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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

April Winds Down as One Of The Slower Months But We Are Not Worried, Modern Is Selling Very Well And Our New Logo

It is now April 26, and Steph and I are getting ready to attend our first stamp show on the 30th of this month. My focus now has to shift over the remainder of this week from listing material on E-bay to getting the rest of my stock organized so that it can be viewed by people at the show. This is a necessary step in the lotting process anyway, so all I am really doing is shifting some back-end work up to the front of my schedule. At over 4,400 items listed on the site so far, we are both pretty happy with the rate at which we are adding new material. The time has come to investigate ways to promote this material more effectively.

Sales this month have been OK at just under $1,900, with 4 days to go this month. It's not a fantastic total, but it is not bad considering that there are very few items over $100 in this total, and the actual sales volume so far is over 150 items, which is consistent with other months. What is very striking though is the number of new customers this month: 38 - more than any other month so far. It is natural then, that the amount these people are going to spend is going to be quite low, as they are just trying us out. It would appear that many of our regular customers have been laying low this month, which could have something to do with the fact that April is tax month in Canada and many of these people are probably paying significant sums of money to Canada Revenue Agency. I don't expect that we will sell that much at the show. Our focus is really to try and meet as many new faces as possible, and raise awareness of our existence, and what our value proposition is. We hope that as a result of that show that we will get some blog readers and visitors to our store. We have yet to decide exactly how much stock to take with us, but I think we will take most of Canada for sure, and maybe some Nigeria.

One nice trend that we have noticed since Steph started listing the post 1951 Commemorative material is that is is selling very well. In just over a week, we have had no less than four orders for these stamps, which is excellent considering that only 100 items are listed and they have only been up for a week. We think that it may have something to do with the 99c price point. What is interesting is that most of these stamps list for less than 40c in the standard stamp catalogues. However, E-bay does not allow us to list anything for less than 99c. At first we thought we would group these stamps into lots that catalogued at least $2 and then price them at 99c. But then we just decided to list all of them at 99c or best offer. So far collectors are responding very well. I think they like the flexibility of being able to buy the stamps individually, knowing that they have been vetted for quality.

Below are some examples of the commemorative issues from 1952 and 1953 that we just started listing in our store:

The 1952 International Conference of the Red Cross Issue

The 3c Sir Joseph Caldwell Abbott - Prime Minister of Canada from 1891 to 1892. He succeeded Sir John A. Macdonald

4c Bighorn Sheep stamp of 1953. This was issued as part of a series of wildlife stamps over 5 years starting in 1953 and ending in 1957.

The 1953 Coronation commemorative issue for Queen Elizabeth II.

To view these listings, click on the following links:

Another exciting development is that we had our new business logo designed and are very happy with it:

So even though sales have been less than we had hoped for this month, the business has undergone some very productive changes this month, with the adoption of Auctiva and the opening of the Auctiva Commerce account so that we can eventally develop our own webstore that is completely independent of E-bay.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Facing Adversity In Starting Your Own Business - Real Life Examples

Much has been written in blog articles for entrepreneurs about the importance of being able to deal with adversity when starting your own business. However, such articles are usually very light on specifics about the kinds of adversity you can be expected to face, as well as techniques for how to deal with them specifically in order to avoid getting swept overboard into a sea of negativity.

Thus in today's post, I will share two specific examples of adversity that have surfaced over the past few months and weeks, the worry that they caused me and how Steph and I have managed to climb out of the hole that worry over these things can place us entrepreneurs in.

Example #1 Loss of A Key Investor And Pressure From The Bank

When I started this business and made our business plan I saved enough money for us to live on for 18 months, i.e until January 2017. We were debt free, and I sought funding from four investors for $50,000 each. That money would pay for the inventory the business would need to purchase and other expenses it would need to pay in order to be able to execute the business plan to its fullest.

The first problem came in the form of delays with my lawyer. I went with a guy who rents an office in my old firm since I figured that things would get done quickly since he wasn't very busy, or so I thought. Well here we are over 8 months later and only this month, will I be able to finalize the shareholder's agreement and issue the shares to my investors. Because of these delays, I have lost one of my key investors who had to bow out due to other financial demands that cropped up in the meantime. Had we been in a position to finalize the shareholder's agreement back in August or September, my investor would have been committed and that would have been that.

