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Archive for February, 2012

Quick Bits

Hey, just a couple of quick notes.  I had quite a few folks drop a note about my reference to potentially outsourcing the blog.  Since everyone thinks that is a universally bad idea, even if I am pretty sporadic, I’ve decided that option is off the table!  I’ll just have to invent a time dilation device that allows me to fit 30 hours into a day!=)

2nd, a new survival forum is running a little contest and decided to give away a small kit from the store at Discount Mylar Bags.  To help out, I’ve decided to toss in 4 free 50′ lengths of paracord as well.  All you have to do is go to PrepperLog and sign up and at the end of the week all new members will be entered into a drawing for the prize.  (The fine print: I am not any way affiliated with PrepperLog.)

Finally, while I hope I am not being over-dramatic, I just wanted to mention that with sales being way up across the industry (we’ve more than doubled our shipments since mid-January), supplies are tightening up and there has been some price inflation.  Last March/April there was a pretty big shortage of all sizes of oxygen absorbers in general and several sizes and types of foil bags.  If this spike rides into the spring and we have a double-bump, things could become pretty scarce.  I’m putting in double and triple orders with our manufacturers and suppliers to ensure we’re as stocked as possible, so hopefully all of this will be invisible to y’all.  (I will admit that as of this second, I am not satisfied with our inventory position and you may see some sporadic out-of-stocks, but I am working overtime trying to remedy that.) However, if you are counting on putting up some food shortly, you should probably get your supplies earlier than later, whether you shop with us or with any of the other good vendors in our industry.

Keep prepping y’all, thanks!

27

02 2012

More Updates and How Prepping Should Match Your Life

My wife and I are in the midst of some fairly signficant changes to our lifestyle and how we run our business.  The increase in sales since mid-January has stretched our available manpower, inventory, warehouse space, and workspace to the limit.  (For those thinking about ordering, yes, we still get orders out same day!)  However, we realize if volume stays up, we’re going to have to move the operation to an office/warehouse, and potentially hire a warehouse person to help us keep pace with the growth.  We are currently managing it, but only through the hours we are putting into it.  We are somewhere around 13-14 hours a day, 7 days a week right now.  And while we are glad to do that for a short, or even medium period of time, I am very aware those types of hours over the long haul will lead to burnout.  So look for a future blog about us moving the business into new digs!

While I was picking up inventory at the warehouse for the 3rd time last week, I remembered something one of my most respected mentors told me when I started this business.  I met Mark (name changed to protect the innocent) when I was working at Dollar General, in 2003 or so.  He was a supplier to my department, and for many years, was the ‘go-to guy’ whenever DG made a ridiculous or impossible request (for example:  Hi, I’m Mr. DG and it’s Friday at 5pm, can you please print me 100,000 brochures and have them in the mail on Monday morning?); most of the time, he delivered where many, many other vendors dropped the ball.  His advice to me, (as a businessman who eventually sold out for enough for him and his family and their children and grandchildren to never work again, if they so choose) was ‘Work out of your basement for as long as you can.’

While my wife and I have taken that advice literally for just about 2 years (I can’t believe Advice and Beans/Discount Mylar Bags will be 2 in April!), that 11-word phrase encompasses so much more than  just the literal, many of which we apply to our prepping and personal lives as well as our business life.

One of the most obvious meanings is ‘Pay cash.’  My wife and I have done that since 2005 (and I started it in about 2003), except for our mortgage, and we are doing our best to pay that off as well. (though it will likely be another 5 years or so at least)  On one of the survival forums I frequent, there is a recurring thread which basically asks ‘Should I max out my credit cards or 401(k) to buy preps?’  I will always offer a vehement ‘Heck No’ in answer to that question.  Prepping is a lifestyle akin to the one many of our grandparents lived:  practically living within their means as a choice, because it was the smart thing to do.  We run our business with the same principle in mind.  I read of businesses (locally and nationally) that go out of business every day.  Many that do fail do so not because they have a poor business model or bad product, but because they are over-leveraged with debt and their cash-flow can’t keep up.  I hate to say it, but many of our business schools teach debt as a method of starting and running a business, and while I am probably less sophisticated than the average professor, on this we’ll just have to disagree.  The most successful small businesses I’ve known personally have only grown as quickly as their cashflow allowed.

