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Thread: Weekend Musings on my shop and career

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    Default Weekend Musings on my shop and career

    My shop is doing a little better this year than last. By that I mean I'm averaging 2 orders a week as opposed to 1 order/month last year. And my average order size is about $28. My average monthly operating expenses are rock bottom, around $150, but I'm still not profitable yet. I have an appointment with a SCORE (small business) mentor next Tuesday where I'm going to show him my numbers and plans and ask how I can bring my sales up. But there's something else that I've been thinking about. Would love to just chew it out with you guys here, if anyone's interested.

    Oh, just to level set, my shop is online retail, the link is in my siggy. So my business needs are a little bit different from consultancies or service businesses. Everyone is welcome to chime in, but keep in mind that my area of focus is retail.

    I have a day job that I'm really hating lately. I'm an IT business analyst for a corporate company. I like the work, it's just that there's a LOT of dysfunction at this company. So a couple weeks ago I started job hunting. But, I'm 54 years old and agism may make a job hunt rough. I'm not of the mind to let that stop me, it's just something to consider. I have a little over $700,000 in retirement savings, and by my calculations if I continue saving at the current rate, I'll have a million in 1.7 years.

    Back to my shop and my low sales volume, I'm wondering if I'm starving the business either financially or timewise. I've been extremely financially conservative because I don't want to lose my shirt (and my husband is especially risk averse). I have no loans in the business, only our own cash investment of $8,000. If I am starving the biz for cash, I can apply for a small business loan for anything more that we're not willing to invest ourselves.

    If I'm starving the biz by treating it like a part time hobby (which I realize that I am), I can ask my day job if I can go part time and then spend more time on my shop. I would LOVE to do that, but it would of course cut my income down. Or if the company refuses or gets pissed off that I've started my own business, they may sideline me (I doubt they'd fire me), and if they piss ME off enough, I may just quit. So then no income.

    I recently discovered that one of the local metro stations near me, one of the new ones where they're still building apartments and condos around, has set up several popup shops and community entertainment area. It's NICE and the metro station brings a crap ton of foot traffic especially morning and evening. The hours for the popup shops are 3 - 7pm Monday - Friday and when I checked it out yesterday, I noticed that some of the merchants in the popup shops also had Saturday hours. That got me excited. If I dropped back to part time in my crappy day job, I could easily work a popup shop there without having to hire staff. I would of course need to spend some money on the lease, some shelving and signage, insurance, etc. So I'm not saying it will be a free ride. But it's a VERY cool opportunity to try out a short term lease (they have 30-day, 60-day and 90-day leases on these little shops).

    The way I envision a popup shop working for my biz is this: a close partnership of the B&M and online points of sale. The B&M would be a place for customers to play with the products, ask questions, get to know me... so marketing and sales. I already have a smart phone POS and card reader for my online shop, so it would continue to be my POS software and primary shop. In other words, when people buy in the B&M shop, I'd process their order through my online shop using my phone card-swiper (or cash). All my inventory and sales analytics would continue to live in my online shop platform. And I can also continue to accept online orders.

    I think that's definitely the next level of growth for my shop. The main question is if I'm ready for it, or if it's too early. And the thing that's making it hard for me to answer that question is the other question of whether I'm starving the shop for time and/or cash.

    Anyway, thoughts? I don't expect other people to solve the problem for me, but I think discussion might help me work it out for myself.
    Sharon, Owner/Operator
    Something Special Pet Supplies

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    Reading through your post, it sounds like you want to leave your job and commit more to the business, but the uncertainty is holding you back, which is more than understandable. Obviously this is a decision you'll ultimately have to make for yourself, but I'm sure we can add some thoughts and try to help you work through the decision.

    Your shop is in a good business. People are crazy about their pets and it's one of a handful of industries that's always strong. Your popup shop idea sounds like a good way to generate business and customers. I can think of a number of ideas off the top of my head to draw more traffic to the business/site online. Most will require time more than anything else, unless you prefer to hire someone. Perhaps you already do some of these.

    Your blog seems off to a decent start and I would keep at it. Make sure the content is less about you and products you sell and more about things people with pets would find interesting. I think you're already doing this, but I thought I'd add a reminder. Are you using social media at all. There's not much that people like more on social media than pictures of pets. Post pictures on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter or wherever. Spend a little time seeing who's popular on those sites and see what they do. I would think you could build a popular profile on one or more social sites.

    How much do you and your husband rely on your salary? If you did lose it, would you still be ok? Maybe part time at work or a temporary leave will give you the time to get the business going where you want. My guess is you'll have a better feel for things after the meeting with SCORE. Maybe the first step is exactly what you're doing now and putting numbers together and thinking through how this might work.

