Monday, October 8, 2012

Our eBay and Etsy Month September 2012

I suppose it's about time I wrote something about this.  I was going to skip it this month, but why mess with success as they say.

September was better than August, at least as far as the bottom line.  But it was extremely ominous, and I did not like it.

We had more sales in August than in September, and our Gross dollar amount was higher in August.  But we had less expenses in September, mostly because of the way Etsy charges its fees.  Because of that our Net dollar amount, the amount we actually take home, what I think of as our profit for the month, was higher in September.   And based on that I say September was better than August.

That doesn't mean September was a good month.  Based on what I consider an average month to be, September, like August, was Terrible.  That's right, with a capital "T".   Sales, especially postcard sales, were down.

I don't know if there has been an eBay change that I haven't responded to, or perhaps everybody in America have collected all the postcards they want.  For the second month in a row our photo sales have exceeded our postcard sales.  That's fine, except we seem to be selling 50 to 60 percent fewer postcards than we used to.

We actually are weighting things toward Photo sales, and I think our sales are reflecting this, but the photos have not got to the point where they can carry the whole business.  At this point we still need those postcards to sell.  So, we'll have to see what happens.  Maybe there are some tweeks that can be made.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

eBay and Etsy month - August 2012

Well, it is summer, and summer's tend to be slow......but so far August has been the worst month of the year.

This was due to lower than average sales and higher than average expenses -  a lethal combination.  Our gross sales weren't great, but also weren't terrible - better than a couple of months this year.  But for various reasons, some one time, some maybe not, our expenses were much higher than normal this month, so that lead to our lowest net in a one month period this year. 

I take a breath, shrug my shoulders, march on.

A bright point, our international sales remain quite strong, unbelievably strong in fact, at least compared to what I considered normal international sales.  I'm not sure why  that is, but that is a very good thing.   I've been selling internationally for years now and it's turned out ok.

Our eBay postcard sales (or lack of) was the culprit this month - not that we didn't sell any, just less than normal.  Our photo sales were pretty strong.

We've been on Etsy for about 5 months now, and it hasn't been great, but, to my surprise, we haven't lost money.   We did lose money this month on Etsy, but over all it has been profitable.  Not much, but as long as we're not losing money, I suppose it is a nice second outlet for some of our stuff.

And that's about it.  We made a profit, but it was not a good month.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Grass

Little bit of a rant.  There is no deeper meaning.

We do not consider what we have to be a lawn - it is more of a field.  2.5 acres give or take, (thank heavens part of our property is wooded) of sometimes very steep sloping grass that really should be mowed.  It will get away from you quick, if you don't. 

Here's the problem.  Almost all of the lower 48 states are experiencing a drought.  North Carolina is one of 2 or 3 states among these 48 that have no counties in a drought situation.  In fact, it pretty much won't stop raining.  It rained for hours early Sunday morning, then rained for hours - hard - late Sunday evening.  As I type this, it is getting dark again, and looks like rain.   I think it has rained everyday expect one for the last week. 

I managed to mow a large section of grass Saturday afternoon.  It was a struggle.  I know you are supposed to mow when the grass is dry - but it never gets dry.  It hasn't been dry since sometime in early July, I think.  It is saturated with dew in the mornings, and in the afternoon, it rains.  So the ol' John Deere kept getting clogged up, I'd shut off the blade, back up, and there would be tons of wet clumpy grass on the ground.  Awhile later I'd have to repeat the process.  I tried to do this in out of the way places - near the "grape vine" or the Mulberry tree, but for the most part I couldn't.   When I was done and surveyed the field, instead of seeing neatly trimmed grass, I saw disgusting rows of wet clumpy grass clippings, the type that will eventually kill everything underneath it. 

We cleaned the mower - me first then my wife took over - and pulled out a ton more grass, as much as we could get.  I'm sure there's a lot left there.

And of course, later that evening, it began to rain.

So this afternoon I did something I vowed I would never do on this property.  We raked.   Or gathered.  We raked the grass into piles, then picked the grass up and put into a trash can (20 gallon I think), then carried it to where where the weeds and briers live and dumped it out.  All told I think we had around 40 piles of grass, maybe more, because I didnt start counting 'till there were less than 20 left, and that didn't even represent half of our little field. 

It wasn't terribly hot, low to mid-80's, (about 28-29 Celsius for the rest of the world) but it was extremely humid, and wet grass is rather heavy, and I had to carry it uphill,  so I was huffing and puffing and sweating like a pig on Thanksgiving day before I was done.  

I don't know that it made any difference.  Next time I mow I'll put the blade at the highest setting, maybe that will help.

In the mean time, if it would just stop raining for a week or two, that would be nice.

End of rant.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

My Mother's Birthday

Today is my mother's birthday. 

My mother died 3 years ago, on August 24th, in a hospital room at the Appalachian Regional Hospital in Hazard, Kentucky.  Hazard is the big city on those parts.  She had been very sick for awhile, I had gone to see her then came back, and was planning to go again when I got a call from my brother on the evening of the 23rd.   I left the next morning, but did not get there in time.  I got a call on my cell as I was pulling into a gas station at Gate City, Virginia. 

The older I get the more people die, and I think the concept of a "dignified" death is something people made up.  My mother suffered, to the point that my father finally told everybody - meaning the doctors - to stop.   She was old, and was very unlikely to recover no matter what they did, so he told them to stop.  He didn't receive any argument from anybody, neither family nor doctors.  Everybody knew.  They moved her out of intensive care, managed the pain, and she died a day or so later.

I remember when I was little.  We had 33 acres of prime (ahem) hill top property in Hindman, Kentucky.  I'd run around barefoot (we always said barefooted), and I learned that if I just ran thru the yard the bees generally got out of the way.  I was always a little afraid of the snakes, but they seemed to get out of the way too.  I was invincible.   But even at that early age I knew about death, though I didn't really understand it.  I remember telling myself I had nothing to worry about, because only old people died and by the time I was old, someone would have found a cure for death.  I was all of 5 years old.

The first part of my self delusion was shattered when a 1st cousin, and my best friend, drowned in Troublesome Creek when it was swollen with spring rains.  I remember him as smart, inquisitive and curious, and he was younger than me.  He was only 7 years old when he died.  I was 8.

The second part of my self delusion went by the wayside a long time ago.   People die.  They die for all kinds of reasons, but mostly they just get sick and die.  True, as a group, at least in the developed world, we tend to live somewhat longer than we used to, but we don't live forever.  Or even that long, for that matter. 

On my mother's last birthday she was in a hospital bed.  She was conscious and aware, but had tubes helping her breathe and could not communicate. She had endured a couple of operations, she was in pain and she was extremely uncomfortable. When I left her for the last time, she didn't want me to go.  Even though she couldn't speak, everybody knew why.  Well I can't speak for anyone else, but I knew why.

So today is my mom's birthday, and I've been thinking about her off and on all day.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Nope, I'm not a writer

I don't have much in common with writers, which is no big surprise.

Writers write.  They write everyday.  They set goals for themselves and fret about it if they don't quite get there.  If they aren't writing they worry about it. They edit & rewrite.  No matter what else they have going on, they find time.  They keep notebooks close at hand in case they think of something, see something, hear something or someone says something interesting - an idea, word, phrase, insight, anything.  They struggle to find the right word.  Writers also read, a lot.  But mostly, they write, every day.

I haven't written too much in this blog for 3 months, and I haven't worried about it too much.  And though it's irrelevant, nothing of what I have written is really worth much of anything except to me.  Worth is important to a writer.

I haven't written a short story in several years.

My favorite one, way back when, was about a woman and a snake.  The woman, the snake, and a little dog were the only characters in the book.   It took place early in the morning, with the woman sitting at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee trying to wake up. She had to get cleaned up and ready for work, and she also she also had a young child who was asleep, but who she would have to wake up soon, get cleaned up, dressed, fed and ready for day care. She had a very busy morning ahead of her, and that was before she got to work. She was also married, but her husband was out of town on business.  So her child and her husband are also characters, but they are in the background, they exist, but they never make an appearance.

Her being married and having a child was no accident - I remember actually thinking about this.  I could have made her a single parent, or a single woman living on her own, but I decided to giver her a child and a temporarily absent husband.  It seem to make things more interesting, because for a few days she was thrust into a role she wasn't used to, and wasn't really prepared for, essentially she was a  single parent.

The whole story is her thoughts and the comments of an unseen narrator who seems to know everything there is to know about her.   One thing the narrator knows is that the woman considers her husband being away as something of a vacation for her - one less person to worry about, except late at night in a dark, creaking almost-in-the-country house when she feels not quite scared, but uneasy.  The only dialogue in the story is between her and the dog. 

