I started this blog for several reasons but the biggest reason was to shine a spotlight on smaller companies, makers, and entrepreneurs who really deserve some attention. If I have a choice, I will almost always choose to shop with a smaller business than a larger one. I have come to appreciate and value what small businesses offer over larger ones and will generally seek them out. However, that takes time and effort that, while it is worth while in my opinion, many people just don’t have. So it has become my mission on this blog to expose as many people as possible to smaller businesses that are really innovating.
It can almost seem counter-intuitive to choose the little guy who is sewing nylon gear in the garage that he converted to a workshop instead of going with the larger established business but there are 3 key factors that keep me coming back to small makers: communication, willingness to customize, and attention to detail. Those three factors are important enough to me, that I will often pay a little extra for them.
There is inherent value in being able to talk to the people who are making the product that you purchasing. If you call a large company, you are likely to talk to a receptionist or even a call center. If you call a smaller company, you can probably talk to the guy who owns it. That makes a big difference to me. If I call about a chest rig, I want to be able to discuss the reason that it is designed the way it is and how it is made. When you want that kind of information, a receptionist just won’t do.
You don’t even have to pick up the phone to see the difference. Many companies have forums and Facebook pages that allow you to interact directly with the people who run the company. These can be invaluable ways for companies to build community around their product but larger companies just don’t have the time to do it and if they do, they usually have a designated person doing it which may or may not be as knowledgeable as you would like.
Willingness to Customize
Smaller companies are often willing to customize something that they make to suit you. It might not even cost you any extra. When you are dealing directly with the person that will be making your gear it isn’t as big of a deal to do a one off. Larger companies have to make products in large production runs in order to maximize profits. Smaller companies can be more nimble since products are often made one at a time or even made to order.
Beez Combat Systems is able to offer far more options and customizations that your typical large gear sewer. They make it easy to choose 500D or 1000D nylon, x or h-harnesses, and a variety of hard to find camo patterns like SURPAT. The same goes for a company like UW Gear who is able to offer many variations on their products like the Minuteman MKII Chest Rig. Do you prefer 3 mag pouches to 4? No problem. Do you want 2 columns of PALS webbing on each instead of 3? No problem. Small companies are able to be more responsive to your specific needs.
Attention to Detail
The owner/operator of a company has a lot more skin in the game than an employee, and with that increased interest, usually comes increased attention to detail. The guy who sews gear in his garage knows that if he screws up, he will be the one answering the phone or email to deal with the problem. He also has a keen interest in seeing his business succeed.
Follow the Money
I said earlier, that I am often willing to pay extra for gear from a smaller maker and that is true. However, I don’t like to spend any more than I have to for the gear that I want. I fully understand that cost is often one of the deciding factors. Thankfully, if you do some comparison shopping, you will often find that buying from small makers doesn’t have to cost more. In fact, in some cases, it costs less.
Larger gear makers find their profit in large production runs. They buy materials in bulk and make as many products as they can to maximize their margins. Smaller makers make money by having lower overhead (no paid employees, less materials on hand, no large warehouse lease, etc.). Just because the little guy can’t deal in volume doesn’t mean that you will pay more for his product.
I have called UW Gear and talked for nearly 2 hours before about their philosophies of gear making. They can tell you exactly why their gear is unique, how they use it, and why they designed each component the way that they did. That kind of information and customer service is worth something but it doesn’t cost you any extra.
Next time you need a piece of gear, be it a weapon accessory, nylon gear, a flashlight, or just about anything else, check out the little guys first. They have a lot to offer. It is probably more important than ever given the economic climate and policies of this nation to support small business and help preserve the infrastructure that they represent.