Thursday, March 31, 2011

No Parking

Pickles and I have several dog walking routes.  The most common route takes me down Praley Street (in this case down = north), across the rail road tracks and on to a long narrow stretch of grass between the tracks and a steep wooded bank leading up to Massel street.    The last time I walked there I realized this narrow stretch of grass is the closest thing Valdese has to a park anywhere near walking distance to the downtown area. 

There is a park just east of town off Route 70, and McGalliard Falls to the northwest.  McGalliard Falls is a pretty little place, and very well used on a warm summer day, but neither of these parks are in walking distance, and neither would be safe to walk to in any case.  There is also a nice path down by the waterworks, and it does have a picnic table.  People use it for walking & jogging, and lots of dogs get walked there, but it's several miles outside of town.  There's the elementary school, located strategically behind Butch's BBQ & the car wash, and I see people walking and jogging around the track that circles a football field, and people can certainly use it for recreation from time to time.  It's certainly within walking distance of downtown, but it isn't a park.  I'd feel conspicuous spreading out a blanket and digging into a picnic basket in the midst of 5th grade PE activities.

Maybe there are other places close to downtown.   Back in my teenage years I'd have been all over this place & known about all sorts of out of the way areas.  But these days I tend to be a tad more reclusive, so it's very possible there are places I don't know about.

Recently there was a vacant lot of land, nice big trees etc down on Main Street.   It wouldn't have been much of a park, but put up some places to sit and a few things for the kids & you'd have a nice shady RE-spite on a hot summer day.  But a rich person owned it and got the towns permission to turn it into a monument to himself.  I have to admit it does turn heads as you're driving by, especially if you've never seen it before.  You have all these normal buildings then all of a sudden there's a dug out area with statues, stadium seating (sort of) and a fancy gate keeping people out.   It'll probably be open to the public occasionally for this or that, but for the most part it's an unusable space. 

Just barely within walking distance of downtown there is a good large open area - looks like it was a football field for the old high school.  This was purchased some years ago (before I moved here) by this same rich person who, guess what, built a monument to himself.  It's actually quite elaborate and I know cost a lot of bucks.  It's called the "Trail of Faith", and it documents the history of the northern Italian Waldensians, and it is interesting and educational.  I took a tour once. They have fireworks there July 4th, and it's opened maybe a couple of other times during the year for a weekend or so.  And that's it.  It's privately owned, and though its in easy view from Church Street, it is essentially closed to the public 50 weeks plus out of the year.  Perhaps it's open for scheduled tour groups, I'm not sure, but it isn't a place you can go visit on the spur of a moment or take a dog and let it run loose.   Some may argue it's not in walking distance of downtown anyhow (others may argue a whole lot more than  that), but if you cut a corner or two, perhaps walk thru someone's yard, it is.  If you have the physical ability to take advantage of a park, you could walk to this place.

Valdese is not a big place, so there's probably nothing to be done about it.  And even if there was, I'm pretty sure nothing would get done about it.   Morganton, just to the west, is quite a bit bigger and does have a nice park system, complete with river walks and such.    There are parks in the area, but it would be nice if there was something within walking distance, close to downtown.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Lightening Thoughts

How many thoughts can I think of in 5 mins?  Here goes.

I notice I put my left shoe on before my right shoe in the morning.  I forced myself to put my right shoe on first this morning & it felt weird.  I'm right handed, so I don't understand.

Today I realized that I've lived in Valdese, NC for so long that I think Hickory - 20 miles east and 10 times larger - is a big city.

Dogs, bless their hearts, are dumb.  And the human race is better off because of it.

I mowed grass a few days ago.  Now the grass is growing again. Argggh.

I had a dream within a dream last night.  I'd wake up and say I had a strange dream and someone else would say, "that was me, I caused you to have that dream".  I watched all this from a corner of a room & never questioned why someone would be sitting at the edge of my bed directing my dreams.  Dreams are like that.

If I could type faster, I could probably write more stuff. 

And I hate it when I have a minute to go and I can't think of anything. 

Times up.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Another Look At Free Shipping

We sell stuff on eBay, and  for a long time now eBay has been encouraging sellers to offer free shipping on items they sell.  They've done this through various incentives and other passive means, but it's still to the seller's financial advantage to NOT offer free shipping. Besides charging a listing fee, eBay also charges a final value fee (FVF) based the items selling price.  Currently eBay does not include the shipping and handling charge in the FVF  calculations.

So right now you have a strange situation in which sellers asking the same amount of money for the same item will be charged different fee amounts based on the shipping and handling charged, with those charging the most for shipping and handling paying the least in fees and thus making more profit.

For Example:  Seller A, B & C have an identical items they are selling at a fixed price. 

