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.