Monday, 18 November 2013

SUGARHOUND: Markets 101; How to dominate any Market.

SUGARHOUND: Markets 101; How to dominate any Market.: My wife has always been interested in fashion and design. She is a keen seamstress and has a keen eye for what "looks good"....

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Markets 101; How to dominate any Market.

My wife has always been interested in fashion and design. She is a keen seamstress and has a keen eye for what "looks good". A few years ago, she decided she wanted to start a small-scale, high quality children's clothing line. A few weeks later, we happened across a local market that specialised in handmade items, which was relatively distinctive and exhibitors were thoroughly screened to maintain the integrity of the market.

I predicted that she would dominate that particular Market with her stall within about five tries, but she managed to do it within two. I've been a veteran of many markets in my time, but my products were more automotive-related and at large rural markets. Anyway, we pooled our collective experience and strengths and did really well over a period of a couple of years at selected markets throughout Victoria.

It goes without saying that you need really well-made and distinctive products, but in general, here's how she did it:

1. Positioning your stall is important. Internal or external corners are best. Corners are great crowd "choke points" that slow people down. They slow down just long enough to browse, regardless of the product offering. 

2. Have enough stock to make the space seem interesting. Not cluttered, but not too sparse, either.

3. Run the numbers before you start. A good return is 20 times the stall fee. Do you have enough stock at full retail to add up to this figure, if you sold everything?

4. Have a variety of stock priced at high, medium and low levels. The low priced things usually sell well and they add up over the day.

5. Keep a running sheet of what you sell and review them after each market. This will provide a written evaluation of what sells and what doesn't.

6.Make it easy for your customers to buy from you, and even easier to remember you. Everything you sell needs to have your label on it, and a website/ blog, etc. If possible and feasable, have a mobile EFTPOS machine. If you are only dealing in cash, go to the bank the day before and have a float of at least $150.00, ($250.00 is better), mainly in small note and "gold coin" (in Australia, gold coins are a dollar and two dollars) denominations.

7.Display your goods at different levels; never merely laid out flat on a table. Try to have at least three levels of products available. 

8.Unless you are selling rusty car parts at a flea market, your goods must be clean. If you are selling clothes, they need to be freshly ironed and hanging up on nice timber hangers. They must also smell nice. Never use those incense sticks in your home in the same place as you store your goods ; quite simply, they stink. For added professionalism, clothing displays should be on a mannequin, not a hanger. It's OK to have your sales stock on a portable clothes horse that holds about 20-30 garments.

9.Price everything clearly, but not so it screams at the customer unless you are selling on price only (as opposed to quality). You need to have the prospective customer stop and look at your goods.

10. A market should not be a solo act. Always take a friend with you to provide relief on breaks, to assist in busy peaks, and remain vigilant.

11. Sitting down behind your stall is tempting, but it implies apathy, disinterest in your own goods, and laziness. Psychologically, people are drawn to stores that are bright, clean, and inviting. Standing up gives a feeling of urgency and action to your customers. Standing up allows you to see who is interested, and an opportunity to initiate a conversation with the potential customer without having to get up. This leads me to my next point...

12. Don't jump on your potential customers. Think how you would like to be treated. Educate them about your goods. Speak slowly. Listen. Be cool. 

13. Valuable, delicate or theft-prone goods should be in a glass display case. This is really important.

14. Looks are important. Your stall must stand out from the crowd. You have about five to ten seconds to capture the potential customer's attention. I went to a market recently and saw the same props used (bunting, a mini rotary clothesline that had products hanging off it) in four other stalls (in a really small market, so the stalls all started to look the same).

Marketing hint: Markets are a valuable way of getting your name out there. My wife doesn't do them anymore, because she always had literature made that would direct people to her online stores. She was thinking ahead. 

She has now diversified into vintage homewares and craft supplies, both stores online. 

Links to her stores can be found here and here.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Vintage Volkswagens, as a Religion.

Above: a beautiful example of a 60's VW Beetle at a recent show I attended. Loved it. 


