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Area51 Airsoft - A Sorry Tale Indeed
(But with a happy ending!)

 

In October 2003 a small airsoft manufacturing firm named Area51 Airsoft announced that they were going to diversify from their usual range of custom pistols and conversions, and also supply shell-ejecting replica M4 assault rifles. These were based on the RAM paintball markers produced by Asia Paintball, converted from paintball calibre to fire the much smaller 6mm airsoft BBs instead.

I had been interested in the RAM replicas since they were announced a few months earlier, as the idea of a stream of shell cases being ejected as I fired was very appealing - I grew up with a passion for real firearms before the nineties Conservative governments embarked on the series of bans that have left the sport of shooting in the sorry state it is in today, and these replicas were undoubtedly the closest thing to the long-lost full-auto experience that could now be obtained, even with a firearms certificate.

Area51's RAM airsoft conversions were launched amid massive hype on the airsoft forums, with claims that there would only ever be a small quantity made - and although with hindsight it was a foolish move, I eagerly joined the scramble to purchase before it was too late. I paid out slightly more than 1000 in the middle of October 2003 and, as I write this more than six months later in May 2004, I am still waiting for all the items that I have been promised.

I've been documenting the endless series of broken promises, missed deadlines, outrageous claims and unconvincing excuses in my weblog over the last six months, and the time has now come to pull it all together into a single place. Area 51 have manufactured a reputation for quality and innovation in the airsoft world that is at least partly deserved, but they have grossly mishandled the entire shell-ejecting range and as far as I'm concerned their reputation is now irreparably tarnished. Hopefully this page will provoke second thoughts for anyone who is considering doing any significant business with this company - I really, really can't recommend them at all...

One final note - it might interest the owner of Area51, David "DeeDee" Sheldrake, that a search for their company name at Google currently shows my complaints about his company on the first page of results - and subsequent postings here will probably move them even higher on the page when Google catches up. In these days of weblogs and net-based amateur journalism, even a single disgruntled customer could be enough to make a difference to your company's reputation.

 - May 2004

 

Update - 18th May:

How nice - a happy ending! After a personal visit from Dee, I am very pleased to report that all my gripes have been resolved. He has now supplied all the outstanding items from both my original order and the eBay auction, re-affirmed his intention to provide warranty on the shell ejecting replicas if required, and generally resolved my problems and allayed my fears. I'm going to leave this page intact, but I am looking forward to being able to update it with news of the performance of the shell ejecting replica rather than endless griping. I'm extremely glad that, even after so many problems, we could sort it all out in the end. Nice one, Dee!

 

Problems with the shell-ejecting M4 replica to date

Although the heart of the replica is actually very impressive, in operation there have proved to be a number of serious issues which make sustained, reliable firing extremely rare. All of these issues have been reported to Area51, but no solutions have been proposed to date - and now that Dee has washed his hands of the entire range, no solutions are likely.

1) The various gas charge/coolers supplied were completely useless... They leaked like sieves (which is actually quite dangerous, when it comes to CO2!) and suffered from a serious design flaw that emerged in use - a number of different metals were used in the assembly, and as a tank was filled the cooling effect created by the expansion of the CO2 caused some components to contract more than others. This meant that the screw joint where the gun tank connected to the charge rig tended to bind solid to the tank's thread, while at the same time loosening from the rest of the charge/cooler assembly - as a result, the cooler would come apart as the tank was removed, leaving a metal collar firmly bound to the tank itself and rendering both tank and charger useless until they warmed up again! In the end I bought an equivalent, at my own expense, from a paintball supplies company - and it works perfectly every time...

2) The shell cases are extremely inconsistent in their manufacturing quality - in a significant proportion of those originally supplied the rubber insert used to reduce the calibre to 6mm protruded too far from the metal casing (around a millimetre, in some cases!) and so fouls on either the magazine feed or the gun's chamber, causing frequent jams. The excess insert can be trimmed off, but this tends to cause the remaining insert to creep forward in the metal case, repeating the problem and also loosening the grip on the BB - which means it tends to fall straight out through the barrel! This problem is getting worse with time, too, and more and more of my original shell cases are now affected - apparently the inserts were fitted under pressure, and are gradually sliding forward even when not in use.

