For those who don’t follow on Facebook, I have been without internet in my house for 2.5 months and it will be another 20 days. When I finally do get it back I will have several New posts for you including what I got for my birthday (which is today) this year!
For now though I wanted to talk about expectations in ultralight backpacking, specifically of the cottage gear companies that supply so much of what we tend to carry. There have been more people than ever ordering from these companies and many of them are first time small company purchasers or new ultralighters and even a few traditional backpackers just trying to lighten some weight. This is great news for these gear makers, but it can also cause some issues. These issues have come to light as of late for a few people and it has caused some unhappy customers. I’ve heard a few of the complaints and sadly, some of them have happened from a lack of understanding in how cottage companies work. Some have been genuine issues as well of course and there are growing pains that do occur. Any time a company has more work than their workers can handle, it can mean things fall through the cracks. It is unfortunate, but a reality of business and is something that customers need to have some grace for. Not that we should settle for bad service, but maybe just have a softer heart and a little understanding that we are working with people, not robots.
The thing that has bothered me the most, is unrealistic expectations from a small business. As someone who works for a family member’s small business I am aware of the issues from the business side of things and as a customer of many of my local businesses and online gear shops, I am also familiar with what it is like to have these issues as a customer. The thing to remember is, these are people at the other end of the phone, keyboard or what have you. These are people with a passion and desire to make a great product. As a customer, it is important to remember that and in a world where faceless corporate conglomerates have taken over much of the market, many people do not understand or recognize what it is to be a small business anymore. People have forgotten that a tent that is a bit late for a business owner is a 12 hour work day trying to fill an order that he just ran out of time to make instead of going to the movies with their spouse or seeing their kid’s ball game on a Saturday. There is a real person there and they have a life outside of your order. These are not machines that pump out hundreds of products a day. You need to treat them as such.
So I have some guidelines I’ve adopted when working with these small companies that helps my transaction go smoothly and my expectations as realistic as possible. It also helps the company to fully understand what I expect.
1. Order Early – I try to add at least a month, sometimes more, than the wait time listed on their website. These wait times are subject to change and are dependent on how many orders they have in. They can (and probably do) get 15 or 20 more orders than they expect in any given day. This can change wait times drastically, so I always try to order early and never order something you can’t live without so that it will get there a week or two before your hike. Always make sure you give it at least a month or more.
2. Expect a Longer Wait in Spring – Folks this is Thru Hiker season and everyone is trying to get their gear and get on trail. There are going to be long wait times and hundreds of emails and requests. You are not their only customer or even the only one who may need a rush on something at this time of year, so have some grace and don’t put your order in too late. This ties into the first point as well as the next point which is…
3. For a Major Hike During a Major Hiking Season, Always Order 6 Months in Advance – I was wanting my tarp last year for a September hike. Not a giant season like April or May is, but pretty big around here so I made certain my order was in April and I was prepared for a long wait. It took a while, but I got my tarp and despite the wait, I wasn’t unhappy because I knew to expect it.
4. Stay In Contact – If you are looking for something vital to your hike, or something you asked to be rushed, don’t be afraid to check in after you place the request and if you don’t get confirmation of shipment the day you requested, email them back. These are busy people. Some of them even have regular 9 to 5 jobs on top of what you’ve asked for and things get lost or forgotten. An email once or twice in the middle of the process (not 15) only takes 5 minutes and can be a good way to make sure your expectations are fully communicated and not being misunderstood. This can give a company the chance to fix something before it becomes an actual problem.
5. Finally, Have Some Grace – Again, these are people, not robots. Even if they do mess it up and your plans are not what you hoped, remember they didn’t do it to you on purpose or to make you upset. Things happen and no one is perfect.
I’ve found if I keep these 5 things in mind when placing orders with a cottage gear maker, I have better success, better expectations, and less frustration during my gear buying process!