Explore. Create. Discover.
May 29th, 2012 | Mike
When running a business, any business, there are many choices to be made. One of the big choices is how to handle core activities like vendor management, inventory management, stock analysis, the selling process, billing, etc.
Another decision revolves around automation of these core activities. Now for many of you reading this, you’re probably saying “what? why wouldn’t you automate?” Many retail businesses seem to start manually and then selectively automate. Since I’m a techie, the temptation is to automate everything. That could be a bad decision because automation can sometimes cause more work than it saves unless it supports a certain scale of operations.
Things we know we want to automate are the selling process and inventory management. Ideally, a single software product would satisfy our needs (and make no mistake about it, there are hundreds of options to do just that at vastly different price points.) Our preferred solution needed to run across phones, tablets, and computers and run best on Apple. We wanted it to be cloud-based with the ability to take offline snapshots/backups. It needed to be easy enough to use that non-technical people could successfully sell products and manage inventory. Of course we needed to have confidence in the safety, security, and availability of our data in the cloud model. Note: we did briefly consider our own infrastructure, but the hassle and cost far outweigh the risks of the hosted model.
The hope we had was that Square would either develop or supplement their awesome payment application with inventory management. But alas, the inventory portion of Square is scaled toward a business with 10’s of products rather than 100’s and there appears to be no roadmap fill that gap. So we started a structured search to find the right solution for Oddyssea.
After messing about with many different options, we chose Vend as the Oddyssea store software. Initially Vend will be supplemented with Square for credit card processing but ultimately PayPal will supplant Square due to the tight integration with Vend.
One thing to note is that most of the candidates allowed for instant trial, this was extremely helpful in narrowing down the right choice. The first cut was “can I try this out?” If the answer was no, like it was for some of the different vendors, they were eliminated. Some of the vendors wanted to have people contact us and make it a high-touch sales activity. Not a good choice on their part. Of the software we could try, it turned out that most of these candidates simply did not work. Sad, but true.
Vend was easy to activate and use. It was moderately easy to import our inventory, vendors, and orders into the software, but not seamless. I had questions about the software over the holiday weekend and got an instantaneous, courteous, and high-content response from the Vend team. All of this BEFORE I decided to be a customer. To me, that interaction spoke volumes and reinforced that not only their software would do the job, but that they would value Oddyssea as a customer.
As we have more experience with the software, we’ll share more. But as it stands, we’re very happy to have Vend help to run our store.
Disclosure: No one from Vend solicited this content. I have no financial interest in Vend or their investors.
May 22nd, 2012 | Mike
Since some of our product was disclosed in a prior post, I thought I’d share a bit more about the business of bones.
It should be a pretty simple process: obtain animal carcass, disarticulate animal, remove skin and sticky bits, clean and dry bones, present in some attractive way (re-articulate, mount, etc.) and finally sell the bones. Turns out, cleaning and preparing the bones is the easy part.
There are international, Federal, and California State regulations about which animals are legal to trade and in what circumstances animals can be hunted and harvested. That was expected, but even animals that die of accidents or natural causes are regulated (to close the apparent loophole for poachers.)
The first set of rules is CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) regulation; assuming the animal is sourced from outside the US. The way this set of regulations work is that species are tiered into 3 levels with varying degrees of protection for the roughly 5,000 animal and 30,000 plant species subject to the regulation. It was enacted in 1973 and roughly 80 countries including the US are party to the rules which are legally binding. Compliance is straight-forward: don’t trade in Tier 1 or 2, make sure you have the paperwork and pay the fees for Tier 3.
The second set of rules is the US Endangered and Threatened Species Act. Like CITES, it enumerates the species to be protected, in levels of Endangered, Threatened, and Proposed Protection. There are approximately 600 animal and 800 plant species on the US list. Compliance is simple for this set of rules too: don’t trade in the species that are Endangered or Threatened.
The final set of rules to understand are the California State regulations. Mirroring the US Federal regulations, there are Endangered and Threatened animal and plant species listed. In California, there are just over 100 animal and just under 200 plant species protected. Compliance works in the same way as the Federal regulations.
The big catch here is that the importer (read buyer) is responsible for compliance with the union of CITES, US Federal, and California State regulations and the consequences for running afoul of these laws can be severe.
If one wants to avoid all of this, one can choose to not have this sort of product in inventory or one can choose to carry cast replicas of the items in question. While we have chosen to carry real bones in so far as we are able to do so legally and ethically; we will complement the real bone inventory with cast replicas of some the protected species.
