Discussion in 'Hangar Flying' started by cluttonfred, Dec 8, 2017.
I have several years of experience writing military Technical Orders (manuals) for my company's aircraft products. Even with an established style guide and years of experience working on the aircraft that I'm writing about, its tough. It never ceases to amaze how someone can find the slightest gap in the instructions and get it so wrong. One of my favorite quotes when talking to our customer was "well, the T.O didnt say you couldn't do that...". Really?
And Topaz, your words in post 337 make sense, but I cant help but think you are channeling one of the Contracting Officers I've dealt with in the past. The subject was our Field Service team out on the other side of the world somewhere, and the fact that the Government wanted 24 hour coverage for our jets, but didnt want to pay for 3 shifts to do it. the realities of supporting an around the clock flying operation means there is going to be some downtime and people are going to be sitting around, reading the paper or playing solitare on the computer. Anyway, this PCO suggested that if we only used the people for the times when we needed them, we could cut the headcount down. Sounds good on paper, but the real expense is setting up the operation in the first place, and additional headcount is a minor consideration. Its a "marginal utility" kind of thing. And of course in this case, the Government also could not understand the fact that people generally dont close out their life in the States, only to work some "use only when required" hourly job on the ass end of nowhere. Anyway, Like you said earlier in this thread, people dont rent drill bits.
Valid points. I don't know the answer. To the best of my knowledge, nobody has tried it, so we just don't know if it's a valid model or not. I do know that the way forward in the homebuilt industry is going to involve some new ideas; some new ways of doing business. This might be one, or it might not.
I don't agree on this one. Even granting that I'd be willing to pick up a build-support call when "out and about" (why am I not in the office during customer support hours??), with a modern smartphone I can see every recent interaction with that customer right at my fingertips, including e-mail, text, and phone calls. And can set an expiration date on a support contract in the "Anniversary" field in their contact card, for example. And with Square or PayPal (or others) take a credit card number to open up a new support contract right then and there, be it sitting in a restaurant or standing in a field somewhere.
All of that's without resorting to any kind of dedicated CRM (Customer Resource Management) app or software, which can be a lot more sophisticated than that.
There's no excuse anymore for not being able to keep track of your customers. It's just too darned easy.
That's a pretty traditional model, and hopefully it works out for you. I still don't care for the airplane-focus of it, because every other competitor is doing basically the same thing. I agree that making a basic airframe that's customizable (aesthetically) into several different "models" is the saving grace of a warbird replicas company, though.
Whoa, whoa hold on now... support hours? I thought the world now ran 24/7! What if i need help routing cables at 4am?
Good points though. I dont personally do customer facing work much, so my methods of dealing with people is usually ignoring the kid who finds out on Favebook that I'm the idiot who designed the thing that broke and thinks sending me a message is an in at new parts.
When my dad (who does the customer facing work on engine stuff) takes calls or deals with email, he makes it work and i don't know how for how much the basics of a smart phone can confound him. He does seem to work whenever and however he needs to tho, which can involve some of those 4am emails because of the time zones.
As for choosing to offer one level of kit buy in, it is traditional. But it doesn't strike me as wrong, or that there aren't ways to innovate around the distribution and presentation of a proposed product. As I see it, it should be one of the controls in the experiment. Once one is established you can practice on making build clubs or selling cnc code or so on.
One can go to first principals on this and try to suss out the secrets of the heart of man in a marketing masterstroke, but it takes more insight than perhaps a new entrant can reliably gather unless the entire operation and product is totally formless. For everyone else who says "how do i get people to buy this thing i invented?" The market has known formulas for someone who wants a homebuilt without too much cost or hassle, that is to pay money to get materials and documentation in the form of a standard kit. Delivering on the most common expectation of the customer may not be optimal but as a blind starting point its a good target.
As someone who has written a few parachute packing manuals .... after a while, it felt like I was more trying to protect the company from lawsuits. I knew that many parachute riggers could not read English and most of rest were too lazy or too busy to read all the text, so I made my manuals picture books with enough text to cover the company legally.
One time I got into a "debate" with my editor about whether or not to include one more photo. He cancelled the photo. A year later he called to apologize. The Canadian Army team was having problems with slow pilot chute launches. They were skipping the text and skipped the step in the deleted photo.
Pictures are important. Definitely publish parts of the manual on-line, but ask customers to pay more if they want more detailed drawings or CNC files. May I suggest offering different levels of support depending upon how much the customer is willing to pay. At one end of the scale are professional builders who then sell the completed airplane with only a pilot's operating manual.
At the other end of the scale they buy complete plans, CNC files and search elsewhere for materials.
What people " say" they want is often different from what they need or are willing to pay for, so make it easy for them to pay for more detailed plans of more hours of tech support - with a credit card - over the phone.
After five years experience -with this model - you should be able to figure out which packages sell the best, which packages produce the most completed projects and which packages are better dropped.
“Save some words, use a picture.”
4am support calls are routed to my wife. Whom you just woke out of a sound sleep. Two hours before she has to get up for work. Whom among your next-of-kin should be notified?
You have to put boundaries on your business life. It can't become all your life, or pretty soon you won't have any left. Yes, you'll disappoint some customer out there. Better than losing your marriage or your health.
Easier said than done.
