What does the label boutique effects mean in 2016? Featured

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 A couple of months ago I asked the question to many people in our industry what does the word boutique mean to them and how does it relate to their company/business and the industry we work in…

The reason I did this is because I have an issue with the word - as long as I've worked for Wampler (over 5 years) I've never really understood it as I've never been able to relate to it properly. When I first met Brian he was describing the company to me and he kept using the phrase 'a lot of people would class us as boutique'. I’m not sure he related to it either thinking about it, so, I looked in to this ‘concept’ and discovered that it appeared to be everything Wampler Pedals shouldn’t be - so it's safe to say everything I've done in this time has to move us away from that label, usually against Brian's wishes I’d say, but sometimes you have to take a step out of the marketing hype and take a reality check.

What many people don't understand about Wampler Pedals is that Brian's absolutely loves marketing – I’d say it’s his passion, as much as he loves to breadboard and get new releases out there, the most excited I've seen him get is over a marketing direction or a plan that has worked out how we wanted it to. This is why when the rest of our peers were hiring builders in 2010, he was hiring me to take ownership of the internet marketing and social networking. Is boutique about marketing? Is it just a marketing phrase? Anyway, as usual, I digress...

So, what is boutique? Let’s look at what it was in 2010. Boutique then meant a small company, handmade by a guy in his basement making unique designs (tubescreamer variants usually ;) ) and presenting them in a fancy painted box. So, from what I could see – that was not Wampler Pedals! We had maybe 1 pedal that could be associated with a TS, our boxes looked awful and we were being built in a factory. But, everyone called us boutique… I think the label came from us because of the price point, the level of care that Brian insisted on with each stage of the process and after sales service. After bringing them to them to life on the breadboard he then worked extremely close with Justin in the PCB layout to ensure the signal path remained as pure as possible (this is why our pedals are usually so quiet in terms of floor noise compared to others), the parts used are to his spec (and not to price, for example – 2/3 of the PT2239 delay chips were binned upon first inspection because they weren’t good enough and at least 60% of the jfets were also thrown out), the 7 part quality control process during manufacturing include a play test for each pedal... so, from that respect I can understand it why people called us that, there is a huge element of care and love put into each one.

Let’s fast forward to 2015. What is boutique now? Well, those of you connected to me on social media will know how much I like to poke Hipsters with a stick – need to get this out the way, I don’t mean any of it, some of my favourite people are hipsters, one of the hippest people I know taught my kids for years and I love the man dearly, but you know – sometimes they ask for it! A classic example of what boutique means these days can be found in here. Really fancy packaging, unashamed beard growing (I do hope that ‘tache comb is organic and made in Portland sir) and moody photographs (I’m trying really hard not to insert a barrage of jokes here) and what can only be classed as a mediocre product. It would appear that boutique has flipped on it’s most fundamental principle. A quality hand built product.

2015 NAMM board

Let’s look at Wampler Pedals now. We are much much bigger than you probably expect, because we’ve somehow managed to retain the ‘boutique’ image. I think also we have retained it because of our communication channels, we run a massively successful group on Facebook dedicated to Tone Chasers – it’s the only group I know that isn’t just full of idiots arguing about who the best is and what flavor picks they like etc., it’s just people talking about gear. We are actively open on other social network feeds as well. Myself and my good friend Alex Clay do all the social media and we try to demonstrate a sense of humour in what we do, we’ve both been playing for ever so we understand the customers well so I think they relate to us so the posts we make strike home in one way or another. The legend that is Max Jeffery (one of the unintentionally funniest people on the planet) and Brian do the Chasing Tone podcast every week, Brian personally does a lot of stuff on the Periscope app… so we are approachable, does that make us more boutique that others (although, I must admit to noticing that many other companies now have Podcasts going as well these days)? It probably does.

Looking around at our peers, our friends in our industry I find it hard to see any of them being 2015 boutique. Look at Robert Keeley. He made a video for me when I asked the question originally (also check out Pt 2) to show what he thinks about the whole boutique thing. And, being Rob, he also cross referenced the literal meaning of the word boutique from the dictionary! If you look at Rob’s set up, it’s all in-house. From the moment he decides on the pedal to the when it get’s sent to a customer/dealer – it never leaves the building. Everything is done in house, right there under his watchful eye. Then look at Josh Scott from JHS (he despises the label boutique as for him the whole hipster substandard product and customer service infuriates him), every part of his product is cool and is intentionally made that way. Nick from CatalinBread, he and Howard lock themselves away and make products that they think are cool and they think their customers would dig, it’s almost an artform to them – they paint their tones with a fine brush and hope people hear them properly. Philippe from Caroline Guitar Company – the coolest and most intelligent guy I have ever met, a lot of thought goes into the entire design process, a sense of humour and personality is present in everything he does... is that boutique?

The best box label ever made

My thought process in 2015, going into 2016 is this – boutique companies are dead, but the boutique industry is alive. I"m pretty sure that of all the companies that work at their product full time are not boutique, but, the collective of companies are. We, and they, are determined to bring you the best toys we can, the best tones we can, but in the way we do it. We aren’t truly  handmade any more, they aren’t either  – most companies employ SMT to populate their boards, most companies effectively mass produce their products (to order),  most of the companies are dedicated to provide excellent customer service, most of the owners/builders/marketers are friends who regularly chat, compare notes, help each other and support each other in times of need. I guess you could say we are boutique family, from the small to the large. And yes, I do include companies like Strymon and TC Electronic in that…

What about you, what does boutique mean to you as a customer? What makes a company boutique? Are we, Wampler Pedals, boutique on our own as a brand or are we part of the wider boutique as the collective?

 

 

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