We've made an Ebony Muddler. It's perhaps the densest and most luxurious tool that's ever been used to muddle mint. Ebony is so rare and expensive, that would be reason enough for some people to buy a luxury bar tool like this, but that's not why we did it...Read More
Hi Backers & Friends,
We hope you all have been enjoying your spoons, stirring up many great cocktails this summer and fall! After we fulfilled orders to backers earlier this year, our work didn't end. We had received just enough spoons from the factory to fulfill Kickstarter pledges and pre-orders, with a very small amount of inventory remaining to offer for sale.
Just this past month we received the second half of our original shipment, which has given us the go-ahead to get more word out about the spoons, now that we have a good amount of inventory to sell! We've also added a few companion products to the website. We have some of the last copies in stock of Dave Stolte's Home Bar Basics cocktail manual (won't be available again until summer!).
We also have those great square ice cube trays by Tovolo, which we personally use to make good stirring and serving ice, and highly recommend. And lastly we've added some locally-made solid wood maple muddlers as a special side add-on for the upcoming holidays.
Give Spoons for the Holidays:
BUY AT STANDARDSPOON.COM: Use Coupon Code GIVETHANKS for 15% off the purchase of either of our cocktail spoons (effective November 27-30, 2015)
BUY AT AMAZON.COM: We're now listed on Amazon, and both spoons qualify for Free 2-Day shipping for Amazon Prime members, and Free Standard Shipping for everyone else.
Story Time: Production Update
Interested in what we've been up to for the last 5 months? Settle in (seriously, go make yourself a tonic) and read on:
One of the reasons it took so long for us to receive this last shipment is that we needed to have many conversations with the factory, and revise our Quality Assurance documents over the summer. A high proportion of that first batch of spoons didn't make it past our own quality inspections - you backers got the best of the best, which is why we didn't have many left over to sell. Let's just say that since we've got pretty high standards, we've got a pretty good-sized box of unsellable spoons collecting dust.
We weren't able to move forward with manufacturing long term with that level of waste, so we went back to the factory with our feedback, extensively documenting and refining our Quality Assurance plan, and requesting revisions for the next shipment of spoons. After receiving a small sample shipment of about 60 spoons in June, we reviewed and revised again. With the last batch we received in October, we're confident we've arrived at as close to our original vision as we can get; the spoons are beautiful, consistent, and extremely strong.
We recently received a message from one of our backers, Jon, who was curious about the construction of the spoons. Manufacturing methods have always been something we've been straightforward about, and while we spent most of our summer working on revisions (and considering some alternatives), it wasn't until a few weeks ago that we've been able to finally arrive at our long term plan for manufacturing the spoons.
So if you're curious about getting into the nitty gritty with us, here's the (lengthy) response I sent to Jon about investment casting (our original plan) v. other alternatives, and the twists and turns, pros and cons, and cost-benefit decisions that are made behind the scenes in product development.
Thanks for your message this week, it's always great to hear from our backers! I'm especially appreciative of you taking the time to write, as you bring up a subject (manufacturing method) that we've been working on tirelessly behind the scenes, but realized we haven't addressed definitively online or in communication to backers. I hope you're settled in with a nice cocktail, because your curiosity is about to get the story you asked for :)
A long time ago.... well, at least earlier this year, when we received the final production samples from the factory (before you backers got your spoons), they looked AMAZING, and for all we knew, they were made using the manufacturing method we requested - investment casting as one single piece. We placed the order. The factory experienced delays, much of it related to the metal warping during polishing, and then having to straighten them, and then polish again, in a seemingly endless cycle of revision and re-work.
One thing we've learned about working with Chinese manufacturers is that they are not very forthcoming with the challenges they might encounter during the manufacturing process. We've learned that their tendency is to try to solve the problem on their end, without involving the client (us) unless they feel it’s absolutely necessary, in the best way they know how. Sometimes, as we've discovered, that means the factory makes changes with the end-goal in mind, and may take liberties in balancing priorities.
We found out about some of these changes when we received our order of spoons, and saw that some of them clearly exhibited signs that the spoons were not cast from a single mold, but were rather assembled, welded, and polished smooth. While this did essentially produce a seamless design when done correctly, it didn't follow the method that we had wanted, and the one that we had communicated to backers (namely, that it be cast as one piece using the investment casting method).
