|DIY Lid for the Snow Peak 600. What if Snowpeak made one?|
The other day I was thinking about some of the major gear manufacturers (Golite, Gregory, MSR, Evernew, GSI, etc.) and what I like and don’t like about their designs. Let’s call them the “big dogs” from here on out. I recently gave a presentation in which I talked about DIY gear leading to innovations in commercially-available gear. And this got me thinking. What if all the big dogs gathered a group of us DIYers and just listened. What if they put us all in a room together to show our designs and see if they could produce any of them? Would this be a good thing or a bad thing?
At first, it seemed like a good idea. I’d love to see some DIY designs be brought to the mass market so people could get more exposure to lightweight backpacking. I’d also like to see them be able to produce higher-quality gear than I can make with the tools I’m limited to in my apartment. Maybe we could even convince a decision maker at Snowpeak to finally make a production-quality titanium lid for the Snowpeak 600!
While at first glance, it seemed like a good fantasy, I immediately came up with two potential cons to this scenario:
1. It could put the cottage industry out of business. What would happen to the likes of the great cottage gear companies like Gossamer Gear, Trail Designs, and Tarp Tent if the big dogs can mass produce the same gear they make at a lower cost and higher volume? One distinct advantage that cottage gear companies have is that they are brave enough to step up and fill a niche that the big dogs largely ignore. What happens if that niche is now filled by companies like MSR?
While it is a possibility, I think it’s unlikely. Here’s why: Big dogs want to appeal to big markets. Even if they did pick up a few innovative designs to fill some niches, they probably wouldn’t pick up all of them. Their model is to focus on mass appeal. So this would likely leaving enough room in the niche markets for cottage gear companies to survive. Another reason is that Big dogs move slowly. The larger the company, the more bureaucracy and the more time it takes to get a product to market. By contrast, smaller companies are more nimble and could probably bring new designs to market faster, giving them a competitive edge. So because of the very nature of big dogs and the agility and bravery of cottage gear companies, I think the two could coexist even if the big dogs started incorporating DIY-inspired gear into their product lines.
2. It could put DIYers "out of business". If the big dogs suddenly start incorporating our designs into products you can buy at REI what will be left for us to tinker with?
I also think this is unlikely. Again, no big dog would take on every design idea so there would still be plenty of room left for experimentation and modification. Also, there are products we’ll have in the future that haven’t even been imagined yet and I’m sure we’ll have plenty to say about (and probably snip off of) them. I think we’ll probably never reach the end of the road in terms of opportunities for creativity.
It's entirely possible this whole discussion is moot. Maybe we already have the right balance: DIYers can build, big dogs can satisfy the masses, and the cottage gear companies fill in what’s in between. Maybe this is the perfect balance and changing that would do nothing but upset our equilibrium.
What do you think? If you could sit down with a gear manufacturer, who would it be and what would you tell them? What would be some DIY designs you’d like to see manufactured?