What to Know as a Group Buy Customer

This is the first in a long series of articles that will dive into what’s involved in running a group buy, and what to expect through all stages.
Although this series is meant for group buy runners, a good first step would be to better inform prospective group buy customers, so they know what happens behind the curtains of a group buy.

Here I’ll also cover the sort of questions that group buy runners will typically not answer (for fear of misunderstanding).

We can start with one of those questions right off the bat.

“How much does this keyboard actually cost to produce”

It seems like a simple question at first, the cost of the metal machining and pcb should logically be about the price of the board’s group buy price right?

In the majority of cases, the bare cost of machining the board only accounts for 25-30% of the actual cost for the GB runner. What’s the other 70% then? Here’s some examples of other costs:

  • Prototyping costs
  • Fees: (Payment processing, web store, taxes, bank, currency conversion, shipping, etc)
  • Failed units at factory
  • Re-anodization (this can be done up to 10 times if aiming for a perfect color match)
  • Designer cost for case and pcb (either fixed fees or a percentage)
  • In the case of self-designed keyboards, valuation of time
  • Shipping to GB runner from manu
  • Screws, boxes, tape, foam and other small items
  • Potentially failed qc units that have to be sent back and forth (this gets expensive)
  • Potentially failed gb units that are not fit for sale
  • Potentially lost or damaged shipments
  • Potential disasters!

This covers just a few things a GB runner has to spend time and money on. In the end you are paying for the level of quality defined by the GB runner, as well as all of the time spent working on a keyboard design.

Bauer took a year from first sketches to GB
And I didn’t even do the PCB

Dixie of Dixiemech

In this above case, even if his time was valued at 1/4th of minimum wage, Dixie would be losing massive amounts of money producing his keyboard.

It is fairly normal for a group buy runner (experienced or not) to lose quite a bit of money (not just time) on their buy. This can be caused by disastrous production qualities from factories that then must be fixed or replaced entirely.

An important point to keep in mind as a buyer: you are giving a fixed amount of money to the GB runner to take a volatile amount of risk. Often everything ends up ok and the GB runner is rewarded for their risk. However, this is not always the case…

Another thing to keep in mind, that in order to be able to fulfil and check every keyboard – complexity needs to be kept down. Although you might want some fancy layout support for the keyboard you see at IC, it might not be economically or logistically possible for the GB runner to be able to support it. In this case, buyers are suggested to get their own plates or pcbs for example.

Remember, as a buyer, you are paying for the level of quality the GB runner has set. If you look at more expensive keyboards like TGR or Keycult, although the price is higher than most are comfortable paying – the level of quality and support you can expect will be far greater than a first-time uninformed GB runner, or some lower cost Asian GB runners.

Let’s hop on to the next big question:
Why are keyboards getting more and more expensive? I feel as if I am being priced out of my own hobby!

Indeed most keyboards on the market have gotten more expensive than they were 3-5 years ago. But this can be explained fairly simply – quality has come a long way.

Case materials have changed to use more expensive and consistent mixes of aluminum, as lower quality raw materials lead to poor anodization and machining capability.
Case designs have gotten far more complex, and this requires testing and prototyping (OTD, as coveted as they are, were of a simple design, with a simple mount, with a very simple PCB) While now we have gasket, multi piece designs with daughterboard pcbs and support for RGB and hotswap and various plate layouts in various materials.
And most importantly, finishing is being treated with far more care than ever before, color choices and matching have never been so diverse – and customers have never been more picky

Man I am haunted by bad ano

Yuktsi of TGR

Getting perfect anodization takes many, many tries – and shipping boards back and forth is pricey. GB runners do this all in the goal of getting the best possible finishing they can. And often, that can account for a large portion of the price of the keyboard.

Finally, let me finish up by covering a very silly question
“But the aluminum only costs $30”

If you’ve gotten this far into this post, you know that it’s a lot more complicated than that, but I will cover it anyways. That’s the equivalent of saying “A Ferrari only has $8000 of materials in it” Which sounds equally silly.

Producing a keyboard is a great deal of work, and in the majority of cases, these GB runners go out of their way, sacrificing time, money, and health to make sure you get a keyboard you’ll love.

I think its important to keep that in mind – though if you want to try it yourself, stay tuned for the rest of the posts which will cover how to design and produce your own keyboard.

See you next week!