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Sunday, December 1, 2013

An Open Letter to Cottage Gear Makers


My name is Owen Atkin, you may know me as Animal from Coastal Bend Action Sports. If not it doesn’t matter. Though this letter will often refer to me and my decision making, this letter as a whole is not about me. This letter is about how to get my patronage, and through that my money. Listening to me won’t necessarily guarantee getting into my wallet, since there is still competition between makers to consider, but its a start and makes you a contender for my cash.

As a writer for a blog that focuses on gear that supports the use of blasters, rather than blasters themselves, I spend a chunk of time looking at both repurposing items from other sports and at the cottage industry that is making custom Nerf tactical gear. And of course I have to decide what to buy and not buy and who to buy it from. Some items are exclusive and others not.

When I purchase airsoft tactical gear from online airsoft mega-stores such as Airsoft GI and Evike, I generally accept a couple risks, such as the fact that my gear might not fit into it, and that is a risk I’m willing to take as a reviewer. I take the risk to find out what works, what doesn’t, and what’s garbage. They have wide selections, in dizzying arrays of colors, and in some cases sizes, all neatly categorized for browsing and indexed (to varying degrees of functionality) for searching. While it may not work for us as a community I can find the thing I was looking for.

Accompanying these of course are ads on the front pages all meant to draw customers to one item set or another, or advertise a special. These are signs that the website has a pulse, a sign that should i toss a few items in my basket and pony up my credit card information or PayPal (which is a proxy for ponying up financials), that I will receive goods in return.

I consider these two things to be absolute minimums for me to consider doing business with a website. Ease of finding the thing I’m looking for, and signs of currency. Nobody tries to go into a store when the lights are out and they haven’t been on in months. If there are signs of life I might chance looking about picking out a few items, and checking out with them, or I may simply ask questions about them to make decisions later. Having someone home to answer questions in a reasonably prompt fashion (yes I know you’re busy, give it a week), gives a store a leg up on the competition.

Facebook, with exception of appropriate apps, is not a store, nor is it a blog. Social media is for quick information and generation of interest in your products. Pictures meant to showcase a product in development, or to generate interest in a product now in stock, belong on your Facebook page. Quick notes or questions about products, setbacks, development, all good stuff but useless if not followed up on with a place to go where the customer can find out more! Link customers to your blog or store.

Blogs are not stores, they are places to share well thought out information about projects and products. Nor are they social media, something I have been a couple times guilty of forgetting. More information and pictures, explaining a bit about the product and what it does in particular, and how one might use it. Respond to comments, because the comment doesn’t just go to the person who wrote it, it goes to everyone that reads comments after them. Particularly make sure to link to the place from which your product can be purchased, whether thats a form that generates an email to you, the maker, an on site store front, or another store such as an Ecwid, Etsy or Ebay account.

Stores make it easy to find and buy the product. It should be easy to find the product you want, read a little about it to make sure it’s the right one, select options if any, and how much it costs. From there it should be easy to pull the trigger on an order. In short, your store is for people who already know what they want. If the order doesn’t go through the customer may want to talk to you about it, check your emails! Respond to them. And for heavens sake if it’s going to take more than a few weeks to get someone their stuff, communicate and ask if they are willing to wait that long.

To summarize the uses of social media, your blog/website, and your store are respectively: Show us the precious, Tell us about the precious, Give us the precious!


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