So the conflict in the story (all stories have conflict) comes when the little dog starts going ballistic at the front door, and the woman opens the door to find a big snake on her front porch, right outside the door.  For whatever reason, it doesn't seem to be going anywhere.  After the initial shock, she's irritated because dealing with the snake would normally fall under the auspices of the husband's duties, he man that he is, but he's gone, so she has to deal with it.  The rest of the story is how she deals with it.

It involves gasoline.

So I used to write stories, but I don't anymore.   Writers have to pay attention to the human condition, and that takes concentration and a decent amount of insight.  I can concentrate, but I'm not sure I have the insight.  

In the book I'm reading now, the protagonist is surprised find his teenage daughter understands "the value of an endorsement from a fool".  Which, of course, is nothing.  Less than nothing, to be honest.  And that's in the bible too, Proverbs I think, but maybe Psalms.  Or maybe somewhere else.  It goes something like this: "Its better to be thought merely good by the great, than great by the merely good".    It's human condition stuff.

Anyway, writing can be fun, but I'm not a writer. 

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Our eBay (and Etsy) Month - July 2012

Just coasting along......

July was our best month this year, at least as far as net profits went.  As far as I'm concerned, net is what counts, and our net profits for the month were very good.  I know what happened, but I really don't know why it happened. 

Our postcard and photo sales were both close to the most we've sold in a single month period all year, and when that happens we have a good month.  We've had months where we've sold more of one or the other, but not where both were this good - at least not this year. 

Also, for some reason we sold an extraordinary amount internationally - I believe international sales accounted for almost 1/3rd or our sales, and that is a lot for us.  I believe this this is the most we've ever sold internationally in a month, but I've only been tracking that for a couple of years now.  eBay has been tracking it for us since day 1, however, so I can report with a fair amount of accuracy that in the 6 years and 3 days we've had this business going, international sales have accounted for roughly 12.5% of our total sales.  I don't know if that is good, bad, or otherwise, but it is what it is.

I like international sales, I hope it keeps up.

Sometimes you have a good month because you find some special inventory.  We did have some good inventory this month, but nothing spectacularly out of the ordinary.  But we had some items which were unique, and which sold quickly for a decent profit - but even without that it still would have been a very good month.  So I don't really know how to explain it.

Our Etsy sales were decent, but not that much better than in June.

Traditionally the summer months are slower - June, July & August.  Well this year May and June were terrible, so I figured we were in for a slow 5 months.  So I'll very happily take a good July. 

I was worried that sales might be slower, because we're no longer have top rated seller status.  This is because eBay changed their criteria, and we felt the costs outweighed the benefits of trying to meet it.  So we made a business decision to stay the course so to speak. 

Well that's not quite true - we moved part of our business to Etsy, and it seems to be working ok. 

August has started out ok for us, but we're in the hole a bit because of some business expenses we had to make.   Costs money to make money as the say.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Our eBay (and Etsy) month - June 2012

Hmmm.........I need to write more in this blog.  Well, it's been a busy month.....  Anyway.

Basically our totals for June were almost the same as for May, which is to say somewhere between not too good and better than nothing. 

We actually did a little better in June, but the only reason we made more of a profit was because our expenses were less.  While that's nice, it's not really the hallmark of an expanding business. 

Our eBay sales were slightly higher for the month, and distributed a bit differently.   We sold more photos and fewer postcards in June than we did in May.   Our Etsy sales were slightly lower in June than they were in May.   Our overall business expenses were lower, and that is why we made a profit.

Our business expense was lower because we paid less postage, which again, is nice, but also indicates that we didn't ship as much.

But a couple of good things did happen.  We had several "multiple purchase" transactions, and our international sales jumped right back to what I consider normal levels.   We've started off pretty good international sales wise in July, so I hope that continues. 

The end of June was also the end of the 2nd quarter, so I can draw my quarterly conclusions, I suppose.   We did much better in the first quarter 2012 than we did in the 2nd quarter.  However, 1Q 2012 was 2nd best quarter we've had since I've been keeping these types of records (since 2009).  We also did not do as well in as we did in the 2Q of 2011, but guess what, 2Q 2011 was the 3rd best quarter we've ever had, only slightly off 1Q 2012.  Both quarters were dwarfed by 4Q of 2011.   I've kept these records for 14 quarters now, and our last quarter results were slightly below average.  I suppose I was spoiled by 2 straight quarters of much higher than average sales.  

Last year's 3rd quarter was pretty bad, not the lowest we've ever had, but pretty close.  I'm hoping this years 3Q results will be better.  Stay tuned.





Friday, June 1, 2012

Our eBay (and Etsy) month May 2012

This was our worst month in 2 years - literally.  I looked.  I had to go back to May 2010 to find a month when sales were lower.  Sales were lower this month than that awful 3 month period in 2011 when I thought sales were so slow. 

Now this is going to sound very simplistic, but the reason our gross and net amounts were so slow was because we didn't sell as much as we usually do.  Sounds reasonable I suppose. 

I track transactions per day and items sold per day (some transactions are for more than one item), and we had almost 2 transactions (with 2.8 items sold) per day fewer than normal.  That adds up over the course of 31 days. 

Every category I track was down, down, down.  Sales of single postcards were off by about 30%, sales of photos off by about 50% (that really hurt).  

Our international sales dropped off the charts.  Normally international sales account for 20% or more of our total sales.  Most of our international business goes to Canada, Western Europe and Australia, with a smattering of sales to other parts of the world.  In May our international sales were the lowest they've been since I've been keeping records, and not by a little.  A LOT!  Had our international sales been normal, it still would not have been a great month, but it would have been a lot more reasonable.

Like most months, I live in a semi-fog with all this.  I can tell what happened, but I can't tell why.  I have no idea why our sales were down, or why the international sales were low.  I can conjecture 'till I'm blue in the face, but the reality is I don't know.  I know much of Europe is in a financial crisis of sorts, but I refuse to believe that this minuscule business is any kind of measure of the global economy.

As bad a month as it was, we still made a profit. 

I don't subscribe to big business' definition of profit and loss.  A large company I worked for many years ago had a profit of close to $600,000,000 one quarter, but because in the same quarter the previous year they had a profit of close to $800,000,000, managers called a meeting and told us with a straight face that we lost $200,000,000, as if we were responsible or could do anything about it.     I'd look up at them and think "what assholes".  While I understood that the profit for one quarter was significantly less than the profit during the same quarter of the previous year, I didn't understand how a profit of $600,000,000 could be construed as a loss of any kind.  But in all fairness,  I never took a business course in my life, so what do I know.

Anyway, we made a certain amount of money through sales, we had to spend a certain amount on things like fees for using eBay & PayPal, postage, packaging supplies and so on.  The amount we spent on expenses was less than the amount we made on sales, hence we made  profit, at least in my naive little brain.    It wasn't as much as we usually do, but still, we did not lose money. 

That being said, I sure hope sales pick up.  June, July & August are typically the slowest months of the year for us, so that may be wishful thinking.  But whatever, we'll keep plugging away, and eventually the sales will come our way.  I reckon.

Monday, May 28, 2012

More Books - Anne Frank

I've read several books in the past few weeks, and I've not been keeping this updated.  I'm only going to write about one though, "The Diary of Anne Frank". 

This makes the 3rd time I've read a version of this diary.  This one was subtitled "the Definitive Edition", and I actually bought it in the 1990s.  I probably haven't read it since 1995 or so.

There are 3 accepted versions of the diary, I think - Anne Frank's original version started in 1942 shortly before she and her family went into hiding (version a), the version she began editing in 1944 with an eye toward publication after the war (version b - she continued with the original diary while creating an edited version), and the version edited by her father (Otto Frank) and published in 1947 or 1948. 

The Otto Frank version is the one I read in school in my early teens.  He left a lot of stuff out, partly because of space constraints for the publisher, partly because some of the material was not appropriate for a young audience (though Anne was ages 13-15 when she wrote it), and partly because he was her father and she was his daughter.  You know how that goes.

Otto Frank died in 1980 and he willed all his daughter's manuscripts to a foundation in Switzerland.  Since then they've been studied, verified beyond a doubt, an edition has been published for scholars, and the "definitive" edition has been published for a more general population of readers.  There are a lot of things in this book that were not in the version edited by Otto Frank, the version that I read as a student.

Anne and her family considered themselves German, but they were Jewish and when the Nazis came to power they emigrated to Holland, where they had a comfortable life.  Her father was a manager in a small company involved in some kind of jam or jelly manufacturing - I'm not quite clear on that.   I got the impression that her parents were functional but never quite fluent in Dutch.  Anne and Margot, her older sister, were very fluent in Dutch, and I think Margo was fluent in German as well.  I think Anne was comfortable speaking German, but treated Dutch as her native language.  She was very young when they left Germany.

Their comfortable life lasted until 1940, when the Germans invaded the Netherlands, and began placing restrictions on Jews.  She started her diary in the months after the invasion, and very early on she writes about all the restrictions, great and small, placed on the Jews. 

