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.


Nan said...

Depending on how the order was placed, I'd lean to towards returning it, but, like you said, the kayak season is short in the north. On the other hand, having spent a significant chunk of change, no one should get stuck with a product he or she isn't happy with. Besides, the only way a company will improve quality control is if enough customers bitch about being unhappy. The way they get away with mucking things up is by having people not complain about it when they do. I don't know if I'd resort to shipping something back, but I'd be making loud noises about some sort of financial compensation from the manufacturer for the mistakes they made.

Ranger Bob said...

This is the first time I can recall reading Lenin quoted in an article on kayaks.

Me? After spending that kind of money, I'd raise holy hell. What were the payment terms? Have the kayaks already been paid for? Is there money that can be withheld?

Bryan said...

These boats aren't what were ordered, so the price by the retailer should be reduced to account for the mistakes. I'd suggest a 10% discount under regular retail. That's standard blem pricing.

And we I used to be a buyer for a chain of sporting good stores that's what I would have done.

The question of where the problem occurred doesn't have enough input for us to know. Where they ordered via the same store, the same salesperson? If so, that's probably were the problem occurred.

Good luck.

DaveO said...

I guess its unclear where in the chain of communication the disconnect occurred. For all we know the factory correctly produced the boats and they got shuffled to the wrong folks. Bottom line is the kayak shop needs to make it right with the customer and then chase down the culprits.....after the customer is satisfied.

Unknown said...

Well - the wrong boat showed up. Either: 1. take the boat 2. ask for a discount or 3. have them resubmit the order. Pretty simple.

DaveO said...

It sounds simple but the "I want my new boat" drive must not be underestimated.

Brad Shook said...

I would have the order re-submitted and ask for a demo in the meantime. A reputable shop should want to make some amends to keep you walking in the door.

I would also want to see the exact paperwork that was written up by the shop to determine if the correct order was placed.

Also, the manufacturer would probably be the one eating the shipping cost.

The replacement boat made should be given 1st priortity over other orders to expedite the wait.

Like Ranger Bob said--I'd raise Holy Hell. If these boats are, like P&H says, are truly handmade one at a time, then it shouldn't be difficult to make it blue instead of yellow and move a bulkhead, add some gravel protection in the name of Kevlar, etc.


Unknown said...

Orders get screwed up - NDK is famous for this. Wait until next year to get your boat. Or call the vendor yourself to verify your order. That's what I did and I got the boat I ordered.