This has caused a lot of worry because we have loaned money to the company that we can't get back and I owe my bank money that I could have repaid, if I had only had access to these funds. Last week, I received a letter from my bank that they were going to raise the interest rate on my line of credit from 5.69% to 8.69% - a 3% increase!! This filled me with immense worry because I understood the significance: if a bank raises your rate by 3% it means that they view you as one of their highest credit risks. This means in turn that my credit rating must have fallen sharply this past year.  Immediately I started worrying, not about the actual increase in interest, which is annoying, but more about the possibility of the bank calling my entire line for repayment. Over the next three days I imagined all these scenarios in my head, where we receive the letter from the bank demanding their money and are then forced to liquidate large amounts of the inventory to pay them, and then have to deal with angry investors and so on an so forth. The more I thought about it the more dire the scenarios became. Pretty soon I could feel myself just being sucked into a negative vortex.

But then, mostly at Steph's urging,  I decided to try and think about this rationally. I looked at the bank's letter again. It was a boilerplate letter dated April 8. I had gone into the bank on February 28 the year before. So it was becoming apparent that in all likelihood, the review that gave rise to this letter probably happened in March - a year after I opened the line. Then it all became clearer: this letter was probably the result of some annual review process that the bank applies to ALL lines of credit, not just mine. I googled "(my bank name) Line of Credit Rate Increase" and sure enough, I found a Globe and Mail article which talked about how my bank was sending these letters to clients either increasing or decreasing rates. So I now knew for sure that this letter was not the result of my account being singled out. Next, I thought about the likelihood of the loan being called and realized that if my bank had viewed this as a sufficient risk to require repayment, that they would have called it now, and they hadn't. My loan is already close to the maximum allowed amount, and I know that it will only decrease over the next 12 months. So I know that the only way that this loan might be called is if at the next annual review, the balance hasn't gone down. So what that tells me is that I have until February next year to find a replacement investor.

Fortunately for me, I have already spoken with one of my former clients who has already expressed interest in becoming an investor. He won't be able to move on that until October 2016, and given what has just happened, I'd be a fool to rely on just him. So I have to look actively over the next several months for an investor. Fortunately for me, I have several very good relationships with former clients, many of whom either have the money to invest themselves, or may know people who they can introduce me to. So that is what I am going to do - make a list of prospective investors and contact them to see if they would be interested in becoming investors in our business. All of a sudden, the picture does not seem so bleak.

Example #2 Consternation Over Whether to Remain With E-bay

E-bay has introduced several new policy changes that are going to create a lot of extra work for us and these changes have ignited a fear within me about what other changes might be coming in the future. Worse, I started to read the comments on the community boards, and I must say the amount of negativity on those boards is depressing to say the least. I actually wrote a post about how we are struggling with our decision. Again the more I thought about the changes E-bay has forced on sellers and worried about the changes that were coming, on top of worrying about whether we're being ripped off with the fee structure, the more depressed I became about the whole thing. This weekend I was sick in bed with a cold, so I decided that rather than just lie there, I would start to take action to explore the alternative of opening my own webstore on Auctiva Commerce. I signed up for their free trial and started watching tutorials on Google Adwords to learn about how to design ad campaigns.

For some time now, I have had an inkling that maybe we'd do better with a webstore if we took all the money that we are paying E-bay and paid Google Adwords instead. However, I realized that to make this decision, we have to know how much of our traffic is coming from Google already and how much is coming from within E-bay itself. If it turns out that most of it is coming from within E-bay, then it means that any customers our webstore would get from Google are a different type of customer from the ones we have now. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean that if we cut the E-bay cord completely under those circumstances, we cannot count on the same level of traffic and sales as we have now. On the other hand if most of our traffic is coming from organic Google searches, then it means that E-bay is essentially a waste of money.

