Diary of a Demented Store Owner

Thursday, 31 July 2008

The Ink Hasn't Even Dried On The Last Pricelist

Price increases just received from our OOCSGS on glass since May, 2008:

Bullseye- 5%
CPG 39 series clear textures- some up 24%
English Muffle (up 5-18% in May)- now up another 2-4%
float glass (up 20% in May)- now up another 20%
mirror- (up in May)- up another 14%
GNA- up 15%
Kokomo- up as much as 28%
MNA- up 11%
Spectrum- 12%
Uroboros (up 8% in May)- up another 10- 13%
Wissmach (up 7% in May)- up another 4%
Youghiogheny- up 11%

I know, transportation costs are up. But that doesn't explain why window glass (which is available locally) has increased as much as 40% from our OOCSGS recently (we also buy it locally- it really hasn't gone up at all in the last year). Actually, glass that we buy direct has become even cheaper in some cases due to a much stronger Canadian dollar now compensating for higher transportation costs.
What are we doing to try and offset this?
We begin a series of truck shipments from the U.S. with the first, from Bullseye arriving on Sept. 2. We've already determined our costs and see no changes in pricing (with some even dropping). Bullseye has had no factory price increase this year.
Following Bullseye, we've got a truck coming with glass and tools (such as circle lens cutters)(no CSA required). Three other U.S. sourced shipments follow in mid-September, but we'll fill you in on what's on these later... 

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Summer Holiday Saga Continues

Mikey succumbs and agrees to close the store from August 9, reopening on September 2nd. It seems Teenuh came in with a note from her dad advising Mikey that if the shop is anything like her bedroom used to be, three weeks was the normal time required for such an operation. Mike makes a mental note to lend Teenuh his shovel. Pat begins the complex shutdown process of the closure of the FIG corporate headquarters- namely, she locks the front door and steals all of the beer out of Mikey's private fridge as she leaves.

Summer Holiday Closing

The FIG Staff's level of begging, weeping and crying even exceeds Mikey's tolerance levels this time. He agrees to close the store for a couple of days in August so that Teenuh the FIG Window Builder Girl (affectionately referred to around here as TTFWBG) can finally get her new house cleaned. Other FIG staff decide to take up a collection to see if Mikey will extend the store's closing to at least two weeks. It seems Mikey's fondness for bread dipped in bacon fat is not enough.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

The Story of Gus.

While the glass business has been good to us (not quite so good that we can afford single malt scotch but that's why we're friends with Lani and Ed the Cat at Bullseye), but I digress. The real upside is the people you meet, and the lifelong friends you occasionally make. This is the story of one of them.
This is the story of Gus.
Twenty years ago, I watched as this hulking, stern, Mike Mazursky look-a-like mountain of a man came into my store. All weathered and gnarled, with a voice like he chewed gravel all day, he asked for an ashtray (yes, folks, it was that long ago- we all smoked and we did it wherever we felt like doing it- I don't know if I should feel nostalgic or not), but I digress again. He told me what he wanted, and with trembling hands I gave it to him. His accent was thick. I asked him where he came from. We chatted. He warmed up. I warmed up. We shared stories. I learnt that his sense of humour and ability to tease was unsurpassed. I liked him. I think maybe he tolerated me. I never caught his name as he left.
He came back. 
The next time he was in, I asked his name. He said I should call him whatever I felt like. So I did "Gus it is" and for twenty years he was Gus. 
I met his wife, and his daughters. I saw them grow up as we grew old. Gus and I both quit smoking. He, after losing half a lung. You see, he was so tough, he worked in a brickyard, with asbestos, smoked 2 packs a day, and quit at seventy. I extended him credit, always keeping a credit note that simply said 'Gus' on it. I didn't know his address or phone number, I just knew Gus was good for it.
I didn't see Gus for a few months.
Last week Gus' wife came in to the store.
I feared why. I was right. 
I'm not ashamed to say that a tear welled up in my eye. And again now as I'm writing this. As it did to Pat and Zenia, because we all were there when Gus' wife looked at us with her tired eyes.
Gus' wife came to see if he had paid all his bills with me. She wanted to make sure his debts were all paid in this world.
It made us tear up again.
I'l miss Gus.
His name to everyone else?

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Some Insight From Mikey Into Why We May Be Failing You Our Customer

(for some background on this see the comments posted by Gary and Mike in the blog posting below this one dated July 11)

I agonized over whether this exchange should be posted to the comments section, or whether it was important enough to post as a main entry.

You see, I recognize that the system of how goods get to you should be transparent to you- you want stuff, we go out and do our best to get it for you. Simple as that. You don’t need or want to know the details.

I also recognize that this ‘Diary of a Demented Store Owner’ has a purpose- that it exists for your amusement and occasional education. ‘Mikey’s Rants’ are not always amusing (ok, maybe sometimes, perhaps a little bit?) and while these aren’t educational in a traditional glass sense, they do give you an insight into the workings of an industry and how it affects all of us. One where there has been a steady, increasing supply problem that has become troubling- one that you the customer are getting less and less understanding and patient about.

So, indulge me for a bit. Read this exchange between Gary Brown and me, comment on it or just ignore it.