This was written from her point of view, and Anne was young and was not aware of everything that was going on.  I can assume that her father had made arrangements with some people they worked with to create a hiding place in an annex in his business place (which he was apparently restricted from working in) for his family and another family - 7 people in all.  Things were getting bad, and they picked a date to go into hiding, but a wrench was thrown into their plans - Margot, Anne's older sister, received a "call-up" notice from the SS to report to such and such place at a certain time for a work detail in Germany.  Of course they were going to send her off to a concentration camp and that would be the last anyone would see of Margot.  So the Frank family went into hiding the very next day, a week earlier than originally planned, and they were followed shortly by the van Dann family (their real names were van Pels, but Anne gave them pseudonyms in version b of her diary).  Some months later they were joined by a dentist who Anne gave the name Alfred Dussel (real name Fritz Pfeffer), who was also German but had been living in Holland for many years.  So there were 8 people living in the "Secret Annex".

I have actually seen this "Secret Annex".  I lived in Germany as a teenager (and again in my 20's), and our class took a trip to Amsterdam, and one of the places we visited was the Anne Frank "House".  I remember the building was tall and narrow, very close to a canal and shared walls with neighboring buildings.  I remember walking up narrow steps to the area where they actually hid - most of the building was offices and a warehouse.  Here my memory is hazy - I don't remember many details, except that it was VERY SMALL.  There have been a couple of movies based on the diary, and they all give the illusion that there was much more space than there actually was.  Still, in a way they had it good - a lot of Jews in hiding were living in much worse conditions, and the ones that answered the call up notices were either murdered, or starved or died of disease in concentration camps.

I think of Anne Frank's diary as almost like two diaries in one.  In one, she describes things that happened, and it can be fascinating.  In the other she describes feelings - Anne was a young girl going through puberty during some very rough and unusual living conditions, so her feelings can be a pretty wild ride.

I'm sure it was a hard life, and it just got harder as time went on.  8 people forced to live in very close quarters, no way to get away from one another, very limited privacy, food becoming scarcer and scarcer, living in constant fear, it had to be very very stressful. There were personality conflicts, magnified by the close quarters.   Anne spends a lot of time writing about the conflicts and stress (seems she was at the center of a lot of it) but I bet she only covered a fraction of what went on.  They may have had it good in comparison to some, but they didn't have it easy.  They apparently did their best to keep up routines, including school work, but it must have been very difficult.

There is a thing about secrets - the more people who know, the less secure they are.  There were 8 people who were hidden in a small space for over 2 years, and they could not do it alone.  They had to depend on help from others.  The core was 4 people who worked in the office.  As time went on, more people knew.  One of the office worker's parents was informed and built a bookcase to conceal the entrance to the annex.  It became obvious that other people didn't know for sure but suspected, and they were helpful for the most part. 

Some things they could not be sure about though, and as I read the diary I realized that the longer things went on the harder it was to keep them secret.  The people helping them were forced to deal with "black market" types, and some of those people were less than savory.  Over time, they may have developed suspicions, something they could use to protect themselves in case they were arrested (it takes a lot of food & and illegal ration books to feed 8 people, during war time).  The annex shared a wall with a business next door, none of whom were informed about their neighbors in hiding. It is hard for 8 people to be absolutely quiet.  Something as simple as a cough or sneeze, or an ill timed bump against something might arouse suspicion - especially if repeated over time.  They would sometimes open windows to get some fresh air, and on more than one occasion someone noticed some windows opened when no one was supposed to be there and mentioned it to one of the office workers.

And there were a series of 3 or 4 burglaries over a period of months - and in one burglary in particular, maybe two, it's possible that some of this small group of people in hiding were seen.  It's even much more likely, in fact it's almost certain, that they were heard.  It was their habit, after hours, to make use of the downstairs office space for various things - this was not the most secure thing to do considering their situation, but you can imagine their need to spread out.   Also, after working hours, they weren't particularly quiet - they talked, flushed the toilet, lived their lives as normally as they could.  It's possible, maybe even probable, that burglars were aware of them before they were aware of the burglars.  In the end, this is probably what lead to their capture.  I think it's pretty certain that one of the burglars turned them in - probably in return for some leniency.  These burglaries were terrifying to Anne, and she describes them in detail.

Anne's diary ends on August 1, 1944.  There was nothing special about the entry, nothing different, obviously she had no idea it was going to be her last one.  Although she lived in fear of being found, she was also optimistic that they'd survive till the end of the war.  They were arrested on August 4th, just a little over two years after they went into hiding.  Apparently there was an SS sergeant in full uniform (who's complete name is given in the book), and 3 or 4 Dutch security people in plain clothes (but armed) who arrested the group and searched the annex for money and other valuables.   They ignored Anne's diary.  Later Miep Gies, one of the people who had hid them for 2 years, found it strewn all over the floor.   She considered it private and never read it - she gave it to Anne's father after the war.  Two of the people who hid them were arrested, but one released due to ill health, and another managed to escape.

As a group they had some very bad luck, timing wise.  They had been there for over two years, if they could have lasted a few more months they probably would have survived the war.  As it was they were on the last transport to leave Holland, and initially sent to Auswitz in Poland.   Mr. Van Dann (van Pels) was gassed in October or November 1944, apparently among the last to meet that fate.  The others were transferred from place to place.  Anne's mother died in January 1945, from "hunger and exhaustion".  Mrs van Dann was transferred to several camps, and it is certain she did not survive, but no one knows the date or location she died. I can't remember when Mr. Dussel died.   Margot and Anne were transferred to Bergen-Belsen, and they both died in a Typhoid epidemic that swept through the prison population - Margot in February 1945, and Anne in March 1945.  Peter Van Dann who was a couple years older than Anne, and who Anne became very close to during the years in hiding, died in Mauthausen in Austria on May 5, 1945 - very shortly before the camp was liberated, and very shortly before Germany surrendered.   Of the 8, the only one who survived was Anne's father, Otto Frank.

They came very, very close to surviving, and it's sad that they didn't.  Anne Frank was a very good writer, and I suspect she would have been very well known had she survived.  She was born in 1929, so it's quite possible she'd still be alive today.  But that is a future that never happened, so we're left with the thoughts of a teen aged girl living in extraordinary conditions during a dangerous and horrific time. 

Everyone should read it.  More than once.

A little postscript:  May 29, 2012

Here is an interesting link I found which talks about the museum as it is currently, and gives some background info on the Franks:   http://www.scrapbookpages.com/annefrank/AnneFrank01.html   It's pretty lengthy, and has pictures.  The museum is quite a bit different than it was when I was there.   And it's been so long I've forgotten most details of the place. 

Also the group was apparently arrested by members of the SD, not the SS.  My mistake. 

I'm still surprised at the arbitrariness of some of their fates:  Hermann van Pels (van Dann) injured his finger, asked to be put on a barracks detail, and ended up being gassed with the rest of the members of the barracks he was assigned to.   Otto Frank survived because he was beaten to within an inch of his life, placed in the infirmary, and when the Auswitz was abandoned, they left the infirmary patients behind.  Peter van Pels (Peter van Dann) saw Otto Frank shortly before the evacuation and probably could have hid out in the infirmary, but went along on the "death march" to Mauthausen in January 1945.  He survived the march, but died on May 5, 1945 - either very shortly before the camp was liberated or on the actual day of its liberation. 

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Some Saturday Comments

I notice a lot of people are viewing my "Going To Sleep" post.  I hope no one takes it too seriously.  It's just a post. 

Maybe I should start writing "How To" posts.  I've already written one about how to microwave soup.  And I wrote another one about what to do with cherries you buy at a farmers market.  That's about all I know.

If you examine all the steps involved in doing anything, you suddenly realize it's a lot of work.

I like to write limericks.  Sonnets too.  And Haiku.  I like the rigidity and structure of it, and I can't explain it because rigidity and structure is otherwise against my nature.  Havent written any in awhile.  They're a lot of work.

I also like words - what they mean & where they come from.  How they're used - especially colloquially and dialectically.  I made that word up.

I also like puns.  Right now I'm trying to figure out a good pun with "menopause".  I'm working on the idea of a small dog with "mini-paws", but I need to flesh it out.

I don't like quotes.  If you throw quotes at me, they will be deflected.

As Winston Churchill said, we have nothing to fear but fear itself.  (I know, I know, it was FDR, not Churchill.  I'm just wondering who, amongst those who are reading this, had a quick impulse to point out the mistake.  No need to comment, you know who you are).

I do not have a "Type A" personality.  I'm pretty far from a Type A type person.

William Rufus had a red beard supposedly.  The "Rufus" gives it away. 

I'm pretty sure if William Rufus and I had crossed paths in one of the royal forests, he would have killed me.

I didn't realize I had any problem with authority until I joined the Army.