3) The replica itself seems to have a very nasty tendency to hangfire on the last shot of a gas tank: as the tank runs down, the final pull of the trigger doesn't actually do anything - so one lowers the gun and prepares to make it safe, and half a second later the gas pressure has built up somewhere inside the mechanism and the gun fires without any further contact with the trigger! I can't tell whether this is a problem with the original RAM core, or has been introduced by the modifications performed by Area51, but I have to admit that the former seems most likely.

4) The main problem, and the reason for the existence of this page, is Area51 itself - it should not take six months and one hundred and fifty email messages sent and received in order to buy something and receive what you have paid for! I have been let down over delivery dates countless times, been fobbed off with excuses that became less and less plausible as time went on, cancelled plans and waited at home for two evenings and one entire weekend for personal deliveries that never materialised, and generally been jerked around and mistreated beyond all reasonable forbearance. I've said it before, and I'll say it again - this is no way to run a business!

 

Timeline of my dealings with Area51

 

8th October A51 announces launch of shell-ejecting range
15th October Paid for the gun, an additional front end, and a compressed air charging rig
2nd November Told that the air charger was being withdrawn, and replaced by a CO2 system
11th November Told that the gun would ship - it didn't...
7th November After advice from A51, obtained CO2 tank from BOC
9th November Informed that my gun will have added extras as a bonus - this is not the case
14th November After some background reading, determined that I had the wrong sort of CO2 tank
15th November Acquired replacement CO2 tank from BOC
15th November Promised instructions on how to fill the CO2 gun tanks - still waiting...
   
4th December Promised additional Bushmaster-type front end as a bonus - it took 20 weeks to arrive, and wasn't what I wanted even when it did...
5th December Told that the gun had shipped - it hadn't, and the tracking number was invalid
8th December Told again that the gun would ship - and again it didn't
18th December A51 announce that they will no longer supply direct to the public
19th December Told yet again that the gun had shipped
20th December Gun finally arrives on its own, without front end, shell cases or gas charge/cooler
20th December Told that shells and charge/cooler had been sent out - they hadn't
23rd December A51 forum at Arnie's Airsoft locked "for four days over christmas"
7th January A51 forum at Arnie's Airsoft completely locked, apparently permanently...
8th January Promised CO2 caplet adapter as a bonus - still waiting...
8th January Gas charge/cooler finally arrives - and fails immediately in use
12th January Replacement charge/cooler arrives - and also fails immediately in use
20th January Promised additional 11mm barrels as a bonus - still waiting...
3rd February Most recent order status update on A51's tracking page
4th February Shell cases finally arrive - and a number of them fail immediately in use
From this point I can actually use the gun for the first time!
6th February Promised 3rd generation charge/cooler - still waiting...
21st February Returned both faulty charge/coolers, together with faulty shells and gas tank
Until now, when it's back to being a paperweight once more!
25th February A51 announce their intention to supply direct to the public again
1st March A51 announce that the shell-ejecting Glock pistol range will be withdrawn
2nd March A51 remove references to authorised dealers from their web page
3rd March I finally run out of patience...
4th March Email sent to A51 telling them what I think of them, and putting my foot down
4th March They reply with more promises, and claims that my problems are unique among over 31,000 guns supplied... Needless to say, I don't believe that for a moment!
5th March I've given them until the middle of next week to deliver what I am owed, but I'm getting more annoyed with every email message exchanged. Let's see what happens...
6th March The additional front end arrives - more that twenty weeks after I ordered and paid for it. I've completely given up hope on the many freebies I was offered, as by this time just getting the items I'd actually paid for feels like a major achievement!
14th March In the vain hope that buying from the company via an eBay auction might somehow bring better results, I tried to obtain an extra barrel. Boy, but that was a mistake...
16th March Told that the barrel had been sent. It hadn't.
2nd April After weekly emails enquiring about the barrel, finally told that Dee would be in the London area and would deliver it in person. I waited in all weekend, and not only did he never show up, but he never apologised or even acknowledged the failure!
24th April More weekly emails, resulting in various claims that the barrel had been sent. It still hadn't...
3rd May A further email resulted in the news that Dee would be in the area again that evening. Once again, he never showed up...
6th May Terse email from Dee - some of the other frustrated customers that I have been in touch with have rather tactlessly forwarded our email conversations to him... However, he promised that the new manager, Arnie of Arnie's Airsoft fame, would deliver that evening in person. Unsurprisingly by now, he never showed up either.
6th May Dee announces on the A51 news page that he is washing his hands of everything to do with the shell-ejecting replicas - no spares, no support, no service, no warranty... This completely reverses all his previous promises of continuing support for the products - is the man's word completely worthless?
14th May Two months after the eBay auction ended, and a week since I was promised delivery for the third time - once more, enough is enough, so I've finally left negative feedback at eBay pointing to this page. I am so fed up with this...
15th May Dee threatens legal action over the contents of this page. He also promises to deliver the outstanding items personally (for the fourth time) - if I tell him what is missing! A long article admitting the shortcomings of his company is posted on the Area51 news page, and then withdrawn a few hours later. (Reproduced below)
18th May Now that's more like it! Dee and Arnie arrived unexpectedly, bearing goodies. I now have all that I've been waiting for, and more besides, and after a long chat we've back on friendly terms again. It would have been better if all these problems had never arisen in the first place, of course, but I'm very glad indeed that an amicable resolution was possible in the end. Nice one, Dee!
15th September A message posted on A51's web page announces the end of the company, citing the UK's impossibly restrictive firearms legislation. Critical threads in various airsoft forums might have precipitated the decision, though...

