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Christmas 2017 Last Posting Dates

Yes, it’s that time of year again, where we publish our Christmas 2017 last posting dates !

 

Christmas 2017 Last Posting Dates – UK

ServiceLast Posting Date
Economy DeliveryMonday 18th December
Royal Mail 48 / Tracked 48Wednesday 20th December
Royal Mail 24 / Tracked 24Thursday 21st December
Royal Mail Special DeliveryThursday 21st December
Local Delivery (where applicable)Saturday 23rd December

For all the dates above, you should probably aim to submit your order by noon. We will keep packing and shipping right up until the point where we have to seal the post bags as the postman comes through the door to collect, but at busy times of the year like this, order synchronisation from our site to our shipping software can sometimes be a little slow.

Don’t forget also 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.  Neither Royal Mail 24 or Royal Mail 48 are services which guarantee a delivery date; only Special Delivery does that. I definitely advise you not to leave things until the last minute !

 

Christmas 2017 Last Posting Dates – International

ServiceLast Posting Date
Africa, Middle EastFriday 1st December
Asia, Cyprus, Eastern Europe (except Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia), Far EastWednesday 6th December
Caribbean, Central and South AmericaThursday 7th December
Australia, Greece, New Zealand, TurkeyFriday 8th December
Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, PolandTuesday 13th December
Canada, Finland, Sweden, USAWednesday 13th December
Austria, Denmark, Iceland, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, SwitzerlandFriday 15th December
Belgium, France, Ireland, LuxembourgFriday 15th December

We definitely advise you to put international orders in as early as possible. Royal Mail are already feeling the strain – we heard from a friend that Australia is currently taking about 18 days from posting to delivery.

Also, just to keep you updated, Royal Mail are making some changes to their international services and prices very shortly. They officially take effect on 2nd January, but this means they’ll actually affect any orders coming in over the New Year weekend, as there are no post collections from 30th December to 2nd January.  The main changes seem to be that they are holding or very slightly decreasing prices on International Tracked & Signed deliveries, but increasing prices for non-tracked post and removing the Large Letter service for items classed as “goods” for many non-EU destinations. In non-technical speak, non-tracked international post is going up about 4% or 5% while ones that used to be Large Letters to non-EU countries are going up about 300%. I guess I’ll be spending the Christmas break updating postage tables in our website control panel !

Reaper by Theme

Reaper Miniatures Organised by Theme

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Based on feedback (thank you !) from our last email newsletter, I’ve gone through and organised all our Reaper Miniatures by theme.

It’s taken a few days, and I’ll be the first to admit that some of the categorisation is very much on a “best fit” basis. To give you a few ideas about the thought process that went into it, here are some examples of the things I’ve done;

  • The Dragons theme includes both dragons and things that can be thought of as dragon-kin. You’ll find wyverns, hydras (hydrae ?), and the like here.
  • With Characters by Species I didn’t include one for humans, as it would be so big as to be almost useless.
  • Characters by Class is split into male and female for the most popular classes, but not for the less-populated ones.
  • In some cases I have gone by what a figure looks like, rather than the pure title. For example, things that look swashbuckling are in the Pirates theme even if they don’t actually have the work “pirate” in the title.
  • For a non-human characters, in most cases it’s probably faster to look by species or monster type. A dwarven rogue might also be found under female rogues, but it is likely to be quicker to look in dwarves.
  • Please give me some feedback on Undead !  I’m wondering if it is too broad a category, or if I should split it into three or four. I’m thinking skeletons, vampires, spectral and squishy. I need a better title for the last one; it covers, zombies, ghouls, and other undead that still have most of their gooey bits.
  • Dungeon Monsters is a catch-all category. It covers critters of the “this doesn’t fit anywhere !” variety.
  • Beasts includes familiars and furry things.
  • Vermin includes things that come in swarms or have too many (or few) legs than is nice.

As always with Reaper, a different or unusual paint scheme can totally change the look of a figure. Think laterally when you are searching ! You might find a barbarian or rogue figure who is perfect for that lightly-armoured warrior. Something you find in Elves could be just begging to be painted as a drow.

If you think I’ve put any figures in the wrong theme, please do let me know; I expect this to be a “work in progress” for a while !

Local Delivery Now Available

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I’ve finally set up Local Delivery as an option if you are near to us !

It operates on a fairly simple principle. It is charged at £4.00 for low-value orders, and free local delivery for medium and higher value orders. The value threshold for free delivery is based on the delivery zone, and there are currently two zones. The inner zone covers GU14 postcodes, and the outer zone covers postcodes starting with GU11, GU12, GU15, GU16, GU17, GU51 and GU52.

I have had to stick a finger in the air when working out what the thresholds should be for free delivery. It has to be attractive if you are placing an order, but enough that the profit in the order at least covers the petrol and some contribution towards the time it takes to make the delivery.  I’ve set the thresholds initially at £20 in the inner zone, and £30 in the outer zone. That may come down if the service proves popular, after a review of how often deliveries can be combined.  A round trip from here in Farnborough to the furthest point of Fleet or Camberley and back can take 30 minutes each way. As long as most delivery runs can combine a couple orders, it should make financial sense for us !

Initially, Local Delivery is probably best thought of as a 1-2 day service. That will hopefully speed up as the service develops and gains popularity. It helps if you pop a note on your order to give an idea of the kind of times you’re in to sign for them. That isn’t compulsory, though !

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/

 


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