I don't have a favorite television show.  Or a favorite book (not really), or a favorite song. 

It is hard to find unique stuff.

Why does every small town have one weird person who walks everywhere, crosses personal boundaries with impunity, gets into arguments with postal workers and is pretty much on the far side of crazy?

I doubt I'd make a good sociopath, because I'm pretty good at empathising with people.  So I can strike that off my list of possible career choices.  Just something else I'll never be.

I don't think I'd make a good psychopath either.  I'm not really sure what that is.

I don't like to shave.  But I don't like having a beard.  Man, it's tough.

Once in college I took a class in Latin, and I remember thinking that it was really different from what I was accustomed to.

A rock has more mechanical aptitude that I do.  Engines, machines and so on usually bore me and I don't care much about how they work.  My motto:  if it needs fixing, hire somebody.  The results will usually be much better. 

If I have to pull a string to start it, I don't want anything to do with it. 

And Smoky the Dog has finally stopped barking.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Our eBay (and Etsy) month - April 2012

5 days into May, I suppose I should pronounce judgement on April.

April was the best month this year, and is the 6th straight month of what I consider above average sales.  If this continues (a big if) I'll have to think about changing what I consider average.

Postcard sales were a little above average, photo sales were quite a bit above average.  And our international sales (although they are part of, not in addition to, our postcard & photo sales) were very high.  I don't know why some people make the decision not to sell internationally - it's a significant part of our monthly sales. 

The one dismal part so far is Etsy, so dismal in fact that we're considering pulling the plug on it.  Which is too bad, because I actually like the site.  There seems to be two aspects of Etsy - one is a social aspect, and another is the market aspect.  Socially there are circles and teams and treasury lists and favorites and probably a lot of other things.  That is quite active.  It's nice and makes me feel good to know a lot of people consider our stuff pretty or interesting or even thought provoking, but so far it's making very, very few people actually want to buy anything, so the market place part of Etsy is lacking for us.  Our total Etsy sales last month would have made a bad day's worth of sales on eBay. It would be accurate to say sales on Etsy were pathetic.  It's getting to be a lot of work for very little return, so if sales don't start happening soon, the Etsy experiment will probably be ended sooner than planned.

All this came about because of a rule change on eBay concerning qualifications for top rated seller status (hint: we're TRS's now, but next month won't be, even we'll be providing the same high level of service as we always did).  This deserves it's on rant filled post, so I'll do that later.

Back on eBay, April was like two different months.  The first half was extremely good, the second half was fairly slow.   That slowness has extended into the first week of May, so I hope that changes.  That's the way the business is though, there is nothing steady about it.   Its either a mile a minute or skipping along smelling the roses.   The first week of May was not terrible, but it was leaning toward smelling the roses.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

eBay and Etsy

A couple of months ago we began moving postcards and some other items from eBay to Etsy, with the idea that we'd sell primarily antique photos and such on eBay, and postcards, snapshots and such on Etsy.  We did this as a reaction to an upcoming change eBay is making in how they determine top rated sellers.  Beginning June 1, they're going to require 90% of items shipped have tracking on them, and we currently can't meet that. (I checked & in the last 3 months we mailed just under 52% of our items with delivery confirmation). Because of the way we mail things (and the fact we offer free shipping), we mail all our antique photos with tracking, but for the most part we don't mail postcards that way.  In order to mail postcards that way we'd either have to increase our prices or have a shipping & handling charge on them.  If we wanted to make any kind of a profit, that is.  I'm not sure we could do either and maintain our sales level.

So, not knowing how it would work, we decided to try and sell our postcards and cheaper items we would not normally mail with delivery confirmation on Etsy.  We're moving them over slowly but surely.  We started this on the last day of February, so I guess this is long enough to make some observations.

Etsy is quite a bit different than eBay.  It is a whole different culture.  It is a much more artistic, creative, handmade and craft oriented place.  With their circles, treasury lists and convos, Etsy is much more of a social site than eBay.  Etsy has a section for selling vintage items, which is where we and our postcards fall under.   I'm really not sure Etsy is the best place in the world to list & try to sell postcards.  But we shall see.

There are lots of things I like about Etsy.  I especially like the layout of the listings - it just somehow seems nicer & cleaner than eBay's.  Easier to understand. 

eBay & Etsy have a different language.  eBay has stores, Etsy has shops.  eBay watches items and saves favorite sellers, Etsy favorites items and shops.  eBay has categories, Etsy has sections.  It is quite a bit easier to see item and shop (store) statistics on Etsy than it is on eBay.  eBay has more sophisticated reporting if you're in to that stuff - in fact I'm not sure Etsy has any reporting to speak of, other than the shop stats.

On eBay, it's possible to save favorite sellers, or "watch" an item you're interested in.  There is the same type of thing on Etsy, the difference is on Etsy you can see who "favorites" an item or your shop.  You could, if you wanted, "convo" or contact them.   I've often wondered how many buyers on eBay have us in their "saved sellers" list, and who it is watching my items - I have no clue. 

It's a lot easier to organize your favorite sellers and items on eBay than it is on Etsy.  Also eBay allows you up to 300 categories and sub-categories for the items you're selling.  Etsy only allows 10 sections, with no subsections.

There are no auctions on Etsy. 

Etsy seems to be a bit less expensive to do business on than eBay.  The fee structure is different, so it is hard to compare, but at first glance, it seems less expensive. 

Printing address labels is a lot easier on eBay, especially online labels from the Post Office.

eBay is bigger than Etsy, I suspect a lot bigger, and has a lot more structure to it.  A lot of this structure comes in the form of ever increasingly restrictive rules on sellers, and I'm pretty sure there is a reason for that.  Up to now we've just shrugged and adjusted (well, sometimes maybe not), pretty much doing what ever they wanted, but unless we change something dramatically we will not be able to meet their 90% delivery confirmation rule.  For some stupid reason I'm proud of our top rated seller status.  Providing good customer service just seems natural to me.  We're almost certainly going to lose the TRS status, at least for awhile.

So at any rate we decided to at least partially jump ship, and try to establish our postcard business on Etsy.   eBay is so huge, I'm positive absolutely no one noticed. We're like a flea on an elephant.  Not even.  Put 10 elephants on top of each other, then maybe we'd be like a flea on the mass of 10 elephants.  Probably not even that.  Maybe a flea egg.  Maybe if fleas had fleas, we'd be like a flea on a flea on the mass of 10 elephants.  Not very significant to the survival or profitability of eBay.

Anyway, at this point we have 638 items on Etsy (all of which would have been on eBay), and move more everyday.  When we're done, we'll have in the neighborhood of 2,000 items on Etsy.  They'll be mostly postcards, snapshots, trade cards with some antique photos in the mix.  I'm not sure how many items we'll have on eBay, but I suspect in the neighborhood of 1500, about half of what we used to have.  For the most part they will be various ilks of antique photos.  Once those number are established, we'll build from there.

It won't happen by June, when this 90% rule takes effect.  We'll lose our beloved top rated seller status, even though we're just as dependable as we've always been.

Anyway, this is the projection,  assuming things work as planned.  That is a big assumption, the jury is still out on Etsy.  What's important is the bottom line, translated as sales.  Right now sales on Etsy are dismal, and I'm not surprised by that.   For April, we usually sell more in a single day on eBay than we did for the entire month on Etsy.  In fact the entire months sales on Etsy for April, would make a below average sales day for us on eBay (also in April).  Not good, but it's early yet.

It takes awhile to make a profit. We've been selling on eBay since 2006 & I suppose we're pretty well established in the world of postcard & antique photo sellers there.  We have a fair amount of sales anyway, with a fair amount of repeat customers, and we make money every month.   We jumped into Etsy with no customer base, no exposure whatsoever, and obviously we're not the only one selling these items there.  So it doesn't surprise me that after 2 months sales are not good.  We have to stick it out for awhile, keep plugging away, keep learning, use the site the way it's intended to be used, and hopefully the sales will come.  There is a lot of potential, and I'm optimistic.

At some point - not exactly sure when, but at some point, we'll make a go/no go decision concerning Etsy.  If worse comes to worse, we'll regroup at that time figure things out and soldier on.  But one thing at a time.  Right now we're concentrating on making Etsy work. 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Sunday Thoughts

Just another post of a short series of stuff.

I still like twitter better than facebook, I think (still) because it's more anonymous.  In twitter I literally only know a handful of people I follow or who follow me - a half dozen (it was so hard not to type half a dozen) at most.  In facebook almost everyone I follow or who follows me are family or friends.  I don't want family and friends finding out about the real me.  I mean, who would?

Are there degrees of identical-ness?  I made a comment the other evening that two items were "barely identical", which seemed silly at the time.  Its like being barely pregnant.  However, the more I think about it, the more it makes sense.  Everything that is identical is just barely identical, because if one minute thing was different, they would not be identical.

