limited production :: hand crafted :: high performance :: rechargeable :: premium flashlights

This is my blog about creating a startup LED flashlight business. I'm a designer, fabricator, and strategist and I'm passionate about making ideas real. I believe that products are about people, that they should be built to last, deliver real value, and that we need to do a better job than we have in the recent past.

Most of my career has been contract or freelance work and I've crafted products and strategies for both big international companies and startups. I also used to work in the "industry" fabricating special effects for film and TV, along with the occasional hot rod. Bottom line, I love making things.

I'm starting this blog so you can follow along, from day one, and see what it's like to start a business, or fail in the process. Only time will tell, but I hope you find this interesting enough to stay tuned, comment, link, like, tweet, and (most importantly) participate in turning this idea into something tangible and valuable.

For a good place to get started with general info about who, what, why, etc., check out the "Stickies" on the left side of the page. Thanks for stopping by and please don't hesitate to ask questions and get involved!

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Monday, February 28, 2011

Cheryl's question answered!...with a question

cheryl said...
"One of my concerns is dependabiity, warranty and repair. Seeing that this is your first attempt at custom flashlight building, what assurances would we have that these light will perform as advertised? Being a one-man operation, I can foresee the possibility of you being overwhelmed if things don't go as planned. 
After reading your resume and accomplishments, I am quite impressed and have great confidence in your abilities. However, this endeavor of yours is monsterous and I would want a guarantee of the light's performance before I purchased."

So, I wrote a big long blabedy blah blog post in response. I deleted it. Let's try something different. What do YOU (as a customer) want the guarantee/warranty to be? That means anyone reading this by the way. Also, try and put yourself in my shoes: what do you think is sensible/reasonable to offer from a business standpoint?

Personally, I'd like my guarantee/warranty policy to be: "no reasonable request denied" I stole that line from Mark Dwight at Rickshaw Bagworks. I like it because it implies the company and the customer are in it together...not that the company is there to "serve" the customer.


I've spent a lot of time thinking about this one and it's a hard answer. It's also the kind of issue where consumers and businesses often find themselves at odds. One of the reasons I'm writing this blog and speaking in the first person is that I represent myself...and I'm trying to manage expectations. You are right, this is a one man operation and I hope my customers will relate to me as an individual and not like a faceless corporation. I'm also a little old fashioned in the keep your word, do your best, deal on a handshake kind of way. I want to attract like minded customers.

A couple more thoughts after the jump but PLEASE WEIGH IN ON THIS ONE !!! :)

Also, keep in mind that I'm not a traditional business. I'm still deciding if I will carry small amounts of inventory (batches) or if I will carry a larger number of component parts and build every light to order (custom). Most custom flashlight builders (that I'm aware of) do not allow returns and expect the cutsomer to sufficiently educate themselves before buying. (This pertains to "performance" definition #1 below) 

For the sake of this thought experiment, let's pretend that no major disaster is imminent. I truly appreciate your vote of confidence Cheryl. It's nice for you to say "out loud" too. I'm biased but I think your confidence is well placed :) I've designed complex systems before, and flashlights are relatively simple from a systems standpoint. The little details are tricky, but not really complicated. My "micro-manufacturing" model also helps insulate me from unforeseen risks that are typically associated with manufacturing at large scale. I will elaborate on that in a different post.

I would like to address your term "performance" specifically and divide it into two categories (with respect to warranty or guarantee).

1) empirical performance...things you can measure like runtime, output, charge time, etc. I try to represent the facts accurately and tell you when I'm estimating and what I base those estimates on. It should also be known that many of these components have a range of tolerances that when added up, will lead to a degree of variation in observed performance, and this is normal.

Customer Perspective: What kind of information do you need? How much? 
Business Perspective: When does getting too specific become a liability? 

2) performance over time...or durability and reliability. Keep in mind that I make the metal parts, but I buy pretty much everything else. Also keep in mind that some components (that I do not make) have a limited but unknown lifespan related to the number of cycles they can sustain: batteries, LED, switch and boot, etc. These items are expected to fail at some point. Think about car warranties: 30k miles, 3 years, unlimited powertrain. This means the core of the car is warranted forever, but the little stuff is time limited. 

Customer Perspective: What do you need to feel confident about resolving normal wear and tear issues? What is the time frame? 
Business Perspective: Is this built into the price up front, charged as parts and labor, or the ability to purchase extended coverage like at Best Buy? 

4 comments:

  1. wantsusa (K North Bay)March 1, 2011 at 7:08 PM

    I would have to say a one - three year warranty on defective parts/manufacturing would probably be the biggest thing you could do for people, yes others have longer warranties but really due to technological improvements and such (and if your price doesn't go super high...if over 500....then...)... you won't be able to keep parts for repair or it could cause undue expense. Keeping spare LED, Drivers, Switches (maybe lens) might be something to do and as you find out over time if things are going wrong, you could either keep a few more spares or less spares, especially if you end up selling parts. The replacement parts as a whole you could charge for I would say if they failed due to abuse though it should be more up to you to replace defective parts. As you don't state your flashlights could take huge abuse that could be a line your might state (aka don't abuse these flashlights!).

    An upfront fee put on for your protection would probably be a good idea, not a huge amount, but enough for say a switch or driver replacement and postage to send back or something like that so that it doesn't push the $$$ to your next offering.

    For offerings if you end up doing in the $500+ range I think adding enough to them for a limited lifetime warranty would make people have more confidence, though you must weigh the responsibility that it could bring you if you start manufacturing something completely different or more on from your shop...

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  2. I like the 5 year warranty. It says, "this is a quality piece of workmanship." My Sony ES (signature line) receiver had a 5 year warranty, which was the best in the industry. It finally crapped out after 10 years, so I sent it in to have it fixed at my cost last month. Sony said there was a delay in getting parts, so we are sending you a brand new 2010 model at no additional cost beyond the $100 service fee I initially paid. Thanks for the new $1100 unit! Guess what I did immediately after? I bought a Sony ES blu-ray player. They have earned my respect and my loyalty. My take is if you are marketing a high-end product, it better come with a high-end warranty.

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  3. wantsusa (K North Bay)March 1, 2011 at 9:22 PM

    That would be ok Jon for a multi-billion dollar company with high profit margins on their electronics...but I think JH here will have lots lower margins and lower volumes so it would raise prices quite a bit, and starting out I think the price has to be more on the reasonable side at least to get started. Plus a more "collectable" item tends to be looked at with more scrutiny while an electronic device...normally gets dumped within 5 years so only a small fraction of a percent of people will return/have fixed their device, while a custom collectable due to lower volume that could easily be 5-10% cutting out all profits.

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  4. I say sixty day unconditional, and then, deal with everything else on a case by case basis.
    -srfreddy

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