Now, this is one little portion of the inventory of Oddyssea, but an important one. The degree of complexity in obtaining some of our inventory is high, but ultimately, I believe the investment and learning will be worthwhile.
May 19th, 2012 | Mike
I’ve been attempting diligently not to share too much about the actual product we’ll have in Oddyssea, but sometimes I just can’t help myself. This morning we got a shipment in that I’ve been waiting impatiently to arrive and the contents pushed me over the edge.
While it was difficult to select just one to share, in honor of Wile E. Coyote aka “Super Genius” aka “Carniverous Vulgaris,” the coyote skull was the winner. I am so ready to have our doors open to share the cool stuff we’ve been collecting with the world. But alas, we’re not there yet. Argh!
So, we’ll just have to be content with little lapses in security like this one.
May 15th, 2012 | Mike
The stocking at Oddyssea is continuing apace. We’ve got stuff from all over the place coming arriving at the store daily.
One of the challenges we face is that we’re attempting to find things that are a) interesting b) rare or unique c) fit our themes and d) we can profit from. Achieving an optimal mix on all 4 dimensions means a great deal of thought is going into each product and an even greater effort on procurement – because you can’t just go to the local warehouse and pick up a dozen “mumblefratz” with our model.
One of the things we’ve been messing around with is looking at how different things from different departments may fit together (or not) so that multiple use on specific items is possible. You can see an experiment (humor intended) in the image on this post. I have a certain weakness for borosilicate laboratory glass and suffice to say, we have some of it for use/sale in the store.
What you see in the image is a mashup of left-overs from the nature department combined with items from the science supply department, amethyst and citrine remnants displayed in Erlenmeyer flask and lab beaker respectively.
We have contracted with a local artist to help with a distinct installation on one wall of the create room – can’t wait to see what she cooks up. We have another local business woman that we’re meeting tomorrow to attack another wall with something unique too. All of this takes time, but boy is it fun. And maybe even people will like it!
The store does seem to have a little buzz developing around it, particularly since we covered the windows and the new stuff is coming in. We got an invitation to speak to the local Rotary Club about what we’re up to next month for example. Can’t wait to share what we’re up to with them.
May 14th, 2012 | Mike
So, why did we choose the name Oddyssea (and don’t we know that we misspelled it? ;-))
A little back story is required before we get into the core reasons for the name and spelling. As we contemplated (soberly) if/how/when to enter the retail business, we realized that it was stupid to enter without some basis for competition that didn’t rely on lowest price or largest selection as the key drivers. Why? It should be self-evident, but I’ll say it anyway. If you are competing on those axes, the volume that is pumped through big-box stores and online marketplaces means it’s impossible to even match, let alone beat those prices, while attempting to stay in business.
That being said, we wanted to shift the basis of competition to revolve around the in-store experience where big box stores and online only outfits couldn’t reasonably compete. (Ikea aside for some readers, do you really want to go to a big box store and spend time there? On the online front, sure it’s great to browse on your phone, but don’t you want to interact with the merchandise and sometimes with knowledgeable people?) That’s the whole hypothesis of what we believe is necessary to not only survive, but to thrive with a small independent retail store in the second decade of third millennium.
Coming back to the name, knowing that we wanted an experience, we gravitated toward “adventure” as a theme. We cycled through many, many different candidates and disqualified them right and left. Ultimately, we selected odyssey because of its definition as “an epic journey.” In order to make it memorable and protectable (since we noticed people weren’t great with spelling odyssey in any case) we wanted to tweak the spelling.
We knew that some of our store themes would be ocean related (duh, given that we’re in Half Moon Bay on the Pacific Ocean) so we substituted “sea” for “sey.” We knew some of the themes and products we were attracted to carry were not, shall we say, directly normal and in the main stream thus we opted to replace “od” with “odd” to reflect that element. A little casting around for the various domain names, twitter handles, facebook accounts, etc and we came to Oddyssea as a replacement for odyssey. And thus far, it has been an epic journey.
The last bit is the visual representation of the name and establishment of the brand. We have a narrative that describes what we want the store to be and this naming exercise was central to establishing our core thesis for the business. This narrative was shared with our friends over at 5Rockets to help us find the right visual expression for the store (you can see the result in the logo posted in this entry.)