    Again, the main thing I read in your post is that you don't want to keep working where you are and would prefer to put more time into the business and it sounds like the lack of financial security is the main thing holding you back. You can do your best to minimize the risk, but my guess is this will still ultimately come down to taking the chance on the business or sticking with the security.

    Hopefully something in there helps and gets the conversation going.
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    root Array Harold Mansfield's Avatar
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    I agree with everything VG said, but have more to add.

    I think your online store could be more profitable if you put some real time, and resources into it. What you have online is a nice website. It's not a retail powerhouse website that could compete with other online retailers. But it could be. It's not the lack of resources or care that is holding it back. You obviously care. It's the lack of understanding of eCommerce and design. Something that can be learned and fixed easily.

    I agree that if you have the resources, yet are scared to put them into the success of your business that none of your ventures will be successful enough to leave your day job because you're playing scared. You've done enough to get up and running,. spending the least amount of money possible, but you're scared to take any significant risk to get it where you want it to be. You're hoping it will just happen.

    Take it from experience, it doesn't just happen just because you're want it and are nice people.

    If I were you, and were going to spend any more time, resources or money into anything it will be the website and eCommerce. With a better sales focused, eCommerce website it could be the anchor of your other endeavors.

    Now if you do the pop up shop thing and really promote "shop our store from home" with every customer you touch, and your site is dialed in like the sites they're used to shopping on, you're utilizing all of your resources to grow sales and your brand.

    I watch The Profit a lot. Where you are now is where those businesses are (minus the sales) before Marcus shows them how to market. A good idea, you've done a great job getting it up, but it won't go much further until you get serious and start treating it like you want it to be a full time job or a retirement cushion.

    There is no success without risk. Risk scares people. But no one ever made it by just sticking a toe in the water to see what happens.

    If this is just a hobby, then so be it. But if you want your sales to be thousands instead of hundreds you have to do something to make that happen and I don't think a pop up shop is going to fix the core problem or help anything more than make a few sales here and there. At least not right this second.

    Improve your marketing...web design, presentation, sales copy and probably packaging. Really work on a professional newsletter and building subscribers...really the whole gambit. Do that and you'll have a better shot at building return customers, referrals, and your business overall.

    Don't waste any money on more promotion until you have a great presentation.

    Also, get involved in the community. Sponsor or be involved in local pet and pet owner events. Dog walks, Charities. Get your name, face and the company's branding out there synonymous with pets.

    The problem with risk is that you could fail. Sounds like you need to figure out if you really believe in this thing, or are just playing around to see what kind of side money you can make. You won't do anything especially well until you get past that doubt.
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    Quote Originally Posted by vangogh View Post
    How much do you and your husband rely on your salary? If you did lose it, would you still be ok? Maybe part time at work or a temporary leave will give you the time to get the business going where you want. My guess is you'll have a better feel for things after the meeting with SCORE. Maybe the first step is exactly what you're doing now and putting numbers together and thinking through how this might work.

    Again, the main thing I read in your post is that you don't want to keep working where you are and would prefer to put more time into the business and it sounds like the lack of financial security is the main thing holding you back. You can do your best to minimize the risk, but my guess is this will still ultimately come down to taking the chance on the business or sticking with the security.
    Actually we're pretty well off. And quite spoiled actually. I've always been very conservative financially and still have a habit of planning and prioritizing for expenditures, but my husband likes to be able to just spend as he wants without prioritizing. We're lucky that we can afford to do that. But it makes him more risk averse then me. He also had a bad experience with his first wife who apparently quit her job at one point and tried to be the kept housewife, which he didn't like. I've always been a career woman, but no matter how much I tell him that I'm not going to leech off him financially, he can't seem to internalize it. Long story short, we can pretty easily afford to live on just his salary for a while but it makes him nervous. A likely compromise will be for me to work part time.

    And yes, I think what I want is to stop wasting time at the day job that I hate, and use my time working for myself instead.

    Quote Originally Posted by Harold Mansfield View Post
    If I were you, and were going to spend any more time, resources or money into anything it will be the website and eCommerce. With a better sales focused, eCommerce website it could be the anchor of your other endeavors.

    Now if you do the pop up shop thing and really promote "shop our store from home" with every customer you touch, and your site is dialed in like the sites they're used to shopping on, you're utilizing all of your resources to grow sales and your brand.
    Yes, that's what I envision with the pop up shop. It would be like another sales and marketing plank in my overall sales/marketing platform. Integrated but the ecommerce shop would remain the primary focus of the business.