Still not comfortable with the difference between affect and effect, no matter how many times it gets explained to me.

I still continue to read, but I'm behind in updating my reading in this blog.  And heaven help me, I picked up another Robert Ludlum book, but only because someone literally left a bunch of books on our porch (we have kind of a reciprocal agreement going - I think).

Here in Western North Carolina, we're on the edge of a storm.  I believe it is passing to the east of us, and heading north, which means it will be bad for those in it's way.  Here it is just overcast, cool, off and on sprinkles, and a very lazy day for Pickles the Dog.

I tweeted about this yesterday.  On TV there is a show about million dollar rooms.  Some guy was bragging about how he'd spent over a million dollars just on the entry foyer to his home.  Another had a $250,000 bullet proof window in one of his rooms.  And here I am happy as a clam when I sell a postcard for $5.00.
Sheesh.

Actually a couple of weeks ago we sold a CDV for about $50.00, and I was 10 times happier than a clam - even though it's possible it was worth quite a bit more than that.  

It's interesting he felt the need to have a bullet proof window.  But this is the USA so it figures.  And I bet, just like in the case of identical-ness, or even more so, there are different degrees of bullet proof-ness.  What I'm saying is, it all depends on how badly someone wants to shoot a bullet though his window.  Since this IS the USA, I'm sure there is a gun and a bullet for the job, no matter the window.

We continue to move postcards from eBay to Etsy - more on that grand experiment later.

I miss having a cat.  I'm not sure a cat would mix well with Pickles though.

Enough.  Done.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Our eBay (& Etsy) Month - March 2012

March was a good month, not great, but it continued a series of above average months for us.  It also was the start of a bold new experiment, where we are slowly but surely moving our postcards, snapshots & trade cards to etsy, concentrating our antique photo sales on eBay.

So, while March was an above average month for us, we did not sell as much as we did in either of the previous two months.   It is easy to tell why at a glance of a spreadsheet I keep - both our average daily transactions & average items sold per day were down by 1 item a day from the previous month, while the average price we received for items was about the same.  If you sell less, you generally earn less, which is not really that astute an observation.

But again, it was a good month. 

Etsy contributed, but not a whole lot, and we didn't expect it to at this point.  We'll give Etsy until October or so, or maybe to the end of the year, and if it doesn't start paying for itself and then some, we'll call the experiment a failure and start backing off.  Etsy of course is famous for hand made items, but they do allow sales of vintage collectibles and other items, and that is where our postcards fit in.  I don't know if it will be a success for us or not, but we shall see.

March was the end of the 1st quarter.  Our 1st quarter earnings, both gross and net, were roughly 10% higher than 1st quarter of 2011, so that's good.  However, they were about 10% lower (give or take) than our 4th quarter 2011 earnings.  We had a very good 4th quarter last year.    I've noticed that in 3 of the last 4 years we've had a 3rd quarter slump - summer months - so I'll guess I'll be thinking about how to handle that as time goes on.

Our international sales were strong, once again.  Much stronger than our yearly average.  International sales actually got a bit of a boost from Etsy, literally 3/4ths of our sales from that site went to Europe or Canada.

In March, for the first time this year, photo sales were greater than postcard sales.  In fact, the reason that March was not quite a good a month as February is because we sold fewer postcards.   That could be an effect moving things to Etsy, really can't say at this point.  Eventually,  if things work out as planned, photos will take over our eBay business.  If they don't, then postcards will be back there.  I reckon.

April has started off very well eBay-wise, very poor Etsy wise.  It'll be interesting to see how it turns out.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Books I've read lately.

I've been remiss lately in fulfilling my compulsion to write something, anything, about what I read.  I've not even been updating the book on the sidebar.  So, I'll have to mend my ways.  So here's some thoughts on books I've read lately.

I read The Devlin Diaries by Christi Phillips.  It is essentially about two mysteries of sorts, which take place 340 years apart or so.  One is set in the reign of King Charles II, and the other in present day Cambridge.  Its a story of professors, historical research, a 17th century serial killer, the modern day death of a much disliked professor and so on.  I liked it. I thought it was very well written (though I did find an editing error - where her 17th century character replied to the modern day professor), and it was a good story.

I also read The Day I Died by Steve Sjoregren, which is a true story about the author's botched surgery and it's aftermath.  The author is a hard working pastor of a large church in Cincinnati, and seems to be a nice guy.  The operation was scheduled gall bladder surgery.  I know what a person with gall bladder problems goes though, I apparently had gall stones etc and I was sicker than I've ever been in my life.  Pain, vomiting, and more vomiting, even when there was nothing to vomit.  My body found something.  So as much as surgery is not a fun thing to do, I can see the necessity of it. 

So anyway, the surgeon made a mistake right off the bat, making an incision at a wrong angle and too deeply.  The incision ended up cutting through a bowel, and cutting an artery.  The author very nearly bled to death and was technically dead, was revived, and at some point later was technically dead and revived again.

Can someone be technically dead?

He spent a long time heavily medicated, in and out of consciousness, and saw things which he interprets religiously. 

Personally, I'm very glad I didnt read this book before I had gall bladder surgery.

So the first part of the book was interesting.  The last half turned into a motivational type book - how to be a better father, husband, friend, etc.  I really do not like motivational books.  Maybe I have no desire to be motivated.

Next I read Against All Odds by Tom Clancy.  It's about what you would expect - military special forces, people being killed on every page (usually their heads explode), world-wide conspiracies which range from Pakistan/Afghanistan to Mexico & a lot of stereotypes.  It was a fast, easy read, good story and I expect it will be a major motion picture some day.  It's very typical of the type of fiction Tom Clancy writes.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

A Brief Thought on the Intelligence of Dogs

Sometimes I think it would be nice to have the intelligence of a dog, even though it would mean I'd be unable to get a long stick through a door. My problem solving abilities would be severely lacking, but on the other hand I'd attack whatever I perceived of as life's problems head on, with no thoughts of ramifications or consequences. If I couldn't figure out how to get the stick through the door I'd just drop it and go on to something else without any concerns.


I once read a science fiction novel which took place close to a million years in the future, and included a few paragraphs about a professor who had a dog, which, through a little genetic tweaking, gained the ability to speak in short sentences - maybe 3 words long. Through almost a millions years of dog evolution the intelligence level remained about the same as it always was, and the dog's major concern was how to get extra food.

Anyway. To me, dogs don't seem to worry about too much.

And that is my brief thought.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Waiting for Death

March 11th.

I have a first cousin who doesnt have much longer to live.  Most likely just a few days, if that.

Late summer or early fall he had an ear and sinus infection that he could not get rid of.  He finally ended up in a hospital over it, they got it under control and released him.  Not too long ago he was sick again, went to a doctor, who sent him to a hospital.  He had double pneumonia.  They were able to get that under control, but they took a chest xray as part of this diagnosis, and found a spot on one of his lungs.

It was very close to his heart, apparently, so close that the surgeon did not want to take a biopsy.  So they did the surgery, with the idea that they'd remove the tumor, or the whole lung if needed.  Turned out they didn't do either.  During the surgery they decided it was inoperable, and I guess untreatable. I was told the tumor was attached to his heart in some way, as well as his lung.

This all happened very rapidly, at least from my point of view, but of course lung cancer doesnt happen overnight.  He smoked, which is a risk, and he worked on strip mines, mining coal, another risk.

March 18th.

I started this post about a week ago, and my cousin died the next day.   I think his cancer was diagnosed less than a month before his death.  He was very sick, but also very aware.  He knew he had a very short time to live. 

He spent most of the last three weeks at his home.    He moved into a  hospice facility in Hazard, Kentucky literally a couple days before he died.  Once they found out it was terminal they managed his symptoms, but did nothing further to treat the disease.  He died late in the evening of March 12th.

I don't know what I'd do in that situation.  It seems he handled it about as well as anyone facing certain death can.  Well let me amend that a little.  We're all facing certain death, but most of us are not facing immanent death.  He was, and he knew it.   I don't know how I'd react.  How can anyone react.  If you are literally deathly ill, you aren't going to do a whole lot.  If I were able, I think I'd just sit out on the porch and feel the air and listen to the birds.

On television people with chronic or even terminal illnesses take yoga classes and play tennis, and seem to be healthier and more active than the rest of us.  Reality is a little different.

He had a lot of family and friends, and most, including me, attended the funeral. It was held in Hindman with bluegrass/gospel music and a sermon.  It was a very long procession to the cemetery.  He was buried in the family cemetery near his home, the graveside service coinciding with a very heavy downpour, soaking most people there.  He would have laughed, everybody knew it, and they all laughed about it.  He was buried next to his (and my) grandparents who raised him, and who he thought of as parents. 



