A gorilla, a dog and a horse walk into a bar…

Tell me if you’ve heard this one before.

So, a gorilla, a dog and a horse walk into a bar.  What do you think they see? For each, their perspectives would be so different – from height differences to colour ranges to their ability to manipulate objects in the bar.  How would you construct a bar for each of these 3 animals (if they could use it).   You’d have to have a place for the horse to stand, the gorilla to sit, the dog to lie… you’d have to have tables with 3 different heights.  What if they all wanted to sit together?

Could you imagine building a retail store that could / would do that? It sounds like a science fiction only bar…

Yet, if you own an online store; you commit to doing that very fact every day. 

There are currently 4 major browsers in use – Safari, Firefox, Chrome and Internet Explorer.  Each of these browsers has a minimum of 3 majorly used versions, some more.  Each version will ‘view’ your website slightly differently and each browser will process code vastly differently at times.

On top of that, people view your website from multiple devices – mobile phones, tablets, mini-tablets, desktop computers, etc.  Each of these will have different screen resolutions and screen sizes – you’ll need to code for that too – individually quite often for each of the above browser versions.

Then add plugins or add-on’s that are available for each browser.  Have an Norton Antivirus system scanning pages? How about Adblock? Each of those could affect how the browser handles the webpage again.

Replication and Fixes

That’s why if you hit a bug on a site and you complain about it, it might never get fixed – or it could take a while to get fixed.  The simple truth is that as a small business, we have to triage.

  • What’s the problem?
  • Is this replicable?
  • If not, is it in a critical area of the site?
  • How many people would / could this affect?
  • What browser / operating system / device are they using?
  • Has this been reported before?
  • Is this something we can fix?

There are times when a problem comes in and all we do is sit on it.  It happened to you – okay.  Maybe it’s just you – let’s see if we can replicate.  If we can’t, maybe it’s just that user.  Sometimes, the user’s not a gorilla, a dog or a horse.  Sometimes, the user might be a porpoise.

How big is big?

It’s weird working in this industry.  The fact is, there are very few big companies in it – you can probably count the number on one hand, especially if you put Hasbro and it’s subsidaries together.  On both the publisher and retailer level, there just aren’t many large companies and even what is considered large to us is often laughable in other industries.  Fantasy Flight, probably one of the largest board game publishers out there has what? 50 employees or so?  That’s barely pass ‘small’ company designation.

Most publishers, by definition are micro companies (1 to 5 employees) and only a few may be considered ‘Small’ (1 to 50 employees).  Most retailers fall into the micro-really small company range.  The largest retailers out there generally only have 8 – 12 employees, many of them part-time.  Few retailers have more than 1 branch, those that do often don’t have more than 4 or 5.  As a franchise, that’s ridiculously low.

So, it strikes me strange sometimes when people declare us a ‘big’ company.  We might be (and I say might since I don’t know the business operations of any our other competitors) larger than other online retailers in Canada, but compared to say the Sentry Box in Calgary, we’re tiny.  Compared to the online companies down in the states, we’re tiny.

It’s one of those things about perceptions.  We work in this small industry, so something that seems bigger is considered big – but when taken in relation to everything else, we’re all tiny really.

Kickstarter / 3rd Party Fulfilment

Please note, we now have a full website dedicated to our 3rd Party Fulfillment Services.

One of the newest things we’ve started exploring in the last few months is being a 3rd party fulfillment centre.  The reason we’ve started looking into is more of a coincidence.  We worked with Common Man Games to help with their Heat Kickstarter and the upcoming Police Precint reprint and are potentially talking to another party to act as a fulfilment centre.

Then, we had a discussion with the Euphoria designer, Stonemaier Games with regard to their game itself and mentioned we might be willing to do fulfilment.  He had a post coming up on Kickstarter fulfilment, and so we threw together a rough costing outline.  Taken directly from the post:

If a pallet of goods is shipped to us in Vancouver, BC, we will break it down into individual orders and ship them directly to Kickstarter backers. As all of the stock would be shipping out almost immediately, there’s not storage cost. We would charge the following rates to ship 1 simple order per backer (1-2 individual games, or a pre-made bundle containing multiple items), totaling 2kg or less, anywhere in Canada:

