by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier
This report covers:
- Refurbs, too
- Different standards
- What buyers notice
- The 4 Cs
- No flawless diamonds
- The average guy
- What does blemished mean?
- What if the blem was missed?
- What about bad parts?
- Refurbished airguns
- It’s gonna get scratched anyhow
- Why this blog today?
I’m writing this report in response to reader GunFun1 who asked about it after I made a comment a few days ago when I installed a blemished barrel in an airgun to save money. He wanted to know whether blemished guns are a good deal or not.
I’m also going to include refurbished guns in this report, because I think they fall into the same category. Many people look at them online and wonder whether the cost savings are worth it, or are they just buying trouble? I hope I can answer that question.
I have to begin the report with a qualifier. Every company has its own standards, I will try to address them in the report, but if you do business with a company whose standards are not what I am describing, your experience may be different. However, what I’m about to present is sort of an industry standard for blemished products.
What buyers notice
The retail industry is difficult because all buyers are not the same. Some are very particular about the cosmetic condition of the product they are buying. Others could care less about the cosmetic condition and are only interested in the performance. Still others shop for products in substandard cosmetic condition, for the cost savings. Retailers have to take this into account when they sell their products.
I was speaking to John McCaslin of AirForce Airguns the other day, and he commented that customer acceptance standards for the expensive RAW rifles is far more stringent than for his other products. It seemed to him that many buyers will go over their new rifles, looking for the smallest defects. Their claim is that if they are paying so much for a product, it should be perfect. Try as he might, McCaslin found out that it is impossible to make any single product perfect. There will always be an imperfection, if you look for it. That’s true of anything made by man.
The 4 Cs
We see this very clearly in the gemstone world. Let’s take a look at diamonds. When you buy a diamond, it is supposed to be priced according to its ranking with the four Cs. That would be color, cut, clarity and carats. Carats relate to the weight of the gem. Cut relates to the precision with which the gemstone is facetted. These two items are controlled by the diamond cutter. Color and clarity are controlled by nature. It is possible to color some gemstones artificially, but this isn’t done with diamonds. They are hand-selected for their color because they are so relatively common (there are so many of them to choose from).
Here is where it makes a difference. A one-carat diamond that is the highest color (clearest – D) and very slightly included (VS1 — has extremely small bits of other stuff inside the stones that must be magnified to see) costs just over $5,000. But the same one-carat diamond in the same D color that’s flawless and perfectly cut sells for around $16,000. That’s more than three times as much for a stone without inclusions (that can be seen with 10X magnification).
No flawless diamonds
No diamond is flawless, because an imperfection can always be found if you look hard enough. No gunstock is flawless, either. I’ve seen checkering flaws on Perrazi shotgun stocks on shotguns that sell for over $150,000. That said, some buyers will be hyper-critical to minor imperfections that they will search for with incredible diligence! It’s as if they are looking to see where they have been wronged, because they know they always will be. These customers are very hard to satisfy. Thankfully, they are also not encountered that frequently.
The average guy
Then, there is a range of customers that are “average,” though this range includes people who are both more and less critical. These are the shoppers most retail operations consider when it comes to blemishes. You never know who will walk through the door — Mary Sunshine or Cruella DeVille, so you look at the product like you would if you were buying it. Is it something you would find acceptable? If you pause for even a moment while making that judgement, you probably have a blemished item.
Why did I tell you all of this? Many of you don’t think that you need to care about the seller in a transaction. You are the buyer and you must be satisfied. And that is completely true. But the seller is also human and therefore is just as flawed as you or me. And, since no man-made product can ever be perfect, it really does matter. They are making a visceral decision. Some may fudge it on the low side and hope the returns won’t be that bad. Others don’t want to waste their time dealing with returns, and they hold to higher standards. If you still think it doesn’t matter, that you must be satisfied no matter what — then you may be that guy with the magnifying glass that retailers don’t like to see.
What does blemished mean?