Thursday, March 8, 2012

A Change in our Business

Once or twice a year eBay implements "Seller Updates" & I've noticed over the years that these changes directly or indirectly cost us money.  Frequently we (and just about every other eBay seller in existence) slowly but surely - some not so slowly - raise prices to cover the increased cost.  We've generally gone with the flow, eBay makes these changes to encourage certain behaviors in the sellers, in the belief this will increase buyer's confidence, which will in return increase the number of buyers who shop on the site.  Some sellers react with anger (just read the boards), but I have a feeling most, like me, just make adjustments.  I'm pretty sure eBay is the still the largest site of it's kind by far, and that translates into traffic & dollars for people like me.

In this latest seller update eBay announced a change that we will finally not be able to meet.  It's not something that would drive us out of business, in fact I suspect in the long run it would only make a minimal difference, and as usual we could probably raise prices just a bit to compensate.  But it spurred us to thinking about things, and to make a change which we hope in the long run will translate into an expansion of sort.

eBay, of course, rates it's sellers, and if sellers meet certain criteria, they are awarded with "Top Rated Seller" (TRS) status.  TRS status comes with a tangible financial incentive in the form of a 20% discount on their Final Value Fees, the amount eBay charges a seller when they sell an item.   It can add up.  TRS status also brings an advantage in eBay's default Best Match search results, but that is somewhat intangible since there is no way to measure if that leads to any sales or not.  And last but not least a seller with TRS status gets a badge displayed on their listings & next to their listings in search results, which is supposed to give a buyer a bit more confidence.  Again, intangible.  But the 20% discount is not intangible, that is easly measured every month.

They've added a requirement to achieve TRS status - in June, to obtain TSR status, sellers will be required to have delivery confirmation (or some other kind of tracking information) on 90% of the items they ship domestically, in addition to all the other requirements they have to meet.   We can't meet that 90% requirement the way we currently do buisness.  We've had TRS status for years and unless we do something radical, we're going to lose it because of this.

We ship almost all items domestically for free.  Our more expensive items and/or items which are rigid - most of our antique photos, for example - are shipped as a package.  Typically the photos are shipped with delivery confirmation, the postcards not necessarily.  It's economics.

In order to ship everything with delivery confirmation we'd have to raise prices on our postcards or start charging for shipping (same difference) to cover the increased cost.  This would not be a cost we could absorb, and competition is such that I don't think we could raise the prices on our postcards high enough to cover the increased cost of shipping. 

No matter, we don't want to raise our prices & we'd like to maintain our TRS so we decided on a different approach, and it's risky, as far as I'm concerned.  It is not worth doing solely to maintain TRS status.

We've had an Etsy shop for years, but had not used it in awhile.  We've decided to start moving postcards some photos & other items over to Etsy, and concentrate our antique photos on eBay.  If we ever got to the point that we were routinely selling the same amount of photos as we are postcards, we could potentially more than double our income.  So that's what we're going to try to do.  In theory, this will also enable us to keep our TRS status, but it may not.  It's a slow process, it'll be a long time before all our postcards etc are moved to the Etsy shop.   It is not worth doing this just to maintain TRS status.  But over time, we'll have a lot more antique photos in our eBay store, and a ton of postcards and other items in our Etsy shop.  Over time this should result in a notable increase the amount of $$ we pull in, and secondarily, should retain our TRS status on eBay.  At least that is the goal.

It's a risk.  Postcards are a major part of our monthly sales, usually more than half, and if they don't sell on Etsy, we will lose money. I don't know if any any eBay customers will follow us to Etsy.  We could potentially lose a lot more money than we would by simply not having TRS status.  So it is a risk, but that's what makes life interesting, at least in the corner of the little room I'm sitting in. 

It's not like we're risking the house or anything like that.  It's only money, after all.

I put a link to our Etsy shop on the left column of this blog - click on it take a look if you want.  Check back often, we'll be adding stuff pretty much daily. Feel free to buy something, anything, I'm not particular. 

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Our eBay Month - February 2012

Sometimes sales are just plodding along and you think it's going to be a struggle to even be an average month, then all of of sudden the flood gates open.  This is what happened the last few days of February.

When the dust settled, we had out sold January - which was a pretty good month.   Not by too much, but it counts.  And we blew away February of 2011; we had more than 25% higher sales than a year ago, which is pretty good. 

Never can tell when the sales will (or won't) come.

The number of postcards we sold were about average, but we received more for them than we usually did.  I'm not sure why - some of our postcards cost more than others, of course, and I guess those sold well. 

Our photograph sales were strong, and when we have a good month photograph wise, we generally have a good month period. 

We continue to have repeat customers & also customers who make multiple purchases, and I take that as a good sign.

Our international sales were also strong, which is a good sign.  We were forced to increase our international shipping charges for many of our items because of USPS increases, and I was worried this might cost us some international sales.  Apparently not - at least not yet.

However - and this will be another blog post in a day or so - we've made a major decision about how we are going to do business going forward, and it is a major change for us, and a bit of a risk.  My unstated, un-detailed & undefined goal (pipe dream?) is to roughly double the amount of gross income we generate in a average month.  The problem is doing that without doubling the workload, because I really don't want to double the amount of time I spend doing this.  However, this was not the reason for our change, I'm just sort of hoping it's a result.  More on all this in a day or so.

So put February 2012 in the "it was a good month" category, and move on.

Monday, February 20, 2012

If its Monday, it must be about the separation of powers.

I have nothing to write about, so be warned.  This is one of those posts - I have no idea where it will go.

I walk a lot with the dog, and lately I've noticed the dog pays a lot more attention to vehicles when they approach, especially from behind.  I'm not sure why that has started, and I'm not sure how to stop it. 

Yesterday it snowed.  Today the snow is gone.  Just the way it ought to be. 

I find as I get older, more and more people get seriously ill, and more and more people die.   I don't like it.

I dont think Pickles the Dog understands the thermal properties of sun shining through a window.  But she knows it's warm - she's as bad as a cat for seeking out the sun.

I can't remember the dream I had last night, but I know I had it.

I am currently reading "The Death of Ivan Ilych" by Leo Tolstoy.  Many, many pages devoted to a description of a person dying a painful death.   He sacrificed his life for a drawing room.

A drawing room, of course, is not a place where one would expect to find crayons, at least not in a solidly middle class household in 19th century Russia.

Today is president's day, so now I shall expound on government:

The systems of checks and balances set up by the founders to replace the Articles of Confederation after the Revolution has ensured that the United States is a relatively conservative place, politically.  I don't know if that was their intention or not, but I wouldn't put it past them.  These were very intelligent & very wealthy people, for the most part, and I give them credit for knowing what they were doing.

I dont pretend to understand British politics, but it seems that in their Parliamentary style of government, whatever the House of Commons, lead by the Prime Minister, says, goes.  There does not seem to be a separation of executive and legislative powers.

In the USA, that's not the case.  The legislature, in the person of  the House of Representatives & the Senate, have to agree on a bill - which in and of itself tends to moderate things.  The President has executive powers and can veto a bill, and it's not easy to override.  But even if a bill comes out of Congress and the President signs it, it can be challenged in the courts and the Supreme Court can potentially overturn it, and it seems they have pretty much the last say.  The only way to override the Supreme Court is to amend the constitution, a process that takes quite a bit of effort and time, and involves not only the US Congress, but the State legislatures.  Its not often that amendments are attempted, and almost all of them fail.  Which I guess is as it should be.

With our system government, it seems like a miracle that we have anything like Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid, or anything in place to protect workers, but we do.  Its not surprising at all that we don't have a national health insurance, that we are only one of two or three nations on earth that don't use the metric system, and that there is no large scale nationwide mass transit network. 

I'd love to be able to take the train from Valdese to Asheville, spend a few hours & come back, but I can't.  Railroad passenger service between small towns and small cities just doesn't exist, and that is not an accident or an oversight. 

Economically, though, we're a giant, even now, even in these times.  The country generates enormous wealth. 

Militarily, we're also a giant, an extremely powerful nation able exert its power pretty much anywhere on the planet it takes a notion to.

Part of this is due to our size and location, but a lot is due to the fact that the USA is fairly conservative when compared to most other industrialized "western" nations. And that is because we have a system of government that makes change difficult. 

The founding fathers set up this system of checks and balances in the Constitution in order to protect against "tyrants".   When they thought of a tyrant, they were thinking specifically of King George III, and what they considered the unfair control of markets & taxation.  And when the USA finally became independent, it ultimately set up a system of government which which separated the various functions of government and was quite radical in the 18th century.  I think it's still quite radical today.  But whether it was intentional (I tend to think it was), or an unintended consequence, an abrupt radical change on a nationwide level is generally not in the cards.  The checks & balances, the separation of legislative, executive & judicial powers installed to keep too much power from residing in one person, insures that it doesn't happen.