 

Weblog entries featuring the company

 

15th September 2004

Anyone who remembers my protracted difficulties with Area51 Airsoft earlier this year will probably be surprised at the latest developments... This week has seen threads discussing the company started on the forums at both Arnie's Airsoft and the UK Airsoft Network, and the general attitude there is unexpected to say the least.

Six months ago, when I chose to criticise A51's customer service on this web site, I was insulted, threatened and generally flamed lightly all over by supporters of the company - but now it seems that almost overnight their former fan club has changed into their worst enemies! The level of venom directed at Dee Sheldrake, the original manager of the company, and at new manager Arnie (he of Arnie's Airsoft) is actually rather disturbing, with their personalities, motives and qualifications criticised and called into question - together with a re-emergence of the bizarre allegation that Arnie and Dee are actually one and the same person!

I can refute the latter, of course, having met the pair of them when they came to personally deliver my M4 SE hardware, and although I can't speak with any authority on Dee's ballistics qualifications, I like to think that I know quite a lot about firearms and it was clear to me that he knew considerably more. It's also clear that nobody should under-estimate the value of Arnie's contributions to the airsoft scene in England: his website is one of the best airsoft sites in the world, and in the two years since I discovered the hobby I have always found it to be the most informative, helpful and accessible of resources. Unfortunately it has has been suffering from considerable technical difficulties in the last few months, but I've been very pleased that the problems now seem to be over and following a complete re-vamp the site is back online and better than ever.

The same cannot be said about Area 51 itself, though - although neither Dee or Arnie has been involved in the vicious thread at UKAN (a very wise move, in my opinion, as there's no chance of winning in a discussion that is already that hostile), earlier today an announcement appeared on their web site stating that the company was being wound up. The reasons given involve the UK's highly restrictive and convoluted forearms legislation, and given the complexity of the laws and the horrendous penalties for even innocent transgressions, they are good reasons indeed... But one has to assume, however, that the sudden turning of the tide of public opinion has at least precipitated that decision.

It might come as a surprise to some to see me defending A51 here, after having written many thousands of words criticising the company... But I have to say that I found both Arnie and Dee to be very friendly, pleasant and knowledgeable people, when I met them, and whatever the problems I've had with their company in the past, I do not like to see them under such fierce personal attack from people who obviously don't know them even to the small extent that I do - especially when so much of it seems completely ill-informed and unwarranted. I'm afraid that, when the mood of such an easily-excitable online community shifts, it tends to shift from one extreme to another.