Okay — what constitutes a blemished product? First, the blemish must be cosmetic and not affect the function of the item. If function is involved it’s no longer blemished, it becomes damaged goods — a handyman’s special.
When I mentioned the blemished barrel that I selected to put on Mac’s AirForce Talon, that barrel came from a pile of blemished barrels whose bluing was obviously not uniform. We had those from time to time and they might account for 1-5 percent of our barrel supply. If the number got any higher than 5 percent we spoke to the bluer who then had to rework those barrels. And if the problem persisted, we found a new bluer. We never intentionally passed along a blemished part on a gun to anyone without telling them, and, with an appropriate price reduction. Sounds simple and straightforward when I write about it, but when you go through 4,000-6,000 barrels each year, your blem pile starts to have some volume.
The solution is to separate all the blemished parts like barrels, frames (for imperfect anodizing) and other parts that are visible on the airgun, and at some point you build however many blemished guns you can from all those parts. If you run out of blemished barrels but still have a few blemished frames, you put perfect barrels in the blemished frames to build more blemished airguns. In other words, all the parts in the airgun don’t have to be blemished for the gun to be called a blem. BUT — and this is the big one — the item has to function perfectly. That is the industry standard for defining a blemished item.
What if the blem was missed?
Things do happen. I remember one time a customer returned a barrel because the bluing looked red in the sunlight. Well, guess what? B.B. is colorblind (dark black with a reddish tint and dark black look the same to me) and we didn’t have sunlight inside the plant where the rifles were assembled and boxed. We replaced that barrel and then took our other barrels out into the sun and found some more reddish ones. Had to speak to the bluer who then had to adjust something in his process (either the salts had to be changed more frequently or the bluing bath temperature had to be changed).
What about bad parts?
In the three years I worked at AirForce about 10 guns were returned because they weren’t accurate. I would take the rifle out into the shop where I had a 23-yard impromptu range set up and if I could put five pellets in a quarter-inch or less, center-to-center, it wasn’t the gun’s fault. I shot standing supported, which is harder to do well than shooting off a bench. I had to clean the barrels so frequently before testing that I just went ahead and cleaned every one before testing them. The biggest problem I saw was people who were shooting Crosman Premiers and not cleaning their barrels when they leaded up, which Premiers are prone to do when they are shot faster than 900 f.p.s. In the three years I worked at AirForce I found one Lothar Walther barrel that was really not accurate and that barrel never went anywhere, once it was identified. It’s probably still there, if they didn’t use it for some other purpose. Bad parts do not belong on a blemished gun, nor is it the industry standard to put them on one.
What about refurbs? Are they any good? Can you trust the dealer when buying one? Well, here is a little secret. A refurb airgun is better than the 10 for $10 test where someone puts ten shots through your gun before it is shipped. Why? Because this gun is a refurb it has to be looked at much closer than just shooting it. They have to make sure all the documentation is in the package, all accessories and spare parts are there, plus they need to ensure the gun works. It gets a real close inspection that a brand new airgun doesn’t get.
It’s gonna get scratched anyhow
I saved this comment for now, but you all know in your heart of hearts that your pristine new airgun is going to start picking up marks as soon as it’s out of the box. You may try your hardest to prevent it, but it’s going to happen. Not MIGHT happen — WILL happen. If you buy a blem or a refurb the marks are (sometimes) already there and you save a lot of money!
Are blems and refurbs a good deal? You bet they are — as long as their cosmetic condition at the start doesn’t eat at you.
Why this blog today?
I wrote this blog because reader GunFun1 asked for it, and a couple other readers said they would like to read it. But I wrote it TODAY because when I installed a CO2 cartridge in the M1 Carbine magazine for velocity testing this morning, it had a fast leak. I figured I would put some ATF Sealant in with the next cartridge, but then I couldn’t get the empty cartridge out of the mag. In the end I fixed everything and also got a great little set of tips for you guys that I will share when I cover the Carbine next week.