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Annual Holiday 17th-24th June

We’ll be away on a rare (and much-needed !) holiday from 17th-24th June.

Although we’ve got house-sitters (well, more accurately, cat-sitters), they aren’t trained to pack orders and don’t have access to the storage unit where we keep our stock. Plus they’ll probably be very busy looking after two incredibly demanding kitties !

You’re more than welcome to place orders on the website; e-books will be accessible immediately via the download link in the confirmation email, everything else will be posted as soon as possible after we get back. Website orders up until about 2pm on Friday 16th will be posted before we go.

We will have email access, but it may be quite limited. Replies may also be influenced by sangria (I didn’t say we were going on an expensive or classy holiday…..)

Forthcoming Website Improvements

Now we’ve closed our shop, it gives us time to make some much-needed website improvements.

It’ll take some time, of course – there’s still a lot of work to do just sorting out what stock has ended up where ! The plan is that actual stock lives in easy-access secure storage, while labelling and packing is done from home in a new home office log cabin. That’s been subject to some delay – if you need a shed or garden outbuilding, I’d suggest avoiding a company called Garden Buildings Direct. So far, it’s taken nearly 7 weeks, 3 deliveries and about 30 phone calls and we’re still short of a third of the pieces we need to build the thing.

Even before that is sorted out however, there’s a plan !  It looks something like this…..

  1. Have a couple of days off. It’ll be the first time in over a year that we haven’t worked 7 days a week, and will give our spines and minds time to recover a bit !
  2. Ruthlessly cull products and categories from the website which are either not performing, not profitable, or where we have had supplier issues. Sadly, this means losing Games Workshop, as they have advised they are unwilling to supply businesses without a bricks & mortar shop that jumps through the hoops they set. It’s a shame that adherence to an inflexible policy means more to them than losing the £125,000+ we spent with them in the last 12 months alone.
  3. Optimise the surviving products and categories to really create website improvements. This will be a mix of re-jigging categories, moving products to more logical places, improving images and descriptions, and a bunch of “behind the scenes” improvements. I have a feeling this will be more of an ongoing process than a single task !
  4. Re-work the formulas that set our stock levels to maximise product availability. The cost of shop overheads, high levels of shoplifting, and need to keep up with Games Workshop’s frantic release schedule had a fairly negative impact on our cashflow. Over a period of time we’ll be able to “re-inflate” the categories which didn’t get enough investment, and we’ll recalculate the stock levels we should hold for each product.
  5. Investigate whether adding back some of the non-performing products as special-order items is feasible and would make our customers happy.
  6. Once we’re comfortable that things are running smoothly, start looking at new products and ranges to stock.

All of these website improvements are likely to take a little while, with many of them becoming an ongoing process. But the goal is that it is very much a new start for SnM Stuff as we get back to doing what we are good at and put the blind-alley of having the shop behind us.

 

Closing Our Camberley Shop, A New Beginning Not The End

With huge regret, I have to announce that we will be closing our Camberley shop down during the course of April (the current plan is to make April 22nd the last day open). This is a massively difficult decision, but at a time of consumer price-sensitivity and significant supplier cost increases, the overheads are just too high in relation to the revenue the shop generates.

Closing the shop at this point means that we can do so in a managed way, paying wages, suppliers and other bills. I believe this is better than trying to struggle on and starting to create debts we would be unable to pay. Although we looked for outside investment, the amount required to turn the business around meant that this didn’t happen.

But all is not totally lost ! We are not totally disappearing, the intention is to restructure the business and return to what we started off doing so well, with primarily online-only retail of a carefully selected range of core products at great prices with market-leading customer service.

One thing we found was that having a “real world” shop is that it’s a massive consumer of time. Without it, we should have a lot more time to improve our website (maybe even without me working 14 hours a day, 7 days a week !).

For a short while, until the relocation is complete, we’ll be temporarily dropping our stock levels, just so there’s less to move. Once that’s done, we’ll focus on clearing the non-core ranges we decide to drop, while building up the core ranges for maximum availability. If there’s interest, I might even do some blog posts on the lessons we’ve learned, so that anyone thinking of running a modelling and gaming shop can learn from our experiences !

