Sunday, 23 December 2012

Merry ChristHannuKwanSaturnaliDiwaliYulemas !

There we are, I think that covers most of the people who celebrate around this time of year !

Hopefully everyone reading this will have (or has had, if you're reading this sometime in the future...) a fabulous break.  I know I'm looking forward to it, it's been madly busy the last few weeks, and although that's good (and thank you to all our customers who made it so !) having a couple of days off will definitely help re-charge the batteries ready for all the new projects and ideas I've got lined up for the New Year.

Have a good one, everyone !

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Time to kick this blog back into life !

Okay, this blog has been left lonely and abandoned for far too long.  Time to bring it back to life, but this time (hopefully !) a bit more consistently.

Microsoft switched off their Office Live platform, so we moved to Magento.  The idea was that the new site would have an integrated blog, but actually the whole thing turned into a bit of a nightmare.   Magento is probably a great system if you're a big company with a budget of tens of thousands of pounds and an in-house IT team to keep the gremlins at bay, but we found out the hard way that it isn't ideal for a business as small as ours !

So after a few months struggling with Magento trying to get it to work properly, we did the sensible thing and moved over to a hosted solution called Big Commerce.  It's a joy to work with !  Things in it just... work.  That gives me more time to find new products, write newsletters, and work on developing our new shop (a real life one, not just a virtual internet one !)

As for the blog, well I'm determined to blog more often, with product reviews, commentary on topical themes (sometimes controversial, hopefully interesting), and build or paint reports of things that are on the workbench.  The last category is, of course, mostly a nice way for me to practice new techniques andfind out for myself how some of our new products behave in real life....

Monday, 30 August 2010

A slight hiccup.....

Just to keep you all posted.... we're experiencing a slight hiccup, inevitably timed to fall over a Bank Holiday weekend.

Our website is hosted by Microsoft, but they appear to have hit a server problem. This means our website is currently timing out most of the time when anyone tries to access it. We're really, really sorry about this !

We have (of course) fired off a suitably worded email to Microsoft support, to make them aware of the problem if they weren't already, and asking them to resolve it as rapidly as possible.

In the meantime, if you have trouble placing an order, you are welcome to email us at with details of your order and we can send an emailed Paypal invoice to you.

Just in case this isn't resolved within the next 24 hours or so, we have a contingency plan up our sleeves. We already own the .com version of our domain name, currently on a divert to our current website, and had planned to use it to introduce a re-launched site after Christmas, using a much better piece of web design software. We're looking to see if we can copy and paste the content of our site into this as an interim measure, even if it means we'll have to do a lot of tidying up at a later date.

We'll keep you posted as the situation develops. Sorry again for the disruption !

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Change is coming, and it's good

We've finally decided to take things to the next level !

Up until now, SnM Stuff has been run by myself, Sean, with plenty of help from my wife Mel, and moral support from Tabby the office cat (or managing director, as he likes to think of himself...). I've been fitting everything around a full-time day job, while Mel already has another business based from home.

After three years of ploughing the profits back into the business to keep growing it, we've finally decided that the time is right for me to leave the day-job and focus on SnM Stuff full time. It'll mean taking a drop in my total earnings for a little while, but we've done our sums carefully, and will still have enough to live on.

For our customers, the benefits will be great. We'll be able to respond to emails and ship orders more rapidly, and will finally have time to give the website a big update, including lots of new products we've been building up especially for the occasion. We'll also be able to do all those little things that there hasn't been time for until now, like create occasional email newsletters, price lists on CD-ROM, "How to" videos for YouTube etc. Just as important, there won't be any need for us to create any big price increases to pay for this, as our business model always included taking things full time into the plan. The only price increases will be if suppliers dramatically increase the wholesale prices, or when we have to take the business VAT registered (in which case, we'll probably have to increase some prices a little, but won't be adding anything like 17.5% to everything !)

On a totally different front, there's another change which might be happening. There's a scruffy, fluffy black cat who has been visiting us to steal Tabby's food. Amazingly, Tabby seems to be happy to have this newcomer around, which is unusual as he's the most territorial cat I've ever known. We think our new little friend is either stray or feral, as he's completely unsocialised and very nervous around humans, but at the weekend we'll be asking up and down the road to see if anyone claims him. If they don't, we'll see if we can get him to the vet to be scanned to see if he's got a microchip, and if not, we'll see if he wants to adopt us. So we might have a new office junior ! That's him in the photo attached to this post, making himself comfortable on the patio.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Inflation, or "You can do anything with statistics"

I've always been somewhat cynical about statistics quoted by politicians. You have to really dig into the details to understand what is really behind the figures they're using. My pet peeve is inflation. A few years ago, you'll see that they changed the way they expressed it. The RPI (Retail Price Index) was dropped, and they started talking about CPI (Consumer Price Index). Because the CPI excludes changes to the mortgage interest rate, the rate of inflation quoted by politicians immediately dropped by half a percent.

