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Archive for the ‘Entrepeneurism’Category

Update Winter 2014: Babies, new Mylar Bags, Wholesale Website for Survival/Prepper Store Owners

Hey y’all, looks like its time for my semi-annual post!  Yes, my blog is sad, I know, but someday I will be able to warp time and space and clone myself 7 times so I can get everything done every day that I want to!  I actually have a couple of posts lined up so it’ll have a flurry of activity for February at least.=)

My beautiful bebbies!

My beautiful bebbies!

Personal Life Update:  And these babies are why; please welcome Dagny Abigail (left) and Liberty Belle (right), our beautiful twins, into this crazy world!  Prepping is an act of preparing for the unexpected.  And while the girls were definitely unexpected, my wife and I had already ordered our life in such a way that what might be a crazy emergency for those who don’t prep, for those of us who do it was more like ‘Groovy, scary, crazy, but in the end, it’ll be ok!’  I’ll have an entire post on how my wife and I felt and acted before, during, and now, in terms of living a prepared lifestyle.

New Product Update:  We’ve gone back into production for another full truckload of product, due to arrive in late March (Lord I hope the cold is long gone before having to spend the day unloading!).  Included in the new shipment are a couple of additional bag sizes in the awesome ShieldPro material.  Like all of our new styles, these were requested by customers.  (So if you think of something you need, let us know, we just might make 10,000 of them!)  I’ve added a new small zip-seal bag, a 6″x6″.  I’m always surprised by how many of our 4″x4″ bags we sell to folks wanting to store spices and supplements in their 5 gallon buckets.  I’ve had requests for something just a touch larger but not as big as our 1-quart bag (8.25″x8.25″), so we’re getting a test run of 10,000 units.  We’re also adding another zip seal to the line, ensuring we will now have a zip seal available in all our main sizes.  It is a 2-gallon Zip (14″x20″), a size I’ve been surprised to find some folks storing water in.  I’ll do some testing of that process myself and if it goes well, will do another post on that subject.

New Business Update:  A pet project I’ve had on my mind since I started Advice and Beans was a wholesale website designed just for prep store owners.  That project is now coming to fruition, as through negotiations with the previous owners, we were able to acquire the premiere domain name for our niche.  Our wholesale site is now live at www.mylarbags.com.  Like most folks who have sold food storage supplies, there is one place on the ‘Net that comes up first in most search results and offers wholesale Mylar Bags and Oxygen Absorbers (among other things).  However, after dealing with that company for a good long time (over a year), I came to understand why most people leave them quickly:  incredibly poor customer service, overpriced shipping, and inflexibility.

Mylarbags.com is our answer to that 700-pound gorilla.  We are making it as easy as possible for prep-store owners (whether brick-and-mortar or online) to source their goods.  First, our prices are better or competitive to anyplace on the ‘Net.  And that doesn’t count the additional discounting for pallet and truckload sized orders.  Everything on the site offers free shipping to the Continental US, so there is no going back and forth trying to nail down what that will cost. (one huge pain point I have had in the past with wholesale suppliers)  There is even an additional discount for orders paid with Cashier’s Checks, ACH, or Postal Money Orders as we pass on the savings from not have to pay a credit card processing fee.

We offer kitting in any combination the customer needs at a very reasonable cost per unit.  So we can ship in bulk if you need, however for folks doing gun and prep shows, our pre-made kits are a great time-saver.  If you like, we can even source kit-bags with your 1-color art (and appropriate lead time) as low as $.20/unit.  I am also personally available (as always!) to answer any questions or offer any advice to make your business successful.

So if you run a survival store or know someone who does, I hope you will send them our way and let us show them how customers should really be treated!=)

It’s looking to be an awesome 2014!  On top of the above, we’ll run some giveaways (my wife picked up yet another copy of a Rawles’ book I’ve read twice!) starting next week, hope to see you here!

 

27

01 2014

The Mother of Invention

After you have changed something in your life, whether a longtime habit, an ugly couch or a way of doing things, have you ever said ‘why on earth didn’t I do this sooner?’  When I worked in the corporate world, one of my duties was efficiency studies, where I would examine a process in an effort to find a way to improve it.  Often, I could evaluate an old process and find ways to cut the time necessary to perform it in half, and sometimes even eliminate it or fold it into something personnel were already doing.  I find myself a little red-faced, because while I regularly did that for my former company, it has taken me a long time to do it for my own.  Not only that, when I started prepping for this post (pardon the pun), I noticed that many areas of life, whether business related, personal, or among social groups (including Survival Club, our prep group), could use a good going-over to figure out where the inefficiencies are.