I suppose.  I'm just thinking.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The highlight of my day, yesterday

First, happy Valentines Day to everybody who reads this.

Yesterday the highlight of my day was a little grocery shopping at Food Lion in Valdese.  I've written about Food Lion before, and the alternate universe qualities of the experience, but just because I've written about something before has never stopped me from writing about it again. 

Food Lion is a mid-sized supermarket (meaning it's not small by any means, but I've seen larger), in a small town.  It is the ONLY supermarket in town, for a couple of years now.  And though it's not that far to Morganton or Cajah's Mountain or even Hickory, most of the time Food Lion is where people in town end up going for their groceries.

If the people of Valdese were water, Food Lion would be the water purification plant.

If the people of Valdese the dark matter of space, then Food Lion would be a quantum anomaly where the universe contracts and expands simultaneously. 

And so on. 

Eventually everybody in town is going to go in there, buy something and leave. Because of that Food Lion of Valdese is a very big fish in a small pond.  It exerts enormous influence.

The influence starts when you enter the store.  Although there are no signs, no requirements and no physical barriers, the physical layout strongly encourages you to go to the produce section immediately after entering.  You'd have to make a conscious effort to go any other way.  Then once in the produce section, the physical layout strongly encourages you to go down the aisle at the end of the store.  No physical barrier keeps you from going any other way, but you would have to make an effort.  So you head down that aisle, and before you know it you are in the far corner of the store - right where they want you.  The more you walk around, the more you buy.

Everybody in Valdese is subject to this subtle behavior control. Food Lion - the great leveler.

And it is a great leveler.  It is possible for 2 people to go into Food Lion, fill up two carts, and not have bought a single thing in common.  But over time, in a large enough population, people are going to buy the same things, and Food Lion will cater to the items that people buy.    The good people of Valdese have a very similar Food Lion diet.

So any rate, I did a little light shopping at Food Lion yesterday.  I got some milk and some cereal (nowhere near each other, btw), some chicken (parts is parts), ground turkey, a case of water, something for Pickles the Dog to gnaw on and some other stuff.  Though one item I was going to get I didn't, because there were some people who apparently decided to camp out at the section right where the item I wanted was.  They were elderly, and they weren't going to budge for awhile.  So I did a quick cost/benefit analysis and decided it wasn't worth it and went paid for everything and left.  I can only handle so much. 



Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Shipping Costs

This is yet another eBay related post.  I'll think of something else to write about eventually.  But for now.....

Sometime back we decided on a flat rate shipping for items we sell on eBay.  We keep it pretty simple, and it works well in 95% of the cases.  We deal with anything odd or out of the ordinary on a case by case basis as it is listed.

Domestically, we offer free shipping on virtually everything, and you can't get much simpler than that.  We've been doing that for over a year now, and it works for us.

We've never offered free shipping internationally - it's just too expensive. 

The United States Postal Service increased their rates on Jan 22, 2012.  The news focused on the domestic rates for letters and postcards, but for us, that didn't matter.  What we wanted to know, and what was surprisingly difficult to find out before it actually happened, was the new rates for first class packages, both domestic and international.   We ship out a lot of packages that weigh 2 or 3 ounces - and the cheapest (& frequently the quickest) way to send them is first class & first class international.

So this is what we found out. 

First class domestic is actually cheaper now, because the post office no longer charges for delivery confirmation if you print the label online.  Before Jan 22, the 2 & 3 ounce rate for an online label was $1.56, and they required you to purchase the delivery confirmation at $.19, for a total of $1.75.    After Jan 22, the rate went up to $1.64 for 2 or 3 ounces, but now delivery confirmation is added on for free.  So it's 11 cents cheaper than before.  That's good for us since we offer free shipping on these items, and over the course of a year that 11 cents is going to add up.

First class international is much more expensive.  We differentiate international shipping between those items going to Canada, and those items going everywhere else. 

Before Jan 22, USPS charged $1.98 for a 2 ounce package, and $2.24 for a 3 ounce package to Canada.  Now the charge is $3.15 & $3.30, respectively. 

For Europe, Asia, Africa, South America, Australia etc the rate before Jan 22 was $2.59 for a 2 ounce package & $3.46 for a 3 ounce package.  Now USPS charges $3.78 & $4.56, respectively.

As a seller, I have experienced international shipping rate sticker shock.  The domestic changes were minimal from our point of view, but we were very surprised at the international increase.  We were forced to increase our rates because of this, though we desperately did not want to. 

International sales are a good chunk of our business.  I'm afraid these increases will hurt our sales.  This was not a minor increase, it was nothing we could come close to absorbing in the price of our items, and I'm not terribly happy about it.   

In reality it won't affect everything - we'll send individual postcards & small photos internationally at the same rate as before.  But CDVs, Cabinet Photos, Antique photos and many other things will be more expensive to ship internationally.  That's just the way it's going to be.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Our eBay Month - Jan 2012

All in all it was a good month, a little better than average, perhaps.  Perhaps not.  It was not as good as December or November, but on par with last January at least. 

In fact the similarities between Jan 2012 & Jan 2011 are remarkable.  Our net this month was less than $7.00 higher than our net in January 2011, but our expenses were also higher, so our gross in Jan 2012 was somewhat lower than a year ago.

In a remarkable co-incidence, our total number of transactions were exactly the same for both months.  The types of transactions were distributed a little differently though - in Jan 2012 we sold fewer postcard "singles", and more photographs than we did in Jan 2011.  That seems to be a trend for us, at least during the last 4 or 5 months, and I see no reason why it won't continue.  Famous last words.

International sales continued to be a significant part of our business in January.  We sent items to 13 countries (with Canada & the UK leading the way) and international sales accounted for about 20% of our total transactions and 21% or our net income.   We sent a photograph to Jordan last month, a first for us, and received feedback for it a few days later.  So cool.

Our net for December 2011 was significantly higher than Jan 2012, and our expenses were slightly lower, making our gross for the month quite a bit higher.  Although we actually sold more postcard "singles" in Jan 2012 than we did in December 2011, we sold many, many more photographs in December.  That more than made up for a slow postcard month. 

The post office increased postage rates this month.    We offer free shipping in the domestic USA, and that's not going to change.  I've discovered that even though the post office increased 1st class domestic package rates, they've decided not to charge for delivery confirmation.  As as result, 1st class postage has actually become cheaper for us after the change.  Over the course of a year, that will add up.  Everything else, however, has increased.

We do charge a flat rate shipping for international sales, and we've not changed our rates.  It is a bit more expensive, but for the time being at least, we're not changing anything, international shipping wise.

So, January was a good but not a great month, perhaps slightly better (or not) than our monthly average for 2011.  Business kind of slowed the 10 days of the month, and Feb has started off slowly, so we'll see how it goes.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Going to Sleep

I admit, I'm not one to give advise about going to sleep.  I suspect I do everything wrong, including the biggie, ingesting caffeine too late at night.   Also, since I don't care for routines, and going to sleep is a routine, I generally do so grudgingly.   Far from making my peace with the world, I frequently find myself somewhat irritated at having to give in to biology in this regard, so I'm probably doing everything wrong.

Furthermore, I don't understand sleep.  I'm not alone in this, there are scientists who study sleep after all, so obviously there is a lot to learn about it. But I don't understand the basics of it.  It happens, I can't question that, but I can certainly question why, because I don't really know.  I'm curious about the transition.  It's both gradual and sudden.  There has to a instant where you are technically awake, then the next instant you aren't.  I don't understand the process that goes on in a person's body that makes that happen.

The way I know I'm about to fall asleep is because at some point I start thinking unusual things.  I have no control over this.  Also, like my dreams, I can rarely remember it.  That's too bad.

When you're asleep you cede control over everything, you're pretty much helpless.  Dangerous storms, fire, people and lord knows what else could threaten you, and you have no clue until it's way to late.  'Cause you're asleep.  Of course we have a dog who'll make a ton of noise if someone was trying to get into the house, so I guess that's a decent early warning system.

I know how terrible it can be when you can't sleep or are forced to stay awake or don't sleep well for long periods.  I've worked all kinds of shifts in my life, and I've spent years in jobs where I was on call at all hours of the day and night, 7 days a week.   It can wear you down.

Since I removed myself from the traditional work force back in 2006, I will admit that over all I get a lot more sleep than I used to.  I don't work any kind of shift work, I'm not on call, I pretty much set my own schedules, for the most part there is a lot less to worry about or stress over, and in spite of myself, I generally sleep better.

I still don't understand it though, and I don't like it.  Frequently when you're falling asleep, you have these body jerks.  Sometimes its not much, sometimes it's your whole body.  I don't know why that happens, but I know I'm not the only one it happens to, because once when I was working for Electronic Data Systems at the Baltimore GM Assembly plant (may it RIP), my fellow Systems Engineers and I (all of whom were on call, all the time), sat around discussing it at lunch.  I'm fairly certain most of us did not get enough sleep. 