Seller A asks $5.99 with free shipping; Seller B asks $4.00 with $1.99 S&H; and Seller C asks .99 with $5.00 S&H.  They all sell their items.  Currently Seller C is only charged the FVF on .99, while seller A is charge the FVF on the entire amount.  The buyer has paid $5.99 in each case, but seller C has made the most profit, because his FVF was less.  In the current structure I think Seller A is charged a $0.72 FVF on the sale, while Seller C is only charged a $0.12 FVF on the sale.

That's about to change.  eBay announced earlier this week that they are going to start charging FVF on the entire sale price, including the shipping & handling charge. (I think in July). This means that in the example above, all the sellers would pay the same amount of FVF - there's no advantage for a seller to add a shipping and handling fee.  In fact, that change coupled with the the other incentives for free shipping makes it advantageous for a seller to NOT charge a shipping and handling fee.

For the most part we sell postcards and various sorts of antique photos.  For a year now we've offered free shipping on our postcard sales.  We still charge a fee for the photos, because they require more expense in packaging & shipping.  We may re-evaluate that, we'll have to see.

So far it's worked out well for us. Our postcard sales have increase quite a bit over this time last year, our photo sales perhaps a little bit, but not as much as the postcards.  That may simply be because we have more postcards for sale.  I'm not sure.

Shipping is a major expense for us, we track our shipping costs to the penny and there is nothing free about it.  When sellers offer free shipping, most of the time they will ask a higher price for the item, and frequently it is higher than the previous asking + shipping combined.  This is because the seller not only has to cover the cost of shipping, but has to account for the extra cost in fees.  In our case, before we started offering free shipping on postcards we had many postcards starting at $0.99 with $1.25 shipping & handling, for a total of $2.24 for the card.  When we converted to free shipping, we asked $2.99 for the same cards, which means someone who bought the card with free shipping paid $0.75 more than they would have with the $1.25 shipping charge.  As sellers we didn't really see that extra $0.75 - pretty much all of it and then some went to the post office for shipping costs and to eBay in the form of a higher FVF.

FVF takes a good sized chunk out of a seller's profit, by the way.  For the category most of my sales are in, the FVF for a fixed price item sold out of an eBay store is 12%.  So if I sell an item for $10.00, eBay gets $1.20 of that.  Believe me, it adds up.  I think eBay is going to lower their FVF to 11%, with this change, but that's not much.

When eBay announced these changes I smiled and thought there's going to be a holy uproar on the discussion boards.  Of course it wasn't like that was a major prediction or anything.  There is always an uproar on the discussion boards about one thing or another.  For the most part I stopped reading the boards, it doesn't do me any favors and there is very little good or reasonable advice there.  I expect eBay to make changes, and I expect the changes they make will benefit their bottom line as a corporation.  I expect to pay attention & adjust.

Since we sell most of our items with free shipping, this change doesn't really bother us that much.  Speaking for myself only, it doesn't bother me at all.  In fact I think it's advantageous for our little business because we've adjusted to free shipping (and having an FVF charged on the entire sale price) for a over a year now.  We've figured it out and are doing fine with it.  I'd like to say I predicted eBay would eventually make this change but I didn't, we just thought offering free shipping might give us a competitive advantage if we did it right.  We work hard at being competitive.    

I will make a prediction though.  I don't know if it will be correct and I don't really have the capability of determining if it will be or not.  But my prediction is that prices are going to rise on eBay, by at least 15%, probably more, very quickly.   I'll be keeping a close eye on my competitors.

Friday, March 18, 2011

500 Faces

This is a CDV I bought recently, the only single CDV I've ever purchased.  I usually buy them in groups of 5 to 50, but this one interested me.   It is a picture of about 500 people, and according to a caption written a the bottom, each one is easily identifiable with a hand held magnifying glass. 

Anyone who knows anything about 19th century advertising knows that being truthful about the product being advertised was not anywhere near a requirement.  So I have my doubts about how easy it is to identify anyone.  I can identify three, one who I'm pretty sure is William Shakespeare, and of course George Washington & Abraham Lincoln.  I didn't need a magnifying glass for any of them, but my glasses sure helped.

I'm pretty sure that this was made in the USA, even with the absence of photographer information.  In addition to Washington & Lincoln, there are several people in the bottom row who look to be wearing US Army dress uniforms of the 19th century.  Also, I'm pretty sure Washington & Lincoln would not be considered among the "most celebrated personages of the age" in Europe or Canada.  In the USA, different story, so this was almost certainly made in the USA.

I'm certain about the age of this photo too.  It's thin, has square corners, a couple of border lines, and in this case no photographer information.  It looks like the bottom may have been trimmed. It all points to vintage 1860s-1870s era. 

If Abraham Lincoln is in the picture, that probably dates it to some point after his assassination in 1865.  I'm sure this is full of government, military and literary types.  I'm looking for the Bronte sisters, Lafayette, Edgar Allen Poe, U.S. Grant, George Custer, George McClellan and various others.  I don't expect to find any leaders of the confederacy represented (if Abe Lincoln is on it during this time frame especially, this was made up north somewhere) but you never know.  It would be interesting to see how this list was shaped by the political leanings of  whoever made it.  For example, McClellan & Lincoln didn't exactly get along with each other, so if Lincoln is on here McClellan might not be. 