My first car was a 1966 Volkswagen Beetle 1300 deluxe. I loved that thing, even though it had a six volt electrical system and drum brakes that had the stopping power of wet newspaper.  I took the (then) 20 year old car on camping trips, where I would fold the seats down and sleep in it. It was my trusty companion. That car would be getting on for fifty years old now. 

I recently attended a Vintage VW show and the owners were fantastic, dedicated people, and were understandably obsessed about their cars, which in many cases (but not all), often the only type of vehicle they had. Their conversations were not so much about where they had been in them, but what they needed to do to make them more reliable. Or in some cases, to actually run. There seemed to be an element of relief for some people that their car had actually made it to the event. 

For most, it seemed that their car was never "finished". Different strokes for different folks, but that would frustrate me to no end. 

These cars have reached cult status. 

I don't think I would own one and use it as a daily driver any more. Here's why: They actually cost as much as a nice, modern used car now. (Mine cost 600 bucks in 1986). They don't have air conditioning. They don't have airbags. They require constant maintenance. They have four gears. They have a habit of catching fire if the battery isn't properly insulated from the springs sagging on the back seat. The fuel tank is in the front, between whatever you hit, The windscreen is 6 inches away from your face. The dashboard in the pre-1967 models are metal. They aren't fuel efficient compared to a modern car with a similar sized engine. They are unreliable. Their lights are terrible. They have vinyl seats. They are incredibly dangerous in crosswinds.

They are beautiful, though. That's about it. 

I have a late model turbo diesel Saab 9-3 that I have driven 70,000km in the last 18 months. No problems. Just get in and go, without a care in the world, and not a concern that it won't make it to point B. My other car (which is "another German brand", not a Volkswagen) actually parks itself. It wakes me up if it detects I am nodding off. (Thankfully, my own common sense over-rides this feature, but it's nice to have).

Convenience. Reliability. Air conditioning. Lights that work well and brakes that stop you. A crapload of airbags and ABS. Nothing too bland, either. That's what I want in a car in 2013.   

Would I consider having another VW Beetle as a stored "collectible" car? Absolutely. I just wouldn't drive it much. 

Financial/ Life Tip: A car is a machine for getting you and your family around safely, with as much class and so-called "prestige" as you want, or choose to justify. I love cars, but that's really what they are; just another machine. If you can, try to make it as nice as you can and as reliable as possible.

I have fallen into the trap of buying money pits of cars, unfortunately. (Ask me about a Fiat that I had when I was 23; it actually deserves its own post). Take it from my early days: Don't be the person whose whole life is spent fixing a car or worrying about it's reliability (unless you actually enjoy breaking down on the side of the road).

Thursday, 14 November 2013

A Great Realisation has set in.

Now that the dust has settled from our family holiday to Japan, a great realisation has set in: For our first family trip overseas, we went to a country that is non-English speaking, with no guide or any concept of what the country would be like, other than the experiences of others. We stayed in, and completely navaigated our way around the greatest metropolis in the world, a population of 36 MILLION. (And I hate crowds). 

We took our four children with us, three of which are autistic and largely unpredictable in their behaviour and requirements at the best of times, even in a home setting. Two of the three can't effectively communicate if they are ill or why they may be distressed. We dragged these kids halfway across the globe (they loved it) to a country that recently had one of earth's largest earthquakes in history, one that made the entire country drop by up to a metre, and a resulting Tsunami that wrecked countless lives and dropped a century's worth of debris on the coastline in the space of 30 minutes. 

The city of Tokyo also has another elephant in the room; a rather large active volcano called Mt Fuji, a mere 70 miles up the road. 

Yes; we are CRAZY. 

And we are going back soon. : )

"It's a Nikon thing. You wouldn't understand".

Ford vs Holden. Mercedes Vs. BMW. Toyota vs. Nissan. Nike Vs. ASICS. Apple vs Samsung. Nikon vs Canon. 

I studied Consumer Behaviour at University what seems like a lifetime ago, because I wanted to find out why people had a preference to to particular brands when the product offering was relatively similar. It may be because of a good experience they have when they buy such a product, so they keep buying it. It may be a social expectation. Perhaps they had a terrible experience with Brand A and switched to the competing brand. Perhaps a brand has a particular status or positive culture that the person wishes to identify with. Either way, all of the brands listed above are respected, but pretty similar.