It used to be the most painful part of my job, though one of absolute necessity, was printing labels for our outgoing shipments.  We used Paypal for many of our labels, and the process was downright frustrating.  It would take over two minutes to process each.  Only 8 weeks ago, I spent over 3 hours a day to process labels, reprint labels I did wrong, or print labels for re-shipments.  I never stopped to think, until recently, what a huge burden that was…mainly because all the work was still getting done.  As we looked at moving to our warehouse and possibly hiring a full-time employee, it finally dawned that I needed to fix it.  What flipped the switch for me was the thought of an employee wasting as much time as I was doing essentially nothing (because the label printing process was more waiting for Paypal screens to load than actually doing anything).  After only a few hours of research, I was testing a couple of new pieces of software that would replace our entire label process.  We are using one of those today, and the process that once took hours now takes 20 minutes or less per day.  It does cost $100 per month, but with an estimated 90 hours of time saved, I would only have to be worth $1.10 an hour for us to break even, not even minimum wage, a feat I hope I can manage!  To be honest, most of those 90 hours are being spent with my wife, who had been living with me working 12-14 hours a day, 6-7 days a week for the past year or so.  My only regret, as I mentioned in the first paragraph, was not doing it sooner.  I can’t begin to explain what this one change has meant for my family life, my anxiety level, and my enjoyment of the business we have created.

A similar situation arose with our prep group recently.  We have been working (sort of) hard trying to finish up the water project I’ve mentioned a few times on the blog.  Until it is done, every monthly meeting is being spent on completing it.  One of our members pointed out that often, almost every meeting, we didn’t have all the fittings, tools, or parts we needed to do the day’s work, and we would have to send a member to the store.  Meanwhile, the rest of the group would sit around waiting at the bottom of the valley we are working in, often freezing our tails off.  Finally, recognizing this, we decided that the week prior to our meeting, we would have a brief email exchange regarding the goal for the weekend, and one person would be assigned to pick up whatever was needed.  For about 15 minutes of effort emailing, and another hour for someone to go to the store, we saved the entire group 10 man-hours worth of sitting around, for a savings of over 7 hours…not to mention the decreased frustration level.

While my wife and I haven’t decided yet if we’ll change anything, we have decided to expand this theme and examine our food, water, medical and other family preps, and I think for everyone it is a good idea to do the same every so often.  What worked for us 5 years ago when we started prepping might not work today, but we will never know it if we assume all is well and don’t take stock of our situation.  Those who have prepped for a modest period of time (2-4 years) probably have the most to gain from a prep-audit.  The knowledge base one has in that range is likely to have improved enormously with even a decent amount of planning and reading.  One big example for us was finding out my wife was gluten-intolerant…with us having stored 400 pounds of wheat!  Another was determining we didn’t really like the pinto beans we had stored.  For the first problem, we laid in a couple hundred pounds of gluten-free flour (which we use and rotate every 12 months or so), and for the other we switched the types of beans we had stored to ones we enjoyed more.  I’ve heard many people say that if a true long-term emergency did happen, ‘we’ll use it if we have to’.  While true, why set yourself up for a miserable dining experience on top of what would already be a stressful situation?  If we are spending all day clearing brush, pounding fence posts, or chopping wood, the last thing I want is to come in to a meal I won’t enjoy!

So if you find yourself thinking there is something in your life that just doesn’t work well, you’re probably right.  For me, preparedness has always been about making some modest changes to my life to put myself in a position to better handle any challenges that come my way, whether they are personal, business-related, financial or social.

 

 

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25

04 2012

The Lessons of Pack Expo 2011

The trip to Pack Expo last week was amazing!  I walked over 10 miles during my time there, and said hello at at least 200 booths.  I came back with over 20 new potential vendors, a brand new vacuum sealer, and a huge amount of knowledge.  (Even if the knowledge is something simple like knowing better how to find an answer to a question) It is sometimes daunting, especially when we think we know something well, to admit that we don’t know what we don’t know.  That is a little how I felt when presented with 25,000 exhibitors, thousands of vendors, and hundreds of pieces of equipment I’ve never seen before.