Going to sleep and sleeping is a strange process.  I suppose I have to admit it's natural, since most people do it on a regular basis.  However, it seems to be a forced requirement of living, and  I don't like it one bit.

Even though my tendency is to resist going to sleep, I'm not a morning person.  I don't wake up quickly and jump out of bed refreshed and ready to go.  I wake up slowly with a fair amount of grogginess, and find myself getting out of bed in stages:  the sit and stare stage, the standing up slowly stage, the bumping into the dresser stage and so on.  I don't understand any of this.


Monday, January 16, 2012

Routines

I find myself thinking a lot about routines.  One of my most common routines is the morning dog walk with Pickles the Dog.  I notice that after awhile, at certain times and certain places, you see certain things.  I began to notice many of the cars and drivers I see every day are the same as I saw the day before.   And eventually it dawned on me that I've become part of their routine.  Many days they will see me with this goofy dog in the same general area at the same general time. 

And that's just one of my routines.  I don't really like routines, but I don't understand how a person can live without them.

There's a couple of people I see every now and then who drive around in a pick-up truck looking for discarded metal by the side of the road.  Stuff people put out for garbage pick up.  I assume they'll sell it for scrap somewhere, and I often wondered how much money a person can make doing that.  My suspicion is somewhere between next to nothing and very little, but I don't know.  The point is, their routine is completely different than mine, yet every now and then, the routines intersect.

Many, many years ago, shortly after I got out of the Army, I found myself living in Catonsville, MD - a suburb of Baltimore, and started a job located in Springfield, VA, on the other side of Washington, DC.  That, dear readers, is a long commute.   Anyway, after a few weeks I began to notice things - on long drive, almost all with 6 to 8 lanes of traffic, I began to see the routines.  

For example, shortly after I crossed into Virginia, and was heading down a hill with the Woodrow Wilson Bridge starting to become a reality in my mind, I frequently passed a large white box truck.  Its back door was raised and inside were 4 or 5 people sitting on the floor against the walls.  I would pass this truck several times a week in the same general area, until I switched from day shift to evening shift.

On the return trip, as I was on I-95 north heading into Howard County, MD, I'd see this:  an old beat up dark colored car spewing smoke out of it's tail pipe, chugging along in the slow lane, the driver's window down (I'm assuming he had no A/C, cause it was quite hot), the driver smoking a pipe, with a bumper sticker that proudly proclaimed "Free At Last".    I saw this vehicle frequently when I was on the day shift, and always in the same area. 

I noticed these two events because they were unusual, and I noticed them so often I began to look for them.

There's no telling how much I didn't notice.  There's no telling how much was a one time event - someone traveling from Montreal to Miami who just happened to pass by along the way. 

Routines intersect.  It happens so often it can't be random.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Ah, The Russia House by John Le Carre

Years ago I bought a CD by Metallica, because one day I was listening to the radio and I heard a song they covered, "Whiskey in the Jar".  I recognized that song as something of a folk song, probably Irish.  I had another version on another CD by the Pogues.  I didn't feel the radio had done the Metallica version justice, it being radio and all, so I was interested in seeing how it really sounded on a half way decent sound system.  Well I was surprise.  This most metallic of hard rock bands did a very good job, I thought.  There was a depth and richness to their version I did not expect.  It was very well done.

The Russia House is like Metallica's version of Whiskey in the Jar.  It has an extraordinary amount of richness and depth to it.  It is a spy story, with Barley Blair being a reluctant spy, set in the final years of the Soviet Union.   People are doing things that could cause them to end up in a Soviet prison or worse.  Portions of it are quite tense, and especially as it approached the end, I was wondering what was going to happen.  I didn't really expect what actually did happen.

When you get down to it, the book is about people.  Human, very fallible, complex people, some who have goals which are perhaps at odds with what they should be. 

This book had a good story & plenty of suspense, but I don't believe there was physical confrontations.  No one shot anyone, nothing blew up, I don't think anyone even took a swing at anybody.  But people spent a lot of time in various states of fear.  And like the fog of war, no one quite knew the big picture, and there was a lot of disagreement about what had actually happened once it was over.   Nothing was neat and tidy.

It is the anti-Icarus Agenda, and comes off being vastly more believable.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Our eBay Year - 2011

As promised, this is my post about how our eBay business did last year.  It may be an incoherent rambling kind of post - I'll at least try to keep some structure.

2011 was a good year, compared to 2010 & 2009.   Things kind of slipped in 2010, so 2011 was a very good year compared to 2010. 

Our gross was 23% higher than in 2010, and our net was 28% higher than in 2010.   My first thought was that our expenses must have been lower, but that's not the case.   There's an old adage, it takes money to make money.  Well, eBay, PayPal & just about every other business in existence has a very regressive type of fee structure.  The less you sell, the greater the percentage you have to pay in fees, the less money you get to keep.  When you sell more, the reverse happens, you pay less of a percentage in fees - it's an amazing thing when you finally cross that tipping point.  Our expenses were a lot, at least in my opinion, and the difference in the percentage increase between gross and net I attribute to increased sales.

This increase in net and gross income came in a year that we've offered free domestic shipping on virtually everything we sell.   This is our first complete year offering free shipping, and  it doesn't seem to have hurt the bottom line.   I track our shipping costs very closely, and it's a major expense.  In fact it's our second highest expense every month (and year) without fail.  Only our eBay fees are higher.  Free shipping only works if you know your costs, and can increase your sales.  It worked for us.

Internationally, we charge a flat rate, based on the item sold - postcards will be less than Cabinet Photos, for example.  Also, we charge less on items we send to Canada, simply because it costs less.  I've learned over time how much it costs to ship to the various locations, and roughly how long it takes to get there, in most cases at least.

I've come across sellers who refuse to sell internationally, and that's fine, but I don't understand it.  Possibly the items we sell, postcards and photographs, aren't high on the scamming list.  Whatever it is, our problems have been very minimal.  I can only remember one incident - in 2010 a person from Italy (yes, Italy), claimed he never received his item.  It had been a month, so I refunded his money without any kind of argument.  I did put him on our blocked buyers list though, because without going into detail, I had some suspicions.   And that is it - we've been selling internationally for over 5 years now, and that's the only issue we've had. 

Our international sales accounted for 10% of our transactions, and 17% of our gross income in 2011.  I don't know how that stacks up against other sellers, I don't know if that is good or bad or neither.  But we're glad to have it.

In December 2011, we had our biggest single order for photos & postcards in our history - it was significant to us, and it was going to Poland.  I packaged it up carefully,  sent it off December 17th, and crossed my fingers.  We received feedback for it this morning, and finally uncross my fingers.  We haven't really had any bad experiences shipping internationally.

Speaking of international sales - our highest sales for 2011 went to Canada (by a wide margin), the UK, Poland, Germany, France & Australia, in that order.  The only surprise on this list is Poland - and that was because of that one very large order in December.  In 2011, for the first time we sent items to Peru, Thailand, Turkey & the Ukraine.

I track lots of things.  Our best months in 2011 were, in order, Nov, Jun, Dec, Oct & Jan.  We tend to sell more items in the middle of the week - Tues, Weds & Thurs., I'm not sure what I can do with that info, but there it is.  I know our average and mean daily dollar amount for the year. I know the average amount we receive per transaction, and can split that out between auctions and fixed price.  I know the average number of transactions per day, and the average number of items sold per day.  I know how much we spend on postcards & the various photo types vs how much we're able to sell them for.  I know how many items we've listed vs how many we've sold for the year.   I know what postcards subjects are most popular (believe it or not I track about 137 different subjects).

Photos are a different matter.  I know which types have sold best for us, but subject matter is a different story.  People who collect photos are not looking for the same thing as people who collect postcards.   Photos are somehow more vague, and not as easy to put your finger on.  Photos are more of a feeling, at least for me.

The big change for us this year was the domestic free shipping.  We also offer expedited shipping, and a 30 day return no hassle policy.  If we sell you something and you don't like it when you receive it, just return it and we'll refund your money.   We're basically doing what eBay wants us to do in this regard, and in return (in theory) we should get a bump in the "best match" search results.  I don't know if it had anything to do with our increased sales or not.

Here's another couple of things driving our sales, and oddly enough, something I'm not tracking.  We're getting a lot of repeat customers.  People returning multiple times over the year to buy things - that is a very good thing.  And we're also getting a lot of multiple item purchases, and that is also very good.  When someone buys several items at once, it adds up quickly. 

We also do our best when it comes to customer service.  Package nicely, ship quickly, answer questions, communicate and so on.  I think excellent customer service is the most important ingredient in winning repeat customers.  And it doesn't happen overnight. 

So 2011 was better than 2010 (and also 2009).   We hope 2012, which has started off pretty well, will be better than 2011.