Case in point; cameras. As you may have gathered, I love cameras and have had one since I was a kid, much like my son Ronan, pictured above. I've had many brands, but I have a soft spot for Nikon. It is completely irrational. I'm not a Pro photographer, so it doesn't mean the difference between eating or not eating. It's just a feeling that I got as a kid, drooling over Olympus and Nikon cameras, specifically the Olympus OM and Nikon F models of the 1970's and 1980's. I vowed that I would always have one or the other. I had an Olympus in the 1980s. Unfortunately, Olympus seem to have lost their way when Digital SLRs became affordable, and I bought a Nikon DSLR a few years ago, and have continued to buy Nikon since. For me, nostalgia seems to be a strong buying motivator.

Marketing hint: If you can sell a person something that is attached to status, a cool subculture, or a particularly pleasant memory of days gone by when things were made to a standard and not to a price, you have a strong point of difference to your competitors. 

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

The joys of the "Financial King Hit" and the Mini Retirement.

In another post, I mentioned that I am hopeless when it comes to saving money. I am also hopeless at budgeting. It's something I cannot (well, choose not to) do. However, what I am good at is spotting opportunities for the occasional financial windfall, something that I refer to as a "Financial King Hit"; where it can replicate the effects of months, even years of saving. Some things I have done are:

1. Making the most of "Pure Dumb Luck": Entering contests in rural areas. Its surprising how few entries there actually are to compete with. I entered two contests in Kingaroy; and won both; by purchasing a much-needed home utensil and won a truckload of electrical appliances for our home. I sold some, gave some to family and kept the others. This was cool! (The second "win" was a new fangled cordless phone for the home when they were a big deal). 

2. Making Redundancy Work for You: I applied for a voluntary redundancy package after working  for an employer for a bit over three years because the conditions of the package were so good, and I had something to go to. I used it as a deposit on a house and some other real estate with the proceeds, and got into the tyre and wheel business after I took three months off with my wife and baby daughter. I effectively had a mini-retirement at age 25 that energised me for the next ten years. 

3. Appreciating Real Estate: I bought even more houses, sold some, and had another mini-retirement for six months at age 35. I walked my kids to school every day, had lunch with my wife, and explored the countryside. I also added value to my existing home, ready to sell it a couple of years down the track. 

4. Market Mania: Is there a really large market or annual swap meet in your area? If so, is there something you can offer that will be seen by tens of thousands of people? My brother and I would save up all of the automotive-related junk that nobody in the city was interested in, such as farm tyres and wheels for pickup trucks ("Utilities" in Australia) and bull bars, driving lights etc, and we would go to a couple of large rural swap meets a year and make absolutely thousands of dollars in cash. 

These are only some of the things I have done, but I hope you get the idea. 

Life Hint: Learn to look out (and be prepared) for opportunities. Realise that money can not only buy "stuff", but can buy you some quality time with your family, that I call "mini-retirements". 

Opportunity is everywhere. Just look for it ( It will probably be in your street).

I realise that not everybody can buy the home of their dreams in the perfect spot. (I definitely fall into that category). However, over time, locations can become more desirable as the demographics change. For my non-Australian friends, Ballarat is one of Australia's largest inland cities, population 100,000. It is about 110 kilometres west of Melbourne, population just under 4 million. Melbourne was recently listed as the World's most livable city, but unfortunately is one of the world's most expensive cities for Real Estate. Inevitably, people start to move away from larger cities for a lifestyle change, and they want to re-create some of the positive aspects of the city lifestyle they have "lost". The new area can really benefit culturally as a result. (Case in point: I had my first Thai meal about 10 years ago. 20 years ago in Ballarat, Thai restaurants were non-existent.

Here's some timely advice: Whatever town or city you live in, if you can't buy in the most desirable of areas, buy as close to it as you can reasonably afford, in places that aren't as popular. Pick some place a little quirky, with a bit of character. Wait a while and it will start to become popular and more gentrified. Obviously, you may have to wait longer in some areas for changes to become visible.

