Submitted by Leonardo Conroy
In my limited experience with the transportation industry, and specifically their relationship with the musical instrument industry, I have noticed a single prevalent problem. Two words: insufficient packaging. Now, that problem does not really reside in the transportation industry, but instead in the company or person that hires them. However, I believe that the solution to that problem can be found in the transportation industry.
I work in a musical instrument store and love it. We have the privilege to be an official dealership of many prestigious brands of instrument. However, some of these brands, in efforts to cut costs, have reduced the quantity and quality of packaging they ship their instruments in. This problem really shines at the $500-ish price point for guitars, as these instruments are, although expensive for most people, still not expensive enough to come with their own hard case, and must be shipped from Korea or Indonesia across the Pacific. Now, given that these instruments must be shipped halfway around the world, one could assume that the companies shipping them would send them with a decent amount of packaging, such as multiple layers of cardboard, bubble wrap, etc. You would be very wrong to assume that. Often, the guitars come in one or two layers of cardboard, with a little of what is basically stretch wrap around the headstock.
Due to this, damaged instruments are not at all uncommon when orders come in, and the manufacturer obviously does not want these back, so they are destroyed. Some instruments are not badly damaged and become b-stock, which in turn damages the reputation of both the store and the manufacturer by implying that the one sells, and the other makes second rate goods. Many times, the amount of damage to these items is not clear until the box is opened, as it does not require a crushed box to break a guitar. At higher price points, these instruments will often come with hard cases that are, in and of themselves, effective packaging materials and alleviate much of the stress of shipping an expensive instrument. At lower price points, it can be expected that minimal time and/or effort was put into packaging the instrument, as there will be a less monetary loss if it is damaged. However, the $500-ish price bracket that this problem seems to be the most prevalent in happens to be right in between those two, especially for students like myself. A 500$ guitar or bass guitar is cheap enough to be relatively affordable, however, it also (in most cases) will be good enough to gig or record with. The unfortunate reality of having damaged goods as the models in that price bracket means that musicians, especially student musicians, have a tough time getting their hands on the instruments they can afford, and often must settle for a model that they are not completely happy with, because the one they wanted was on back order due to a shipping accident.
This problem also pervades the second-hand market, to the point that many (I would hazard a guess at a majority) of musicians will refuse to purchase instruments on sites such as eBay, because many first-time sellers are unaware of the dangers that face a guitar in the back of a UPS truck and do not package them appropriately. It is a common occurrence for buyers in these markets to be extremely disappointed and upset when the instrument they paid multiple hundreds of dollars for is suddenly worthless due to a crack in the neck or a destroyed body. Around the holidays this becomes especially bad as stressed employees attempt to work as fast as possible to make shipping deadlines, and often care for the package is disregarded (Remember the video of the ups guy tossing packages onto the ground?) A friend of mine recently had an experience like this as a saxophone he had ordered took a week and a half longer than was expected, and came in a crushed box with damaged springs and a broken neck, despite the images of the same saxophone in good and playable condition on the seller’s page. (This resulted in an unknown amount of extra shop time that had to be put into the instrument in addition to what was already needed.)
This issue can also be seen in other industries, like the furniture industry. I spent a summer volunteering at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore near where I live, and in the time I was there I witnessed much easily preventable damage. There was a single company that would send us donations, which were all b-stock and had sustained mild damaged en route from the factory to the supplier. Many times, I would see panes of glass that had been removed because they had shattered, but what can be expected when the only thing protecting them is a single 2 inch disk of foam and a layer of cardboard? These donations would come in by the trailer load, and every time it would be the same, every single mirror is cracked, shelves have cracked, ornamental pieces shattered or splintered, and these problems could be fixed by putting another layer or two between the product and the outside world. Instead, they would have to be fixed by the volunteers, and we did our best using epoxy and wood glue to make defects unnoticeable.
A greater level of education is, in my opinion, the solution to this problem. A simple little warning when making a shipment about the dangers of any type of transport and a reminder that a little extra packaging is well worth the cost. Another option could be having an option for shipping that had nothing to do with speed, or travel route, but instead about how much care that goes into the safety of the package. If shipping companies were to take this extra step or provide the extra option, or in a perfect world do both, it is my belief that this problem of damaged goods could be brought down to reasonable levels.
Submitted by Leonardo Conroy
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