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I Forge Iron

Don't let the tyranny of convenience define your business


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By now, we've all probably heard stories about unfortunate souls who followed navigation directions into a lake.  From a bystanders perspective, it seems so obvious that the driver should have exercised better judgement.

The other day my work computer had some kind of update and now many to most of my programs are offering to complete my sentences for me.  While I'm impressed at the progress of technology, I frequently find myself in situations where it's a lot more work to just type what I want to communicate.  While always an issue, I'm not talking about auto-correct for spelling and grammar here.  What I'm seeing is a comprehensive effort to add convenient features to technology, which function to force the user into uniform courses of action.   

I've heard marketing people refer to inconvenient aspects of a given thing as "pain points".  I've also heard engineers respond "that's not a bug, it's a feature".    Twenty years ago, I would have laughed at the suggestion that people would happily scan and bag their own groceries.  Ten years ago, I avoided it unless I was exclusively buying items with a bar code on them.  Now, I look back and realize that putting code stickers on produce was all it took to make self-checkout less frustrating than waiting for cashiers.

To that end, I wonder how many people are getting trained by convenience to deliver the uniformity which will allow computers to replace people?

If we don't express judgement, personality, and critical thinking in our output, what benefit do we offer beyond the systems we run?

More to the point, if our customers can't see any difference, why should they hire you?  

 

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I've lost count of the times that a cashier has told me "You can scan your groceries yourself over there" and I have replied "I'm trying to save your job!"   Part of the switch is to decrease human cashiers to the point that using them creates greater pain.  On the other hand about 1/3 of the time I bought groceries one year there was an error in the price between what was posted and what was scanned.  Having to pay the wrong amount and then go stand in line at customer service to get it refunded exceeded the pain of being able to have a HUMAN to dispute with at POS.

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It's pretty normal to have to wait in line for a cashier than go to an open self check. A trend I'm seeing is checkers who can't bag groceries let alone do it quickly. I had to tell one gal not to put the bread on the bottom of the bag. I finally had to TELL her to put it in a separate bag. 

Happily most places are using paper bags and the charge is going away. Nothing starts a fire in the stove like a paper sack. Since Covid nobody will put a purchase in your reusable bag. 

Frosty The Lucky.

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Checking out and bagging used to be a skilled job.  They've done their best to make it unskilled.  At least I don't get carded often anymore---they get confused when I hand them my passport card!  (And when they just ask for a birthdate I give a close but bogus one as your birthdate is real handy for scammers!)  We haven't seen a paper bag for years down here though.

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The grocery store we shop at does not have self check out (which I refuse to do at Wally world). They used to have a sacker (bag boy) at each register, but since Covid hit they can't find any to hire. The checker has to sack and scan so when we go through the line I always sack for them. At first they were reluctant to let me do that but I told them, I was a bag boy as a teenager and bet them, I could keep up with their scanning. What I didn't realize is scanning is a lot faster than hitting the register keys.:D Still though we have fun when shopping there and I get to have memories of those teen days and bag in paper to use starting the coal forge.

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I very rarely use self checkout. I feel like every time I do it I'm making a person obsolete. I like to chat with the cashiers too. It's not as fun talking to the self checkout kiosk. 

Pnut

 

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I tried to avoid self checkout at first. After a while there are no 10 items or less cashier stations so i weigh the wait and if its quicker and easier to get out I will use it. If I have a cart full I'll wait in line for a cashier. 

I was always frustrated that places had so many checkout lines but even at the busiest times the only have a handfull open with people in long lines waiting. 

I havn't seen a paper bag at a store since I was a teenager or so. We reuse the plastic ones for all kinds of stuff so I don't mind them. I kind of laughed at the fact there was a push to ban them but like Frosty mentioned, since covid hit no ones complaining. 

 

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When I'm asked to present a photo ID, I'll often hand over my student ID from when I was taking blacksmithing classes at the old Philadelphia College of Art:

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Getting back to the original question, there has always been a tension between convenience and quality that has translated directly into a choice between cheap and expensive. In a pre-industrial context, the amount of labor necessary to achieve sophisticated design and a high degree of finish combined with the scarcity of luxury materials to put high-status goods out of the reach of all but the most wealthy and powerful. With the growth of machine production, the labor cost went down at approximately the same time that the expansion of global trade increased access to finer materials. At present, advances in mass production and the growth of containerized shipping have made cheap merchandise (in both the "low price" and "poor quality" senses) ubiquitous. 

The opportunity that this creates for modern craftsmen lies in the backlash against mass-market uniformity. There is still an appeal to individually handcrafted items that is as marketable as it is indefinable. The challenge for us is to develop our smithing skills and create products at as high a level as possible, while developing our business skills to minimize the "pain points" for our customers' purchasing decisions (which would include pricing our work to create sufficient profit without pricing ourselves out of the market entirely).

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It goes against my personal philosophy so I,ve never used the self checkout.