I followed my own advice, did a lot of homework, bought in an area that was really undesirable about 20 years ago, got laughed at by some, but noticed in under 18 short months from purchase, that blocks in our street were being subdivided. An old school that nobody liked living near was sold and is apparently in the process of being re-developed into retail and boutique housing. Some unsightly homes have been demolished to make way for new homes and town homes. Even the most modest of cottages are being treated to sympathetic high quality extensions.

Inevitably, the demand for centrally located, character homes rises rapidly. The people that buy them usually have money to spend on improvements. Many of these people also like the finer things in life and have the money to buy such things. Accordingly, in pockets, our street is starting to look like Prestige car showroom. ( Old Fords and Holdens have been replaced by an Audi S4, new Saabs, Volvos, BMW M5, Mercedes, Range Rovers, Rolls-Royce, Volkswagens, a Skoda, Mini Cooper, and even a new Porsche 911 convertible- and that's in the space of 3 blocks).

Real Estate Hint: Do your research and actually get out of your car and walk the streets of an area you desire. Look at these places at different times of the day, night and week. Are long-neglected homes being repaired in a short space of time? Are the "For Sale" signs turning into "Sold" signs quickly? Are the cars out the front getting nicer? Are boutique, specialised stores and restaurants opening nearby? If so, you may be in a neighbourhood that is gentrifying and increasing in value fast.. It may be worthwhile grabbing something now!

How my Saab obsession began.

In 2009, my family moved from Sydney to Ballarat, Victoria. We managed to rent an incredibly impressive ultra-modern home on the Golf Course, but it just didn't seem "right". We kept it in the back of our minds that we should look around to buy a house.

An old, interesting, historic, centrally located one, with most of the hard work done. 

We have moved a fair bit and the thought of actually signing a contract to buy another house seemed a bit surreal. We have endured many years of living in old homes and while they are cool and quirky, they always manage to drain our cashflow while renovating them. Also with a disabled teenager and an energetic, growing five year old , along with our other two children, it's expensive to be me! 

To assist us in getting things done, we decided to sell both our new cars and get a cheap one that would be a temporary car, until we got another better one after the money draining, fee intensive house purchase...

Enter the SAAB 9000 (right). What hardly seems possible is that for a lousy fortnight's pay, we purchased a car that is built like a tank, has a full leather interior, incredibly good air conditioning and heating, looks relatively modern for its 19 years of life, and cruises at 110 like it's idling. The toolkit is still intact, the heated seat still works, the boot and bonnet linings are carpeted, and there are no dents. The electric windows and mirrors still work perfectly. The boot ( trunk) is massive and has a ski/ cargo door for hauling long loads. The original Sony 10 stack CD player still works. The doors shut with a "thunk" like a new Mercedes. I also spent another weeks pay on replacing a radiator and heater core. ( Big deal; whoopee!) 

The 2.3 litre, 4 cylinder motor is not turbocharged like many of it's counterparts, but requires top quality oil to ensure longevity. Apparently, I have been told this car was something like $60 000 new, but it seems a bit ambitious to me!

I was initially thinking it would be a perfect car to park at shopping centres and train stations because if someone parked too close to it, it wouldn't matter.

Now, it's starting to matter. I love this thing!

The quality of these old things is just overwhelmingly good. The reliability will never be as good as a new modern car, but I plan on keeping this Swedish- built classic for as long as I can; it's a keeper.

Financial Hint: Its worth sacrificing some things you love in the short term and buying something cheaper if it will help you get into something like a business or house that is going to appreciate rapidly, and more importantly, meet your needs. (I bought the new grey Saab, pictured on the left a couple years later, when the time was right). 

Fourteen reasons why Japan is amazing.

1. Vending Machines. They are everywhere. In convenient locations. Surprising variety. Cheap prices. So good.

2. Customer Service. I went to a nice Department Store in the city of Nagano, and while my wife was looking at stuff for the kids, I start my mission of looking for a watch. Not just any watch (nothing too fancy, I just wanted a particular look and brand). I enquired to one of the store assistants and she immediately retrieved a manager. A gentleman in an impeccably tailored suit approached me, bowed politely, and asked which brand I prefer, and I said "Seiko". He walked with me, out of the store, into their other site, accompanied me up a few levels, introduced me to the lady at the watch counter and explains I'm interested in a Seiko watch. She showed me what is available, and invited me to try anything on. All the while, the manager stood patiently and then at an appropriate juncture, explained to me that the "Grand Seiko" watches are upstairs in another area. 