We were stuck in a hard place, because we’ve been perfectionists about these spoons since the beginning. Not to mention that these spoons were paid for, and we didn’t have the luxury of throwing them out and starting over. The factory provided us with a partial order (less than half) -- barely enough spoons to fulfill orders to Kickstarter Backers. We were already 9 months behind delivery schedule, and the second half of the order would take another 2-4 months to finish. The spoons were SO close to what we wanted. We were in no position to reject an order that met 95% of our requirements—they were the right size and shape, and they were beautifully polished. We also did strength tests on them, and DANG, they were strong. We were confident that even though we suspected the factory was fusing them together, rather than casting them as one piece from the beginning, they still met our original intention of being incredibly strong, and damn near unbreakable.
There were some that were too wavy from extensive polishing, and there were a few that had too much warpage around the neck where the handle meets the bowl of the spoon. We marked these as rejected, and picked the best of the order to send to backers. Fulfilling a Kickstarter is insane. I know our communication to backers suffered, and since we sent the spoons out, we haven’t posted much in the way of updates. We also wanted to try to solve the wavy and warping issues with the next round of spoons, so most of our communication during this time was directed intensely toward the factory.
We revised our Quality Assurance documents to reflect the manufacturing issues we were seeing in the rejected spoons. The factory said they would revise the mold to make sure the handles were straighter, and the transition point from spoon bowl to handle was smoother. They didn’t clarify whether this meant they would try to make that elusive single-cast spoon, but at this point, we were willing to concede that it might not be ideal, as cast parts need a great deal of polishing, and polishing on an item of such a small diameter produces a great deal of warpage, which was our new major issue, nearly impossible to correct.
We worked on this with the factory back and forth all summer, until the second half of the order went through Quality Assurance in September. Before the spoons left China, our QA team inspected every single spoon, and the attention to quality was obvious when we received the shipment in early October. The spoons are straighter than ever before, and even though we’ve clarified that they are not cast as one piece using the investment casting method, they are incredible, and as close to perfect as we could ask them to be.
So now here we are. It was about 5 months ago that we sent that first batch out to backers, and it was only in the last two weeks, when we received the second half of our shipment, that we’ve been able to evaluate the quality of the spoons and the progress we’ve made in perfecting them to the highest standard we know how to achieve.
With this recent new information, we have made sure to update the language on our website to ensure we aren’t misleading anyone as to the manufacturing method. The Aero spoon is still a seamless design, and really still a single piece of stainless steel. Rather than being cast from a mold as one piece, the manufacturer fuses several pieces together to make a single piece. It has seamless transitions, and is so strong we can bend it into a U shape with a vise and it doesn’t break. The Wingman is designed the same way, with the obvious multiple-piece design of the spinning handle.
We do still occasionally receive some spoons from the factory that show evidence of assembly – manufacturing defects like a bit of warping– and we try our best to cull these from our inventory so they don’t get passed on to customers.
Since Kickstarter projects are frozen in time, we aren’t able to modify language on the project page that was written back when the project was live. But with this email, (which I’m going to turn into a Kickstarter update), we’re delivering the transparency of information we promised from the beginning. We are proud to share with backers the work we’ve been doing behind the scenes to continuously improve the tools we’re making.
So, Backers --- that's our current update with the intent to continue to keep you informed about this project, even after the Kickstarter fulfillment and campaign conclusion. Please continue to stay in touch; we love hearing from you!
Rachel Eva & Shawn Michael
Just a quick update to let you know that our manufacturing coordinator reported that the spoons have been finished! They are proceeding to the last stage of post-production Quality Assurance. We are waiting on a few specifics from the manufacturing coordinator regarding shipping dates. It's been a while since the last update, so we figured you'd like to know at least the general sense of progress, even if we can't give as much detail as we'd like. When we do have it, we'll let you know.
We've still got our fingers crossed that we'll be able to ship the first spoons out to backers by the end of May. Here's a recent shot of one of the production samples.