    Quote Originally Posted by Harold Mansfield View Post
    I watch The Profit a lot. Where you are now is where those businesses are (minus the sales) before Marcus shows them how to market. A good idea, you've done a great job getting it up, but it won't go much further until you get serious and start treating it like you want it to be a full time job or a retirement cushion.
    I've been watching that a lot also, since you turned me onto it. Love that show! I actually learn things from watching it.

    Quote Originally Posted by Harold Mansfield View Post
    Improve your marketing...web design, presentation, sales copy and probably packaging. Really work on a professional newsletter and building subscribers...really the whole gambit. Do that and you'll have a better shot at building return customers, referrals, and your business overall.

    Don't waste any money on more promotion until you have a great presentation.

    Also, get involved in the community. Sponsor or be involved in local pet and pet owner events. Dog walks, Charities. Get your name, face and the company's branding out there synonymous with pets.
    Okay, I'm doing some of that, and not doing other parts of it. Here's what I am doing, and then I'll ask about the parts I'm not yet doing:

    I do a monthly newsletter via Mailchimp. The articles are primarily teasers and links to my blog articles (driving readers back to my site). I've also gotten involved with local rescues. I've been meeting people and developing the shelter donation program (described on the giving back page). I've put down a deposit on a large B2C expo event next March where I will work to get more newsletter subscribers in addition to sales and demonstrating products. I have a Facebook page that I keep updated frequently and a twitter profile. I post the blog articles to them both. I started a Pinterest page full of product photos, and I can see some traffic coming back to my site from that, but I'm befuddled as to what Pinterest does for you. (People come to look but never buy.) Snapchat and Instagram sound like Pinterest, so I haven't tried them. Pretty much anything that doesn't cost a lot, I am doing (although the booth rental on that event wasn't trivial).

    I suspect that I'm going to need to hire a marketing person as my first permanent staff. I am admittedly weak on things like sales copy, designing ads and other marketing collateral, and social media promotion.

    I've been reading books like crazy, how to operate a retail store (b&M and online), merchandising, marketing. I have a long way to go, but I'm working on it. But I still often sit here and think I should be doing something for my shop but my mind is blank. I know I should be almost constantly writing newsletter/blog articles, improving my product details and photos, marketing like crazy... but... well, maybe it's just that there's so much to do I don't know where to start. Although I have already started and do various things at various times. I probably need to set up a routine. But it doesn't help that I have to drop what I'm doing and go back to my day job. Like now. Ugh!
    Sharon, Owner/Operator
    Something Special Pet Supplies

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    Hmm, okay I just got back from the appointment with the SCORE mentor. He had a different twist than you guys did. If you don't mind I want to compare and contrast, not to play you guys off against each other, but more to boil it down in my head, get a synthesis of what I should be doing. The mentor has decades of experience with brick and mortar retail, and he claimed to have some experience with online retail also but I'm not sure how much. He's an older gentleman, and he didn't seem fully up to date with how online marketing works. But that's just an impression from the first meeting. I'm not discounting him or his advice.

    In a nutshell he said that he thinks investing any more money in online advertising or marketing would be a waste. He thinks I should focus more time and money in actual face to face sales, whether that's weekend markets, popup shops or whatever. I've been eyeballing the popup shop concept for a little while as you know, so that advice isn't a major pivot for me. He advised me to write up a startup expenses/cash flow statement for what it would take for me to get into a short term lease popup shop. I'm going to do that before our next meeting.

    He was rather pointed (and actually kind of negative in a well-meaning kind of way) about the way I'm sourcing and selling. He pointed out that anything I have that's also sold on Amazon means that I AM competing with Amazon. If you as the customer pull up my shop in one browser tab and look at a product, and pull the same product up in Amazon on another browser tab, why would you decide to buy from my shop? I had no answer for that. Amazon undercuts me on price, shipping, returns handling, everything that matters to the customer. He suggested that I should look for different products that are not available anywhere else and buy them in volume to keep my cost of goods sold down. He did say that sometimes a manufacturer will be willing to stamp a product with your business name and that's one way to sell something not available elsewhere. I'm not sure how much I can do that, but it's worth investigating. I have one product that I can have branded for sure - those Irish muzzles where the manufacturer offered to stamp anything I wanted on the nose pads. That's a start. I have to take a look at the toys and other stuff because I don't want to just be a muzzle shop.

    He seemed very negative about advertising in general, even telling a story about how he spent a lot of money for his furniture store once placing a full page, full color ad in the Washington Post Sunday magazine, and never saw a dime in revenue from it. I wasn't surprised. My impression is that marketing raises your revenue from getting your name in front of people but it doesn't directly result in sales.