As far as the inconvenience, its all relative. I have a service animal and she is a great icebreaker standing in line. Inevitably, the person behind me, or the cashier or the bag boy or, perhaps a wide eyed child of 3 or 4 start a conversation about "Tigger". Its kinda like biting into that cold grape on a hot summers day. And without a doubt, that and what JHCC said above, are the rewards of being a craftsman of any sort in this day and age.  

 

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I agree with JHCC, there’s something that still appeals to some people about being hand made,

in my repair business most of the people I deal with are from the idea of repair over replace, sometimes even when i tell them it’s not really cost effective I have customers that still want it repaired, 

I’m just a beginner hobby smith and everything I’ve made so far is just for personal use, I haven’t ever made anything for sale, but since I’ve set up my smithy besides my repair shop building I’ve had a lot of customers who see the blacksmith tools and show an interest in my projects out there asking questions and have even tried to buy some stuff I’ve been making or have tried to commission something to be made,

I’m not good enough to be selling my forge work but it’s surprising to me how much interest I’ve seen,

Im thinking  no matter what someone works with wood, metal, wool, clay, ect… that there’s a growing interest in consumers to have the real thing instead of a mass produced cheap knockoff. 

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Of course there are limits to what we can do as blacksmiths. For example, my neighbor from 2 doors down came over to me yesterday while I was working and asked if I could make a connecting rod. :huh: I told him that handmade isn't the way to go for those sorts of items.

The problem is that he associated forged/handmade with stronger and of superior quality. However, in this case even the cheapest most mass produced connecting rod conveniently delivered to his front door would be far superior to anything I can make.

Everything has it's place. While there is certainly a huge push for convenience most people simultaneously want some items to be cheap and other items they can show off to their friends because they're handmade/"one of a kind".  Modern blacksmiths usually produce the second group of items and what they are depends on the customer's priorities/interests.

I'll add that I am also a hobby smith. The few things I sell are usually to family friends and the like.

 

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Exactly, in a world where mass production means everybody can afford good quality products, from Wonder bread to a luxury car, people still crave at least a little individuality. Having coat hooks that don't look like every other coat hook on Earth is appealing. Something to display to the public like a: mail box stand, fence and gates ornately turned spindle work on the house, etc. 

Mass production means we can have what we need. Hand made means we can have something for ourselves and or bragging rights for outdoing the Joneses. 

The best part of the human need to express their individuality is craftsmen with the business sense and education can get paid for doing what is soul satisfyingly enjoyable. People will give you money for having fun. Hmmm?

Frosty The Lucky.

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1 hour ago, Frosty said:

good quality products, from Wonder bread

I wouldn’t necessarily put the first three words and the last three words in the same sentence, but “consistent quality” would certainly work. 

2 hours ago, TWISTEDWILLOW said:

there’s something that still appeals to some people about being hand made,

David Pye’s The Nature and Art of Workmanship discusses this very well. It's a bit cerebral, but there’s a lot of good stuff about the visual and tactile qualities of something that is handmade.

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We sometime fail to realize that most people are completely unaware that blacksmithing is still alive and well. I'm still pleasantly surprised at the reaction I get from handing someone a simple bottle opener. 

Computers and robots are bound to replace some of the workforce. Humans are still far more adaptable and capable at complex tasks. Humans are also infinitely creative. You can't get that out of a robot.

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2 hours ago, Frazer said:

most people simultaneously want some items to be cheap and other items they can show off to their friends because they're handmade/"one of a kind".  Modern blacksmiths usually produce the second group of items

I think there's a little more to it than that. In my experience, there are quite a few people who want a particular aesthetic or function (or both) that is not available in mass-market products. For these people, the undiminished experience of enjoying that aesthetic and/or making use of that particular function is its own reward, regardless of how much they spend or whether or not they ever get to "show off to their friends". For example, I recently had an order for a set of hooks for some friends' backyard for which I had a great deal of design freedom, so long as they were sized to hold both a set of bird feeders and a string of LED lights. The result was both practical and attractive. Even though this was for a private area of their home and thus isn't on public display, they get a great deal of satisfaction both from no longer having a jury-rigged solution and from the hooks complementing and elevating the aesthetics of their outdoor space.

47 minutes ago, ThomasPowers said:

I was able to finish a career in CIS after getting my degree...

On a side note, one of those friends is a CIS professor.

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20 hours ago, Irondragon ForgeClay Works said:

self check out (which I refuse to do at Wally world).

Well today, I had to pick up a prescription at the pharmacy there. So while waiting for it to be filled, I decided to pick up three things we needed that our grocery store doesn't carry. The brand of toilet paper my wife likes, paper towels I like and zip lock pint bags. Went to look at the check out lines and they had only four open and every one had a line with baskets piled to the top.

Reluctantly, I went to an empty self check out station. While there I acted lost and asked the attendant for help. She came over and we chatted while she checked me out :D more than one way to skin a cat I say.

