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Possible Post Strike

Possible Post Strike

You might have seen on the news that there is a possible post strike next week.

It is still quite up in the air; they’ve got a week to come to some agreement, and Royal Mail are trying for a court injunction to get the strike declared illegal. There is no information yet on whether this is a one-off, or the start of a pattern between now and Christmas. They always strike at Christmas – I think the union believes that the leverage gained is more valuable than the public goodwill they could lose.

I’m not going to get into the politics of it, but think it’s important to have a plan for if it does happen.

Lessons from last time

Our experience of the last time they did this taught us two things.

First, that orders could still be posted on strike days, but Royal Mail’s policy was to prioritise new post sent on non-strike days. That meant that sacks of mail taken in on strike days were made into huge mountains and sorted with absolutely no urgency over the days and weeks that followed. Post sent the day before a strike also frequently got warehoused; if it didn’t get delivered before they all walked out, it could take weeks before it re-surfaced.

Second, that all the other delivery networks were completely overwhelmed by the sudden additional demand. Since the last bunch of strikes, Royal Mail have lost a lot of market share and the other networks have developed a lot. But I think it likely they will still struggle massively to cope. The only network to come close to competing with Royal Mail’s prices (and which doesn’t use Royal Mail for last-mile delivery) for our size of business is Hermes. They seem to have improved a lot compared to the reputation they previously gained, but talking to people around the country, it is still very variable depending on the region and local depots.

Here’s our plan if the possible post strike becomes an actual one

We will still take orders, but will disable First Class and Special Delivery options in our checkout.

Post for orders placed on strike days and the day immediately before a strike day will be held until we believe it is safe to ship.

This first strike is a 48-hour one, starting at noon on Thursday 19th, until noon on Saturday 21st (coincidentally, that’s Trafalgar Day). I suspect that means nothing will move on the Sunday, so we’d next put post into the system on the Monday.

We are creating local delivery options for customers within about a 10 mile radius of us in Farnborough. That is something we are doing anyway, initially on an experimental basis just for the GU14 postcode. I’m still tinkering with settings; with luck, I may have a way to also set it up so you can pay cash on delivery – watch this space !

If there are repeated strikes

If this possible post strike happens, and then becomes a pattern of a couple of days of strike every week or two in the run-up to Christmas, we’ve got further “tweaks” in mind.

Firstly, we’ll monitor other networks performance as they adapt to the new reality. Assuming there is one or more which look like they are coping and have comparable prices to Royal Mail, we would look to open an account with them and send some experimental orders. Assuming there are no problems, we would then intend to move all our business to a new carrier and away from Royal Mail on a permanent basis.

Sorry for the long essay, I felt it useful to let you know what we’re thinking. We’ll keep you posted ! (sorry, was that a bad pun….)

Dungeons and Dragons New Categories

New Categories – Clearance and Dungeons & Dragons

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If you look down the left hand side of the screen, you’ll see we’ve added two new categories.

Clearance

The first new category is Clearance – it’s where we’re putting ranges we’ll be discontinuing. Sometimes it’s just to let you know that it’s a range which is on the way out. For many, you’ll see discounts which will hopefully entice you to grab the products which are there. In all cases, when it’s gone, it’s gone !

Roleplaying Games

The second of the new categories is Roleplaying Games. It has just one sub-category so far, which is Dungeons & Dragons. The reasons for adding this are fairly simple. It’s our favourite game, so we want to sell and support it, and it has good synergies with many of the other ranges we sell; Reaper, Frostgrave etc.

Enjoy !

Website Categories Update – what we’re keeping, and what we’re killing

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I thought I’d write a quick update on where we’re at with our ongoing review of website categories. It’s taking a bit longer than expected, but then it is a pretty big project.

We’re assessing each category based on a number of criteria. These include popularity, profitability, how it fits into our overall product mix, the amount of warehouse space it requires, supplier lead time, minimum order cost, whether there are any posting issues (e.g. solvents, or fragility) and how easy the supplier is to deal with. If we eliminate a category now, it doesn’t mean it won’t return, but in order to return we’d have to solve the reason why we’ve decided to drop it. The intention is to work hard on the website categories we keep to improve them. We believe it’s better to do a few things well than lots of things half-heartedly !

An overall result of the category analysis we’ve done is that it looks like we’ll be focusing the business quite more towards the modelling side of things, and away from the Gaming side. Quite simply, gaming products are widely sold, and have become a “commodity” product. We’re seeing people choose a seller based entirely on price. This has driven margins down to (in many cases) well under 5%. At that point, something has to give; either service has to slip, or you have to be a business which doesn’t need to make a profit. So we’ll be cutting gaming products down to only those which make a sensible (not greedy !) profit, plus those which directly support games we play ourselves.

For each category we decide to keep, there is a three-stage process.