(Er, they literally cost as much as a car. Um, thanks, but no thanks)

When I finally got around to buying my Seiko that didnt cost as much as a car, the lady fitted it to my small wrist, removed the necessary links in the band, polished it, boxed it, wrapped it, and bagged it. This was all done without a word of English, but with the most ostentatious amount of courtesy imaginable. 

It was like I was buying a Lear Jet or something. Incredible.

3. Customer Service. It's so good, it needed another entry. At closing time for retail stores in each (massive) train station, the staff stand out the front when they close the shop doors and all solemnly bow to the thousands of people walking past as a sign of appreciation. 

Also, when the attendants to the Airport Limousine bus have loaded your luggage on the bus and it's ready to leave, they all bow in unison to the bus and its passengers as departs. 

They take immense pride in what they do. Do some of them dislike their job? 

Probably, but you would never know. 

4. Toilets. The seats are heated. They wash your butt. They have sound built in to muffle other "sounds". What is there not to love?

5. Trains. Outrageously clean, efficient, fast (Bullet Trains) are the preferred mode of travel.  As for the normal metropolitan trains, if you miss one, another comes in exactly three minutes.

This requires its own future post.......

6. Punctuality. See "Trains".

7. Honesty. My sister-in law inadvertently left her entire handbag on a bus. She rang the bus company, and they said the same bus will be passing her way on a loop ( a few hours later). She boarded the bus, and sure enough, the handbag was where she left it...; untouched. Unbelievable but true.

8. Feeling safe and valued as a tourist. We rode on trains as a family at all hours of the night and day. At no time did we even remotely feel threatened. (If you ride a train after about 7pm in Melbourne, its like taking your life in your own hands). It just doesn't seem to cross the minds of Japanese people to be abusive, loud, argumentative or rowdy. They don't even talk on their phones on the train because it would disrupt the comfort of their fellow passengers. (How good would that be in Australia!!) 

9. Cleanliness. Very little graffitti. No litter ANYWHERE. There was even a nice man sweeping up all of the leaves near our hotel and putting them into bags. Spotless.

10. Living with the threat of Earthquakes and Tsunamis. I'm a bit intrigued/ obsessed with how incredible the earthquake and tsunami warning systems that exist in Japan. I'm trying to get my head around the following: 

a. They have sonar buoys in the water all around the coastline (It's a BIG coastline). 
b. When a quake hits in the ocean, it instantly sends earthquake alerts to EVERY mobile phone, computer, television, radio, etc, in the country, with details of magnitude, and estimated time of "impact". 
c. Ten seconds later, a similarly-detailed tsunami alert is sent by the same means, which shuts down heavy industry and tells you to get to high ground, because there's a wave coming for you at 800 km/hr. The tsunami walls and their adjustable sea gates are instantly activated around ports and low lying areas.

This gives everyone a few precious minutes. 

This is why "relatively" few (tragically 20 thousand plus) died in this tsunami compared to hundreds of thousands in the Indian Ocean Tsunami in 2004. 

Technology is incredible, eh?

11. Making stuff. Seiko. Lexus. The Nissan GT-R. Enough said. 

12. Convenience stores that don't suck (and are really convenient). Fresh, hot packaged meals for about four dollars. Drinks for a dollar. Spare shirts. Business services like printing and photocopying. All with the high levels of customer service I have spoken about in this post.

13. Airports. Ever been to Haneda? Compltely built on reclaimed land in the bay. You will never view airports in the same way again. Super clean, efficient, well laid out. The shopping isn't too shabby, either. 

14. Traditional Japanese Weddings. The bride has up to five costume changes, all of which include looking a lot like Queen Amidala out of Star Wars. We happened across a wedding being photographed in the grounds of our hotel (traditional Japanese Garden) and I nearly walked into the pond, I was that gobsmacked. Google it. : )

Don't Die Wondering.