As someone who very nearly died from NOT setting boundaries, believe me, it's not only necessary, but not as scary or difficult as it seems. Yes, there will be people with a vested interest in you not setting boundaries, who will object and even threaten. You have to do it. Have. To.
Its the reason I quit my side business of building VW engines and selling VW cars only back in the 1970's. People calling at all hours of the night. It was hard to get 5 hrs of sleep and it was growing fast requiring to much of my time. Almost zero time with my family and 3 children. Family is more important, not the money.
I made electricity for a living. People seemed to want it, without interruption, 24/7/365. The job also was 24/7/365, plus more once every four years.
To discourage people pirating plans, you could publish most of the plans on-line, but omit drawings for a few critical components: spars, UC mounts, control bell cranks. If a customer buys electronic plans, he/she gets a one-time down-load of spar drawings, spar CNC files and quick e-mails on any updates or Service Bulletons.
No such thing as a one time download. If it's electronic and intended to be viewed on an uncontrolled device it can be hacked.
Maybe sell the plans cheap for collectors and old school DIY types and for the modern builder needing a hand holding experience sell a license with a serial number that gets the builder support from the company?
IMHO, IF you can make your living off of selling parts and support - in kits or individually - selling the plans and builders guide very inexpensively is the best, first, approach. If most people will buy parts (if only the more-complex ones) when building from your plans, then the goal is to get plans into as many hands as possible. In that sense, piracy is no longer a negative. It's marketing your parts/support business! Don't give them away for free, since people who buy plans to examine or collect won't be buying your parts or support, but those people are low-cost, too - they don't take up anything but download bandwidth. You don't have to charge very much to make a reasonable margin on those sales.
If you have a design that's really super-simple to build from the plans alone, or plans are all you sell, then protecting from piracy becomes really important. But there's a simple way around that, too: Provide a PDF copy of the sales contract, or support-contract page, watermark it with the serial number of the plans set (this can be done in Acrobat), and require all support questions be in writing, accompanied by a copy of that PDF page. If the serial number watermarked on the page doesn't match, no support. Have an appeals or discussion process to reconcile changed e-mail addresses, etc. There's no way to prevent digital files from being copied that's worth a dang. If it can be displayed on a screen, it can be copied. But it's pretty easy to tag digital files with identifying marks that are extremely hard to remove. You can even make them invisible in some file formats, yet still readable to you.
As for setting boundaries, I'm sorry, but anyone can say, "My job is different, I have to be available 24/7/365." But once you've spent three weeks in ICU and another eight weeks in hospital and home care, recovering from that point of view, it tends to change your outlook rather dramatically. If your customers "demand" 24/7/365 out of you personally, then all I can say is that you've poorly managed your relationship with them. In a big company, there's generally someone else who can take over the responsibility when you're on down-time, or you're working in a sweat-shop that isn't building a minimum-necessary support staff. In a small business, you have responsibility to yourself and to your loved-ones to set your customer's expectations to something that doesn't destroy your life. Or kill you. A plumber is expected to be "on call" 24/7/365, but sure as heck charges a lot more for after-hours calls, to ensure that the call is really an "emergency". There's no "emergency" in kitplane build-support.
You can always sell non-dimensioned plans to collectors; Vans sells preview plans for $50. A full set will be paper with dimensions. Is there a way to sell non- dimensioned digital plans and with access have a website with the dimensions, but you must have the non-d ones to cover lay the info? Offer it so it can be read but pixel out if copied?
Anything displayed on a screen can be copied with a screen-grab. There's no way to interfere with that.
So, to go this route, it would seem best to have a design with at least some parts that add a LOT of value from being centrally produced. Parts that would be hard to make as one-offs (e.g. takes more time to make the mold/jig than to build the part), parts that can be easily made in a production setting, parts that require high precision. Ideas:
1) A fuselage cage or frame that serves as the jig/reference point for other major elements of the design.
2) Tab-in-slot composite panels (not necessarily flat, could be flat or 2d/3d curves). Sure, a builder could make them, but clearly there are lots of efficiencies to be gained by having standardized parts that have been proven to fit together.
Make the plans very affordable, and sell parts that have a high margin but also provide a clear bargain to the builder. Maybe keep the operation lean by making it easy for builders to get everything else as bundles from Acct Spruce and other suppliers.
Yeah, you and I are on the same page about this.
Welded and/or precision machined parts like landing gear. The Bede single seat model using honeycomb sandwich panels bonded in factory jigs.
High value added parts. A solid & proven business model.
If, for example, a machined part can be made by a builder with plans you may want to protect your intellectual property with copyright or other means. Best to discuss this with a legal expert first. Will litigation costs in money & reputation make it better to accept competition for parts of your design? There are ways to partially control that and help with liability issues. ( if a third party vendor makes defective parts without permission or licensing ) this is beyond my expertise.
Some things are worth protection. Others are not. And others are not desirable to protect. There are a lot of airplanes in the world that use design aspects of older designs. .... arguably all airplanes. ( unless you have a Wright Flyer ) The money is in value provided. I may enjoy making custom washers for a ( fill in the blank ) but most will be happy to buy a couple. Time is money & I don't have all day.
VB - have you talked to Roger or Sebastien at Zenith about working on their assembly manuals? Might be worth a call?
Separate names with a comma.