Shrinking Free Time, Growing Modeling Aftermarket

Last week, at a conference called DemandCon I was attending for my real job, I had a chance to see and speak to Adrian Ott, author of the 24-Hour Customer. She lays out the proposition that time is not money, as has long been said, but that there is a money value to time. Time is the one thing we can’t generate more of, and as a result people are willing to pay for things that conserve this most valuable resource.

Some of her statistics are pretty revealing. The average person spends less time shopping today, but faces more choices. The average person spends just six minutes shopping on an on-line site. The average person spends 28.8 minutes a day – or less than three percent of their waking time – in the act of shopping, and that includes shopping for staples like groceries.

Part of her focus is on the idea of competing better in the “attention economy,” that limited amount of time we have to devote to the many things competing for attention in our lives. To do that, she suggests that consumers are willing to trade time for value. Certain things, like Facebook or computer games, are obvious examples of that: people trade their time in exchange for what they get out of the use of those products, which to them is considerable if you look at the amount of time spent on them.

I think the same can be said for scale modeling – people are willing to trade time for value. But not an unlimited amount of time – a truly horrible kit that demands a lot of extra work doesn’t deliver a fair trade of value for time, and most people will shy away from it, quite understandably.

When I talked to Adrian briefly about aftermarket companies, like Obscureco, I occurred to me that they are playing right into the phenomena she is describing, but in an even more complete way. People want value – which is why they’ll pay for well-designed and well-detailed parts. They also want to save time, their least plentiful resource. Thus, aftermarket products are right in line with these trends: to get value and save time, people are willing to spend money.

That’s why I use them (and I do – in the SBD build I have bits and pieces from four aftermarket outfits in the cockpit, and I’d never be close to completion had I opted to make these parts on my own). It’s not that I don’t like scratch-building – after all, I make the masters for Obscureco products all the time. It’s that time is my most limited resource and anything I can do to save it is worth the money.

There’s a vocal minority out there who decry the aftermarket, and contend that there is virtue in building your own detail with sheet styrene, wire and lead foil. The aftermarket is for slackers, they say, and they can do it just as well and much more cheaply on their own. Perhaps they can. But their take on the equation is different than it is for most people. For them, time is of lesser value than personal satisfaction. If you yank the time savings aspect out, and if you think you can do as well or better at capturing the details as the aftermarket patternmakers, the entire time savings + value = money equation falls apart.

But not many of us operate without some time constraints, and most of us want to finish some models from time to time, and to a high standard of detail – and many of us don’t want to trade time to reach the level of accomplishment of the aftermarket patternmakers. So, as demands on our time grow, I suspect the aftermarket will grow as well.

A-3 set update: Getting close

Just a very brief update: I have all the A-3 rear bulkheads finished and two of the three different radio shelves. After those are done, it’s three instrument panels – which is do-able in the next day or so. The set will be a reality soon!

I’d have photos, but our neighbor borrowed out camera to take shots of his restoration – he has a Victorian that has had some very-long deferred maintenance underway. When I can wrest it from his sawdust-encrusted hands, I’ll get some photos of the masters up for you.

Black boxes and bulkheads: how hard could they be?

I’m busy trying to finish the A-3 cockpit masters by TOMORROW – an insane endeavor, but one that’s progressing inexorably toward completion. Basically, the set will have interchangable parts for the A-3A/B, KA-3B and EKA-3B; that means different control panels, different rear bulkheads and different boxes on the right rear corner of the cockpit. This will raise the price, but it will ensure maximum accuracy. And, if you’re like me, you can chop up the leftover parts for other projects!

That’s the big task. I’ll try to post photos before I pass the parts off for casting tomorrow evening. Oh, the fun!

A message from the (Obscureco) management

Running your own little resin company is not as easy as you might assume. There’s a lot to do: make the masters, pour the molds, cast the parts, write the instructions, buy the packaging materials, box and bag everything, mail the orders, deal with inquiries, and do the marketing. That’s a bunch of stuff for a part-time job.

In Obscureco, I do all of that with the exception of pouring the molds and casting the parts. But that can become the issue. If my partner doesn’t come through, then I can’t get the rest of the process in motion. This can lead to situations like the one we face now, where I have orders awaiting parts. It can be somewhat frustrating.

A partnership in a part-time business is a little like having a band. It doesn’t matter how good your music is if the members won’t come to practice.

Anyhow, I’m assuming the role of the bullying boss on the assembly line, which is no fun. But I’m also off-loading some of the work, especially around new items; I am prepared to help Roy Sutherland wreck his new kitchen by bringing him on as a subcontractor. (The whole resin-and-rubber-stained kitchen thing is the reason I’m not doing it myself. Also, the smell is such that my wife would kill me, which would certainly adversely affect Obscureco deliveries.)

So, to the patient Obscureco customers out there, I apologize and I hope you’ll bear with us as we hash out these petty little issues.

Logistical non-nightmares

The IPMS nationals this year are in Phoenix, which is reasonably close to where I live in the San Francisco Bay Area. “Reasonable” is a relative term; it’s still 646 miles away, according to Google maps, or 12 hours (okay, 9 hours if you drive it California-style). I have British friends who go pale at the idea of a jaunt 45 miles to Sacramento, and I know many east-coasters look at those numbers and shake their heads, but this is the price you pay for living out west. My wife’s family used to drive around the U.S. on vacations and that was a normal leg of a trip. Of course, now she’d never dream of driving that far and instead insists on going by plane.