I attempted to access our traffic reports to answer this question, only to find that E-bay has disabled them. I don't know why and immediately began to speculate that maybe it is because most traffic is coming from Google. But rather than jump to that conclusion, I decided that from yesterday onward, I would, in addition to sending our new customers a welcome e-mail, I would offer them free shipping on their next purchase if they would tell me how they found our listings.

As of today, we have had 4 responses to the 6 e-mails I sent yesterday. All four people said that they found our stamps through a casual browse of e-bay's listings. None of them searched Google specifically, and none of them were searching from within E-bay itself. In addition, two customers this morning that bought yesterday clearly came from within E-bay given that the items sold were either penny auctions, or were listed for sale just yesterday. So at least for now, that is telling me that E-bay is actually doing its job, and that if we want to improve our sales performance there, we may have to tinker with the way items are listed - maybe not using Good-Till-Cancelled listings anymore and opting for shorter listings with auto-relist on Auctiva, or maybe regular sales. I'm not sure yet, but I'm confident that Steph and I will figure it out.

The webstore idea still seems good, and because we are already signed up with Auctiva, any listings we create there can me moved to our store should we decide to do that. So it would appear that the best strategy for now is to sign up for the cheapest subscription we can right now, keep the store "warm"so to speak and then gradually direct items that are not selling on E-bay to the store. Then as we list items there, we can experiment with Google Adwords to see if we can get any traction.

So out of this adversity and the worry that came along with it, I was forced to consider alternatives and with the advice of Steph, we were able to find an alternative that has allowed us to make contingency plans such that we are no longer 100% reliant on E-bay, or at least we won't be a year from now.

Hopefully, these two examples will illustrate the kinds of obstacles that can crop up if you are trying to establish your own business and some techniques for how you can keep the negativity at bay. I do think that one take-away from all this is that if you are worrying and using that worry to take action that is a good thing. I think the kiss of death for many entrepreneurs is putting on blinders, being inflexible and not exploring better alternatives. In our example, had we not worried about material taking too long to post on e-bay:

  • We never would have found a better, faster scanning program.
  • We never would have investigated Auctiva as an alternative to posting listings directly on E-bay.
In turn, we would:

  • Have continued to be 100% reliant on E-bay, since they would have had exclusive ownership of all our content. If you look on E-bay, there is no way to download your listings to a CSV file. You can upload from a CSV, but you cannot create a CSV file. So essentially, all your product descriptions typed out over many hours are E-bay's for the taking. By creating them in Auctiva we now have saved copies of every listing we create, that will never disappear from Auctiva unless we delete them. What's more under Auctiva's terms of service, we are deemed to own all of our intellectual property. Conversely on E-bay, their terms of service expressly state that THEY own all your intellectual property, even though YOU paid them.
So do worry, but don't allow yourself to get swept into a negative vortex. Frame the problems rationally and then take action to investigate the problem as well as alternative solutions. You will instantly feel better once you do. 

Friday, April 15, 2016

Working With Your Partner And What I've Learned...Her Perspective

Let me start this post off by saying working with your partner (or significant other for those playing along at home) is extremely satisfying but challenging. For the most part Chris and I work well together and there is a clear divide of responsibilities but I would be lying if I said things always ran smoothly. There are times, and I will go into more detail below, where I would like to take a chair upside his head (not literally) and I'm sure he feels the same about me, especially when I am questioning his ever rigid system for the umpteenth time. Having said that, I get to work with my best friend five days a week for 8 (or more) hours a day and I wouldn't trade that in for all the tacos in Taco land!

So, what is it like to work at home with my partner? My experience overall has been a really positive one and I'm sure that is owing mostly to my fantastic co-worker! We start the day off together at breakfast and then "go to work" as I like to say. I head upstairs to the office and Chris stays downstairs with my brother in law. We are working on two completely different areas of Canadian Philately so we really don't need to work side by side however our communication is fairly regular. If I need clarification on something I'll usually text him (isn't technology great) and he will periodically pop up to bounce an idea off me. We also have a lot of fun (despite my painting Chris as a bit of a tyrant) and laugh a lot. It's true that I tend to be the more lax out of the two of us but I think that is why we work so well together. We balance each other which allows for a much smoother running business/home life than if we were both too much one way or the other.