Edit: I’ve added some images to the gallery, just to show that we’ve left the shop in a far better state than we found it !  The upstairs isn’t as pristine, but it’s still far better than what we found when we took the place over.

 

Royal Mail Price Increase - No Thanks !

Royal Mail Price Increase – No Thanks !

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You’ve probably seen in the news that there is a Royal Mail price increase happening on 27th March. Stamps look like going up just a percent or two, but the bit they are keeping out of the headlines is that parcels look like going up about 5%.

But we have GOOD NEWS !

Most of the services we use are contract-based, so the Royal Mail price increase doesn’t affect them. Instead, they are reviewed as each contract comes up for it’s anniversary. With luck, our volumes increase enough that they push us up a discount bracket. That way, we don’t see a significant price change.

So on 27th March, you will see NO CHANGE to our post prices.

We’ll monitor the non-contract services we use (mostly large letters and low-value second class parcels), just to be sure there are no surprises. Our intention at this stage is to either absorb any increase rather than passing it on to you, or to send those types of order using contract services (e.g. Tracked 48) without changing your prices.

There is only one change we are thinking of making, which is to make Collect in Store telephone orders only. We’ve seen confusion because people see a zero price and think it just means free postage. They don’t spot that they have to come to us to get it !

You can see more details of our post prices at http://www.snmstuff.co.uk/pp-prices/

 

 

e-books

Blood Eagle and Daisho – Our First E-books

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We recently added a Wargames Rules category to our website, and now we’ve extended it by including our first two E-books !  They are PDF editions of Blood Eagle and Daisho, skirmish rules published by the Ministry of Gentlemanly Warfare. Craig and Charles, the authors are friends of ours, and we are pleased and honoured to have agreed with them that we’ll have exclusive rights to sell the e-book versions of these rules.

The authors of Blood Eagle and Daisho also bought us In Her Majesty’s Name (often abbreviated to IHMN), Steampunk skirmish wargames rules. They were published by Osprey, and are one of their top selling rule sets. All three sets of rules share a very similar underlying set of principles, meaning that if you’re familiar with one of them, it’s easy to pick up the others. The authors’ genius is in enabling each set to give a great “feel” of the setting while keeping the game fluid and playable.

Coming very soon from them will be IHMN Gothic, which takes the same rules engine and adapts it to Victorian Horror settings. We had a demo day in our shop a couple of weeks ago, and had some brilliant games with vampires versus werewolves !

Getting the technology behind the e-books up and running has been an interesting challenge. We’ve tested them extensively on a wide variety of devices, and made a number of adjustments to the settings to make them both secure and user-friendly. When you buy them, our system will send you an automated email with a download link. Don’t worry if it takes a minute or two to get your e-book once you’ve clicked the link. It’s a file of approximately 5MB, and each one is individually generated for you.

One other great thing about games from The Ministry of Gentlemanly Warfare is that they’ve got a really good community among the players, with the authors actively engaged. Each game has it’s own blog and Facebook page, and there is a “hub” blog to bring it all together at https://theministryofgentlemanlywarfare.wordpress.com/

 

Ten Years

Ten Years

Somehow, it has crept up on me, but it’s actually ten years since we started SnM Stuff !

It all started when I bought some Vallejo Game Color at a show. I couldn’t get any locally, so I looked on eBay and found someone selling a job lot of several hundred bottles. Driving down to Somerset, I picked up the lot. The plan was to keep one of each and re-sell the rest on eBay to cover the cost of petrol. I never did get to keep any ! They sold so well that I knew we were on to something. Finding the Vallejo importer, we started buying it in as stock, and the rest (as they say) is history.

It’s come a long way since then; one house move, then a move into our tiny Farnborough shop, and most recently moving again to our new shop in Camberley.

We’ve come a long way in terms of technology as well. Initially we were just as an eBay seller, but even then knew that having our own website was the best way forward. Now, we sell on Amazon and eBay, as well as though our shop and own website. We’ve changed website platform twice so far, with each change giving us fabulous new functionality. Behind the scenes, we use Linnworks to manage and synchonise all our inventory across the various channels, print and manifest post and courier labels, and a host of other tasks.