I’m lucky it’s in driving distance, but not because I’m driving. I have to attend the CRM Evolution show in New York Aug. 1 through 4 – which means I’ll miss the first day of the nationals. The plan is to fly to Phoenix on Thursday morning (maybe with Elizabeth, maybe not) from New York, and to meet my models there. Some members of my club are indeed driving down, so I’ll give them my entries (and maybe a small bag with some clean clothes!) and they’ll drive them to Phoenix. I’ll ship the Obscureco inventory down and pick it up on-site and get my table set up. And then all will be well.

In 16 years this is the first time a work event has conflicted with the nationals, which is pretty amazing. I can hardly complain at all. And, coming from humid New York to Phoenix, I may actually appreciate the “dry heat” comments for once!

P-47D-30/40 Master: success, then failure, then a bail-out

I’m pleased to say that the P-47D-30/40 floor is finished, and it came out the way I wanted it to. However, it almost came to grief thanks to my stupidity. But I am ahead of myself.

First off, I copied Tamiya’s engineering. Their keyed four-part cockpit structure is genius, and I am always happy to have a great place to start. My thinking is this: the set will include a floor, sidewalls and wing modifications (re-positioned light panels, anti-compressability flaps). The rear bulkhead from the kit, the kit stick and the kit instrument panel can still be used. Part one was the cockpit. The base of the part was made by laminating several pieces of sheet styrene together, then I cut out the slots where he other parts would fit. That allowed my to use them to locate the various features of the floor.

Next, I drilled out a hole for the control column. This allowed me to then position the structure ahead of the stick and build it from sections of .020 styrene, which I sanded back to about .015 or .013. The left side had to be cut out a bit to leave clearance for the big radio box on the left sidewall.

Next, I fashioned the control column cable run from a bit of wire and a shot length of hypodermic tubing. The other features on the floor were carefully cut from a Tamiya cockpit, sanded down, and added to the floor. I also added two small panels to either side of the control column with .005 styrene.

With all the major structural parts in place, it was time to have some fun. I bought some N-gauge rivets from Archer Fine Transfers and used them to apply the small but very visible rivets on the floor. The resin rivets are presented on decal film which needs to be trimmed, which I did with very sharp scissors. After a brief dip in water, they came right off the backing paper; the next step is to get them on straight. A total of 13 runs of rivets were used to detail the floor.

Once they were dried and secure, I was vey pleased by the result. The only step left was to graft the Tamiya cockpit front bulkhead to the floor. I was so geeked up about it that I took it to the weekly modeler’s dinner to show off to my friends. Masters look pretty atrocious, to be honest, but they gave me approving nods. Once it’s cast, it’ll look much better than this somewhat blurry photo:

And then came the dumb part. I left at my usual time for the 35-mile ride home, and about the time I turned into the Webster Tube I realized I had left the part at the restaurant. I called the restaurant the next morning and ascertained only that the morning shift there is not very sharp. I had visions of the part being swept into a bus tub, smeared with mashed potatoes and then doused in clam chowder before being tossed into a trash bag and then hurled into a dumpster. In a dumpster, no one cares if your rivets are straight!

Before I had a panic attack, I e-mailed Mike Burton and Greg Plummer, the only two guys who out-lasted me at the restaurant. Luckily, Greg grabbed the part, knowing it was something for a model of some sort. I’ll get it back later next week and I can get this project back on track. Crisis averted by good friends!

1:72 floor show

This week, I went back to work on the 1:72 P-47D-30/40 cockpit master for Obscureco. Why make this into a product, you ask? Isn’t Tamiya’s cockpit good enough? No, because the floor’s not accurate – Tamiya has the earlier corrugated floor, while the late D-models had a flat, riveted floor. There are some other cosmetic differences to the sidewalls, too, and the control panel’s a little different but it’s mostly the floor. And, also, I may want to build several P-47D-30s or D-40s, so like any good Obscureco product, its being made for my own use. ‘

For the rivets, I plan on using Archer Fine Transfers’ resin rivets – neat little resin bumps on decal film. I’m using a sheet intended for N-gauge railroads; I may also use these to add rivet detail to the heavily-riveted seats of the A-3 (a by-product of getting too close to reference materials). I’ve seen another resin producer use these rivets – badly. He had them adjacent to a panel line, but not completely parallel. They sort of wandered about in the neighborhood of the panel line. They looked just awful. I have shorter runs of rivets to add, but I will be exceptionally careful about their straightness – nothing ruins detail sets worse than a lack of precision and straight lines.

I have to fight the urge to get too anxious to finish these parts; I can’t wait to build my next Jug, but I don’t want to hurry and mess up the cockpit parts. I’ll also have to make new wing inserts to relocate the landing light, so a full-on build is a little ways off. I’m just hoping to have my P-47D-30 parts ready before Tamiya does a P-47D-30 kit – although, when that comes out, you can thank me for creating the modeling karma that led to it.