Since 1990, I've adopted the strategy of doing whatever needs to be done, coupled with the desire to answer the question "I wonder what being a Real Estate Agent/  Professional Driver/ Tyre Fitter/ Contractor/ Marketing Consultant/ Military Officer/ Small Business Advisor, etc. would be like". So I did the following:

1.lived in four states in Australia,
2.Moved about 2500 new and used cars from one place to another , (all with no petrol in them) and dealt with a total of 26,000 tyres.(purchased, fitted, disposed), 
3.Inspected over 3000 houses for sale, and sold several hundred of them in two states,
4.Helped hundreds of people start their own businesses in extraordinarily diverse fields, 
5.Spoke in heaps of weird and wonderful places about "Marketing your Business on a Shoestring", 
6.Became an Officer in the Royal Australain Air Force, met some fantastic people of all ranks who work wonderfully well as a team, lived in a hole I dug with a crow bar and slept with an automatic weapon while not showering, changing clothes or boots for a week, hosted all manner of dignitaries, flown over Sydney Harbour in a Sikorsky Blackhawk helicopter with the doors open, 
7.Raised four children with my wife Elethea, 
8 Helped my wife start a clothing line for kids (her brains entirely, my brawn in helping her out with markets, etc),
9.Got into road cycling, 
10. Renovated lots of houses, marvelled at Elethea's house painting and plastering skills,and mastered the art of period home fence building, and
11. Had our youngest child late in life (which required mastering the art of Nappy/ Diaper Changing all over again at age 42. 

Life Hint: There are many times in life where you may reflect and think you havent done much. (I do it all the time!) However, after making a list of cool stuff you have done, it will quickly mount up. Seriously. 

What happens then? You will be energised, ready to set some more goals!  

Live life. Take educated, considered chances. And... Don't take yourself too seriously!

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Fun Fact: I've never saved up for anything. Ever.

That's right! In my 46 years, I have NEVER saved up for anything, ever. I admire people who do, but I never had the patience to do it. 

I've just found creative ways to get stuff, because when I (really) want to do something, I just absolutely fixate on it. 

Simple example: I wanted an expensive Olympus SLR camera when I was a kid; I bought and sold stuff from Pawnbrokers Unredeemed Pledge auctions I would attend with my Dad (wagging school in the process). I had an advertisement from a camera magazine that I used to look at every night before I went to bed, with that particular camera as the object of my attention. The end result was that I was a 16 year old kid with a camera that most adults couldn't afford. 

As a newlywed "kid", with the expenses that go with a family, housing, baby, etc, I wanted one of those big screen stereo TVs that cost a fortune at the time. I purchased some peanuts and confectionery in bulk, some plastic bags, and screen printed some labels with my wife's Print Gocco. Cost a couple hundred bucks all up, and I made thousands by re-packaging them. I bought the desired TV a few weeks later. 

As an adult, I was self-employed as a contractor for a while and had a house (that I didn't save up for) but wanted to buy one in another area. I didn't qualify for any traditional loan because I didn't have a long enough financial history. I submitted my financials to a Mortgage Broker and he said "How many houses do you want to buy?" and I bought three more houses in the following two years. (Don't ever let the Bank tell you that you cant do it). 

In 2004, never having had a car that cost more than $7500, I wanted a fancy car that cost $51,000, so I read a $12 book by Dolf de Roos about making your real estate portfolio worth more. I had recently bought another old house, so I cut the bushes back, washed the house with a power washer, built a really nice period-style fence myself for a thousand bucks, giving the place instant street appeal; got the house revalued that week and it went up by $70,000. Knowing I would only have the house for a short period, I had the car added to the house loan a week later, so it cost me about 40 dollars extra a week for a nice new car. I sold the house 18 months later and made a huge profit on it. This meant that I owned the car outright with no real outlay. 

I never made a habit of regular study while at school or university. At high school, I never did homework. I was busy riding my motorbike, abseiling off cliffs and out of tall trees, or drawing Nike shoes. I just wrote every lesson out the night before and remembered it. 

Life Hint: Break the "Rules". Don't conform to the norm. Have a bit of fun with life. 

Learn to say "no" every now and again. And... timing is everything.