Greetings fellow wargamers! Caleb with White Metal Games here!
Recently I started a hard nosed survey (dare I say investigation) of the miniature painting and assembly market. Namely I wanted to know who my competition was, what they were charging, what they were doing right, where they could make improvements, and what I could learn from them. Based on my findings I made some improvements to my site, offered a few new deals, and became a more competitive service. In fact, we're still evaluating our pricing structure to bring it more in line with how other services price projects.
When you want to find someone that will paint and assemble your army for you, just walk into any FLGS with a wad of cash and ask. You'll find someone. Everyone needs money, after all.
But will that person be able to deliver the goods in a timely fashion for your budget? Are they are a one trick pony, or can they take direction? For example, maybe your buddy 'Joe' has an awesome Necron army. You love it . . . you love it so much you offer to let him paint your Crimson Fist army.
But CAN he paint marines, that's the question. Every army is different. Is 'Joe' a round enough painter to give you what you want, in your timeframe on your budget and if he can't does he know when to walk away and tell you 'sorry, but no thanks.' This is what separates the pros from the talent. Maybe Joe is a hitter, but that doesn't make him an MVP. And I want to be an MVP.
Research is great, but there is nothing like throwing yourself in the line of fire and trying something from a new perspective. What would it feel like to be a buyer rather than a seller for once?
So after all my research was done (or done enough) I picked a few services I thought were not only good, but fairly priced and comparable to what I was offering, and decided to commission a model or two.
To keep things nice and fair, we are going to call the Studios A, B, C, D, and E.
Here are the models I sent to each studio:
Studio A: Based in the Mid-West. A refurbishment project. 2000 points of Space Marines I picked up from another studio on the cheap. The project was to refurbish the army and lavish it with details.
Studio B: Based in England. This studio had really cheap rates, so I commissioned a squad of Orks. Studio was to buy the box, assemble to order, and paint to avoid the international tariffs.
Studio C: Based in the Mid-West. A small squad of Necrons, with lavish OSL. Assembled at WMG and sent to the painter.
Studio D: A Canadian based painting service. A small collection of models, including some daemon princes, a landraider, some zombies, some odds and ends, etc. Assembled at WMG and sent to the painter.
Studio E: Based in England. This studio impressed me with their work, so I sent them a giant daemon prince to paint up.
Remember that the goal of this project was to get first hand experience with commissioning models from other services, to gain a 'client perspective' on orders. Another goal of this project was to experiment with outsourcing projects, weighing the pros and cons of using international painters, whilst connecting the right model to the right painter/painting service to get the best possible results. After all, not every painter can be expected to paint every model equally well. For example, I love painting Tyranids, but maybe Studio XYZ doesn't and it shows in their work. To each their own.
In this article, we'll discuss what I learned from Studio A. Those models were the first to go out and the first to come back.
To their credit, the artist in this case was very willing to work with me on this refurbishment project. It was a coordinated effort. I purchased the models blindly from another player and then had them sent to the painter who would do the refurbishment.
When the models arrived, the painter let me know the models weren't really in 'refurbishment' shape. Some of the models were broken, most were primed only with little to no details. Yikes. So not as much a refurbishment projects as we would have liked. More just a regular painting project from the ground up.
Okay, a change in gears, but still the same race. No problem.
We discussed options, and decided the way to go with the project was to use the existing primer color and then to just find a way to finish them quickly and effectively. We decided either Ultramarine or Crimson Fists were the way to go (blue primer) and since I've seen enough Ultramarines projects, we went with CF.
So, at this point it's week one, the painter has the models in hand and we should be good to go.
Now I've always prided myself on customer service. So does Studio A. Studio A let me know that they send out an 'update' email to their clients every Monday to let them (the client) know the status of their project, even if that status is 'Bits Ordered, en route' or even 'No status change'. In the later case, when other clients already booked orders, maybe you're just waiting.
Kinda the same way that I call the cable company and they say they'll show up between 11 and 2. Sometimes my place in the pecking order is just to wait.