But technology isn’t our real focus. I believe the most important thing is our determination to be professional and focused on our customers. Selling modelling and gaming supplies is a remarkably tough and competitive field. It’s impossible to please everyone all the time, but I like to think we do our best. Still being around after ten years suggests that we must be doing something right !

There are a lot of people along the way who have helped us get to where we have. I can’t possibly name all of them there are so many, it would make this look like some kind of Oscars acceptance speech ! But here are a few…

My lovely wife Mel (the “M” in SnM), who has kept my feet on the floor and stopped me when I’ve thought about doing some really daft ideas. The staff who have worked for us (and mostly still do) – a good bunch of guys, all of them modellers and gamers, experts in the field. Hayley our accountant, who puts up with my ramblings as I bounce ideas off her and always gets our returns in on time.  Our suppliers, most of whom are genuinely good to deal with and do their best to help us find exciting products to offer. Surprisingly, our competitors; they keep us on our toes, the better ones give us something to aspire to, and the local ones are people we can co-operate with as often as we compete with them.

But most of all, I definitely owe a big “thank you !” to our customers. The level of customer loyalty we see is wonderful. There are many both online and who we see in our shop who I consider friends as well as customers. It makes me glad we aren’t just selling “ordinary” products. Modelling and gaming attracts some of the most amazing, interesting, and often pleasantly eccentric people.

Who knows what the next ten years will bring, but so far, it’s been a fun roller-coaster ride !

 

Mr Hobby Products

Focus On: Mr Hobby Products from Gunze Sangyo

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Gunze Sangyo are the Japanese company behind the excellent Mr Hobby products, an essential range for any serious modeller.

In fact, modelling materials are really just a very small part of what they do; the company is part of a conglomerate doing everything from silk and textiles, to nanotechnology and industrial coatings. You can use Mr Hobby to paint an OO-scale train, or go to the parent company and repaint the real-world rolling stock of a whole country !

Mr Hobby products provide a range of high-tech solutions to specific modelling needs and problems. Key products in the range include;

Mr Surfacer

Probably their signature product, Mr Surfacer is designed to smooth out imperfections in a surface to be painted while not being so thick as to obscure detail. It comes in three thicknesses; Mr Surfacer 500, Mr Surfacer 1000 and Mr Surfacer 1200, with 500 being the heaviest duty, and 1200 being quite fine. It is also available as Mr Primer Surfacer 1000, which also acts as a primer, and Mr Finishing Surfacer (in black and grey) which is the finest grained version to give the smoothest finish.

Several of the Mr Surfacer products are also available in aerosol form, which we keep in stock in our Camberley shop, but can’t put on our website because aerosols are classified as hazardous goods and we haven’t yet found a legal way to send them in the post.

Mr Mark Softer and Mr Mark Setter

These are decal application fluids. Mr Mark Setter is the adhesive, while Mr Mark Softer softens the decal material to allow it to sink into the details of the surface for the most realistic effect possible. To use them, apply a small amount of Mr Mark Setter to the area on the model where the decal is to go, place the decal in place and adjust it while the solution is still wet, then remove any excess. You can then use Mr Mark Softer to soften the decal and make it conform to the surface.

Gundam Panel Line Markers

Compared to using a paint brush, Panel Line Markers make it easy to put permanent even-width lines onto a model.  They work best on painted, primed or keyed surfaces, rather than bare metal or plastic. The ink they use is opaque and pigment-dense, and don’t have the problem of ink spreading that some normal markers give you. When you’re using them, keep a soft eraser handy; any mistakes can be removed with one but only if you act fast !

Panel Line Markers are available both in multi-coloured sets, or as individual markers in the most popular colours (black, brown and grey).

Mr Masking Sol

Mr Masking Sol is a liquid masking solution which can be painted onto a surface to mask ready for the next layer of paint to be brushed or airbrushed on. It comes in two types, Mr Masking Sol Neo and Mr Masking Sol R. The main difference is that Mr Masking Sol Neo tends to be slightly easier to use and remove, while Mr Masking Sol R is ammonia-free to reduce the risk of leaving marks on the underlying paint layer.