Strange times, indeed...

 

18th May 2004

Well, there's a turn-up for the books! Yesterday evening I received an unexpected visit from Dee Sheldrake, the owner of Area51 Airsoft. He brought me all the outstanding items from both my original order and the eBay auction, together with a generous handful of freebies by way of an apology for the delay, and we ended up having quite a long chat. He explained the background to some of the problems that he and his company have been facing over the last few months, and it does all sound far more reasonable now that I have some facts to go along with all the speculation. As Dee freely admitted, it would have been preferable if the issues with delivery delays etc had never arisen in the first place, but given that they have I really think that he is now doing everything possible to correct the problems and make amends to his customers. I have to admit that having talked to him in person, now, I was impressed with his sincerity - and that actually I've ended up with a degree of sympathy for someone who is obviously being run ragged by the demands of his business. I wish him the best of luck in sorting out the remaining problems, and I hope that he can resolve the complaints of any other dissatisfied customers as effectively as he has now resolved mine.

He has also re-affirmed his position on the warranty for the shell ejectors, and I am considerably re-assured to know that if there are any problems in future, I will have somewhere to turn for advice, repairs, and spare parts. I'm very pleased to be back on friendly terms with the company again, actually - I've never wanted to pursue a refund for the M4 Shell Ejector as it is basically an extremely elegant piece of hardware, and shows great potential once the teething problems have been worked out. Indeed, I'm hoping that the long-anticipated move from 6mm to 11mm calibre, thus losing the rather problematic sleeved-down shell cases, will bring a significant improvement. Watch this space later in the week week for pictures of the re-vamped replica.

Dee was accompanied by Arnie of Arnie's Airsoft fame, and it was especially nice to meet him, too - his site served as an excellent introduction to the hobby when I discovered it last year, and as well as being a fascinating source of information when I needed it most, I was highly impressed by the depth and quality of his reviews - and, indeed, have bought a number of my own replicas based purely on his opinions. Meeting Arnie and Dee together also allows me to dismiss a strange myth that has been circulating in email, recently - a number of people have suggested that they are actually one and the same person, but I am now in a position to reassure anyone who is unconvinced that there were definitely two complete people present, with no sign of any shared body parts at all.

[Update: I have to admit to being rather less impressed with Arnie, right now, having just read his contribution to this thread at the RAP forum. I have decided to shrug it off, though, together with the deranged rantings of some of the regular denizens of the board (one of them, six years younger than me according to his profile, referred to me as "that Dominic kid"!), as I have now become extremely tired of the whole issue. Now that I finally have the 11mm calibre barrel, I can abandon the highly problematic sleeved-down 6mm shell cases and hopefully that will actually make the replica practical to use at last - and at this stage it would be preferable to be able to enjoy shooting it, for a change, instead of just complaining about it! Selah.]

 

15th May 2004

Following the negative feedback I left for Area51 at eBay, Dee has given his side of the story on the news page of the company's web site. Read it while you can, though - things posted there have a habit of not staying for long. [Note: And, indeed, the entire posting was removed a few hours later] The publicity is bringing a number of other highly dissatisfied customers out of the woodwork, though - I am NOT alone.

 

14th May 2004

So, Area51 Airsoft seem determined to add insult to injury. Even though I'm still waiting for my replacement M4 barrel after more than two months, yesterday Dee posted a message on the news section of their web site saying that they're giving them away for nothing!

It's that time of year where I do silly things. After having a good weekend and generally sorting out stuff like the new workshop and premises I'm in a good mood :) soooo if anybody who has bought an airsoft or 11mm MP5 shell ejector from me or has gotten one as part of a trade from me or anybody else wants to drop me a line I will send them a complete HK94 Barrel and kit free. (Yes free means free as in costs nothing). No strings and no catches. All you need to do is drop me a mail to free@area51airsoft.com and I'll mail you one out by return of post :) Why? simple. I'm that impressed with the new kits that I'd like more people to be able to see them so the easiest way is to give some away. M4 owners?? your not to be left out and if you also would like to drop me a mail I'll send you one of the 10mm Paintball DBD signature series barrels for nothing so you can fire Paint from your M4 series guns. Same applies, all it costs you is the time to mail me :)

Maybe I'm excessively paranoid, but after everything that has happened it actually does feel as if he's doing this mostly to annoy me!  <sigh"While you're at it, why don't you give me a nice paper cut, and pour lemon juice on it?"