The food storage/preparedness niche is a very small subset of the packaging industry, and I may well have been one of the 10 smallest business owners there.  While I have always tried to be educated about the products we offer and unlike many we do regular testing of our products in-house, (as well as regularly use the products ourselves), it is now very obvious that many of the sellers in the niche are under-informed about what they are selling.  For example, a new eBay seller who has shown up recently has a great listing presence.  Meaning, his listings look great and ‘professional’.  However, upon further examination and Googling, I noticed that he also has great listing presence for a multi-level marketing scheme, a cure-all liquid remedy, a no-money down real estate course, among other products and services.  I’ll admit it’s a little frustrating knowing that he really has very little understanding of the food storage process, but has set up shop with some information from the LDS website and tries to portray himself as the most knowledgeable seller in the niche.

I always remind myself that this is the day-to-day of running a business, so instead of worrying about what someone else is doing, I will focus on what I need to do.

So what is that?

1.  I will continue to make Advice and Beans/Discount Mylar Bags the go-to source for accurate information on food storage products and processes.  This means that like teachers and CPA’s and other industry professionals, we will adopt a policy of ongoing education.  There are several industry groups and trade associations I found at Pack Expo whose only focus is to provide non-biased, factual information about packaging, packaging best practices, manufacturing processes and dozens of other related topics.  I will work with the goal of gaining whatever industry certifications are appropriate for our business.  I don’t want to just know more than our competitors, I want to know as much or more than the experts in the industry, and I commit to my customers that I will achieve that.

2.  We will begin industry-standard testing of our products, and eventually will purchase our own testing equipment.  While we have the results of our our manufacturers’ MOCON testing for all our Mylar Bags, and we test our oxygen absorbers in-house, we are committed to random-sample testing of our entire product line, with proper record-keeping of the results.  This will ensure that whenever we provide an answer to a customer question, we have the best information available.

3.  We will begin to collate a database of all public-record studies of long-term food storage results and to have that information available for our customers.  While there is a lot of information available on the Internet and elsewhere, sometimes these studies are a little hard to find.  As I often get questions about ‘how long will this or that item store’, I would like to be able to offer referable information (assuming it is available) instead of generalizations.

4.  We will begin to add more questions and answers to our FAQ.  While I have done my best to answer the most common questions, it needs to be more in-depth and answer some of the questions customers might not even know to ask (including some I found myself at the show).  For example, why is LLDPE a better barrier layer than OPP?  What is the real difference between a 4 mil bag and a 7mil bag (you might be surprised at the answer)?  And many others.

Maybe it’s a little overkill, but as they say about small businesses, if you are not moving forward you are falling behind.  Our customers deserve to have as much information at their fingertips as I can possibly give.

As always, if there is something you think we need to do, a product line we need to carry, or general comments, good or bad, please drop me a line at admin@adviceandbeans.com.  I look forward to our next milestone, our 2nd year anniversary in April 2012!

02

10 2011

5 Ways to Build a Debt-Free Business

Sixth months ago today I quit my day job at a very respected Fortune 200 company.  Scary, yes.  I worried about my wife, our home, our pets, and whether this crazy idea could really take care of them all.  Today, I thank everyone who has helped us answer that question.  Our customers, our suppliers, and even our critics.  We’ve made our share of mistakes, but each one has helped us build a better business.

This weekend I leave for a trip to Vegas for Pack Expo, the largest packaging conference in the US.  Just a simple (and very inexpensive) business trip makes me realize how far we’ve come.  I used to travel infrequently when I worked for the giant corporation, and I almost always hated it.  Now that I am doing it as the owner of a company, the entire feel is different.  I’ve scheduled something almost every hour of the day, to try to maximize the products and services I might be able to offer to our customers when I get back.  I’m excited to meet some of my suppliers face-to-face for the first time.  I’m looking forward to letting my wife demonstrate her knowledge as well, as she’ll be running the whole kit and caboodle while I’m gone.

After sixth months of living the ‘American Dream’, one of the most enjoyable parts of my job now is talking to people, friends and family, and often customers, about the possibilities…both in my life and career, and theirs.  At the same time that I am approaching venture capitalists and angel investors about some ideas I would like to turn into reality, I do my best to offer those around me the same on a smaller scale.  I tell folks, yes, you really can quit your jobs.  You can build a business from scratch, with cash and without debt.  Yes, there are still opportunities for those who will take them.

If I had to offer 5 pieces of advice to someone considering starting a business or trying to figure out how to grow one they already have, here they are:

1:  Do more with your brand.

Many folks get stuck in what they are doing and don’t realize there are many ways to monetize or spread a brand.  I’d love to see my local electrician or plumber start a Facebook page or blog and answer basic questions for free.  While I know our blog has been pretty thin much of the time, we try to add value with Advice and Beans here, our little newsletter we put in each order now, and our Facebook page.   We also aim to be accessible by phone or email and to share what we know (or don’t know) openly.  I know many businesses that do their best to give away as little information (for free at least) as possible, and that is one of the worst ways to grow your business.  The more ways you can interact with a customer, the more chances to make a positive impression, which in turn (with hope) lead to more sales or recommendations to others.