In my experience a big part of making it work (at least for Chris and I) is setting clear boundaries around our schedules and respective work loads. For instance, I set myself what I would consider reasonably attainable goals and if I don't reach them I might become upset but usually I won't sweat it too much and buckle down the next day. I like to take short breaks during the day to refresh myself and keep my brain sharp. I make meals and properly hydrating myself is a priority and I will force myself to stop and refuel even when I feel the pressure of a deadline or particularity difficult task. I will also try and stick to a "quitting time" though sometimes this is easier said than done. All of this helps me to function at my best while still feeling like I have a balanced work/home life.

Chris on the other hand has a much different work ethic and style than I. I've affectionately nicknames him Mr. Focus and for those who have known him longer than I, you know what I am talking about. I believe I've mentioned before how dedicated and hard working he is and this usually manifests itself in several ways. Chris will sit down to a task and will not get up until said task is complete much to the detriment of his poor stomach or sleep cycle. He will not take a break (if he can help it) and in his world there is no "quitting time." I cannot help but admire his discipline and work ethic and lord knows he has set the benchmark in this business. For someone a little less focused (yours truly) this can be a bit difficult to understand but I have the deepest respect for what he does and applaud his tremendous self discipline. I just wish he would eat a sandwhich now and then. ;)

As I mentioned previously working with your significant someone can be problematic at times. One challenge we struggled with was the free and open exchange of ideas in a respectful way. This is something that didn't come up until after I got more comfortable with business operations as I felt I didn't know enough to offer an opinion before. Now however I will make what I think are great suggestions to improve the overall productivity of the business and allow us to get more bang for our buck (like updating antiquated software). At first this was met with a lot of obstinacy and hurt feelings which is partly my fault as I usually prefaced my ideas with phrases such as, "this is dumb, let's do it this way" and "wow, this sucks, I know a much better way to do this" needless to say, my partner was less than receptive. But, after much discussion and a great deal more respect for one anther's feelings we put some of my ideas into practice and the business is running smoother than ever. There are other significant problems that can arise such as making enough time for your relationship outside of the business and time for yourself. One thing that works for us is scheduling date nights and communicating when we need our own space. This allows us to keep our relationship outside of the business on track and healthy so we don't kill each other at work (lol).

The best takeaways from this experience so far are to be patient with your partner and respect one another's ideas and different work practices. Not everyone attacks their job in the same way so you must not expect your partner to have the same ideals and methods as you. Also, not every couple can work together (as I've been told many maaaaany times) so if you have the kind of relationship where you can, appreciate and savour that fact. I wake up thankful every day that I get to share in something my partner loves and as I mentioned before, if I were offered an entire island of tacos in exchange for giving up this life I would turn it down for a slice of stamp heaven.

Stamp Geek, out!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Our First Stamp Show, Auctiva Templates Go Live, Listing of Modern Begins and Business Cards Are Ordered!

Back in December last year I decided that it would be a good idea to try and raise awareness for the blogs by contacting the president of each chapter of the Royal Philatelic Society in Canada. There are a total of 69 chapters of the RPSC, each operating a stamp club that meets once a month. My thinking was that the president could inform members about the existence of the blog and interested members could check out and read the posts.  Out of 69 e-mails that I sent, I got about 6 responses, which is a 10% response rate. While that sounds dismal, it is actually very good, given the fact that the e-mails were unsolicited. Some of the clubs were kind enough to place links to the blog on their web-pages, while others mentioned us in their newsletters. However, one club in Saugeen, Ontario invited us to attend their April meeting, on April 5, and their dealer show on April 30, 2016. 

Of course, there was no way that I was going to pass up an opportunity to promote the business for a mere $40 table fee. So we accepted and will pack up our stock and drive it up to Hanover, Ontario on April 30. Last week we attended the monthly meeting of the Saugeen stamp club and had a fantastic time. It was a very well attended meeting and we were very well received. I even managed to pick up a copy of the old 1983 Lyman's Canadian stamp catalogue, which I had not seen in over 30 years. We were asked repeatedly for business cards while we were there and unfortunately we did not have any to hand out, but we assured everyone that we would have them at the show. Steph promptly designed our business card and we ordered 1,000 of them. We should be receiving them next week. So exciting!