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Hand forged items can also have a plus from the "This used to be a XYZ!" factor.  (Only way I can see the popularity of RR spike knives.)  I figure it plays a lot in selling my rasptlesnakes (Saw an original crossing the road on the way home last night; had a right long set of rattles too!) This can also play into the "recycled/upcycled" meme.

So things smithed items can have:

quality of design

quality of execution

originality of design

uniqueness of design--can help Not to have a lot of the same thing on the sales table!

"handmade"

this used to be that!

recycled/upcycled

"humour"

"stoutness"---looks like it will last for generations vs planned obsolescence 

"history"  I've sold bottle openers made from locally sourced buggy tyre

   Others?

 

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I understand the importance of manufacturing and it’s ability to provide everyone affordable products that add a luxury to our lives,

Trust me I really enjoy the air conditioning in my house after 12 hours every day in my shop in a 100 degree weather but I wouldn’t ever try to manufacture my own ac unit lol

    my point is that there are some every day things that can be hand made that has a growing interest from consumers that don’t want the mass produced stuff. 

    just yesterday I had a guy bring some machines to the shop for repair and he saw the smithy beside the shop and he wanted to look at it so I took him over there and he asked lots of questions and picked up an looked at stuff and then he caught sight of a campfire roaster I started on the other day and he begged me to sell it to him and I  kept telling him no that it was only half done and I wouldn’t sell anything half done… 

so he pestered me some more saying to call him as soon as it’s ready because he wants it bad!      I told him man you can go down to Walmart and buy a hotdog roaster in the camping section for cheaper than I’d sell this one if you really need one that bad. But he insisted he did not want the Walmart one he wanted this one! 

it really caught me off guard, ive had several others come through that were almost as persistent or trying to commission work,  but like I said before I’m just a beginner hobby smith and haven’t ever made anything to sale to people, I just make stuff for me to use and to learn

it just made me wonder if people are getting tired of cheap mass production things and are now looking for hand made custom things to replace them? 

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Thomas,

I think your ideas could be pushed in another direction.  For example, any small business in 2021 would greatly benefit from being able to sell online.  

There are lots of technology companies that make it relatively convenient to get set up with a website, all the sales transaction stuff, taxes, shipping etc. 

However, the vast majority of these website-making companies completely fail to address warranty, returns, back orders, and custom service requests.  As a result, most websites force the client through some iteration of an annoying registration, or email scenario where they have no assurance that their concerns will be answered.

Many small websites won't calculate the tax or shipping costs until some tedious order form is completed.  

Those that do, typically have an outrageously high "shipping and handling" fee.

The ubiquitous technology makes it very convenient to ignore the things that make a person to person sale different.

Beyond all of that, many to most of the "website in a box" software systems suggest aesthetic schemes that are conveniently uniform.  Everybody ends up with the same look.  

Unique, memorable, meaningful, and searchable keywords are an incredibly important part of getting found online.  Many of the most popular terms for blacksmithing will simply bury a business.

My point, is that a customer relies on what they find online to determine how viable a given business is.  A site built to take warranties as seriously as new orders, puts them at a higher level of service and trust.  Similarly, sites which present the complete cost of tax, shipping, handling, etc. on the items before demanding client information, are communicating their respect for the client's time.  

 

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On 8/26/2021 at 5:36 PM, TWISTEDWILLOW said:

it really caught me off guard, ive had several others come through that were almost as persistent or trying to commission work,  but like I said before I’m just a beginner hobby smith and haven’t ever made anything to sale to people, I just make stuff for me to use and to learn. 

Don't "sell yourself short" as the saying goes.  You might just be a better smith than you realize.

If a potential buyer is happy with the appearance, quality, functionality, etc. of whatever you might have made, then the buyer is the one you need to please.  Go ahead and take the leap and sell some of your stuff.  You will feel gratified that you have forged something that another would like to possess and the buyer goes away happy.  I tell folks that if they are unhappy with their purchase of something I have made, to bring it back and I will do my best to make it right.

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On 8/31/2021 at 10:58 AM, arkie said:
On 8/26/2021 at 6:36 PM, TWISTEDWILLOW said:

it really caught me off guard, ive had several others come through that were almost as persistent or trying to commission work,  but like I said before I’m just a beginner hobby smith and haven’t ever made anything to sale to people, I just make stuff for me to use and to learn

Don't "sell yourself short" as the saying goes.  You might just be a better smith than you realize.

If a potential buyer is happy with the appearance, quality, functionality, etc. of whatever you might have made, then the buyer is the one you need to please.  Go ahead and take the leap and sell some of your stuff.  You will feel gratified that you have forged something that another would like to possess and the buyer goes away happy.  I tell folks that if they are unhappy with their purchase of something I have made, to bring it back and I will do my best to make it right.

arkie is quite right, here. I would add that your first sale is in some ways as important as your first S-hook, as it gives you both a glimpse of what you can accomplish and where you can improve. (Also, it's nice to have someone helping underwrite your hobby.)

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