  • Receiving cost: $20.00/hour, including unpacking all of your games, and inspecting them for damages. We can receive roughly $1000 worth of goods in 1 hour.
  • Handling cost: $3.00/order, including collecting items, packing them with appropriate padding, creating a shipping label, and sending tracking details to the recipient.
  • Shipping cost: $13.00/order if packed in a 13″x10″x4″ box (fits standard-sized Euro games like Pandemic, Puerto Rico), or $14.00/order if packed in a 12″x12″x4″ box (fits standard Fantasy Flight Games, and larger Euros like Dungeon Petz, Euphoria). This covers Canada Post Expedited Parcel service, which ships to Ontario/Quebec in 4-5 business days, and across the country in about 1 week. Shipping is fully insured, and we would be responsible for missing parcels, damaged goods, etc.

Other services that we can provide for an additional charge include handling cross-border shipping and brokerage for the initial shipment (we have the option of using a shipping address in Blaine, WA and bringing stock across ourselves), processing more complex orders (multiple tiers of custom backer rewards, etc), and handling backer support within Canada by sending out replacement parts for defective copies. The above is a basic estimate for our most simple service, and we’re happy to discuss every designer’s specific needs with them and providing a customized quote.

 This is a rough costing and is subject to change.  Shipping cost might be significantly higher or lower, depending on what size the game / product is.  For example, for the Heat we just shipped it via Lettermail.  The order handling cost is for a few easy to pack items – I’ve seen Kickstarters (e.g. Bones) where there a million variations on the product type.  Those are much more complicated than a few variants.

The one thing I’d love to lower is our shipping cost, but until we get to the size of Amazon, it really isn’t possible.  Anyway, if you have questions or are interested in taking part in this program, you can always e-mail us direct at ksadowski@starlitcitadel.com and we can discuss the program in more detail.

 

We’re Hiring: Join us on the Convention Scene

One of our biggest areas of growth in the past year has been participation in the geek convention scene — we’ve gone from attending 2 or 3 gaming-specific events to almost a dozen anime, fan, and gaming conventions a year. It’s been a lot of fun to get in direct contact with so much of the community, but we’re finding ourselves stretched just a bit thin bouncing from event to event.

As a result, we’re looking to add a new member to our team, in the position of Event Coordinator. It’s a seasonal, part-time position that puts you in charge of running the sales booth at the events that we attend as our sister site, Fortress Geek. We’d love to have a friend or regular customer take on this role, as it’ll need someone with a passion for both the geek community and our company in particular. If you (or someone awesome you know) think you’d be a good fit for this position, please send a resume and cover letter to Kaja at ksadowski@starlitcitadel.com by Friday, January 17th, 2014.

Full Position Details

Are you a part of an Anime, Fan, or Gaming community? Would you like to get paid to attend conventions and sell awesome geeky toys, kitchenwares, collectibles and games to your fellow fans? If so, then this is a great opportunity for you.

This is a part-time position with a schedule based around the yearly gaming, anime, and fan convention season. Our e-commerce business attends 6 – 12 of these events per year, and needs a dedicated staff member to organize and manage customer service and sales at each event.

The Event Coordinator will be expected to attend each convention that we are booked for, and perform the following tasks: supervise inventory packing, load-in, and load-out; manage staff schedules and booth coverage; sell product to customers and manage other sales staff; keep accurate transaction records of event sales and deposit cash collected; liaise with convention organizers to handle any issues that arise on site. As the primary representative of the company at each event, the Event Coordinator is expected to present a professional and friendly attitude, and be able to quickly and knowledgeably address customer and event staff’s concerns. They will also be responsible for the appearance and layout of the sales booth.

The Event Coordinator’s schedule is tied to our convention plans. They will be informed of upcoming events at least 2 months in advance, and must be available for the entire duration of each event, including load-in and load-out times, and any necessary travel time. Upcoming events that we will be attending include: Toronto Comicon (March 7-9, 2014), FanExpo Vancouver (April 18-20, 2014), and Calgary Comic & Entertainment Expo (April 25-27, 2014). Travel and accommodation for out-of-town events will be covered in full, and all travel time will be paid.

We will provide training on our convention and cash-handling procedures, and the Event Coordinator will be given ample opportunity to familiarize themself with our inventory prior to their first event. If further training is needed, we will provide the necessary resources for the Event Coordinator to be able to perform their job in full.