BackerKit Surveys & Card Charges
You may not remember, because it seems like SO LONG ago, but last year you filled out your survey using BackerKit, not the Kickstarter survey form (you may not have realized this). If you never completed your survey (slackers!), please do so now. Also, if your mailing address changed, please log in and update your information. You can access your survey by finding the invitation in your email from so long ago, or by clicking here: BACKERKIT SURVEY
IMPORTANT THING TO READ THAT MIGHT SAVE YOU GRIEF LATER ON:
If you added anything to your Kickstarter pledge AFTER the campaign ended via Backerkit (an extra spoon, for example), you entered payment information. We have NOT charged your cards yet for any add-ons, but we will do that on MAY 8th. Please check to make sure your add-ons are what you want, and make sure your payment information is up to date by next Friday.
There has been at least one instance where a backer who pledged for 2 sets via Kickstarter (for $120, already collected) accidentally added-on another set in Backerkit ($60, not-yet-collected), thinking they were defining their Kickstarter reward level. Please remember that based on your pledge level, Backerkit automatically assigns the right rewards for you (They call them Pledge Level Items). But if you added EXTRA funds in Kickstarter, you will need to define what those funds are for in BackerKit at the Add-Ons page (They call these Add-Ons).
It's been a while, so please sign in and double-check what your BackerKit account is saying about your order. If there is a balance with a "Total Owed" number, that is what your card on file will be charged on May 8th.
And just one more time to be clear, please be aware that any Add-Ons in your cart are items IN ADDITION to whatever comes automatically with the base Kickstarter Reward level you chose during the campaign (Pledge Level Items).
If you've got it, CHEERS to you! If you want to get into the nitty gritty of Backerkit, we'll walk you through an example or two:
EXAMPLE 1: I added extra funds during the Kickstarter campaign for additional items:
For example, if you selected the reward level THE SET ($60) in Kickstarter, but you increased your total pledge amount to $85, because you wanted an additional CLASSIC spoon ($25 each), BackerKit will automatically select the set for you. However, Backerkit does not know what that extra $25 is for. Go to the Add-Ons section of your BackerKit survey to define what the extra funds are for. The Set will be listed under "PLEDGE ITEMS," and the "BALANCE" section will show "Credit Remaining: $25"
Tell BackerKit what the extra $25 is for by adding the CLASSIC Spoon to your cart. Once you do, notice the "CREDIT REMAINING" amount drops to zero.
If you add additional items to your cart, BackerKit will automatically calculate what kind of credit you still have (if any), or whether you now owe funds. In this example, if you decided you also wanted a second SPIN spoon, and if you added that to your cart as well, your BALANCE Section would show "Total Owed: $35," and you will be asked for payment information, and your card will be charged on May 8th. You would then receive two Classic spoons and two Spin spoons (The SET + Extra Classic, paid for with $85 in Kickstarter funds, + Extra Spin, added and paid for with $35 in BackerKit).
EXAMPLE 2: I want to add-on items in addition to what I pledged for during Kickstarter
If you pledged for the SPIN spoon during Kickstarter, and paid $35 last year for that, but now you also want a CLASSIC spoon, you can Add-On that spoon through BackerKit. Just go to the Add-Ons section of the survey, and put the Classic spoon in your cart. Your BALANCE Section will show "Total Owed: $35" and you'll be asked for payment information, and your card will be charged on May 8th.
If you've got any questions, of course send us a message! Thanks, as always, for being such great sports.
Rachel Eva & Shawn Michael
Thanks for being patient with us as we waited through the lunar new year celebration--it's over!
Skip down to the next section if you just want the quick status update. For those of you that love the details, here's a little book report about what goes on behind-the-scenes with industries that rely on China for goods. We find it fascinating, and you might too!
What's the big deal with Chinese New Year?
Chinese New Year is a big deal. It's a challenge for any supply chain anywhere in the world that works with China, and even has its own acronym (CNY). Officially, it took place February 19 - 25, 2015, but anyone with experience manufacturing in China advises to conservatively plan forno production or shipments leaving China during the entire month of February, and for reduced output during the first half of March. The basic business impact is that nothing gets made or shipped, because workplaces shut down for a while, and start back up again slowly.