 

6th May 2004

So, this morning I received a terse and sarcastic email from Dee at Area51, as apparently some of the other frustrated customers that I have been in touch with have rather tactlessly forwarded our email conversations to him! I can't say I approve of that, but what's done is done and now I think it's time to "go public". I've been busy pulling all the Area51 Airsoft weblog snippets together into one unified page, and I'm about to leave long overdue negative feedback on that two month old eBay auction containing a link pointing straight to that page. I can only be pushed so far, and after six months and more than one hundred emails trying to get what I'm owed from them, I think this is as far as I go... Dee also said that the new manager, Arnie of Arnie's Airsoft fame, would deliver my outstanding components himself this evening - but as it's 11pm now, just as with the last two promises of personal delivery this one has also completely failed to materialise. What a company!

 

4th May 2004

So, Area51 Airsoft are continuing to provide their expected but still thoroughly disappointing levels of customer service. It's been seven weeks since the eBay auction for the replacement barrels ended and, as far as I can tell, it seems that none of the winning bidders have received their items yet. I'm actually in regular contact with a pair of them in America, and apparently manager Dee Sheldrake is blaming import problems - but I've warned them that as my barrel hasn't been delivered within the UK, either, it probably isn't quite as simple as that...

Having sent yet another email to ask for an update on Monday afternoon, I received a reply from Dee saying that he would be in the area that very evening and offering to deliver the barrel himself. After the last time he suggested this he then failed to turn up or even to contact me, so I wasn't at all surprised when he didn't turn up again this time... In fact, I can't think of a single promise that he or his colleagues have so far made to me that was actually fulfilled on time - and the vast majority of them haven't even been fulfilled at all!

Bizarrely, having stated earlier this year both in private email and on various public forums that the shell ejecting rifles for which these barrels are designed are neither economical to produce or reliable in operation (and my own experiences certainly support the latter!), and subsequently playing down the entire shell ejecting range, this week they announced a major ramping up of production for the US market instead. What a ridiculous state of affairs!

 

4th April 2004

So, Area51 Airsoft truly lived up to their name this weekend - the UFO-obsessed conspiracy theorists who monitor the US government test area of that name would be thoroughly familiar with my recent experience spending days watching and waiting without seeing any signs of activity whatsoever...

I don't quite know why I decided to give this most unreliable of companies yet another chance, but a few weeks ago I spotted their mainstay Dee Sheldrake advertising a replacement 11mm barrel for my M4 shell-ejector on eBay, and foolishly decided to bid. I suppose I thought that under the strict terms and conditions of an eBay auction he might actually be capable of completing the deal in a reasonable timescale - but if so, I have been completely disappointed once again.

The auction ended on the 14th of March, and over the subsequent two weeks I sent a handful of queries to Dee, receiving in reply the traditional assurances that the barrel would be in the post to me imminently. Nothing materialised, of course, and eventually another enquiry brought the news that Dee would be in London over this weekend, and could actually deliver it personally! I was intrigued at the prospect of actually meeting this phantom at last, and so we agreed that he would come to my house sometime around Friday teatime.

Friday teatime came and went, along with the rest of Friday, but when I got up on Saturday morning I found that Dee had sent email at around 4am claming to have been delayed in a business meeting until 2 o'clock in the morning! Its hard to imagine what kind of business meeting takes place at that time, I must admit, but I shrugged it off and sat down to wait for his promised appearance on Saturday morning instead. The entire day passed without any sign of him, or any further communication - and as I write this on Sunday evening I very much doubt that I'm going to see any sign of him now. I shouldn't really be surprised or disappointed, I suppose - but, actually, for some reason I am...

