The Spiel Pro retrospective

I thought this would be a good time to look back on the year and see where I stand. I’m sure I will make a top ten list type of deal, but I want to try the retro question format to get a better handle on the things I should focus on as the New Year approaches.

What went well?

Sales are up.

  • Tracking – Up until the middle of this year, I wasn’t tracking weekly sales. Yes, I’m a moron. I made a very conscious decision to change that by actually writing my daily and weekly sales on a whiteboard in my office. It has really helped me understand a great deal about my cashflow and growth. Although this is now automated with ShipStation, I still post weekly sales in a visible place. I find the connection invaluable.
  • Amazon – Product growth on Amazon is incredible. I wasn’t able to sell in the Toys and Games category last year due to my being new to Amazon. I qualified this year and things have been steadily growing.
  • Spielpro.com – Without much attention, sales on the website have increased. Hoping to grow this in 2016 with the switch to a new platform.

Inventory was in stock

  • For the most part I kept inventory in stock. I had a couple of vendor issues, but I resolved them pretty quickly. As the inventory grows, I worry about keeping track of what is and isn’t in stock. Especially since I really don’t want to keep to much of my cashflow in inventory.

Fulfillment efficiencies

I read once that your business decisions should increase revenue or efficiencies. If they aren’t, you are wasting your time and money. So, I’m glad that I’ve made some investment in fulfillment this year.

  • Local packaging – I found a local packaging supply company within a few miles of the house. This has allowed me to buy bulk packing material at a great price without having to pay for shipping. They carry a range of Kraft padded packaging. Huge win for both efficiencies and margins. They also add a nice professional look to the orders.
  • Label printer – Can’t say enough about the label printer. I can’t believe I was taping every label on an order earlier in the year. I would not have been able to keep up with the orders near the end of the year. I’m also glad I bought the printer that does direct and transfer printing. Although it was a bit more expensive, the printer will be serving duel service as a shipping and UPC printer. Printing UPCs will need a label that lasts longer that the direct thermal printing, which fade after a bit.
  • Shipstation – I had signed up to use Shipstation when I first created Spiel Pro. Unfortunately their business model of charging per channel made it not a good choice at the time. So, I dealt with shipping at each channel website. I checked in with them recently and they changed their model to unlimited sales channels. This change has saved me SO much time in the fulfillment process. They also keep track of sales and orders.

Other misc

  • Branding – I continue to get feedback that people like the branding. I think that will still be defined in the coming year as we finally start reaching out to a bigger market and try to compete directly with other part sellers. I have studied the weaknesses in their brands and hope to compete directly as I fill in my inventory.
  • Shipping errors – I was having a spell of shipping errors that were totally my fault. I addressed these by implementing so procedures like double counting and checking orders twice. These have seemed to work as my shipping error rate is existent coming into the new year.
  • Product expansion – cashflow is allowing me to expand our offerings. This is a much needed improvement, but also a problem I will address in things that aren’t going so right.
  • Sponsorships – I’m a huge fan of Heavy Cardboard and the Meeple Syrup Show. I find them smart, funny, and relevant. I also think they are run by good people who I admire. I have spent a small bit of money supporting them and will continue to do so in the future. I think this model will be a good way for me to reach relevant potential customers, while supporting the boardgaming media I enjoy. I will continue to look for other opportunities like this in the coming year.
  • Accounting – Early this year I worked with an accountant to set up a proper set of books for the business. This was a must.
What can I improve?

Fulfillment time vs biz dev time – As order numbers grow, I need to make sure that I still set aside time to grow the business.

Sales growth – Sales are growing, but not enough. I need to focus more on the things that will bring more revenue in the coming year. These things include: More high-margin products, expanding in to new markets, customer acquisition and retention.

eBay – I need to look at the data, but I suspect that people are abandoning eBay. I still make enough sales there to keep active. But, I need to understand what the long-term strategy is. I enjoy having diverse channels, but I don’t want to feed a dead horse. I enjoy selling the vintage gaming merchandise, but it might make sense to start transferring that over to the website. It will take a bit to reach the market, but it might be worth the investment in the long run.

