Their relationship with GW direct has obviously suffered some strain over time as they seem produce less and less GW compatible product. They mainly now produce overpriced gaming aids for a variety
of collectible card and miniature games and some specialty hobby products.

Money spent- $100+
Problems- 1 plus other-
Customer Service- C

Nothing I dislike more than online companies that don't return customers email, if you getting too much email you can't answer it, that is a good thing and you should hire some one to do it. These guys keep their costs high by spending way too much money on color packaging and when I bought a bunch of laser cut move trays from them, the second time they screwed up my order and did fix it- but not in the most timely manner. The biggest rub is the damn trays where not sized properly and I had to file and sand them to get the alloted bases to fit. That wasn't the case with all but definitely with some, when you are paying $10 for a move tray the damn thing better be sized right. I no longer do business with these guys and have no advice for them.



The War Store

The most well known of wargaming retail distributors, the War Store is premier online retailer for Wargames, Miniatures and other games and gaming supplies, they operate out of the far tip of Long Island, NY

Money Spent- $400
Problems 1
Problems heard of thru friends- several
Customer Service - A


The Warstore has had several challenges recently, one is they doubled the inventory of what they sell in the last 12 months and they also took over the much beloved Battlewagon Bitz. The inventory increase and the added workload of doing a bitz business obviously led to a tough period of reorganization. Email communication was down, and products being out of stock were common with out of stock warnings not being updated on the site you could easily pay for something and then have to wait, when you could have gotten it somewhere else. Also the Battlewagon Bitz section is nowhere what it used to be when it was its own company. Having said all that the only problem I ever had was with my most recent order and the problem was addressed immediately by Neil and fixed within 48 hours, so I cant really complain. Overall I think this will still be the premier online avenue for certain products, they have just had a reorganizational period that probably caught some customers off guard. I will still gladly buy from them...in fact I just did.

Plastic Legions advice- Unless the bitz business is raking in the dough to make it worth the intensive labor costs, I'd drop it in a heartbeat. Battlewagon Bitz was great while it lasted (except for that $30 going out business grab bag that screwed everyone over..it still hurts ) but it was just a minor sideshow along the long road that is this hobby.
Replicating BW bitz it as it was is not possible in the current enviroment- due to GW's online policy and the inherent excessive labor costs of a second hand bitz business, so keeping it around for the guy that needs the odd bit seems silly. Unless its cash positive on its own merits, I'd dump it and invest that labor into general inventory management and fulfilling orders and answering emails, Do that and they will once again be living up to the hype and goodwill they spent years creating.


FRP Games

The west coast version of Warstore, these guys have a massive inventory and have always been uber reliable. They operate out of the San Jose Area in California

Money Spent- $600+ (since 2003)
problems -ZERO
customer service - Don't Know


I like these guys and have bought a ton of stuff from them mainly board games and non-GW miniatures, When I used to play Reaper's Warlord, I bought all my stuff from them, paints on down. There prices are all over the places some stuff is a great deal and some stuff totally overpriced, They also carry weird stuff you cant find anywhere else, I've probably put in 20 orders with them over the years and never had an issue, they always drop you a shipping notification and its always trackable. The also have the seemingly rare ability to get what you order, actually in the box they send you on the first try! I can't really comment on their customer service as I never have had to use it and that is a good thing.

Plastic Legions advice- if you can't competitively price something ( like GW products ) then drop the line, because unless I have no other option-why would I pay retail and shipping from you when I could by it from the GW online store or somewhere cheaper. Other then the wacky pricing on some stuff, keep up the good work.

Old Glory Miniatures-

Old Glory manufactures historical resin models and scenery and their own pewter historical miniatures, They also carry miniatures from several import only companies. They operate out of the Atlanta, Georgia area.

Money Spent - $106.00
Problems- 1
Customer Service - C-

The dog of the bunch here, I am most disappointed because this is a company I really want to like. I placed only one order with them and it was an expensive Resin Model of a Pirate Ship, it's missing the carriages for 6 of the 10 cannons it came with. They have 2 email addresses for customer service, it took forever for them to fulfill my order ( about a month) and they never answered any of my emails about order status and are still not answering any further emails about the missing pieces. I also called the phone number listed and only got a machine and at this point -I have given up. Obviously this is a small company with a few people making stuff to order, not answering emails from customers whose money you've taken is just not acceptable, now I am left to go fishing on the foundry website to find 6 cannons that are the right size and its not going to be cheap... I am going to try to Green stuff cast my cannon carriages and see if I can make my own first...a total drag and a hassle.

Plastic Legions advice- Get your shit together!!!

Edit- Finally heard back from OGM customer service, roughly 2 weeks after I sent them emails about missing parts. They apologized for the both the delay in communication and the mispack are say they are sending me the missing parts. better late than never!


Back2base-IX-

A manufacture of resin bases for miniatures, with a huge variety of Terrain options, they are distributed here in the US from a variety of retailers, but the selection is better if you order direct. They operate out of Southern Australia

Money Spent- $50
Problems -1
Customer Service A+

My most recent online purchase and my first time order. It was screwed up in a pretty big way and that's even more of drag because they are sending you the wrong stuff from all the way from the other side of the world and it takes a good 10 days to get your order. These guys immediately stepped up and are making good on my order at their own expense. At this point I am recommending them, but repeated packing errors are sure way to lose customers.

Plastic Legions advice- double, triple check your packing. IF this is a repeated problem, get rid of whoever is packing orders and get someone who isn't dyslexic to read the packing slip.


Well that's an honest rundown on everyone who came to mind as I wrote this. If I think of more
I'll add it to it and if you've had different experiences with any one of the companies I've listed here I'd be glad to share war stories, either in the comments section or you can always email me at oldcoast@comcast.net

7 comments:

Scott said...

wow, that was really informative. I like the fact that you mentioned the BWBits going out of business grab bag. That does still hurt!

I would like to see GW do something with their bits ordering. I guess we'll have to wait and see what happens after this "reorganization."

Also agree with the comments about White Dwarf. Have you gotten your April issue yet? My March issue came on Feb 6th!

In regards to Armourcast, don't you owe me some pictures of terrain?

Old Coast said...

Hey Scott

yes you definitely need to call on that new white dwarf, I got the 25th Anniversary issue about 10 days ago and I thought it was a bit late then, I usually get mine around the 5,6 as well, they have always been good about replacement issues for me.

I do owe you some pics, I have way backlog with projects myself and I know you were out of pocket with your wedding and all, I am doing a bunch of photos this weekend and they are coming your way!

RonSaikowski said...

Excellent post.

I like the reiveiws of each company and more importantly... your personal experiences with each. I would love to have links to the relative sites, that would be my only complaint.

Other than that, well done.

Old Coast said...

Thanks Ron,

and very good point, I've added the links as I should have to begin with-

RonSaikowski said...

Excellent work, thanks.

Brian said...

Litko = 100% win

I'm glad they're doing well and others are ordering from them!

Bill said...

Nice write up. The personal experence part is nice.

I just placed my own Litko order. I'll let you know how it goes.

Bill

 

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