It would be completely wrong to refer to Dee Sheldrake as a con man, as I'm quite convinced that there is no basic dishonesty involved and that his intentions are completely honourable - but it has to be said that the end result is exactly the same. The money is paid, the goods take forever to arrive and are of unpredictable quality when they finally do - and a lot of broken promises and unconvincing excuses are offered along the way.

My own experiences of this company are nothing out of the ordinary, either - in spite of the widespread propaganda on the UK airsoft forums, it's easy to find the truth, and I've spent the last couple of months chatting in email with a number of Area51's other customers, including a fellow owner of the shell-ejecting M4 replicas. Our experiences are uncannily similar, it turns out, and as a result we're all equally frustrated and disillusioned with both the products themselves and the company's general attitude and abilities. It's a damn shame...

 

3rd March 2004

I've finally given up on Area51 Airsoft, the supplier of my shell-ejecting M4 replica... After almost five months of broken promises, missed delivery dates, evasions, excuses and even a handful of just downright lies, I've had enough, and I've finally admitted to myself that the chance of getting everything I'd originally ordered, let alone the additional items they promised, is minimal. Each time they've let me down they've offered some new freebie - additional front ends, large-bore barrels, CO2 tanks, extra shell cases, you name it... but just like some of the hardware I originally ordered and paid for, none of the freebies have ever actually arrived!

In summary - the gun itself is basically functional in the form supplied. The modification to convert it from .43 calibre paintballs to 6mm BBs seem to have been carried out competently, and I have no major complaints in that area. There is a nasty design quirk where an almost empty gas tank can cause a delay of several seconds between pulling the trigger and firing the final round, but disconcerting and worrying though this is I suspect it to be a problem with the gas mechanism itself and nothing to do with Area51's modifications. I'm a also a touch concerned about the overall longevity of the gas tanks, as I've already experienced two failures in the seals even during very limited use, and these are obviously a weak area.

On top of these issues, though, everything else about Area51's overall package is less than satisfactory and shows clear signs of being pre-production prototypes rushed to market with grossly inadequate design and testing. Firstly, the CO2 charge/cooling rig, even after several redesigns, is at present a thoroughly unworkable device - both models supplied to date leak like sieves, fall apart at the drop of a hat, and seize solid with depressing regularity. However, in spite of this I finally evolved a technique of filling the gun tanks that worked most of the time (if with much wasted gas and chilled fingers!) and I could have coped in the short term - except that I was asked to send both units back to Area51 almost a fortnight ago to exchange for a 3rd generation unit which, of course, still hasn't arrived in spite of promises of being sent out "tomorrow"!

Secondly, the shell cases themselves, heavily modified from the original paintball cases with the addition of a soft, rubbery plastic sleeve to reduce the calibre to 6mm. Unfortunately they are wildly inconsistent in manufacture, and seem to showcase Area51's quality control shortcomings in the worst way. A significant number of them failed right out of the box, as the plastic insert protruded several millimetres outside the aluminium case and so jammed solid in the gun when chambered. More worryingly, an increasing number are starting to exhibit this problem after only light use, as the insert creeps forward inside the case - and this is even more serious, because as well as tending to jam, when this happens they also become too loose to retain the BB while in the chamber, and it tends to roll out of the barrel when the muzzle of the gun is lowered!

Now, although these are extremely irritating factors given the timescale involved, and have lead to me only being able to use the replica for around three weeks in the five months since I paid, it is after all only a toy gun and I've been reluctant to let the matter get out of proportion. However, what really annoys me is the way that Area51 has treated me and, from what I read, a significant number of other customers. We have been made to wait many months for deliveries promised in days or weeks, given Parcelforce tracking numbers that don't exist, told that packages have been sent on particular dates when they clearly haven't, offered additional items which never arrive presumably just to shut us up temporarily, have had the forums which were the only source of information and feedback sneakily closed down on us, told to our faces (as it were!) that we were less important than the big government contracts that are apparently the company's bread and butter, and generally screwed over and messed around from start to finish!