There's a huge human element to this which we've found fascinating. Most factory employees aren't from the big industrial meccas where they spend their working hours. They migrate to the industrial centers from all over rural China to find work and make a good wage. For most of these workers, Chinese New Year is the only time during the year when they can travel back to their hometowns and spend time with their families. We're glad they have this annual opportunity; as impatient as we may be to finish production, it's nice to know the workers are getting a break to rest and enjoy life with loved ones. The migration of workers out of China's cities is the largest annual migration of humans in the world. A whopping 2.8 Billion trips are taken by China's 1.37 Billion citizens during the holiday, an outstanding 2 trips per capita. Compare that to 0.14 trips per capita by US citizens during the Thanksgiving holiday. It's an Exodus. (Source: Bloomberg)
But, back to business. As the holiday draws to a close, it's a very stressful time for factory owners. Some workers take extended time off, and don't return for another few weeks. It's usually a slow start to get manufacturing back up to 100%. For many factory owners, the question isn't "when will my workers return," it's "will my workers return?" Some workers use the long break to seek other work, or make a career change. It's possible that after the new year ends, a factory could be missing a large part of their labor force, and have to hire and train new workers quickly.
Interested in reading more? Here are a few starting points:
- Chinese New Year / Spring Festival - Wikipedia
- Boston Globe Article - Chinese New Year and its Effect on the World Economy
The good news for Standard Spoon is that our factory didn't have any significant challenges getting back up and running after Chinese New Year -- phew! It did take a little time to get someone out to the factory to check on progress, but we spoke with our manufacturing coordinator last night and the news is good. The first run of each spoon (which was started before CNY) is back in progress at the investment casting factory. We have no manufacturing issues to report at this time (yes!).
Estimates are that the casting will be finished by the end of this month, and then the spoons will go to the polishing factory. Polishing and Quality Assurance will take up the first three weeks in April. Then they'll be flown over to us in San Diego for packaging, fulfillment, and shipment to you.
We decided a while ago that we'd be shipping via Air from China, which is more expensive but significantly reduces transportation time. It's also a good call considering the significant delays taking place out of the Port of Long Beach. We spoke with a friend who just received a shipment this week that had been sitting on the docks since December -- yikes!
Air shipping and customs will still take 10-15 days, so it's looking like packaging will take place mid-May, and the first spoons will ship out to backers by the end of May. We'll be clearing our calendars for their arrival so that as soon as we get the shipment, we have one priority, and one priority only - getting them back in the mail!
Rachel Eva and Shawn Michael
Happy New Year!
We are very happy indeed, as we received some beautiful production samples on Monday!
Last month we posted that the factory was running into some issues with the way the end cap attached to the body of the Spin spoon. They figured that out; problem solved.
Then we got the challenging news that polishing the spoons would cost just as much as manufacturing them (OUCH!). We discussed some options with our guy in China, and he was able to find us a secondary factory that could do the polishing for a much more reasonable cost. They will be cast at a factory that specializes in manufacturing, and polished at a factory that specializes in finishing. Problem Solved.
The production samples were shipped to us just after Christmas, and even though it took them a while to clear China (which is incredibly busy during the holidays), we got a knock on the door Monday morning from FedEx!
THEY ARE INCREDIBLE!
These are some great shots to show off the seamless, aerodynamic contours of the spoon bowls, both the back (above) and the front (below).
The spoon bowl holds exactly 1/8 of an ounce (with the meniscus of the liquid).
And here are some great shots of the logo on the end of each spoon:
What happens next?
We had only a few minor pieces of feedback for the factory, such as the orientation of the logo on the end cap of the Spin (designer details). This can easily be modified during the final production run, and (drum roll please) we are going to give the go-ahead for final production this week!
We are waiting to hear the final per-unit cost for each spoon, which will determine how large of a first production run we can make. It will also help us determine what the final retail cost of the spoons will be.
Once the factory begins production, it takes about six weeks for them to be made, sent to the secondary factory, and polished. And, unfortunately and unavoidably, Chinese New Year falls right in the middle of our production schedule. The Chinese know how to celebrate, and they close down all industry for about three weeks in February. So a six week timeline turns into a nine week timeline, and they'll likely be finished sometime mid to late March.
We'll have them shipped to us in San Diego via FedEx, which will be more expensive than overseas freight shipping, but will save us weeks of waiting on transit. So it looks like our April will be spent packaging and shipping the final spoons to you.
