Setting the right price mattered a lot in the mech industry. The MTA maintained a public record on every certified mech sold by a mech designer. Potential customers often looked up his recent record to get an estimate on the value of his products.
The initial price often set the standard.
Consider coming up with a mundane product like a pair of shoes. These days, modern manufacturing techniques have turned these articles of footwear into a cheap commodity that could be bought for rock-bottom prices. Some of the more affluent consumers even fabricate their own if they own a household 3D printer.
Most shoe manufacturers saw little future in trying to compete on price and volume. Instead, they went into the opposite direction, coming up with something fancy by employing famous fashion designers and incorporating trace exotics in their products.
All of that cost a lot of money, so the shoe manufacturers charged a higher premium for their fancy shoes. Sometimes they charged fifty times the unit cost of a single pair of shoes.
It sounded like a scam, right? Yet many shoe manufacturers sold out their most exclusive and expensive products the moment they released them on the market. They painstakingly built up a brand for excellence that consumers trusted.
Put in a cynical way, a strong brand effectively brainwashed the market. Consumers believed that the high prices the manufacturers adopted represented genuine value.
Sometimes, this even turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy. As brands grew in recognition and value, people who owned them earned more social recognition. Clothes made the man and woman.
Every company in pretty much every sector aimed to built up a brand like this. Unfortunately for Ves, the Living Mech Company hadn’t reached this level yet. It barely got off the starting line.
To charge a twelve million credit premium for the Mark II Eternal Edition could be considered arrogant and premature. Neither his company nor his design achieved a strong enough brand to let him get away with such an outrageous price hike.
At least according to conventional wisdom.
“Then again, nothing what I do adheres to conventional wisdom.” Ves said to himself.
Ves faced two main hindrances to getting his audience accept his higher prices.
First, he barely started operating a year ago, and the LMC only came into existence a couple of months ago.
While he built up his company’s brand on Cloudy Curtain, extending it to the vast and limitless Bentheim market required an even greater investment than before. Throwing a couple of billion credits on ad campaigns would barely be able to bump his company’s profile from zero percent to one percent awareness.
Second, the true value of his products lay in the X-Factor, which had a definite effect on people but could not be measured directly. In addition, since Ves wished to keep his knowledge of the X-Factor a trade secret, he couldn’t even direct the audience to take note of its effects.
Buyers had to trust in their gut feeling to appreciate his mechs enough to fork over the extra premium.
Yet they weren’t always stupid.
The more credits at stake, the more they started thinking with their brains instead of their guts. When they looked at the Mark II Eternal Edition and inspected its specs, they would know that its performance simply didn’t match its price.
If there was one thing consumers hated, it was being made aware that they were overcharging for a product. A strong brand blinded consumers to this occurrence, but Ves didn’t enjoy such a luxury at the moment.
A purchase should feel good. Ves hoped that anyone who decided to buy his mechs felt happy that they went for his designs. He’d leave a bad taste in their mouths if he appeared to be overcharging his products. This explained his current lack of sales.
As visitors kept pouring into the convention center, Ves still hadn’t made a sale. The few potential buyers among the crowd soundly rejected his greedy prices and turned elsewhere to satisfy their cravings.
Even his neighboring booths sold a couple of mechs. Ves didn’t think much of the mundane-looking mechs neighboring his booth, but their mech designers joyfully appealed to the crowd milling in front of his show models.
The prices of their mechs ranged from ten to twenty million credits. From what Ves could see, the desperate mech designers didn’t even charge much of a premium for their mechs. They’d barely make more than half-a-million credits after deducting their production costs and license fees.
Still, as poor as they behaved, at least they made some progress. Ves on the other hand sat with empty hands while the first day of the festival already progressed halfway.
“It comes down to feeling.” Ves realized after musing about this point. “There’s got to be a way to make the feeling more poignant.”
He turned his head to the nearby simulator pods. Marcella’s organization brought ten pods to his booth to allow the guests to try out the virtual versions of his show models.
They loosely set a limit of ten minutes per guest so that every potentate got a turn. Even then, around fifty eager guests waited in line.
Ves noted that everyone who wanted to try out a simulation consisted of average festival goers. While that helped leave a good impression behind, the mass of people blocked his potential customers from accessing the pods quickly.
Ves immediately turned to Antje. “I think it’s best to encourage our potential customers to try out the simulators. Let’s cut back on access to the pods to the general public.”
“Hm. Good idea. While not everyone who expresses interest in our mechs is a potentate, there are enough that it’s worthwhile so set some pods aside.”
The sales manager immediately went to work. She set three pods aside and instructed the sales representatives to encourage their use by anyone expressing interest in the mechs.
Half an hour went by as the new policy went into effect. Ves sat back and watched as the potential customers got an opportunity to experience the mechs up close. Their attitudes of his products changed once they got a taste of piloting the mechs.