But there is another aspect. Each of these measures uses a "basket" of items and measures changes in the prices of those items. But because there are so many different things you can buy in the shops and online, they just take a couple of items from each sector, and generally ones they think are popular purchases.

In the field I am interested in, which the government includes as "toys", the items they monitor tend to include the kind of common purchases typified by plastic Christmas presents from China and soft toys. Hardly relevant to someone trying to understand inflation in a specific niche market.

Politicians are quoting inflation at around 3% at present. But there have been two big jumps affecting online retailers recently. The first is Royal Mail's annual increase. Although they quote it as an average of 5%, this masks the detail. People watch the price of a first class stamp, but what they may not have spotted is that small packets (i.e. the kind of thing most online retailers post) went up by about 10%, and airmail went up by anything from 5% to 20%, depending on the weight and destination. Ouch !

On top of this, the exchange rate between the pound and euro has taken a really unfavourable turn recently. You'll see what I mean if you take a holiday this summer in the Euro-zone ! For us retailers, this means that prices for goods bought from Europe (or priced in Euros) have increased by about 15% in the last 12 months. Just look for yourself at the increase price of petrol; in March 2009, it was around 90p per litre for unleaded, now most of the petrol stations in my area are selling it for £1.22 per litre. I make that an inflation rate of about 37% (although of course, the politicians don't include the huge increases in fuel duty as part of inflation). So where is their 3% inflation now ?

Sorry if this sounds like a rant (okay, I admit it... it is). But there is some good news. We've just had to increase our Vallejo Model Color prices, from £1.40 to £1.49 for single bottles. That's 6.5%, but it's the first increase in over 2 and a half years. I still couldn't find anyone cheaper online in the UK, so I think we're doing pretty well ! We've made some cost savings in overheads, and I must admit we're making less per bottle for ourselves, but I reckon we've done well to keep the price as low as we have. Hopefully you'll agree, and hopefully this (quite long) post will give you some insight into the price pressures we're under, and the logic we've used.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Create an account to shop ? No thanks !

It's one of my pet hates. I find a website full of really interesting stuff, and decide I might buy something. But there's a catch; you have to register with them. Why ?

It means they get all my information - name, address, possibly telephone number or date of birth, or whatever other daft questions they add to the registration form. It even means they could get a password. For many people, one password opens many doors, but luckily I'm a touch paranoid about internet security and never use the same one in more than one place. If you buy something, they can then tie all this data to your credit card details.

Although the vast majority of online retailers are honest, and many will have even done the right thing and registered with the Data Protection Agency, there's always a risk that the data could fall into the wrong hands. It only takes one virus or one visit to a dogdy PC repair shop ! Not that I blame the retailers; many of them will have handed their website development to IT companies who are great at making flashy websites, but can be somewhat less switched on about what makes customers want to go shopping.

So on our website, I code it myself and make sure we avoid all that. Customers can just hit the buttons and add stuff to the basket. I never see the credit card details (they are handled entirely through a secure Paypal checkout), and the only info I get is just what's needed to post the orders off and maybe a voluntary subscription to our mailing list. Just in case, I also spend a good amount on multiple layers of the best antivirus & anti-spyware software I know of (did I mention that I'm pretty serious about online security...).

All this means that the buyer's experience is as worry-free and smooth as it's possible to make it, and I hold very little information so there's no worry of it getting into the wrong hands. Oh, and I never, ever, ever pass details of our mailing list subscribers to marketing companies !

In the words of a certain TV-personality meerkat.... "Simples !"

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Whoops !

The funny thing about technology is how it sometimes does the unexpected and really takes you by surpise. Happened to me today !

Late last night, I decided it was about time to work out how the mass email function built into our Roman Cart checkout works. Not that I want to bombard people with emails (that's rude !), but just so I can send an occasional one to remind previous customers about SnM Stuff, promote any particularly snazzy new lines we get, and publish hints & tips.

Unfortunately, software companies these days tend not to publish manuals. I guess there's a sort of assumption that if you've got this far, you can work it out for yourself. So I gamely created a test email, worked out how to filter the contact list so it would send the test just to me, and duly sent it off. Ooops ! Somehow, I missed one small but vital setting, and the software happily sent the test email to EVERYONE who had opted in on the contact list. Very embarassing !

Luckily, I'm the kind of anorak that sets even tests up to be vaguely presentable, and included a bit of "hi there" text and the ethically polite unsubscribe link. It was by no means a finished professional email, but at least it wasn't just a blank screen with the single word "TEST" on it.

Next time, I'll do my experimenting when it isn't so late at night - maybe then, I'd check the screen over more thoroughly before hitting the send button !