Monday rolled around and no email came. I was a bit surprised. Actually surprised is too lenient. I was startled. I couldn't believe how powerless I felt, being in the dark like this. I had given good money to Studio A and all I wanted to know was the status of my project. Was that too much to ask?
I gave it another day or two, then decided to touch based with Studio A. In point of fact, like I should have figured, a family emergency had occurred. Studio A briefly emailed me to say they were sorry for the delay, and they let me know paints for my project had been ordered, so all was well and good. In the face of personal tragedy, the vendor had overlooked his clients BUT quickly rectified the situation.
Man, did I feel like an ass. But I shouldn't have really. I mean, I was only protecting my investment.
To the artist' credit, the painter then took the minis to a friend who photographed them and sent me the pics. The pics were 'okay', but didn't really show me any detail. The artist let me know that the project was coming along well, but he was running low of funds. (This painter works by the hour, so when the time was up, you could either pay him more money to paint, or you could ask him to just send you the models).
So, I sent the painter some more money. Nearly doubling the original amount sit aside for the painting aspect of the project.
Here's the kick . . . without great pictures from the painter in the beginning, I really had no way to track the project in terms of progress. What I mean is, I can't see the detail that was added to the project on the 2nd half.
I mean, how could I? I had no before or after pics. What's more is since the painter was a by the hour kinda guy, I had no real way to track his progress, other than trust. Which I gave them freely.
Some other services use the 'hourly' guide to create estimates. For example, someone might ask for a squad of Orks painted. I guesstimate . . . 'that'll take about 4 hours at $25 an hour, so about a hundred bucks, or $10 a model'. This seems pretty fair to me. If the painter wants to take his time then he doesn't charge me extra. It's an estimate, not a quote.
But the potential for abuse does exist using this payment system, and I didn't really fee like I had a clear picture of what I was paying for in terms of detail.
A few weeks passed and the painter called me to let me know the project was done. We arranged shipping, and the painter said he'd send me an invoice for the shipping costs. A week passed. Nothing. No word.
Finally, about two weeks later, the painter called me to let me know that he had been out of town for a week and were sorry they hadn't gotten in touch with me. But that the models were now en route and should reach me soon. And to be fair, they did. By the end of the week, they were there.
However, I'm not sure why they couldn't have been mailed out beforehand? I mean, if you are going to be gone anyway, why not just ship the models out before leaving?
The models arrived and the quality was what we call at White Metal Games a 'Man at Arms' standard, or Level 1. It's around a tabletop quality paint job. Light on detail, but a great starter army for a client that doesn't have a major budget and wants to grow their collection.
It's also a nice way to add a few units to an Apocalypse army. You'll only use these models a few times a year, so the models don't need to be as nice as your regular collection of models.
The army is currently for sale for anyone who is interested. We're hoping to use the money raised to fund this project! A Necron/Ork themed army, the Necorks!
So, like most things in life, this experience was mixed with goods and bads. The painter had a few life events occur to them that made completing the project in a timely fashion difficult. But there were also a few missteps along the way and there was room for the process to be improved upon.
For me, that's what's its all about . . . trying to find a way to improve the quality of the services we offer so that clients are better able to see their vision brought to the table on a budget that is fair to all parties.
I have to remember that since most painting services are 'spare time' services, ie, most of us have regular day jobs, we should be a bit more patient with our commission painters. Life happens to them too.
If you think this was a worthwhile experiment, comment below.
If you think this is a baseless attempt to solicit your money, comment below. =)
What YOU think, this did give me a good sense for what it's like to be on the receiving end of a commission for once and it taught me quite a bit.
I can't recommend this to other miniature painting and assembly services enough. The brief insight you might glean could lead to remarkable changes in your core business mechanics.
If this article does well, then I'll continue this series with Studio's B-E.
Until next time, remember to
PUT YOUR MINIS WHERE YOUR MOUTH IS!
Caleb, White Metal Games