Thanks, as always, for hanging in there with us and being our partners on this journey.
Rachel Eva and Shawn Michael
Here's a mini-update all the way from our factory in China: a first look at some sleek looking production samples!
While these haven't yet been shipped to us for inspection and testing, we like what we're seeing so far. Notice specifically that infamous transition from the spoon bowl to the handle. It's smooth, it's solid, and it's a spitting image of our design!
Here's a shot of the end of the CLASSIC spoon with the Standard Spoon logo. (Note that this hasn't been polished yet)
We're still a long way from final approval, but these photos have us pretty optimistic. We're discussing some of the finer points of assembly, polishing, and functionality with our team in China now, and the factory is doing some problem solving regarding the way the end-cap on the SPIN attaches to the body.
When that's figured out, they'll make any needed adjustments, and ship the production samples to us. We'll test them out, take some photos, and have more to report at that time.
Rachel Eva & Shawn Michael
This week has been a momentous one for us, as we're finally over the hurdle of the second factory-finding phase. We've contracted with a forging factory in Shenzhen, placed our first purchase order, paid for the tooling costs, and they started work on the tooling (molds) and production samples this week!
Here's a photo of one of the guys from our broker's team with the owner of the factory:
And here are some products that the factory has produced for other clients. While these are not samples of our spoons, they give us an idea of what kind of work the factory produces.
The sample process takes 20 days to complete. One detail worth pointing out is that these are production samples - what the factory is sending us will be exactly what can be made from the molds for a production run.
In our best case scenario, no changes will be needed, we'll approve the samples and move straight into production. In our worst case scenario, the samples will be missing some crucial element, and we'll have to re-tool and start the sample process over again. We are working with our manufacturing coordinator (broker) to make sure that all of our design specifications are understood, and this is unlikely to happen, but it's always a possibility.
Ok, lets check in with the timeline for delivery. If we receive our samples by the end of November and give them our stamp of approval, the factory can begin production. Production takes a minimum of 40 days, and then they'll need to be packed and shipped to us here in San Diego. Then we pack and ship them to you.
If you were planning on giving these as a Christmas gift, they will not be ready. Realistically we're looking at February or March if everything goes smoothly, possibly later if we have any delays.
We will be creating a downloadable gift card which you can print out and give in lieu of having the actual spoons to wrap up and place under the tree. I know this is a much less gratifying substitute for the real thing, but it will help communicate the concept of the spoons to the recipient, and give you something tangible to give away.
For those of you that weren't aware, you may still place a Pre-Order or Add-On to your pledge via BackerKit. We've extended the Pre-Order deadline until November 30th. At the end of the month, we'll close down BackerKit so we can calculate our final count for manufacturing quantities. Any funds added via BackerKit have not yet been charged to the card on file; they will be charged on November 30th (and we'll send a reminder email about that before BackerKit closes).
Thanks for hanging in there with us. For more details about our manufacturing saga, check out this blog post HERE.
Rachel Eva and Shawn Michael
Our October has been packed with Standard Spoon business, and though I've been waiting for the final, signed, purchase-order-has-been-placed, no-turning back point to write an update, we're still not there yet.
You're with us on this journey, so here's a process update. Even though we are pushing as hard as we can to get to the point where we write a check and submit the purchase order, we're dealing with many different entities and the process is slower than anticipated. In our last update, we were set back to the point of selecting a new manufacturer. The Forging manufacturer had a proposal that really was "too good to be true," and some concerns were raised about the Investment Casting manufacturer, both from a materials waste and cost perspective.
We also ran into a week-long Chinese holiday, during which all business stops dead in its tracks. We took advantage of this time to triple-check our design files, and draft a specifications document, which we'll use as a manufacturing contract to clearly communicate all of the final design decisions to the factory.
We are now in communication with a second Forging manufacturer, and are reviewing final design elements with them to ensure they understand our specifications. They have experience working with cutlery, which is a bonus.
The Long Hello
Shawn Michael and I have been dealing with some (ok, much) frustration regarding how long this process is taking, and when we'll finally get to meet our finished spoons. We've made a commitment to you, our backers, to deliver a quality product, and gave you a delivery estimate that has long since expired. The extended timeline is discouraging for both of us, even though we know we owe it to you and to Standard Spoon to produce quality goods.