As I’ve thought about Mark’s statement, there are a lot of other meanings it can have that relate both to our business and to our lifestyle.  When we had the conversation where he told me that, he specifically mentioned ‘Don’t pay for overhead if you don’t have to.’  Have you ever bought a power tool, cooking appliance, or other gadget that did nothing but sit and get used maybe once a year?  Bought a bigger house than you needed or could afford?  Bought a new car instead of a good used one?  Many businesses do the same thing, and you can often find brand new or nearly new items at foreclosure auctions for pennies on the dollar.  When we prep, the same criteria should be applied.  Do I really need that new $200 backpack when my old Kelty is paid for and can do the same thing?  Am I buying a $500 gardening apparatus because I think its cool, or because I will really utlize it?  I am all for buying quality things if your budget allows and calls for it and you are going to use it.  Our business needed to be more mobile, so we bought a decent enclosed trailer last year (in cash).  We also needed a vacuum sealer better than the little hand-helds we were using, so I bought one I found at the packaging show for 30% off what I could find it for on the Net.  Always do your research and take your time, and you will save a lot of money.

The statement ‘Work out of your basement as long as you can,’ also has an implied flipside that needs examining.  That flipside is ‘When you need to grow, do it.’  And that is where we are at.  It’s going to be difficult to offer our customers continued excellent service and more products if we don’t have some more space.  And while the thought of the red tape and paperwork to hire someone scares me, without some help my blogging will go from an already meager once a month to every 3 years.=)  Plus, I really want to devote some time to the ‘extras’ I keep talking about wanting to offer here.  I also have a hobby fiction novel in the back of my head, but very little time to put word to page.  As Dave Ramsey says, I need to go from ‘owning my job’ (a great thing in any world) to ‘owning a business’.  The same goes for our preps and lives in general.  If you are comfortable having a decent food storage in place, maybe its time for some gardening and canning.  If you garden and can, maybe having some chickens or a goat would provide some additional peace of mind.  My wife and I very much want to move to a more rural location someday, as she definitely wants some chickens!

Finally, while the growth we’ve experienced is a blessing, we also realize that anything can be temporary.  I am going to look for a small enough warehouse space that if the business slowed back down, we wouldn’t go broke keeping it until the end of the lease.  I own a little condo that my wife and I used to live in before we moved to our house; currently we rent it out.  One of the main reasons I keep it is because it acts as a ‘just-in-case’ mechanism.  What if my wife or I became disabled and couldn’t run the business?  What if the market tanked and sales went to $0?  Recognizing that things can change is why we advocate on living on less than you make, and saving for a rainy day, and paying cash…those things our grandparents used to do.  Having a very cheap place to live to fall back on could be a potential lifesaver.  Sure, it would be hard going from our house back to the little condo, but it would be a great step up from being homeless.  My wife and I recognize every day how blessed we are, but also realize that all things can change.

Being adaptable and flexible is one of the core tenets of being prepared.

22

02 2012

Advice and Beans/Discount Mylar Bags Updates

I promised an update on the state of the business last month, my apologies for the delay.  While we did decent sales over the holidays, there was a little lull following Christmas.  That ended abruptly a few weeks back and we’ve been going full out, with almost double our daily December sales through most of January and into February.  I got a moment to breathe today so thought I would post now that I have the chance.

In looking around, it seems that a couple of factors are probably driving the increase.  First, like him or hate him, the #1 reason is likely Glenn Beck’s new program, Independence, USA.  Also, NatGeo has new episodes of Doomsday Preppers airing as well.  What this really indicates is a trend that prepping is becoming more accepted, and noticed, in the popular culture.  There are definitely some folks who are hearing the call and doing their best to catch up quickly.  And for the rest of us who don’t watch much TV all I can say is the more folks prepping, the less likely they would ever need what we have.