    So lots of things to think about. What do you guys think? I'd love to continue hashing this out with you, if you guys have the patience.
    Sharon, Owner/Operator
    Something Special Pet Supplies

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    root Array Harold Mansfield's Avatar
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    If everyone who lost money the first time they ran an add stopped running ads, there would be no ads.

    His advice sounds fine of you're focus was brick and mortar. But it sounds like your focus is the web. Shaking hands and getting out there is ALWAYS a good idea for any business. But you can't shake enough hands in one small area to make a website successful.

    I would definitely try the pop up shop though. Doesn't sound expensive and what do you have to lose? Whatever happens you're going to learn something about sales. This may sound like some old buzz world BS, but if you can't sell in person or on the phone you can't sell online. Learning how to sell on the phone taught me how to sell online.

    Respect to the old timer and his service helping people at SCORE, but it sounds like he's pretty cranky about the web.
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    Yep, and as an ex-engineer, sales isn't my strong point. So it's definitely something I know I need to work on.

    He also scoffed at the tiny amount of risk that I accepted to launch this thing... only $4000 to launch and working on it in my spare time. He made a clear point that I need to risk a LOT more if I want to succeed at this. It was only an hour meeting, so we didn't get down to details yet, but after we work out a startup cost analysis for a popup shop maybe I can get my feet wet with larger and larger chunks of risk. (meaning, a popup shop here and there for a year, then a small permanent shop - assuming that's at all realistic which I don't know)
    Sharon, Owner/Operator
    Something Special Pet Supplies

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    Quote Originally Posted by SumpinSpecial View Post
    He also scoffed at the tiny amount of risk that I accepted to launch this thing... only $4000 to launch and working on it in my spare time. He made a clear point that I need to risk a LOT more if I want to succeed at this.
    I've got to agree with this to a certain point. You need to risk enough to get the business to the point where it's self sufficient while ensuring that you don't spend so much money that you'll never turn a profit (or worse lose it all).
    Brad Miedema
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    I guess I'm a little late to join this conversation. But pop-up shop or any new channel is an additional investment of time, money, energy and resources. You'll have to get involved in a lot of new things like inventory management and especially logistics, since it's going to be a pop-up shop. Before getting into all that, I'll suggest expanding your business a little bit more from your current channels. Getting your monthly volume from 2 to 4 isn't much in terms of absolute numbers, but is a 100% increase of turnover for your business. Once you get there, you can re-evaluate what you want to do next.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Fulcrum View Post
    I've got to agree with this to a certain point. You need to risk enough to get the business to the point where it's self sufficient while ensuring that you don't spend so much money that you'll never turn a profit (or worse lose it all).
    Yeah, that's one of those apparent catch-22's for those who haven't done it before. It's pretty hard to know where the division is between sufficient investment to launch and wasting money. But that's where mentors come into play. By the way, just in case it isn't obvious, I've come to think of you guys as mentors also. I've always preferred learning from others (as opposed to my brother for example, who preferred to learn by his own mistakes). I may not respond to every reply, but all of it does sink in over time.

    Quote Originally Posted by WarrenD View Post
    I guess I'm a little late to join this conversation. But pop-up shop or any new channel is an additional investment of time, money, energy and resources. You'll have to get involved in a lot of new things like inventory management and especially logistics, since it's going to be a pop-up shop. Before getting into all that, I'll suggest expanding your business a little bit more from your current channels. Getting your monthly volume from 2 to 4 isn't much in terms of absolute numbers, but is a 100% increase of turnover for your business. Once you get there, you can re-evaluate what you want to do next.
    I'm already involved in all of those things on a very small level. I have some inventory (about 1/4 of my total products) that I manage, and I have done some logistics for the annual sales events I've done. Those are tiny granted, but they're a taste. (In fact, to blow my own horn for a moment, logistics and organization are one of my strong points. Even in my day job, I'm known as the most reliable and most organized person around, and I secretly grind my teeth as I have to watch my extremely disorganized boss and team lead try to figure out how to keep the team organized.)

    But what do you mean about expanding the business from the current channels? Selling on Amazon and/or ebay? Or something else?

    BTW, on a tangent, as I was telling my husband about the meeting, we looked up one of my products that is made by a small manufacturer and didn't used to be sold on Amazon. It is now. Amazon is selling it for $10 less than the price I paid. That's really irritating and I'm finding it more and more. The easy answer is that Amazon can buy in volume enough to get the very lowest wholesale price, but... this was a small manufacturer. I guess they found a way to increase their manufacturing output to be able to handle the volume. No idea.
    Sharon, Owner/Operator
    Something Special Pet Supplies

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