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Friday, July 14, 2017

July Continues to be Gangbusters With $7,528 in Revenue Just 14 Days In!!

July will easily go down as our best month ever so far. It is almost feeling like we have hit an inflection point in the growth of the business. Steph has done an absolutely amazing job with the bed and breakfast, and as a result we are booked up solid almost nightly this month. Getting reviews online from guests is always hard, but the ones that have been left so far are excellent. The guests are particularly raving about the food, with one couple from Paris, France telling us this week that it was just like eating in Paris! Steph has really pushed out of her comfort zone and together we have learned how to make breakfasts that are 5 star restaurant worthy: French omlettes that are so creamy and light that you can't believe they are eggs, and crepes with chocolate ganache and fresh raspberries that literally melt in your mouth. Steph takes a great deal of pride in her business and wants to be the best, so she has pushed herself to go beyond the mundane to offer guests something truly special. Having finicky guests has also motivated us to learn how to do basic things very well that we wouldn't have bothered to learn otherwise. For example, one of our guests this morning was allergic to all dairy products, and said he liked sunny side up eggs. I've never been able to make these well. So I learned how to make perfect sunny side up eggs that are not rubbery and overcooked. The secret? Butter or in his case, olive oil, in a very hot pan that is immediately turned down to low after the eggs are added to the pan. Then using a spoon, you baste the egg with the butter or oil which helps cook the top white, and thicken the yolk slightly without making it hard.

I can easily envision us being booked solid next summer several months in advance.

This week we began our marketing effort for the business by including with every order, a copy of the pamphlet and a personalized letter, on parchment, signed by me, thanking the customers for their purchase and outlining all the other services that we provide free of charge. I also began discussions with a marketing firm to design some formal marketing campaigns to try and re-engage former customers who have not done business with us in a long while. Now that we are doing these things, I can see now how our mailings lacked professionalism before, and how this may have hurt us. Initially, when I started this business, I didn't see the point in using nice stationery or printed envelopes and brochures, since I never really paid attention to them myself when I bought stamps. But I now wonder whether or not there was a subliminal impact. My thinking now is that we get so few opportunities to get the attention of the customer, that it behooves us to use those opportunities to their fullest when they present themselves. When someone opens their mail with some stamps inside, this is the perfect opportunity to get their attention with a personalized letter that is specifically directed to them. It it is key that it be about them, and not just some canned letter that they can tell is sent out to everyone. Yes, it is an extra cost and yes preparing these adds a few minutes to each order. But it is my hope that doing this will significantly improve the odds of doing repeat business with the customers. I am very interested and excited to see what the next few months will bring.

Stamp sales as of today, July 14, total $5,541. So even without the Canada #2 for $2,600, we are still averaging over $200 per day of other sales, which is excellent. Revenue for the bed ad breakfast this month so far is $1,987, which brings the total revenue for the business this month to $7,528, and there are still 17 days left to go for the month. Now, we have friends over for most of the remainder of the month, so the B&B will drop off until August. However, I wouldn't be surprised if we do another $2,000 in stamp sales, which would be $9,500 month - almost three times what we did in Toronto.

I'm finally beginning to breathe a little easier...

Friday, July 7, 2017

A Record Breaking Month With Close to $5,000 After 7 Days and A Major Realization


After a very stressful and expense-heavy June, July is shaping up to be an absolutely fantastic month in which I expect that we will accomplish several important milestones. Between good occupancy with the B&B, strong sales and continued work on want lists, we have been able to generate close to $5,000 in revenue already, just 7 days into the month. 

Just over half of this is attributable to the conclusion of a sale that had its genesis back in May. A customer had expressed interest in this stamp:



Canada-2-1851-6d-Slate-Violet-Prince-Albert-SUP-95-Used-Example


This is the second stamp issued by Canada, that was issued in 1851. It is one of the few stamps to depict Prince Albert while he was alive. Prince Albert, was of course, Queen Victoria's husband, and he died in 1861, leaving behind a heartbroken Queen who never got over her loss. This stamp usually sells in used condition, with 4 margins for $1,000 or so. However, the above example is a particularly nice one. So I graded it as superb and listed it with an asking price of $3,750. 