Mr Color Levelling Thinner

Mr Color Levelling Thinner is designed as a high quality cellulose thinner for lacquer-based paints. But that isn’t what most modellers use it for !  It is most often mixed with Kneadatite (green stuff), turning it from a semi-solid sculpting putty into a slime which can be used for fine gap filling (for example around the arms of multi-part figures, or the gap between the wings and fuselage of model aircraft), and for filling air-bubble holes in resin parts.

Mr Metal Color

Mr Metal Color is one of my favourite Mr Hobby products ! This is a metallic paint which can be applied by brush or airbrush. It dries in about 10 minutes to a dull, matt finish. Then you you buff it with a soft cloth to bring out a realistic metallic shine. The more you buff it, the shinier it gets ! It’s great not just for large flat areas like US Century series jets, but can also create amazing effects for detailed figures, particularly late medieval knights where it gives a realistic depth to plate armour.

 

Christmas Last Posting Dates and Opening Hours

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Yes, it’s that time of year again, where we publish our Christmas last posting dates and shop opening hours !

 

Last Posting Dates – UK

ServiceLast Posting Date
Economy DeliveryFriday 16th December
Royal Mail 48 / Tracked 48Monday 19th December
Royal Mail 24 / Tracked 24Tuesday 20th December
Royal Mail Special DeliveryWednesday 21st December
Interlink ExpressWednesday 21st December

Don’t forget that around this time of year, Royal Mail can get very busy and their service times will slip. For most of December, it’s fair to expect the “48” services to take 4-5 days minimum. I definitely advise you not to leave things until the last minute !

 

Last Posting Dates – International

ServiceLast Posting Date
Africa, Middle EastFriday 2nd December
Asia, Cyprus, Eastern Europe (except Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia), Far East (including Japan)Tuesday 6th December
Caribbean, Central and South AmericaWednesday 7th December
Australia, Greece, New ZealandFriday 9th December
Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, PolandTuesday 13th December
Canada, Finland, Sweden, USAWednesday 14th December
Austria, Denmark, Iceland, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, SwitzerlandThursday 15th December
Belgium, France, Ireland, LuxembourgFriday 16th December

Shop Opening Hours

Monday 19th December10am – 5.30pm
Tuesday 20th December10am – 5.30pm
Wednesday 21st December10am – 5.30pm
Thursday 22nd December10am – 8pm
Friday 23rd December10am – 5.30pm
Saturday 24th December10am – 4.30pm (ish…)
Sunday 25th DecemberClosed
Monday 26th DecemberClosed
Tuesday 27th DecemberClosed
Wednesday 28th December10am – 5pm
Thursday 29th December10am – 5pm
Friday 30th December10am – 5pm
Saturday 31st December10am -4pm
Sunday 1st January10am – 4pm
Monday 2nd JanuaryClosed
Tuesday 3rd January10am – 5.30pm

 

One or two of these closing times are likely to be a bit flexible. If we’re busy, we’ll stay open, if we get bored of seeing tumbleweed float past, we might just escape a few minutes early. Even shop staff deserve a bit of time to relax over Christmas !

Ultimate Modelling Products

Focus On: Ultimate Modelling Products

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Ultimate Modelling Products (or UMP for short) are a great example of an unsung phenomenon; the way British companies are leading the world in modelling and gaming.

The Spanish are gaining praise for their paints and weathering products, but the British have a massively diverse spectrum of companies leading in a host of different ways. In many cases, this is leading to significant exports, which has to be good for the British economy ! Nottingham has it’s “lead belt”, where a host of companies are making high quality games and figures. Many of them are spin-offs from Games Workshop, and I feel GW should blow their trumpet a bit more about being such a fabulous incubator for so many successful businesses !

Ultimate Modelling Products represent another facet of this success. Rather than making actual models, they provide superb quality supporting products. They enable modellers and gamers to really get the most out of their hobby. Lee and Paul, the owners of UMP are dedicated modellers themselves. They also run the International Scale Modeller forum (or ISM for short). Feedback from the members of the forum made them see the gap in the market for a highly targeted range of great value, high quality supporting products.