In any case, I thought I’d share this as it was noted in a conversation last week that it was interesting to understand the level of thought and meaning we intended when we chose the name. Hope it was interesting to you too.
May 8th, 2012 | Mike
Not only did we get the required back flow prevention valve installed at Oddyssea today, we also got the sink hooked up. (I can do many things, but plumbing is not one of them. Everything I touch leaks in a DIY context.)
We are excited to have the sink so that the create activities have access to a place for customers to wash up as required while working on or finishing projects. Another step toward getting to the opening. And another step toward completing the required activities to comply with the municipal code is finished.
I’ll build a wooden cover to mask the pipes, give some structure under the sink, and a little counter space to the right under the fire extinguisher. Speaking of the fire extinguisher, it was re-certified (annually) and re-built (a 6 year cycle.) So we’re good to go on the fire protection front too.
Meanwhile, inventory and stocking continues. It takes an unbelievably long time to get these details worked out. But, it’s fun!
I’ll be working a little more on consulting this week and so I’ll be depending on Spouse to advance the state of the shop over the balance of this week.
May 4th, 2012 | Mike
One of the side effects of stocking up is the inevitable packaging that the inventory arrives in. As you can see from the photo, we’re’ accumulating a fair amount of cardboard and plastic that will need to get into the right recycling stream.
The way vendors choose to pack their wares is highly variable. For instance, we had one seemingly indestructible item wrapped layers of plastic and paper, cushioned by bubble wrap, secured in a double cardboard box. That item survived the trip. On the other end of the scale, we had some glassware arrive that was simply placed in a cardboard box with simple paper insulation and labeled “glass – fragile.” Unfortunately, not everything in that shipment survived.
Another interesting observation is how vendors choose (or not) to extend their own brand into the product. If it’s discreet I don’t really mind and leave it as shipped. However, the other end of the scale can be scary. One item that arrived had the look of a NASCAR stock car with all the stickers, labels, and tags hanging affixed to it. Which of course took some time and effort to remove without damage, but made the item palatable.
Well, that’s the update from today. Going to avoid parking tickets and go help Spouse out at a fund raising event for Daughter’s school this afternoon. Hopefully, I won’t miss the delivery guys with a few shipments we expect today….
May 1st, 2012 | Mike
One of the most interesting and time consuming things we’re doing for Oddyssea is finding, testing, and ordering product for our inventory. It can also be a little frustrating.
For those of you who are familiar with retailing, you’ll know all this so forgive me for chatting about it. For those of you unfamiliar, perhaps this will be interesting. There are 2 ways to interact with vendors when purchasing wholesale, the first way is straight-forward by establishing a “direct” relationship with that vendor, placing the order (via a person/representative, website, telephone, mail, fax, or carrier pigeon – only slightly joking about that.)
While there are no “middlemen” in the relationship (meaning you should be getting a lower price) it is time consuming to do this as typically the orders are relatively small from a relatively broad set of suppliers. It requires a fair amount of follow-up but you tend to interact with the principals and that helps with quality and timeliness of responses.
The second way to interact is through a distributor, a company that is in the business of representing some number of other companies – typically called “product lines” or “lines” where you place the order with the distributor and then the distributor passes the order along to the origin supplier for fulfillment. You pay the distributor a small markup over the wholesale price that you would be able to negotiate if you had the direct relationship with the vendor of origin.
What I’ve learned is that many of the direct relationships don’t provide the best price or service and that most of the distributors are convenient and helpful. That’s not 100% true, but it certainly seems to be the trend. There are several suppliers who have been wonderful, but mostly they seem a little overwhelmed to be able to do the simplest things like provide payment terms and instruments.
The conclusion I’ve drawn thus far into the experience is that dealing with a distributor is worth the small uplift in wholesale price when factoring in your time.
Meanwhile, we passed our fire inspection. We’re waiting for some plumbing work to happen. We’re waiting for “explore” room fixtures. I’ve built another display case for the create room to complement the apothecary counters. We’ve got a fair amount of inventory that has arrived and the lion’s share still in transit or under order. We had a presentation at the Half Moon Bay Chamber of Commerce Education Committee today. Helped a shop neighbor hang two signs 20′ high on the building yesterday evening too.
Overall, progress is being made, but it seems almost invisible and that it’s proceeding at glacial pace.
It’s been a real adventure! We’re still hoping to be able to meet our June target to open. Fingers crossed…