Thing is, most "celebrated personages" of this period are probably pretty obscure now.  I think I'll be looking at this for a long time.  If any of you all recognize anybody, leave a comment, I'd appreciate it.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Geography Song

I ran across this little poem in a book I'm reading. I'd never heard it before. It's funny and light hearted and very out of character with the rest of the book. 

The Geograhy Song

Maine is an island in Asia,
France is a river in Spain.
Coconuts grow on a mountain of snow,
Deserts are covered with rain.
Crocodiles come from Chicago,
Silver is mixed in a mill.
Grass is quite rare,
The equator is square,
And Kansas is south of Brazil.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Lately it seems

Lately it seems, I can't think of anything to write about.  When that happens, sometimes I sit down and just start writing.  Usually when I do that I end up writing something very similar to the first two sentences of this post.  And frequently I end up writing one of my "thoughts" posts, which is little more than a collection of rocks in my head.  That's what I'm leaning toward this time, though I have no particular thoughts to expound upon.

Rececently we fullfilled an annual rite of almost-spring - we arranged for our yearly service on the old John Deere.  Although the last couple of days have been kind of cool, it's frequently warmer here in North Carolina this time of year than it is in 2/3rds of the country or so, and things are begining to reflect that.  What passes for grass has turned green and is growing, a lot of flowers are begining to bloom, there are wild onions all over the place and if you look closely you can see buds on a lot of the trees.  Normally I refuse to start mowing until April, but last year I let it go when I really should have mowed one more time, so I think I'm going to pay for it this year.  I'll probably have to mow next week.  The week after at the latest.  I'm not talking a 1/4 acre lot in a suburb somewhere, I have to mow about 2 acres of land, almost none of it flat, and some quite steep.  It is very easy to get stuck somewhere, and it is also probably quite easy to do your self serious injury (going sideways over a bank, knocking your head on a limb, getting poked in the eye with something eye level, getting raked by a thorny vine which is very good at holding on, and so on), so mowing is not something I take lightly.   I wear saftey glasses, and usually some work gloves, no matter what the temperature is.  That won't help much if I run into a tree or plunge into an abyss, but at least it's something.

But anyway, calling someone to come and haul the mower away and do "the works" on it is a rite of approaching spring.  I can actually change the oil - it's much easier than changing the oil on a car - but all in all Pickles the Dog has more mechanical aptitude than I do, so I send it off and let them get it all ready for me.    It'll come back running a lot smoother than it was when I gave it to them, the blades will be sharpened & balanced, and it may even be good and clean. 

Ok - I had no idea I'd end up writing about this. On a scale of things, it's not much to write about, but it's where my mind went.  I hate mowing grass.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Our eBay month - Feb 2011

Hmmmm, why do I dread writing this up?  I do not know. 

Our sales in February were less than they were in January.  I'm not sophisticated enough to sit here an tell the world that therefore we lost X amount of dollars.  I'm not a large corporation, and there's no one here I can use that as an excuse to get rid of, and since I have no employees, I certainly can't move operations to Brazil or somewhere where labor is cheaper.  So since I'm unsophisticated business wise, I'll simply tell the truth.  We made money, but not quite as much as last month.

Both our net & gross were about 15% higher in Jan 2011 than in Feb 2011.   Our sales of single postcards were actually a bit higher in February, but sales of antique photos, especially CDVs were down quite a bit, and that is what made the overall difference. (Even though CDV sales were down, they still outsold the other categories of antique photos we sell). January was a very good month for antique photos, much more than is usual for us; February was a fairly normal month for photos. 

We ship items Monday thru Saturday, unless the post office is closed for a holiday, or for some reason we're physically unable to.  I update the totals on the day we ship them out, it's easier to keep track of that way.  January had 24 shipping days (because of holidays), Feb only had 23 - but that extra day would not have made up the difference.  March has 27 shipping days, so we'll see how that works out.

We're doing much better than this same period last year.  Our net is about 25% higher than the same two month period last year, and our gross over 70% higher in the same period.  How can that be?  Well, we were still doing a little consignment last year, but not that much - it accounted for a bout 10% of our sales.  But I noticed for some reason our business expenses were much higher in Feb 2010 than in Feb of this year, but expenses for Jan 2010 & Jan 2011 were about the same. Consignments may be part of the reason, I also think we're getting some discounts now that we didn't have then.  Also we buy things in bulk frequently, such as envelopes, printer paper and other supplies - it's cheaper over the long run, but it bumps up our expense in whatever month we purchase them.   No matter the reason,  we've done quite a bit better this year than we had at the same point last year.  That's good.

As always postcards seem to be pretty steady.  I need to figure out how to keep the antique photos at a high level every month.  And I'm continuing to add Victorian Trade Cards to the mix, so maybe one day they'll take off.