While the experience paled in comparison to entering the actual cockpits, the rules forbid the practice out of safety concerns.
“I still need an extra oomph to get across the idea that my mechs are different.”
He looked at his models and compared them to the simulated footage displayed by the various projectors at his booth. The projected mechs looked a lot more vivid due to their motion and something else that Ves had overlooked.
“The Festive Cloud Generators are inactive.”
Ves declined to add the generator to his lightly modified Caesar Augustus, he did add them to his variants. The Mark II Eternal Edition featured a striking red vertical head crest while the Marcus Aurelius as a rolling purple cape. When both modules turned active, it made the mech seem larger than life.
However, the organizers strictly prohibited the activation of any show models. Even turning on the lights posed too much of a risk. Still, Ves wanted to try and see if he could get an exemption on this rule.
He summoned up the hall manager. A round-bellied man with a moustache showed up. He dressed in a weirdly formal costume that emphasized the girth of his belly. In an age where various weight-reducing treatments existed, being fat was more of a fashion statement than a sign of obesity.
“What a wonderful trio of mechs!” The hall manager exclaimed as he arrived at his booth. A couple of security officers had to shove the crowd aside to allow his portly body to get close. “I love what you did to the Caesar Augustus! It’s one of the best I’ve ever seen! You could apply for a masterwork certificate from the MTA with this beauty!”
Ves awkwardly laughed. “I’m still too junior to think about such a thing.”
Mechs had to meet a lot of strict criteria before they became eligible for a masterwork certificate. Generally, only Senior and Master Mech Designers possessed the skills to reach this standard.
“Then what seems to be the problem?”
“I’m looking to turn on a function of two of my show models.” Ves replied and guided him to a projection that showed the Mark II Eternal Edition and the Marcus Aurelius in action. “The Festive Cloud Generator injects minute particles into harmless water vapor to achieve these visual effects.”
“I do admit the mechs look dazzling when the so-called cloud generators are active, but the potential risks are numerous. The main reason why we don’t allow mechs to run any systems is because their reactors have to come online. Even at their lowest operating level, they generate a significant amount of heat and energy. If anything goes wrong with these reactors, the consequences could be catastrophic to the nearby crowd.”
The hall manager gestured to the pressing mass of people who became enchanted by his mechs. From a public safety standpoint, the man had a point. From a technical standpoint, the chance the reactors malfunctioned and exploded was virtually nil.
“These are brand-new mechs that have gone through certification. The MTA insured they’re safe. What’s the harm in turning on a couple of vapor generators? Think of how much better my mechs will look like. The festival will be better off if the crowd can see my mechs at their best.”
His arguments slowly persuaded the hall manager to the merits of letting his mechs appear at their best.
Ves figured out that the shrewd man in charge of this side hall competed against the managers of the other halls to attract the most visitors. The manager never told him this directly, but his responses hinted at this dynamic at work. The more he talked, the more he honed in on these benefits.
“My mechs are already one the biggest draws in this hall. I know you have reservations for turning on those cheaply-built mechs, but my products are different. I didn’t cut any corners when I designed and fabricated these mechs. I can truly guarantee you that nothing will go wrong if I’m allowed to turn on the generators.”
It took five more minutes to squeeze an exemption out of the reluctant manager. At the end, Ves had the feeling he was merely providing an excuse for something the manager actually wanted at the beginning. His training and instructions prevented him from complying right away, but talk long enough and even the steel-hearted started to waver.
When Ves quickly entered the cockpits and turned them online at their lowest level, the entire crowd held their breath. Since he received an exemption to run his mechs at their lowest activity level, he sneakily bent the rules and turned a few more lights on as well.
The difference became apparent right away. A low murmur of appreciation ran through the crowd as the two models underwent a transformation.
The exclusive Marcus Aurelius especially appeared dramatic. Its rolling purple cape reinforced the regal quality to his eternal mech. While it always became a hit with the older folk, even the kids and teenagers started to admire the sage-like model.
As the only two mechs that received permission to come online, the spectacle instantly doubled the crowd. Ves didn’t care about that but instead directed his attention to an affluent visitor who just exited a simulator pod.
When the man entered the pod, the mechs still remained dormant. Only when he got to enjoy the simulations for ten short minutes did he emerge with an entirely new view. His gaze admired the aggressive contours of the Mark II and the ethereal ambiance radiated by the Marcus Aurelius.
He turned his attention back to the Mark II after a while. It appeared his budget only allowed him to consider the cheapest offering. Even if Ves planned to auction the Marcus Aurelius, its high production cost ensured that it would not come cheap.
Eventually, the potential customer made a choice. He caught the attention of a sales representative. “I’d like to purchase a copy of this design.”
Ves smiled when he heard those words. If everything went right, he just made his first sale.
“This is just the start.”