The first products they launched were their Airbrush Thinner and Cleaner. Airbrushing is becoming increasingly popular, to the point where an airbrush is now a standard tool for a majority of modellers. But the majority of modellers use a variety of paint brands. Rather than sticking to one, they pick individual products that meet their needs across a variety of brands. Traditionally, this has meant having a variety of cleaners and thinners available. UMP solved that by developing a cleaner and thinner which they tested extensively to work across all brands of acrylic paint. Although UMP products were originally designed with “serious” modellers in mind, we’ve found that they have also become very popular with tabletop wargamers and rail modellers.

Subsequently, UMP have released a number of other really useful product ranges;

Clay-based washes – these are water-based, and far more forgiving to use than the enamel-based washes made by other manufacturers. Once it is applied, you can use a dampened cotton swab or kitchen roll to wipe off any excess, move the wash pigment around or even (if it all goes wrong) remove it completely.

Sanders – UMP’s sanders come in three different types. The standard ones are shaped like an elongated diamond to combine accuracy at the point with a broad surface for rapid and even sanding over larger areas. The thinny sanders are ideal for getting into tight spaces, and the thinny sponges with their softer sponge backing are great for really difficult and curved spaces. All of them are double-sided, flexible and washable, and can be used wet or dry.

Primers – Ultimate Modelling Products primers are the ones made by Badger in the USA, re-labelled under license by UMP. They are acrylic-urethane based and self-levelling, drying rapidly to a hard, smooth surface which is ready to take paint about 30 minutes after application. Initially available in black, white and grey, the range has now expanded to include a selection of other useful colours.

Photoetch Placers – these wax-based positioning stick work as much by static as by stickiness. They can be sharpened like pencils, enabling them to last longer than many of the more expensive placers which have gummy tips.

 

To help celebrate Cyber Weekend, just until Monday 28th, we’re doing two special offers on Ultimate’s products; a bundle deal with one each of the Cleaner and Thinner, and a bundle of the three most popular 120ml primers !

Vallejo Model Air Whole Range Deal (including new colours)

Choosing Airbrush Paints – Which One is Right For You ?

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Choosing airbrush paints is very much a “Marmite” affair; the brands and ranges some people love, are hated by others. There are numerous factors which can make a difference, and quite a number of paint ranges to choose from. This post is intended to pick out some of the “standard” ranges and look at some of their characteristics, and the type of subjects and techniques they work best on. It won’t cover metallics (which we wrote a blog article about that you can read HERE), or some of the more specialist paint ranges, and will mainly cover ranges we sell here at SnM Stuff (partly because we’re biased and like those ranges, but mainly because they are the ones we have the most experience of).

 

Factors Influencing Your Choice

What are you painting ? Different subjects need different colour ranges and types of finish.

What kind of airbrush do you have ? The size of nozzle and needle in your airbrush will affect which types of paint work best. Smaller nozzles (0.2 or smaller) work really well with inks and transparents, but get too easily clogged by more pigment-heavy paints, while larger nozzles are much more tolerant of clogging but can flood when used with inks.

What is your air source ? Your air source, whether compressor or can, will make a difference for what is appropriate when choosing airbrush paints. The simplest compressors tend to have less sensitive pressure setting controls, and can “pulse” the air as the piston moves. More expensive compressors will have tanks or other mechanisms to smooth the airflow and make it more stable, as well as usually having better moisture traps. I would suggest avoiding re-purposed industrial compressors; they may have huge tanks to deliver stable airflow, but will rarely be able to set pressures low enough to give you the control you need. Don’t even get me started on canned air ! It’s useful in an emergency or for a one-off project, but delivers a continually diminishing pressure, can suffer from icing, and can be expensive in the long run.

What is your personal technique and preference ? This is the intangible one; everyone develops their own unique technique when it comes to using an airbrush. Some techniques definitely work better with certain paints. Whether it’s the density of paint sprayed in a single pass, or the distance you tend to spray at, subtle variations in technique all help to explain why airbrushing is an art rather than a science.