During the last two weeks we traveled to Seattle and Portland to meet retailers, bartenders, and friends, and ended our trip at Portland Cocktail Week (PDXCW) - even meeting a few of you! We sat in on some of the Innovation and Development classes, and spent time talking to people who've started distilleries, bitters companies, and bars. One of the things that was very encouraging to hear (over and over again) is that things like this always, always, always take longer than expected.
So thanks for hanging in there with us. This week we're back in the office, communicating with China, and being productive during the waiting periods. We'll keep you up to date here, but be sure to visit our Facebook page for frequent tidbits, and the Standard Spoon Blog for additional information and musings.
It's about time to give a great nod of thanks and recognition to our four Kickstarter Benefactors!
These grand folks really believe in what we're doing, and have supported us not only with resources, but with mountains of love and encouragement. As thanks for their generous contributions to our campaign, they received one of our handmade prototypes earlier this year.
John & Florence Dougherty
Abe Shaw of eatingtools.com
Bob & Cindy Taylor
Here are some photos of Shawn Michael wrapping them up earlier this year for delivery. Thanks John, Florence, Seth, Abe, Bob and Cindy for your love and support!
Thanks for being patient with us this last month as we've been working through the next stage of manufacturing. Our last update described how we were providing 3D printed models of each spoon to our factory so they could see exactly what design standard to manufacture the spoons to.
Our manufacturing coordinator received the 3D printed spoons late August. After discussing the design with the factory who made our first metal samples, we found they cannot produce the spoons as designed. Going to the lengths that we did to communicate clearly was a good thing, because we discovered that the factory wasn't planning on manufacturing the spoons as one piece. Even though they would have been treated externally to look seamless, it would have been a composite construction, which is what we are trying to avoid.
This was a bit of a blow for us, because it means we'll have to select a new factory to work with. The good news is that we already have two fantastic options right now, and our next samples are being made now. Here's where we're at:
Option #1 - New Investment Casting Manufacturer. This factory produces extremely high quality, detailed products. We know that they can produce our spoons to a very high standard (and as one piece!). The downside is that the cost per item is significantly higher than we had planned. If we decide to go with this option, the final retail price of each spoon would certainly be higher than our Kickstarter price point.
Option #2 - Forging Manufacturer. This factory would produce the spoons using a different method called forging. Forging is a bad-ass manufacturing method, and was actually one we looked in to extensively prior to launching our Kickstarter. Forging produces extremely strong parts, but often requires extensive finishing and polishing, because it produces a rougher exterior surface than if casting were used. The first quotes we received from this factory are very reasonable, which would keep costs down. However, the proposal has a bit of a "too good to be true" feel to it.
We have dealt with dozens of factories over the last year as we've explored proposals, and have learned that many of them are eager to declare their capabilities in order to gain a chance at the business. Once additional steps are taken toward manufacturing, however, sometimes they aren't quite as capable, or the price isn't as good as was promised (as we discovered with the last factory that sent us samples).
Since the Forging Manufacturer indicates they can get samples finished in less than a week, we've decided to see what they can do. If what they provide to us is high quality and cost effective, we'll place our order with them. If, on the other hand, the deal is really "too good to be true," we're prepared to place our order with the Investment Casting Manufacturer immediately.
Either way, we're committed to getting production going ASAP.
While we've been waiting for samples, shipping time, and proposals, we haven't been sitting on our duffs. Shawn Michael has been working on packaging design, we've been meeting and talking with potential retail partners, and working on the back-end of the business. There's a lot that goes on behind the scenes from an administrative perspective, which is pretty boring stuff to talk about. But things like financial plans, business licenses, taxes, branding, marketing plan, and future product development are essential to laying a good foundation for a legit business. We've been immersed in all of that, and a lot of other boring (and not so boring) business development activities.
We've also been preparing our fulfillment strategy, so when we have our hands on our spoons, we can get them out to you as quickly and seamlessly as possible.
When our samples from the Forging Manufacturer are finished next week, we'll try to have them shipped quickly to us in San Diego for review, and will post another update as soon as we decide which direction we're going in.
Rachel Eva and Shawn Michael