It’s difficult to tell what customers will embrace and what they won’t, particularly when striking out in directions the rest of the market is not going in. A good case in point would be the recently released PALS Belt Platform, announced on this blog a few weeks ago and not officially on the market. It’s found a niche and appears to be catching on. Apparently there are a lot of people out there that want to run their PALS equipped pouches on belts. I’ve got three of these built and ready to ship to a customer with more ordered. It’s always nice to see when a concept becomes accepted by the user base.
It bears mentioning again that this piece of gear was not designed in-house at Down Range Gear. Rather, it came about as a result of an unsolicited email suggestion from someone who wasn’t even a customer. He had looked at the MALICE Clip Belt Stabilizer, realized that it’s application was limited in scope to Tactical Tailor MALICE Clips and made specific recommendations on how something similar could be done for more conventional PALS equipped, MOLLE type pouches. After that it was trial and error on prototypes, feedback and refining.
I wish I could say I grasped the potential of the concept when it was first pitched. As well as I think I know the industry, I was pretty sure someone had already met this need. I was getting a lot of feedback from customers pressing the Belt Stabilizer into service to support MOLLE type pouches on belts. This might work but is not a particularly good idea. Those pouches have to be properly woven in order to be securely locked in. MALICE Clips lock solidly, but pouches with PALS systems that secure with velcro, snaps or by other means need to be woven into the backing or you’ll risk losing them.
As a rule, I don’t much like dealing with unsolicited designs. The risk is that there will be intellectual property disputes (idea theft.) I go out of my way to steer Down Range Gear clear of those issues. If I’m uncomfortable about the originality of a design, it gets shelved. As I understand it, here’s how the rules of intellectual property work in custom gear building: If a customer brings a specific design to the table, (be it a detailed description or a diagram) and all I have to do is build it and not add any original ideas, he owns it cleanly. I keep all emails as records of who contributed what to a project. If a customer shows up with a list of requirements and it’s left up to me to decide how the gear will be built in order to meet a certain need, I have to create the piece, I own it. The line seems clear enough, but sometimes it gets hard to tell who came up with what. That’s why I don’t like messing in this area. It’s very uncomfortable, dangerous and chasing the dollar is not worth the price your conscience and reputation pay for intellectual dishonesty.
So back to the PALS Belt Platform. The idea wasn’t mine, but the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. Down Range Gear is a very small operation. My first inclination was to buy the concept outright or pay the designer a royalty for it’s use. Because the volumes I deal with are small, it’s unlikely that any up front payment would pay for itself in sales. With regard to royalties, again, because of low volume, there was no way a percentage of the $15 I’m charging for this will ever be worth the time. To invest the time and effort to refine the product and bring it to market meant I really needed to be sure I had unrestricted permission to use and keep the idea. I didn’t want to go to the trouble of prototyping it, refining it, working it into the product line, costing it, putting it up on the website only to have permission revoked. Luckily for me, the designer was gracious enough to allow me to use the concept. The prototypes I sent in return will never be enough to repay him.
All this puts being a small gear builder on tricky footing. I’ve got original ideas to last me for years but at the same time I’d hate to lose out on the next great idea just because I’m closed off to outside influences. Then again, I don’t want to put myself in a position where IP theft is even a remote possibility. If you have an idea that is close to something I’m doing or have in the works, I don’t even want to know. It’s not worth the danger of being accused of stealing. If you’re in this to make a ton of cash, you might be better off taking your concept to one of the bigger companies and hope they will (1) even listen to you or (2) won’t rip you off.
It’s tough, I know.