I had already researched the Evolution 1P extensively and had decided that's what I was going to order, despite the sketchy customer service. However, upon hearing of the revisions, I began to wonder if the new version was still going to be best for me. So, I just called Big Sky today and actually talked to Bob at length about what's been going on. I'll try to keep this short (yeah, right).
First off, he described the changes to the product line as making the tents stronger all around. This includes better webbing, some different materials in the tent body (didn't ask what specifically...sorry, textile-iacs), and a design adjustment that only necessitates one guy-out for stability (although even more potential guy-out points have been added). Also, out of this design tweak, they have managed to change the point at which the poles are stressed. Most stress on the poles is now transfered to the point at which they cross, making it more wind-stable and snow-worthy. These changes come with no additional weight or price. Pretty cool, if you ask me. Finally, accessories (different stake types, guylines, and footprints) will be avaliable "a la carte" per customer request.
Now, for the explanation.
As some of you may know, the hold-ups are a direct result of the new tent models. He was trying hard to get them ready for the April ship date, but at the time, they were still 9% heavier than the existing models. Bob said he just wouldn't ship these sub-par products just to meet a deadline so he went ahead and did a couple more revisions/prototypes. Thank you Bob! Now that he has finalized the new designs, he should be shipping the new tents to fill back orders soon.
Although he can take orders by mail, he must finish work on a new online ordering system as he's no longer using PayPal. So, he's putting together information about the new products and will implement them as soon as possible with the new ordering system in a shiny new web format. If you e-mail him, he will message you when the new system is up, after which he will begin taking orders again and will fill them once the back log has been worked through. The new tents should ship in mid-July.
Now, when I asked him about billing, he said that due to the fact that they are a small company, the tents are "built to order." So, yes, it is his protocol to charge immediately upon receiving an order. He stated that this keeps prices low by making sure that supply exactly meets demand (rough paraphrase).
Regarding his lack of communication in previous months, he said that amidst gear shows, supplier snafoos, and R&D on the new stuff, he simply got covered up. However, he acknowledged and apologized for the crappy customer service lately (he used the term "terrible") and regrets that his contact with customers has been inadequate. He told me that he is thinking of ways he can deal with this in the future. He even mentioned that he is aware of forum discussions regarding is customer service and simply expressed his regret, because he seems to know that he's been handling things poorly.
I know some of you are fed up with Bob and just want your money back or are of the mind that would never order anything from him in the first place. However, I was impressed that he spent so much time talking with me about each one of my concerns. He described his new designs in great detail since no information is yet available on them and even let me in on some new products (4-season, double-wall shelter and new 3-season, single-wall shelters). Bob struck me as a very honest, humble, and sincere person who regrets what has happened lately. Despite all that's happened over the last several months, the bottom line seems to be that he wants to put out the best product possible. Now, I don't think customer service should be sacrificed due to this as it seems to have been. But it sounds like Bob agrees on that point and is truly sorry that service was compromised along the way to better products, and seems determined to improve this aspect of his business.
So, based on the conversation described above, I for one am looking forward to ordering my new and improved Evolution 1P and I hope that all of you who are fed up with Big Sky will give them another chance.