From the team:
SFFLAB has been around for nearly two years now (!), and through that time we’ve learned a lot about how we can best support creators and the enthusiasts who buy and enjoy their work. We’ve been working on some changes meant to further this, and we‘re ready to share some of these today.
First, some context: by its own nature, SFFLAB has been a bit of an experiment. We started SFFLAB because we saw an opportunity for creators like us to work together and pool resources in some key areas – think web development, fulfillment, customer support, the supply chain, and so forth. The point of this was to deliver a better customer experience while giving ourselves more time and resources to focus on product development. Our theory went that if we could accomplish that, we could help unleash the next wave of new products and ideas, benefitting everyone. However, we didn’t really know right away how we should accomplish that goal, or the exact role SFFLAB would have in that; we had to learn along the way what to do.
One example of this has been the customer-facing aspects of our business: our web storefront, and the channels through which we communicate with customers (be it to inform, promote, or support). At the very beginning, we launched a unified store at SFFLAB.com representing all the brands that we work with. We also took the opportunity to streamline mailing lists and customer support to go through SFFLAB, in a bid to provide a consistent customer experience. This served us ok, but two years later, we’ve learned that this strategy introduced some unintended problems. Just to list a few:
- Creators weren’t as close with their customers as they wanted to be, since SFFLAB acted as an intermediary in most circumstances
- Creators' indirect access to their storefront meant they were slower to view, add or update information
- Creators were constrained in providing an online experience tailored to their brand and products
- SFFLAB’s development efforts were too ‘one size fits all’, requiring us to make many concessions for the sake of standardization
You might have noticed that these challenges aren't very dissimilar to the dynamic something like Newegg or Amazon introduces for online brands. Indeed, while the creators we’ve worked with liked that SFFLAB took care of a lot of things for them, having to sell through 'one storefront' meant that they had to accept those limitations as well. For indie brands, where the relationship between customer and creator is uniquely important, it just wasn't the right model. Meanwhile, consolidating things like customer engagement and support made us more efficient, but at the cost of unnecessary barriers and communication gaps, contrary to our stated goals. What was actually needed was a way to provide the benefit of managed technology, without these compromises.
To do that, we’ve refactored SFFLAB from being ‘one storefront’, to being a more holistic technology stack and service comprised of interconnected components that brands can deploy selectively, and to their own specifications. We've assembled this from a collection of third-party and bespoke solutions for everything from newsletter and mailing lists, to customer support and engagement, to web templates and style libraries, to fully integrated fulfillment, and so forth. This allows us to be a one-stop shop for a creator, whereby SFFLAB can stand up a storefront and fulfillment pipeline that is neatly integrated, quick to build, and relatively inexpensive to use. What that means for creators is that they can continue to put their time towards making great products, rather than the busywork of selling their creations; what it means for customers is that they'll now interact with SFFLAB brands on dedicated storefronts tailored for each brand itself.
To that end, we will begin to launch stores for our existing slate of brands starting next week! All existing products on SFFLAB will be represented, and in addition you'll see some new brands enter the fold, like Chimera, Lazer3D, and Sidearmd. This is not to mention the new products (announced or not) that will be coming from SFFLAB-partnered brands through the end of the year.
Naturally, these updates are but a step in a longer-term process of continuous improvement for our brands, and for SFFLAB as a whole. We've already played a part in supporting product development of new products, and we have some ideas in the works that will further enhance the sites of each brand. Longer term, we are tackling more fundamental challenges with respect to manufacturing and fulfillment, which remain the predominant barriers inhibiting our work. With any luck, our continued efforts in all of these areas will bring about that wave of innovation we sought to create at the very beginning.
We’ve outlined some frequently asked questions below, but feel free to get in touch if you have any others. We’re really excited for this next chapter, and are thankful for the opportunity to work with some pretty great enthusiasts across the SFF community!
– The SFFLAB Team
1. When will these new storefronts go live?
Some will launch as early as next week – such as NCASE, Sidearmd and w360mod – with others launching in the preceding weeks. We currently expect all planned storefronts to go live by the end of the year at the very latest.
2. Given these changes, where do I go to receive support for my order?
Simply put, to where you ordered it - SFFLAB will continue to provide support for orders placed on our website, and each brand will have a dedicated support channel accessible on their website once they have transitioned to their own dedicated storefront.
3. What will happen to SFFLAB.com?
In the short term, SFFLAB’s site will soon be updated to retire the storefront, link to each brand website, share our mission, publish news and announcements, and so forth. Each SFFLAB-partnered brand will also link back to SFFLAB.
In the long term, we have some bigger ideas for what to use the site for, and what SFFLAB will do above and beyond supporting our brands, particularly with regards to promotion (a weaker area for us currently). But for now we’re keeping it simple.
4. Is anything else changing with SFFLAB?
We've been hard at work on elements of manufacturing and fulfillment that aren’t so visible to the consumer, but will yield additional benefits to our brands over time. We’ve also got some features we’ll be launching on SFFLAB.com and on the storefronts of each brand that we believe will provide a better and more informed buying experience for enthusiasts. We will be more communicative about these as they are ready.
Other than that, though, our role and mission in the SFF ecosystem remains the same as before.