 

The Paint Ranges (with links !)

Vallejo Model Air

Vallejo Model Air is the standard against which other brands of paint tend to be measured. The range of colours is primarily geared to modern armoured and aircraft subjects, with lots of muted greys, browns and greens, although there is a healthy selection of primary colours.

Notionally airbrush ready, we’ve found in practice that most airbrush setups need the paint to be thinned a little further. Model Air is particularly easy to use, and with a low surface tension (particularly when a drop or two of Vallejo Flow Improver is added) can be sprayed quite heavily before problems occur. Model Air can sometimes suffer from tip drying, where the paint dries on the needle and nozzle of the airbrush and eventually clogs it. Correct thinning and an occasional careful wipe of the needle and nozzle with a little kitchen roll usually solves this issue.

Vallejo Game Air

Game Air is very similar to Model Air, and can be freely mixed with it. The main differences are the selection of colours (brighter and more suitable for fantasy or sci-fi models), and the acrylic resin used as a medium, which is slightly more durable and dries to a particularly matt finish. Game Air colours are matched to the equivalent colour codes within the Game Color range.

Ammo Of Mig Jimenez

Mig Ammo acrylics come in dropper bottles similar to Vallejo, but normally include a stainless steel ball bearing to make mixing easier. The range is heavily geared towards WW2 and modern military and aviation subjects, with very few bright primary colours. Unlike Vallejo airbrush paints, they need to be applied in very light layers and built up slowly. The best way to think of it is that each droplet needs to land and dry before the next droplet hits. This seems to be down to the paint having a very high surface tension, but it’s okay for different paint ranges to have different characteristics ! Properly applied, Mig paints give a really excellent finish, and the research behind each colour means your models should end up with unparalleled authenticity. I’ll give a special mention to A.Mig-224 which is the best Russian Cockpit interior turquoise I’ve seen to date.

Tamiya

Tamiya acrylics are spirit-based rather than using the water base more common with acrylic paints. The range is split into two parts; those with an “X-” prefix are gloss, and those starting “XF-” are matt. The gloss part of the range is dominated by bright primary colours, useful for modellers doing cars, bikes and similar. Of particular note are the clear colours, XF-23 to XF-27, which are brilliant for all kinds of techniques, from coating clear plastic on indicator and brake lights, to coloured glazes on sci-fi models. The matt part of the range is primarily suited to military and aviation subjects, with plenty of Japanese Navy colours included which are hard to find in other manufacturers’ ranges. Tamiya acrylics brush on acceptably well, but they are well suited to airbrush use, going on easily and smoothly. However, don’t try and mix them with water-based acrylics or clean your airbrush with cleaners designed for water-based acrylics, the results won’t be nice !

Citadel Air

Citadel Air paints are spirit-based acrylics in a similar fashion to Tamiya. Their key feature is that they are a perfect colour match to their equivalents in the main Citadel paint range, meaning you can spray a model with Citadel Air and do any touching in with standard Citadel paints.

LifeColor

The first impression when you open LifeColor is that it looks like emulsion paint. But it’s actually a water-based acrylic. There’s a huge range, although we just focus on selling the sets, which are well presented and well researched to contain colours relevant to the subject of each set. Our experience with LifeColor is that it works best if you thin it with their own thinner and then build it up in thin coats. Avoid the temptation to thin with just water, which works fine if you’re brushing it on, but less well if you’re airbrushing.

Humbrol

It may have been around for about 50 years, but Humbrol still has a valuable place in the arsenal of airbrush paints !  It is incredibly popular with model rail and automotive modellers, with a huge range of colours available. Thinned with Humbrol enamel thinners, it sprays in a remarkably trouble-free manner to give a very smooth finish. Because it is much slower drying than acrylics (generally needing to be left overnight to dry fully), tip drying is never an issue and you don’t have to race to clean your airbrush before the paint inside dries. We stock it in our Camberley shop, but sadly Royal Mail and most couriers don’t allow it to be sent by mail order.

 

This post is just a quick overview, but will hopefully help when you are choosing airbrush paints. Comments and feedback are welcome !

 


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