No matter the reason, more business is good!  The bad (well, good for customers) is that it is, as always, coupled with more competition.  Another half-dozen vendors of food storage supplies have popped up recently as well.  There really is no better time to buy, whether from us or any of the other reputable sellers in the marketplace…since we entered the market in 2010, the average price of Mylar Bags and Oxygen Absorbers (all sizes) has gone down a little over 25%.  In a world of inflation and rising fuel costs, that is pretty remarkable.  It also has painted pretty vividly to my wife and I as we run this business that to survive the commoditization of our products, we need to expand in several ways.

First, although I really don’t know much about it, is marketing.  We have some pretty fun ideas in the works that I hope everyone will like.  To be honest, I don’t know if what we’re working on will drive sales, but if I do my job right, it will make you smile, which is good enough for me.  I hope to have a rollout of our new marketing program at the very beginning of the 2nd quarter.

Second is an expanded, but more focused, product selection.  Yes, I know, what the heck does that mean?  Well, as space is at a premium in our work area, I don’t want to bring in tons of new products.   I tried that last year and I ended up with a lot of inventory I’m still trying to clear.  What I do want to do is offer you the best product I can find in a category.  For example, I’ve had more personal requests from my social circle for a particular brand and style of bug-out-bag that I’ve had to reorder them 3 times just based on word-of-mouth due to its perfect size, ruggedness, and capacity.  We originally carried them at one of the gun shows, and it was the best-selling item we had, even over our main product lines.  So I plan to offer the bag as ‘the best in class’ product for bug-out/car bags.  Next would be the storm-proof matches we currently offer in the store.  I’ve heard nothing but positive reviews on them and sales are still brisk.  That would be my pick for ‘fire’.  And so on down the line for a decent line of ‘essential’ preparedness products.  Food storage would still be our primary niche, but we want to offer our customers some additional product options.  We also want to be able to say ‘hey, this is a quality product’ and offer only those things myself and my family rely on for our own needs.

Third, we are still searching for a real logo.  If anyone has a talent in that area, please let me know!  Here are some ideas we are toying with (and if anyone has opinions, positive or negative, please let me know!):

Fourth, we want to offer our customers products that will make their food storage and prepping easier, and we are open to ideas of what those might be.  Is there something you thought ‘I wish someone would make THAT, it would help me out so much…’  Are there things you do with your own preps that might be applicable to the larger market?  Racking, organizational tools, lists, or anything else?  If there is, please drop me a note at admin@adviceandbeans.com.  We’ll be looking for a few good ideas to turn into reality this year.

Finally, I feel incredibly guilty that I don’t spend more time blogging or Facebooking.  The intention is there, but I just can’t find the hours in the day very often.  (I’m putting off doing my taxes right now to write this)  However, I do realize that these are important tools to connect with folks.  Thus, I am considering hiring a writer to keep folks up to date and informed on what is happening in our business and in the preparedness culture.  Good idea or bad?  I get some of our larger competitors newsletters (well, many of them are more like sales pitches=) in my email every week and I want to be able to offer similarly professional communications.  To do that I would need to either clone myself 3 times or find a precocious teenager (or unemployed anyone) who would like 10-20 hours of work weekly. (though I’ll be upfront and say the pay would likely be about the same as your average summer job…low)  If you or anyone you know fits that bill, please drop me a line.

As always, thanks for being here and for our customers, thank you for providing my wife and I with the best jobs anyone has ever had.  I realize I am blessed in so many ways every day when I wake up and don’t have to drive 30 miles to work.  We still work hard every day, but there is such a difference in our energy levels and sense of well-being knowing that we’re making a living while helping out thousands of folks like us.  If there is ever anything you think we should be doing, but aren’t, please let us know.  Heck, if we’re doing something right, I hope you’ll let us know that too!

(Edit and PS:  One upgrade for the store is that we are now printing and including packing slips for all orders placed through the website!)

10

02 2012