Unlisted inventory – I have WAY too much unlisted inventory. There it is sitting on the shelf, not making me money. I need more discipline to get those products listed on the various channels. I know first hand how long it takes for those products to gain traction in SEO and market algorithms.

Testing and investing in new products – I spent a lot of time chasing down new product ideas. I’m not sure yet if this is a waste of time or the future of the business. I need to be careful to understand the difference.

Expanding into other countries – I have started doing the research to expand in to Canada, and then I don’t follow through. I’m not sure what is stopping me. Seems like an easy way to gain some growth.

New sales channels, etsy, jet – I’ve opened an Etsy channel, but haven’t really followed through on it. Need to set aside some time to do some testing.

Fulfillment – while traveling – I lost 2 weeks worth of revenue as I shut down for Essen. I need to figure out a way to get fulfillment done while I’m away.

Marketing and social media – I have yet to find a consistent way to reach out to my customers. My social media is sporadic at best. I really need to develop a marketing plan for 2016 and stick with it. This includes growing the mailing list. This is pretty obvious stuff, not sure why I’m avoiding it.

Spielpro.com – This site is slow and boring. I’ve been working on a new site with a new platform that will fix some of the technical issues, such as: load speed, abandoned cart, mailing list sign up. But, it will still be boring if I don’t make an effort to change that. I want and need this site to be my main growth channel.

Accounting/metrics – Although I have a nice set of books, I’m not taking advantage of the power of reporting I could be. As the business gets more complex, I will need to leverage this more to make decisions.

Action plan

The next step from this will be to create an action plan to attack some of the issues I’ve brought up. I will either put that here or in a new post. I need to be careful that I make the plan granular enough so that I can make progress on it.

Rethinking the Hunters Database

Screen Shot 2015-12-12 at 7.57.18 AMI’ve started working on the Hunters Database again.

Why?

Without ANY marketing or work it had 42,000 pageviews last year. It also has organically gained 400 users. And it has reached near the top ranking on many, many hunting search pages. It’s not HUGE by any means, but if I’ve learned anything in the last year doing e-commerce – that’s a very nice platform to start something on.

Problems still remain though.

  1. There is a small part of the hunting community that I despise. I hate their attitudes about guns, conservation, nature and animal rights. This is the biggest turnoff for me. I’m hoping I can temper my abject feelings about the vocal minority by staying focused on the large part of hunting community that I really enjoy. There are so many great people out there.
  2. The data creation is time consuming. I recently did some testing of virtual assistants to convert PDF data into something HDB can use. It was a breakthrough. VAs are affordable and FAST. This is HUGE. But, it also means if I want to scale the data, I will need revenue sooner than later.
  3. There is NO revenue. I’m timeboxing this to find some revenue by the end of 2016. My first steps are to re-engage the users and understand what they are using the system for. Is it just maps? Do they need other features? What will they pay for? From there it might be a subscription model…or it might just be a nice platform for some e-commerce stuff. With my Spiel Pro​ knowledge I can easily use it to sell maps or other items to the audience. I already have a fulfillment infrastructure built. And it has a nice season pattern..so I have some time to get that in place for 2016.Screen Shot 2015-12-12 at 7.31.54 AM

This might be another failure, but the potential is there for another stream of revenue. I would regret not trying to actually trying to make some money at this venture. When Mark Ng and I built the first version of Huntersdb.com, I had NO idea what it meant to be an entrepreneur. I’m not saying I have all the answers now. I do know that I have a better understanding of how to find out if this is a sustainable venture. And in all failures, you learn. This will give me an opportunity to learn more about how to engage with email marketing. This will benefit all of my future ventures.

My one hesitation at this point is that I need to make sure it doesn’t stunt Spiel Pro’s growth. It’s going slowly, but Spiel Pro is showing week or week growth. I want to maintain that growth into 2016.

In the end, I’m proud that something I built is actually being used by people. I hope to continue to write about my findings as the year progresses.

What do you think? Am I crazy?