It's an old and familiar story, I'm afraid - a small company dealing in a specialised market becomes unexpectedly successful, outgrows its own ability to cope with demand, and subsequently abandons the very customers who made it successful in the first place in favour of the quick buck... Experience has shown that the quick buck is often surprisingly ephemeral, though, and a company that has alienated all its original customers may find itself in serious difficulty when the big contracts suddenly move elsewhere.

So, enough is enough, at least where I'm concerned. Although the original manufacturer of the replicas, Asia Paintball, supply some accessories for the unmodified paintball markers, I found a US company called Real Action Paintball with a far more extensive range. They seem to be well thought of in the paintball market, and I've just ordered a number of the things that were promised by Area51 but never delivered, including a charge/cooler rig of a standard design that has proved its worth for many years in paintball. I'm going to take something of a financial hit on the whole deal, of course, and it's a shame to miss out on the large-bore barrels that Area51 have promised, but a bird in the hand is worth any number in an imaginary bush and I'm so frustrated with it all that I'm more than call it quits.

I've exchanged more than ninety email messages with Area51 over the last five months, trying to get it all sorted out, and I still don't have everything that I ordered and paid for - let alone have it all working satisfactorily!

 

8th January 2004

I'm so very exasperated with Area51 Airsoft, erstwhile suppliers of my shell-ejecting M4 replica, but for some reason I just can't stay mad at them... The replica itself arrived a while before christmas, but has been nothing more than a paperweight without the CO2 charging/cooling unit - and although that arrived today, the replica is still useless without the shell cases which hold the BBs, currently promised for the end of the week! However, in spite of the fact that we're now looking at around a three month delay on my original order, that delivery date after delivery date has come and gone with no result, and that so far fifty-five email messages have been exchanged trying to sort everything out... In spite of all that they are obviously trying their best in the face of very awkward circumstances - it's just that their best is still rather ineffectual! However, although I've been making my displeasure known again today, we've all managed to keep polite and non-confrontational and as they've added freebie after freebie to my order, once it all finally arrives (I'm estimating sometime in February, realistically!) I'll probably be more than happy with all the hardware. I should damn well hope so...

 

20th December 2003

Meanwhile - it's amazing what making a bit of a fuss in public can do to encourage a company to fulfil their obligations, isn't it! Only two days after I started making my feelings known on Area51's bulletin board rather than in private email, the first part of my shell-ejecting airsoft replica arrived bright and early this morning. I was told that it had definitely, positively been sent out ten days ago, but as the parcel was dated yesterday that obviously wasn't the case. Still, progress is finally being made, and I'm not going to bother complaining about that now. Area51 have just announced that they won't be dealing directly with the public, in future, and I have to say that I think that's probably for the best...

 

18th December 2003

On the subject of airsoft, though, I'm becoming increasingly exasperated with the failure of Area51 Airsoft to actually deliver the shell-ejecting M4 replica I ordered from them over two months ago. I've had an apparently endless succession of "it's ready to ship" and "it will be sent out tomorrow", and at one point I was even given a tracking number (which the Royal Mail refuses to acknowledge as being valid!) but in spite of many email messages politely asking for explanations and updates, no real information is forthcoming and there is still no sign of the replica some six weeks after the promised delivery date. I'm always very tolerant when it comes to small, specialist companies, but enough is enough and I've now lost all patience with this particular one - and I'm obviously not alone, either, as their forum at Arnie's is suddenly filling up with unhappy customers, their attitudes ranging from the angry to the resigned... Enough is enough, though, and they don't have much more time to sort this out before I start getting really stroppy. Kate and DeeDee, you have been warned...

 

Links to items of relevance elsewhere

 

Area 51's own web site - for completeness...

Their discussion and support forum at Arnies's Airsoft, closed down on March 14th 2004 when people started to complain about the delivery delays.

Thread on the RAP forum where Dee Sheldrake (using the screen name "DeadByDawn") discusses how the shell-ejecting airsoft conversions were a flawed project, and are generally unsatisfactory and unreliable in use.

