So, what's going on at Flyin' Miata?
We're happy to report that Flyin' Miata has been doing very well as we approach our 35th anniversary. We're setting sales records every year and putting out new products for all generations. This is great for us and great for our customers - well, mostly great for our customers.
Unfortunately, there has been a price. As we've grown, we've struggled to maintain our level of customer service. We've had trouble providing the technical support that has always defined our company despite steadily adding staff. Our shipping department has become overwhelmed with the volume of orders. Email response times have stretched out to unacceptable levels.
We want you to know that we're aware of the problems, and here's what we're doing to fix them to ensure that we'll be around for another 35 years.
A complete rethink of our order fulfillment process.
One thing that sets Flyin' Miata apart is the number of products that were designed in-house. Parts are produced all over the country and shipped to us where they are combined into products. We're very proud of this, but it does make us as much a manufacturer as a retailer. Because a lot of products share components - a timing belt can be used in 12 different products, for example - we don't assemble these products until they're ordered. That lets us keep our inventory numbers lean which is great for keeping costs low, but it does slow down shipping considerably. When you're smaller, you can get away with this. But we've outgrown it, and our larger sales volumes have opened up some new possibilities.
Our internal product management system is also separate from the ecommerce software. That's a relic of our history, as we're older than the concept of a webstore. The internal product system is much better at managing our complex products which is good, but it makes things a bit clunky by adding a step as orders are downloaded from the webstore into our internal software. It also means that orders taken over the phone don't show up in your online order history.
In order to address all of these, we're making a major change that affects not only our order processing flow but also how the warehouse is physically laid out. We're separating our assembly from our order fulfillment, effectively separating manufacturing from retail. When components come in, they'll be assembled into products and delivered over to the retail side of the house which is managed by the ecommerce software. This will increase the amount of inventory we have to carry, but it will allow us to ship parts much faster. The order will land in shipping the instant you place it, and our shipping staff will be able to simply pull a box or two off the shelf and slap a label on it. We should also be able to take advantage of better efficiency and accuracy as we pack up 10 butterfly kits at a time instead of packing one 10 times. Since every order will go through the webstore, you'll have a full order history available for you.
We're building up to this transition now, which will happen in the fall. We're going to do our best to minimize the impact on our customers, but please be patient if we hit any hiccups in the process!
The EPA and CARB have been cracking down on devices that affect emissions in the last few years. A shop will get a request for sales records and then get hit by a fine big enough to put them out of business. You may have read about some of them in the news, but many others don't make it in the press. Also, we like clean air, which is why we don't sell things like test pipes. These two factors are a primary reason for our push to make all of our power products 50-state legal. You may get through your annual inspection with some federally illegal products, but that situation may not continue. That's the other primary reason we stopped selling ECUs, and why Flyin' Miata is the only source for fully legal forced induction for all years. We want to be here for you in the future, and we want you to continue to pass emissions tests in the future. It's led to some very difficult decisions, but we're confident that they're the best choice for the years to come.
Free shipping is very popular with shoppers. But it's also a way to improve our efficiency, as it allows us to prioritize time vs shipping cost. Previously, we'd spend extra time in packing to make sure the shipping cost was as low as possible - and we'd also refund any over charges if we were able to drop it. Now that shipping is on us, we're able to decide if it's more worthwhile to repack or to pay a little more for shipping. We did have to increase our prices to cover the "free" shipping - it's never really free - but the increase is designed to cover the cost of shipping and nothing more. Our customers will pay the same on average but we'll be able to get parts out to them more quickly.
It's very difficult to find folks who can work in our tech support department. They need to have a deep understanding of all Miatas, be equipped with killer troubleshooting skills, be able to express themselves well and have endless patience. People like this are a scarce resource. So we've been taking a good look at what we can do to minimize phone calls by putting more information online and improving our instructions even further. This was one of the factors that led to our decision to stop selling programmable ECUs, as they took up a disproportionate amount of support time.
We're scaling back the amount of work we do on customer cars. This allows our techs - another scarce resource - to concentrate on R&D support instead of changing clutches and shocks. It also clears up some space in our facility for the assembly area, as we now have multiple mini-warehouses inside our building. Who would have thought that 23,000 square feet would end up being too small?
Every day, you hear about another security breach and more personal information released on the web. We've changed our payment processing so that we never actually see your information. When you enter an order online, your payment information never touches our webserver but is sent directly to our payment processor. All we get is a reference to the transaction that says you've paid. Since we never have the information, there's no way for us to lose it. This means we are fully PCI compliant. As part of this, we have moved all of our transactions to the web server. It might seem odd that we cannot take your credit card info over the phone, but we want to make sure your information is safe! We also use an extended validation SSL certificate to secure our webstore, so you know that you're dealing directly with Flyin' Miata and nobody else.
Our international ordering process used to be done manually and had basically ground to a halt. We've now automated it so our friends overseas can order as easily as someone who lives next door. We've even passed along the savings we've negotiated on shipping rates to make it less painful. For our Canadian customers, we've negotiated lower import costs. Future plans include the ability to ship to alternate addresses.
Wow, that's a lot going on.
It's a lot of change for sure. This sort of thing is exciting and scary at the same time because there's so much going on. We know these changes will make us a stronger company that's better able to serve our customers, and we wanted to let you know why we're doing what we're doing. Oh, and one more thing...
Long-term customers will remember the famous and tireless Turbodog. We've missed him since he left us, and we're happy to report Gauge has now joined the Flyin' Miata family. It's quite likely he will not improve efficiency - quite the opposite - but we're okay with that.