Requirements: Availability for 3-5 consecutive days, up to 12 times per year (schedule to be provided in advance). Strong customer service and organizational skills. Experience with cash handling and basic account-keeping an asset.

Expected Start Date: February 17th, 2014

Rate: $14/hour, plus travel and accommodation costs for all events outside Vancouver.

Starlit Citadel / Fortress Geek

2013 – the Year of the Pre-Order

I try to write a ‘Year in Review’ post at the end of each year.  Often, I never get around to doing it because life gets too busy and once I find the time, it’s June of the next year.  So, here’s hoping I can get this done…

The Year of the Pre-Order

Kaja named 2013 the Year of the Pre-Order.  We keep a list of unique orders (not including combined orders, etc) of orders awaiting shipping due to backordered / pre-ordered items.  Generally that list is in the low 100’s (or less!) but this year, we struggled to keep it beneath 200.  You can guess the usual suspects – Alien Artifacts, Tumblin’ Dice, Robinson Crusoe, Pandemic, X-Wing, Terra Mystica, the Resistance, Hanabi, etc.

Quite literally, the publishers could not keep up with demand.  A game would release and it’d go immediately into back-order.  We’d sit waiting for months for games to release as release dates were pushed back and back or insufficient number of copies were printed.  I’m sure it was frustrating for publishers too, but for us, it was just a killer especially during Christmas.

Investing for the Future

2013 was also about investing for the future.  We moved to a new, much larger warehouse which costs (painfully) more.  It meant adding hours to our part-time employees as I had to (for personal reasons) reduce the number of hours I worked.  It meant upgrading aspects of the site to handle future loads.

It meant launching the new business and dedicating funds and time to it, time that we were short on already.  We spent a lot of money in 2013 investing for future growth, building out shelving and adding things like carts and work tables in the warehouse, and hopefully it’ll play out right.

Plans for the Future

2014 should be interesting.   The exchange rate has grown significantly worst in 2013, pushing up from about 1.02 to 1.07.  We don’t expect to see it drop beneath 1.05 anytime soon, so our margins have grown worst.  It’s something we can plan for, and we’re hoping we won’t need to adjust our prices but we shall have to see.

Canada Post is raising their parcel rates again.  That makes Free Shipping even more expensive.  It already costs us about $18 (including box & packing cost) on average for each order to go out.  I expect it’ll go up again.  We’ll have to see if we have to adjust our threshold to meet it, it’s hard to say but if margins get squeezed on both ends it makes things tough.

At the same time, it looks like we should be investing in more miniatures.  That means more shelves and dollars in stock, but the demand seems to be there from our customers.  The question of course is which line and how deep.  I’m going to have to spend some time figuring out which miniature lines we should have more stock of as well.

Lastly, we’ve got a major headache with how we’re dealing with stock.  It’s a backend thing, but if fixed it should reduce stock outages and increase overall stock accuracy.  Of course that will cost more funds…

The Echo Chamber

When I used to go spelunking, if the cave was large enough / shaped right, you could get an echo chamber going.  It was very strange, just a couple of you talking could set off a series of echoes going back and forth, making it sound like an entire roomful of people were talking.  Due to the way the acoustics worked you even sounded different, which would make it seem even more bizarre.

In real-life, it’s harder to tell when you are in an echo chamber; hearing the reflected opinions of a few individuals.  It’s too easy to find yourself listening to the same opinions over and over and convince yourself (or others) that what you hear / say is the truth and the only truth.  It’s easy to take an opinion as gospel, as the unvarnished truth (or worst, fact).

Talk to publishers and you hear that game stores don’t do enough to promote games, that they are a ‘necessary evil’.  Talk to brick & mortar store owners and online stores are the bane of existence, providing little to the gaming community.  Talk to the BGG crowd and B&M stores are the enemy, over-charging for little to no service.

Sit in any one echo chamber long enough, and you’ll begin to believe what each side has to say.  Ignore their opinions though, and you’ll find yourself run-over when their angry tirades reach you.

If we ever want to reduce the volume of opinions and beliefs-masquerading-as-facts, we need to have real conversations.  Those conversations have to backed up by facts – but no one is willing to provide their data because the walls between each chamber has grown too thick.  And so everyone sits in their own chambers.

And somewhere along the way I’m sure my metaphor broke down. Heee.