Thread on the RAP forum where a fellow eBay buyer attempts to complain about the delay, and is shouted down by Area51's lapdogs and toadies. There were a number of these in other forums, too, but most have now been deleted.

Thread on the RAP forum where somebody links to this page, and I am immediately jumped on by all and sundry. Love the post where Bigdog1 refers to me as "this Dominic kid" - having checked his profile, he's six years younger than I am!   :-)  I have decided not to be insulted by the toadies, though.

Thread at Arnie's Airsoft where I try to find out what is going on with the company, and Dee makes some rash promises about customer service and fulfilling outstanding orders. None of the things he promised me here actually happened...

The eBay auction where the barrels were sold - item #3665363247, auction finished on 14th March 2004.

Asia Paintball - Hong Kong based manufacturer of the original shell-ejecting M4RAM markers.

Real Action Paintball - US supplier of unmodified paintball markers, with an extremely good range of spares and accessories most of which will also work with the 6mm conversions.

One Commando - UK supplier of unmodified paintball markers, and probably the only domestic source of spares and ammunition now that Area 51 has thrown in the towel.

 

Relevant entries from Area51's news page

 

15th September 2004

Draconian power limits affect businesses?

After reviewing the current product line, we've come to the conclusion that we don't actually produce anything with viable sale value for the current UK market. Pistols at 600fps although legal and superiour in quality offer little advantage at 3 times the price over currently available Umarex air pistols. Rifles at 1200fps are quite clearly unskirmishable and as such have limited appeal in the UK market. With this is mind its been decided that running A51 and producing Airsoft guns and associated equipment is no longer a viable option.

This won't affect warranty it will also not affect outstanding items that I shall be dealing with personally during this week. Bottom line until such time as our draconian gun laws become more reasonable in the UK A51 will cease to operate.

Current stock of Airsoft accessories will be randomly mailed out to people we have had dealings with in the past without charge as a thank you for the last three years. I would like to say that the last three years have been fun, however the UK's firearms regulations make this impossible.

Kind regards Dee


 

14th May 2004

Getting it wrong! Yes we get things wrong sometimes, BADLY wrong, for an example of what we mean please feel free to visit here. Mr Thomas is rightfully aggrieved about the problems he has had however unlike some people we do not attempt to hide our mistakes. If Mr Thomas would like to contact us I am certain this can be resolved. In general I would say that around 5% of orders go haywire for various reasons no small part of that being me trying to do 30 different things at once and actually achieveing none of them instead of doing one thing at a time and getting it right. What are we prepared to do about it? Well overnight fixes just don't happen no matter what anybody says. So what can be done? Increasing stock levels is underway so items are no longer made to order. Accounts so people can buy what they want THEN pay for it when it arrives and they are satisfied with their purchase. Reducing the number of items that are actually made so we can concentrate on getting service right instead of looking at volume and turn over. Can I do this by tomorrow morning? no, of course not but it is being worked on and will be resolved so people should they decide to chance an order get the service they should have gotten from the start.

A51 is now my puppy so the buck stops with me, if people aren't happy or wish to voice complaints then they can mail me direct and I will do my best to address their problems. Can I promise that no errors will happen in the next week, No I can't, mistakes do get made however I can give my word that those mistakes will be resolved to everybodies satisfaction.

Why has delivery been such an issue? simple, that was my fault for underestimating demand. I never thought custom gun parts would be so popular so didn't have the required engines on line to deal with what amounted to an influx of unexpected orders.. I will add though that anybody who has purchased one of our components or custom guns can tell you that quality of manufacture of the parts we are responsible for are 99% flawless. Communication can be sporaddic but that again is down to not enough staff to do the job, this has been addressed and will be increasing as will manufacturing facilities along with a single member of staff who can deal with all email promptly when it arrives. That leaves service, more staff and larger stock holding will help.

If you have a genuine complaint, post it to me and I will put it online so people can make an informed choice.

[Note: This entry  was withdrawn a few hours after posting]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Area51 Area 51 Dee DeeDee David Sheldrake DeadByDawn shell-ejecting shell ejecting
RAM airsoft real action marker Asia Paintball RAP4