After much consternation about the changes at E-bay and having received no answers from E-bay to our queries, we decided to go ahead and start using the Auctiva templates that I had designed a week earlier. I must say that the listings look amazing now, and I read that Auctiva and E-bay work pretty closely together, so hopefully Auctiva will stay on top of e-bay's changes and offer us tools to help us manage the changes. If you want to see what I mean about the listings, click on the following link to see an example:

In designing these listings, we have attempted to follow all the rules we read about how to produce effective listings designed to inspire buyer confidence and trust. I'd be very interested to see what you all think: would you trust us based on what you see?

In terms of listings, we have reached some important milestones this week, with Steph beginning her listings of the modern, post 1951 commemorative issues, and with me finishing the back-of-the-book material associated with the Admiral period (1911-1928). I have also managed to almost completely organize and price the Confederation, Historical and Scroll Issues of 1927-1929. This will comprise about 500 lots of quality mint material from these beautiful and popular sets. 

Sales are a bit below target so far this month, but are not bad, being just over $1,000 so far, a third of the way into the month. To supplement revenue, I am helping out at my old firm on weekends preparing tax returns for a per-diem rate. That will help cover another month's rent without cutting too much into the time spent on the business.

That about brings us up to date. Steph will be writing the next post, about what I am not sure since she won't tell me, saying that it is a surprise. 

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

To E-bay Or Not To E-bay - A Decision We Are Really Struggling With

Last month, after over 13 years of taking the position that listing in U.S. dollars was the most effective way to sell on their platform, E-bay Canada announced that they would be phasing out US dollar listings and that all sellers would have to have their existing listings converted to CDN dollars, otherwise they would not renew and all the work that a seller did to produce those listings would be lost. I was really angry that E-bay would introduce such a wholesale change without caring about the work it would create for sellers. But after a week of fuming, I calmed down and decided that I would wait until E-bay's listing tool became available to do the conversions in May. That E-bay would announce this change BEFORE it had the necessary tools available to assist sellers wanting to co-operate with them is another matter entirely and not the subject of this post.

Last week after I had accepted the decision I started Googling ways to improve traffic on e-bay listings and I came across several articles that spoke about the importance of creating professional looking listings with graphic templates that would put all relevant information in one place so that a buyer could see it without having to leave the listing they were on. Steph had also suggested several times obtaining a bulk listing tool that would allow for the use of templates to gain efficiency and streamline the listing process. So after much investigation and comparison, I decided to sign up for Auctiva. I spent the last three days creating templates and profiles to use in my next listings to start this week.

Then yesterday at about 4pm, E-bay releases its Spring seller update in which among other things, it announces fee changes and then the fact that they want users to limit their product descriptions to between 200 and 800 characters so that listings can optimize with mobile devices. They are going to ban the use of any active content in descriptions by 2017. So, I am now completely unsure about whether or not I just wasted my time coming up with all these templates. So I have sent messages on the Community Boards to the E-bay employees on there to answer my questions about this policy so that I can decide how to move forward.

Then it hit me: what is going to happen when my store has 30,000 listings and E-bay decides that they don't want stamp dealers using their own grading systems anymore? Or decides that I cannot mention a grade unless I have a certificate for each item? Or decides that I must use their much hated Global Shipping Program? I have had bricks in my stomach for three days at the thought that despite the fact that my company owns all the inventory and pays E-bay huge monthly fees, E-bay behaves as though THEY own my business and I'm just their employee.

I am very tempted now to leave E-bay and start my own website. I am afraid that I will lose all  my short term sales, but I honestly don't know how much worse off would I be if I redirected the $500 I am paying E-bay every month towards a Google Adwords campaign? I want to make a decision that is level headed and not emotional because as much as I despise E-bay's fickle changes, I will put up with them if that is what makes the most business sense in the long run. I had assumed for the longest time that staying with them did make the most sense. I figured that since I paid them and other sellers paid them, that they would act in our best interests as a group. Unfortunately I no longer believe that they are acting in sellers best interests.