2:  Don’t be afraid to try something new.

While several of our product lines other than the food storage supplies haven’t done great, we have had some success with the most random things (For example, we almost sold out of the new Stormproof Matches we are carrying in the store at the Gun Show this past weekend).  Both my wife and I recognize that Preparedness, while a great niche, is also a pretty small one in terms of the overall market.  Backing oneself into a corner is not a great way to stay in business if one product line turns sour.  And so, we are always on the lookout for new products and services to offer.  In fact, we’ve got some ideas on the drawing board we hope to patent, and that could be huge in the market.

3:  Grow only as fast as you can afford.

Our office is still in our home.  We sublet some warehouse space, but just enough to work from.  It’s sometimes inconvenient to have our entire bottom floor devoted to the business, but we never would have been able to sustain a decent cash flow if we had to rent an office or dedicated warehouse space.  I’ve heard more than a few folks tell me you can’t start a business without loans and capital, and it just isn’t true.

We started our business buying a couple of cases of product at time.  Then we ordered half a pallet.  Then a full pallet.  Now, some of our shipments can take up half a tractor trailer.  The main benefit of this type of growth is you prove your market, and you’re unlikely to be stuck with a ton of stuff you’ll never be able to sell.

4:  Everything needs to have more than one purpose.

The last point notwithstanding, I’ve been looking for a small retail space to open a modest preparedness store in Nashville.  However, instead of just renting anything that comes along, I have several criteria for the space.  For example, it has to have a dock, so that I can stop renting the warehouse space and accept pallet deliveries.   However, I also remember how hard it was when I first started the business to figure out how to receive deliveries…so to defray costs I would offer others the opportunity to use my dock and storage space for their own businesses.

I would also go into a space knowing that a retail preparedness store might not be the biggest draw, so my goal would only be to cover my costs through walk-in traffic.  We’re a mail-order company, and we’re good at it.  That would still be our main focus, and a storefront would really just be a place for us to work that isn’t our house!=)

Another example is the enclosed trailer we just bought.  The business is a 24/7 machine, and we recognize that.  However, having a trailer will allow us to take the business on the road, so we don’t come to resent not having many days off or vacations.  Next month we’ll be taking our first trip to visit family in Connecticut.  However, we’ll be outfitting the trailer with a computer and printer to process orders, and shelving to accommodate inventory.  We’ll be putting advertising on the sides to hopefully draw some business while we’re on the road; we’ll stop along the way to answer questions or visit with our customers.

So never just buy something with only one purpose in mind; always work to maximize the return of every investment.

5:  Just Do It.

Nike came up with one of the best slogans ever.  I’ve talked to literally hundreds of people who feel stuck in their jobs and their lives.  But do you know how many of them were actually willing to give up their TV time, or their Youtube watching, or their weekends, to really try to start something?  None.  Not one.  Heck, I’ve offered to buy people their first shipment of wholesale inventory if they wanted to try selling something on eBay (yes, I also expected a return if they made a profit), and I still haven’t been able to get any takers.

For many years I was those people, so I completely understand how easy it is to be trapped in a particular lifestyle.  I watched my brother and my father come up with literally dozens of ideas that with a little work could have been profitable businesses.  My brother died two years ago at 42, never having tried any of them.  My father is 73, with all the time in the world, and I can’t get him to either.

To be honest, I think that is the reason I actually pulled the trigger.  I didn’t want to end up like I did, giving my brother’s eulogy.  I talked about how brilliant, and friendly, and open, and funny, and loving he was, and how much people adored him.  What I really wanted to say was that he took his ideas, and made them real…but I couldn’t.  Heck, I would rather have said he tried and failed, than never tried at all.  And that’s what I want someone to say about me.

While I hope to be still selling Mylar Bags and Oxygen Absorbers in 25 years, I also plan to have 5 other businesses running as well.  Once I actually started this business, it was like a wave…I saw the opportunities available in everything today.  I have ideas for several pieces of software, for a unique shooting range, a game store, a theme park…and each idea is the stepping stone for the next.  Don’t ever believe there is not something out there for you to do, if you choose to try.   I think every 20-something, every single mother, every corporate middle-manager, every unemployed carpenter, has the same potential to build and manage a business.

If they’ll just try.

 

 

23

09 2011