– First, make the decision !
– Second, to calculate the correct stock level to hold and build it back to be consistently at that level, then set it up so we can more frequently review and update the correct stock level to reflect changing trends. To make best use of our capital, we’re keeping stock levels tight, and ordering from our suppliers more frequently. More of a “little and often” approach rather than trying to cover the rare cases where someone wants two dozen of a rare item we normally sell at the rate of three a year.
– Third, “gap fill” any products in the range we haven’t previously stocked, and keep up to date with new releases.

I won’t bore you with a list of every single category we’ve got (there are about 180 in total !), but here are the key ones;

Website Categories we’re keeping

Vallejo – we’ve rebuilt this up to correct stock levels, and have started “gap filling”, beginning with Model Air sets and the Pigment sets which replace the ones Vallejo discontinued.

Reaper Miniatures – we like Reaper, and like to think we do it well compared to our competitors (although we keep on top of monitoring what they’re up to !). Also, as avid D&D players, it supports one of the games we play ! Stock availability is much better now that we’re ordering little and often from Reaper. It has also reduced the number of problems we had with large orders getting stuck in Customs. We’ve been rapidly adding to the range we keep, including Dark Heaven Legends, Bones, Pathfinder and Warlord. We will create a new sub-category shortly for Savage Worlds.

AK Interactive – we’re working on rebuilding this up to correct stock levels, although the importer frequently runs out of things in the AK range. There will be a lot of “gap-filling” needed for AK Interactive products, so it’ll take time to do this !

Tamiya – the model-maker’s staple; high quality products, and a brilliant supplier to deal with. Sadly we can’t ship their aerosols (if we end up doing any local shows, we’ll probably be bringing our remaining stock of aerosols with us at great prices…). We’re considering making their full range of kits an “available to order” thing, if we can solve a few technical aspects within our website software.

Chessex Dice – again, a product which supports our love of Dungeons & Dragons ! Chessex are fabulous to deal with as a supplier. We’re in the process of rebuilding stock levels; in terms of gap-filling, we’ve got quite a few of their newer releases but need to take good photos of them before we can add them to our website. We also need to do quite a lot of work “prettifying” the existing Chessex sub-categories.

Javis Scenics – a really great UK supplier. We’ve built stock levels back up for key products in the range. There’s more work to do (as time and cashflow allow), and a lot of gap-filling to be done !

Frostgrave – although we’re stopping many tabletop gaming categories, Frostgrave is a game we like so much we’ll be keeping and developing it !

IHMN / Daisho / Blood Eagle – these rulesets are published by good friends of ours. In addition, we’ve got exclusive rights to distribute the e-book versions of their rules.

Website Categories we’re killing

Games Workshop – when we closed our bricks & mortar shop down, our GW account manager said they would still be happy to supply us although it might be at a slightly lower discount. Once the decision was made and we communicated it to them, they then changed their line. They then told us we had to have a physical shop or they would refuse to supply us. Heavy discounting of GW products, and their insane release schedule were factors which most harmed our cashflow. Their lack of loyalty to a customer who spent over £125,000 a year with them was both saddening and unsurprising. I see it as their loss more than it is ours.

Alclad – popularity has slipped as newer products have come onto the market (e.g. Vallejo Metal Color). More importantly, postal regulations continue to tighten. We believe that Alclad are rapidly slipping from “grey area” territory into “complete no-no” when it comes to posting them, even within the UK.

Ultimate Modelling Products – this was a difficult one ! The products are lovely, they are popular, and the people behind the business are great to deal with. Unfortunately, they have an incredibly low profit margin, a significantly longer lead time for deliveries than any other UK supplier, and a pricing model where the discount is based on buying a lot of each item to get the top discount level rather than being based on overall spend.

Warlord Games – great products, great supplier to deal with, but with long (and highly unpredictable) lead times on orders. The main problem is that they are so heavily discounted by other sellers that the profitability is absolutely minimal. We may make them an “available to order” range at a later date if there is demand.

Website Categories we’re not sure

Mig Ammo – popular and reasonably profitable, but require massive minimum order values to get a good discount. We’ll restock this if the Euro exchange rate stabilises and once our cashflow will support repeated regular orders.

Lifecolor – a bit of a niche product, but popular with it’s own audience. The supplier is great, but minimum order values are quite high, and it takes up a lot of space. In addition, prices haven’t been stable since Brexit. This may be a good candidate for a range that is available to order rather than kept in stock.

Gunze Sangyo / Mt Hobby – nice products, great supplier, but tend to sell on other channels at low margins rather than through our website.

Airbrushes – cost prices (particularly for Iwata) have gone through the roof over the last few months. Online discounting has become more prevalent as this is an easy way for competitors to recoup cash. The profitability is low considering the amount of support and advice which is required. These are another good fit for the “available to order” model. It is our intention to continue stocking key spare parts for the foreseeable future.

New website categories we’ll be adding

RPG’s / Dungeons and Dragons – our favourite game, so it makes sense to stock it !

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 !


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