They have, in my opinion, forgotten who their customer is. Their customers of course are sellers who have entered into a contractual arrangement with them and who pay them their fees full stop. Their customers are NOT the end buyer of my stamps, or the products of other sellers. How on earth could they be? Nobody at E-bay knows Jack about stamps beyond how to spell the word stamp. They have no supplier relationships, they know nothing about the product and they have no inventory. So somebody please tell me how they could think that my customers are their business? It is MY job to please these customers, not theirs. Their job is to attract general site traffic, which they claim is what they are trying to do by making one-size-fits all policies for every single business that sells with them. Instead, they should be showcasing top sellers, and attracting buyers by showcasing product. This whole "optimize listings for mobile" makes sense for those businesses whose customer shop on their phones. But of course not all businesses have a customer base that does this. My business is an information-intensive one in the sense that I need long product descriptions to sell my stamps. Also most of my customers don't buy from mobile phones. So these changes will not help me, but will hurt me by restricting what I can do with my listings. If they remembered that I and other sellers are their customer, then they would give me a choice as to whether to opt-in to this thing and they would TRUST me to do what made the most sense for my customers, which in the end, would make them more money.

But trust is absent from this relationship if the comments in the Community Boards are anything to go by. There have been 7 pages of negative comments about the update so far this morning, and there were over 46 pages of negative comments about the decision to force us to use CDN dollars in our listings. Sellers are clearly upset with E-bay. The responses that I see from E-bay staff are dismissive at best and condescending at worst. Plus they often don't fully address the questions that are boing asked. E-bay clearly doesn't trust me as a seller to make sound business decisions and insists that I operate within their framework, which would be fine if I knew what that framework was and I could be reasonably confident that it wouldn't change all the time.

What do you think I should do?

Friday, April 1, 2016

Admirals Are Finally Done And Time For A Step Back To Assess

I was determined, after two months of working on the 1911-1928 Admiral Issue to get them completed by the end of March. So last night, I worked until almost 5 am to list the last of the coil stamps and War Tax issues - close to 100 items in all. I managed to complete it and get off to bed for 5 hours of sleep before hitting it hard this morning with a long post to my Canadian philately blog. In two months, I had listed over 1,000 stamps from this issue, making this possibly the largest on-line offering of mint Admirals anywhere on the internet. Needless to say I am pretty exhausted. So I decided to spend the bulk of today stepping back and assessing where things stand now, how the business has performed up to this point and trying to re-gain some perspective to combat the daily fear that has begun setting in. You see, our cash reserves are running out. They aren't low yet, but I can see them decreasing and I know that the business has to be generating enough to support Steph and I while generating a return for my investors. It is not there yet, so I have been naturally concerned.

I haven't really taken the time to analyze the data yet, as I have a tendency to just want to move forward with listing material. One thing I have to explain here before I continue is that the process of setting up an online store is a LOT different from setting up a bricks and mortar store. How? Well the biggest difference is the amount of time it takes to "stock the shelves" so to speak. With a bricks and mortar store I could have had my stock all set up and ready to sell in 1-2 months. However, because everything has to be scanned, entered into E-bay, and catalogued, this process will take at least 18 months, if not twice that long. I'm starting to realize that 18 months may be what I need to get Canada alone set up to talk less of Nigeria and the rest of British West Africa. Of course, because I realize the importance of marketing on a daily basis, I have spent a lot of time developing my blogs and posting content as I go along since that is the most efficient way for me to document and share my knowledge. However, this fact about the time required to "set-up shop" has impacted the order in which I have chosen to list material. I had a hunch when I set out to establish this business, just based on 5 years of casual operations on e-bay that the average sale would be around $20, so I knew that the fastest selling material would be items in the under $20 price range. In other words most of the modern material.

