You can’t make all customers happy all of the time

February 21, 2017
By: Nick Martin

Custom fabricating shops see all kinds of jobs, large and small. Flexibility is important. But when a small job results in multiple changes that require a revised quote and the customer isn’t happy, it might be better to let the job go. Yes, you need to please customers, but you also need to make money.

Custom logo sign made for Iliffe Truck Company.

Making customers happy is a priority for a successful business. This doesn’t mean you are going to achieve it every single day, but it is on the agenda. Not every customer knows what they want. They may think they do most of the time, but having the ability to put “custom” in front of your product can also be a thorn in the side.

I love doing custom work from a sketch or an idea. Even supplying a print, the customer often wants to make several changes that aren’t documented. It is always fun putting a spin on different products and watching them come to life. Seeing and touching the end product is what keeps you craving the next job.

Often small jobs need to be done, and putting the “custom” tag on them can be costly. We had one come our way for a customer’s customer. Our customer was nearing the end of a large job he was working on, and his customer wanted to add some custom insignia metalwork. This needed to be designed and then cut on our laser to make two separate signs.

We agreed to take on the task after we were given some basic dimensions and a rough sketch. A ballpark price was given to our customer that he could pass on to his client. With the original specs and design, the number would have been in line with our estimated time and cost. His client then became ours, because he didn’t have time to be the middleman on this small project.

We were to cut the client’s last name and address number out as individual letters and numbers that eventually would be welded to two separate plates. A ½-in. stock border would be added. The client had confidence in his font choice, but had second thoughts after we sent the first draft. He wanted something a little more embossed, and the numbers in the original font were not in a straight line. We were only doing as we were told, but we didn’t think it looked that great either.

The client then wanted the numbers and letters to be cut out of 3/8-in. plate to give it a more raised look. The job was getting pretty beefy for what it was, and we told our original customer that the price was going to go up. He agreed that it would increase, and we continued with the project.

After several emails and failed phone call attempts, we were sent another font to use for the address numbers. We made the changes and sent out another draft for approval. The client liked it and told us to proceed. The word “proceed” made us a bit hesitant, since we knew the cost had changed since the beginning. So, we decided to run it by our original customer working on the project.

I know what you are thinking. They should have gotten a PO number or some money up front, but sometimes you have to do the legwork before you can proceed on a small job like this. Our original customer is a very good one, and he also is a friend, so we didn’t mind doing the design work.

We presented our new number, and I had a funny feeling about whether or not this small project would continue. It wasn’t long before we were graced with a nice email with capital letters stating “Unfortunately we will NOT be proceeding with the name and address signs. The cost is extremely too high.”

To be honest, I kind of chuckled a little. I don’t want to bad-mouth our “customer,” but some people have no idea what it takes to make something custom. I quickly sent a reply email stating that our time into this job so far exceeded the price we quoted. Time is valuable in any shop or business, and so is material. I politely thanked him for the opportunity, but I don’t think he appreciated my quick response.

Side view of a custom cart made for the tobacco industry.

Some people drive around in Ferraris and complain about paying $2 for a soda. I don’t get it. We got a phone call after our email from our original customer, who said his client was not happy. It was not our intention to offend at all. He stated that our insignia customer would never do business with us. Maybe I should have let the original rejection email simmer for a little while before replying, but I didn’t want to spend any more time thinking or acting on this job. It was over.

The job sounded easy until we had to cut out the middleman and had to deal directly with the unsure customer. With my background in graphic arts, I find small jobs like this are fun and a departure from everyday squares and circles. I can’t take too much credit for working on it, because I used this job as a learning experience for my co-worker Doug Teets. I did most of the communicating while I gave Doug some pointers on how to lay this out in AutoDesk® Inventor©.

Maybe we would have been better off if I had let Doug do the communicating. He didn’t know what to think about the whole situation. After a couple of days, he looked at me and said those people were trying to pay thrift shop prices on Fifth Avenue. I laughed and agreed. You can’t win ‘em all.

All images courtesy of Barnes MetalCrafters.


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Nick Martin

Nick Martin


Barnes MetalCrafters Inc.
113 Walnut St. West
Wilson NC, 27893
Phone: 252-291-0925