Friday, August 15, 2008
Custom kayak screwups
In the last couple of weeks I've had three friends receive custom order kayaks from across the pond. Every one of them was built incorrectly. One guy from northern Minnesota ordered knee tubes and keel strips on his boat. He paid extra for them but they were absent when the boat showed up. Another buddy ordered special bulkhead placement, no foot pegs, and a custom color scheme. The boat arrived the wrong color with standard foot pegs and the normal bulkhead placement. Finally, RangerMark and the GreenThumbChef ordered a new carbon fiber/kevlar layup double to replace the venerable yet weighty 'Lead Banana', a vintage Aleut II. The constant whining of their fellow fall trip compadres' and an incident where the Lead Banana, broke free and sheared the side mirror off the car convinced them to pull the trigger on a new, lighter boat. Plus we just ain't getting any younger. The boat was ordered with special bulkhead placement so we can stuff more beer in it and, you guessed it, it arrived with stock bulkhead placement.
I guess the first couple of questions are how does this happen and how frequently does it happen? The company that I trudge to work at 5 days (less if I can possibly swing it) a week is a custom job shop. Every job is different the first time we run it. The challenge is to run it the same way as we ran it the first time (repeatability) when the reorders occur. In a shop where stock products are made I would guess the challenge would be to deal correctly with variations on the stock product. Part of the problem might be the chain of communication. The customer tells the local paddle shop, which tells the distributor, who informs the factory, where the information is passed on to the guys on the shop floor. At some point there seems to be a disconnect.
Another question, first asked by V.I.Lenin in 1902, is 'what is to be done'? The kayak manufacturers need to figure out how to listen to and satisfy their customers correctly and the customers need to decide what they want to do when their long awaited, in most cases very long awaited, kayaks show up wrong. Sending the boat back to Great Britain is impractical and would mean no boat until next year. All three of the folks mentioned above plan on accepting the boats and dealing with the issues. Colors can't be changed but bulkheads can be moved. The issues are who pays for what should have been done correctly in the first place and how will the manufacturers ever improve if no one holds their feet to the fire on screwups? I guess I would be extremely reluctant to plunk down between $3,200 and $5,500, wait for months, and then accept the custom boat I ordered when it showed up wrong. So blog readers, what do you think? Where is the disconnect and what should a person do when confronted with this issue? The proposed solutions for the three issues above, not yet executed, are 1) Glass in the keel strips and knee tubes yourself and ask for a credit, 2) The color doesn't look too bad so just remove the pegs and foam the front bulkhead, 3) Have the bulkhead moved by professionals and have the local shop/distributor/manufacturer eat the cost. I've never had this happen to me but I'm thinking I might refuse delivery of the boat until its made right. That may mean not paddling it for a considerable period of time, but I think the cost and initial wait to receive my boat might would make me awfully insistent about it being right when it arrived. How about it, what would you do? What have the shops, distributors, and manufacturers done in similar situations? It would be good to know that and also great to hear other peoples stories.