If I had been focused on hitting high sales from the beginning, it would have made sense for me to list the cheapest material first. However, I didn't do that. Why? Well three reasons:

1. If I listed this material first and it sold too quickly, I would have to spend a significant chunk of my time buying and replenishing inventory that had sold and would not have much time to deploy my more expensive stamps.

2. Listing the expensive and rare material first is critical to projecting the right image: that of a serious player who can supply every collector need. Even if sales of this material are low because it is long-tail merchandise, having the exposure on e-bay and Google is critical to building the brand. This is especially so because it is generally the more expensive stamps that will be the subject of most specific Google searches.

3. Having the material listed for a while gives me a chance to see what the market conditions are for it. I am not following a low price strategy, due to the fact that it is difficult and time consuming to replenish this kind of inventory. Charging a higher price allows me to keep a larger amount of it in stock and then I can tinker with the pricing and see what the impact is on sales.

Thus my focus has not been on having high sales. Rather, my focus over these first 18 months has been to try to get the store set up as efficiently as possible, while doing everything I can to develop our brand.  So to that end, I have done very focused listing, where I gather together all the material I have on a particular issue and list everything I have en-masse. I have now covered all the material from 1851 to the end of 1926 and the Queen Elizabeth definitives covering the period 1952 to 1962. Steph will soon be listing all the post 1952 material en-masse. My next major block of material to list is the rest of King George V and all of George VI. This material is still relatively expensive, but there are lots of $20 and below items as well. So if my hunch holds true about the average sale being $20, then sales should increase quite a bit as this material is listed. Plus the advantage of doing it this way is that most of this material is easy to replace, so if it does sell quickly, then with the the early stuff under control and out of the way, I can replenish the modern material without cutting too deeply into my listing time.

So the question is, how have the numbers actually played out over the past 8 months? I decided to crunch some numbers and look at:

  • Total sales dollars for the month
  • Total number of items sold for the month
  • Average sale dolars
  • Total number of new customers that month
  • The total number of new customers who went on to become repeat customers
  • The percentage of repeat customers
I haven't been able to figure out how to insert a table here, so instead I took the following picture of my computer screen, which shows the various statistics:

My monthly periods run from the 23rd of the month to the next month. This is because I didn't really start listing material until July 23, 2015. So any analysis of sales should start then. As you can see, sales grew steadily until late November 2015 and then they decreased for the Christmas season, which is not that surprising. Most people don't give stamps as Christmas gifts because of how specialized the hobby is, and most collectors at this time are spending their discretionary income on their loved ones. That slump is felt by nearly every retailer, and it usually continues well into January. Steph was the one who pointed this out to me as I hadn't factored that in to my business plan.  In February and March, sales have picked right back up again. They are not as high as November, but then again November included two stamps which sold for $3,000 USD. So if you factor those two stamps out the sales these past two months have actually increased. The number of new customers each month is stabilizing at about 30 a month, and the number of those who are becoming repeat customers is increasing all the time. The number of stamps being sold each month is increasing steadily, and the average sale is around $20 - just like I thought!

What does that indicate? Well I think it means that sales would have been a lot higher these past 8 months, if I had listed more material that was within these customers price ranges. I would have seen a higher number of repeat customers in those early months. The number of repeat customers has been increasing largely because each month, I have a wider and better range of material on offer than I had the month before. All of this suggests that we should see a major increase in sales once the modern material is listed. It also indicates that I should be going back to these customers who have not bought in a while and marketing to them, since they won't have any idea of what the store looks like now compared to how it looked when they last shopped. I will have to look into the anti-spam laws in Canada to see what I am allowed to do in this regard. My understanding though is that I can contact any non-Canadian customer at will and it is only the ones in Canada that I have to be concerned with. 

So, all in all, it would appear that my business plan is unfolding more or less the way I had envisioned. We have $191,000 of priced stock listed now, $40,000 of which was listed this past month. My original business plan predicted a sales rate of roughly 3% of my priced inventory from the month before. So on $150,000 that translates to $4,500. So sales for March are pretty much bang on compared to my business plan. In April, we would hope for around $5,700 if the 3% statistic is accurate. 

Let's see what happens!