For over 2 years it sat in my store. I had several inquiries about it, from different potential buyers, but I was unwilling to sell it for the $1,000 or $1,200 I was being offered for it. My reasoning was that if I sold it to these collectors, then I would not have it when someone who really appreciated, and was willing to may more appeared. 

I am glad I waited. The fellow who offered me $2,600 for it was a prominent collector who had sold his collection of rare classic British Commonwealth stamps in 1999 with Spink. So he, of all people was in a unique position to appreciate the scarcity and quality of this stamp. He made his offer conditional on my obtaining a clear BPA certificate for it. I sent the stamp to the BPA in early May and waited what seemed like an eternity. Finally, this week I received word from the BPA that a clear certificate was being issued and that the stamp would be back in the mail to me this week. I immediately let the customer know and he agreed to take it for $2,600. I listed it right away and had the funds for it within an hour. So I'm very happy that this sale came to fruition. 

Last month I began listing very modern material, i.e. post 1971 material in earnest, as well as my 1960's first day covers - something that dealers couldn't give away 20 years ago let alone sell. Much to my surprise, both are doing extremely well. The first day covers are selling literally, as I list them, sometimes before I get a chance to go back and check the listing for typos. This really is where the money in this business is made: I bought a lot of about 3,000 covers for something like $250 5 years ago, and I am selling each one for between $1 and $3 a piece. You can't beat that!

I also received my brochures that I designed to send out to customers who had not purchased from us in a while, as well as new customers. My goal here was to communicate our value proposition clearly and encourage them to do business with us directly. Here is how the brochure looks:

The Inside:


Outside:


I've started sending these to my customers with their orders and keeping track of who I send them to. I had been planning to send a mass mailout of these to my old customers, along with a well crafted, personalized letter. However, as postage is expensive, I have decided to obtain the services of a marketing company to help me craft the letter. So that is exciting! I am eager to see what the response of my customers is. 

But just as I printed these brochures, I came to a realization: with how busy just Canada is keeping me and how many under-developed areas there are in my stock, it is very unlikely that I will get around to listing Nigeria for another 2 years, and I may never get enough time to fully study the 50,000 or so covers I have. So I began to consider selling this section of my inventory off within the next year or two. Not having Nigeria will modify the message I am trying to send with my brochure, but I can simply re-design it by the time the collection sells. This was a tough decision and one that I had resisted for the last two years. You see, I had a business plan that I was following from back when we lived in Toronto, that called for us to be making a lot more money than now, and for all of the last 2 years I have been following it, without really wavering. It has been extremely stressful, and it has felt like a race against time to get all the inventory listed. Steph has been extremely supportive thus far, but I have been concerned about the long-term impact of another 2-3 years of this on our relationship. 

I realized that I can probably sell the Nigeria for enough to cover everything the business owes my investors, as well as a good chunk of our mortgage. All of the sudden, I realized that this time next year, we could potentially be almost debt free, with a beautiful house that is almost paid off, while having two fully functioning businesses that between them generate enough for a comfortable living. Could we really be set? Really?

Well, yes, we can. Steph and I have worked really, really hard to build a functioning business, and it seems that our hard work and sacrifice is finally paying off. The key though was to become open to the idea that we really don't need to build a big company with lots of employees. We just need enough to pay the bills and enjoy our lives. Happiness for me really is being able to look up from my desk at noon, and see this:


or take a large cup of coffee every morning at 7:30 or 8:30 and sit here:


Our end-goal then changes from trying to set the world on fire and build a huge company, to protecting our ability to enjoy the above simple pleasures. Thus anything I can do to protect this little corner of the world we have fought for is what I should do. While selling Nigeria and cutting back on ambition may not be the best thing for my ego, the idea of being almost debt free in a year is much, much better for Steph and I over the long run, I think.