More funny stuff is sure to follow, I promise, just not today.

On 13-Jul-08, at 11:43 AM, Gary Brown wrote:

Hi Mike(y):
Short note as I'm still
making space for the girly car (at 14.3 km/L you can call it anything you want!) in the garage. Cleaning out 30+ years of p'tak takes time, eh?

Mikey wrote;
Is there no rest for the wicked? Must you persist in these thought provoking emails, causing me to think pensively and insightfully ...

Gary Brown:
Thanks for writing. One of the Personal Tasks I've assigned myself is doing some gap-mending between dealers, distributors, and manufacturers. That's one of the reasons I've been spending time with Jim out at Bullseye. I've also had some great notes back-and-forth with Lani on a number of things. And, seriously, the ten year plan IS to move to Portland. Though, of course, with my luck one or more of the volcanoes would erupt as soon as I got there. Then again, as a defrocked geologist, that would be kind of neat. But I digress...

How many glass places are there over there, at least of any consequence? Are they geographically close, or is it quite some distance from one to the other? One possible solution might be the creation of some sort of buyer's co-operative. This would be a central repository that would be a delivery point for group purchasing. The group purchase would, theoretically, get the discount power of a large buyer (like you), without the hassle of the distributorship. The members could draw down on the central place's supplies, and then do a bulk re-purchase. Of course, this would taken some careful analysis to figure out what gets bought so the co-op isn't left holding onto a bunch of unsellable goods.

Ah, the co-op idea- such a good one in concept (like communism and silicone breast implants) but me thinks, probably unattainable in practice. We did our own quasi-co-op a few years ago when I opened a second store about 70 miles away from us in Barrie (a small city/suburban community to Toronto). It was set up as a franchise, with my purpose to use the second store to strengthen our name, increase our buying power, and market share (and thereby) increase advertising, you know- all the strengths that two stores in lockstep would offer.
The experiment was a tremendous success- our volume buying garnered us better discounts from our Canadian suppliers (we used to have more than one), and gave us a higher profile throughout the States and Canada. Heck, Spectrum put us on the front cover of their Score Magazine, Bullseye amongst others called us to become a dealer, and we even conned the glass press by issuing our own press releases on stuff like SwissCheesed Glass, and a subsequent "Important Recall' notice. Yes, that's right- magazines like Glass Art published our note as fact, on how to order a retrofit kit to service a glass recall which included zircon-encrusted tweezers (my ode to one of my heroes- figure it out, I don't want this to be too easy for you). Mothers started naming their newborns Mikey, anthropologists uncovered rare Australopithecine bones and named them toyoFIGus, that's right- check the Smithsonian archives under FIG- Friends of All Old Bones ... So, yes, I see the benefits and would have loved to have been even more involved in such a thing. We made overtures to others as well, to no avail- everyone in our industry was happy, and dangerously complacent.

With or without FIG, could it happen today? I don't know. Those who used to be comfortable and complacent never had or made the time for their competitors, reinforcing this dog-eat-dog paranoiac mentality- they didn't see the writing on the wall. As we grew, and our options widened (we consciously chose to support both wholesale suppliers even when it was to a cost disadvantage because we wanted to assure a healthy competition) others didn't take such a forward thinking view. I remember making approaches to others in the industry- some direct competitors, some not, to see about pooling our resources without success. Today, with our supply chain in the shitter, all of a sudden, now people are approaching me to get together. Of course, this time it's not as an equal, but a little more self-serving- as a case where they want to take advantage of our 25 years working alone, developing our own contacts, negotiating better pricing, finding our own great freight forwarders, fighting with customs brokers for favourable rates, having the great sales staff at Bullseye understand our wants and dislikes (Lani finally understands our fondness for single malt scotch).

What's puzzling to me is the wholesaler’s lack of goods-on-hand. Is he (
nasty word edited) or something? Most businesses would be pleased as punch to sell you 1000 sq foot of glass when you ordered 1000 sq foot of glass instead of only 50 sq foot. You really can't make money NOT selling something. I don't know... maybe things are different up in Canada. What excuse does he give you...if any...or does he just say "suck it up and be happy with what you get"?

Now you've really struck a nerve! Let me give you a bit of insight into our one and only Canadian stained glass supplier (OOCSGS) here:

I have yet to have any contact from the owner of our OOCSGS. None! Staff are left in the firing line, and streams of propaganda continue to arrive by way of monthly newsletters; you know the usual- we're great, inventory control will be better, pricing will be lower, don’t worry because now we’re a monopoly, yadda yadda. I think they could have won over customers (even me) if they were a little more honest and forthcoming- admitted that they ‘effed’ up, were sorry, and will try to do better. I actually laugh out loud every month, waiting with anticipation for what new marketing gem they'll pass on to us to help us improve our business- it's like Nero fiddling as Rome burns around him.

I have had the occasional dealing with their general manager (now gone- apparently retired according to the June OOCSGS newsletter [which came in July]- announced with a gracious two sentence comment), and what kind of dealings? Here are a few:

1) I have ordered inventory, only to receive part- finding the rest still on their shelves- "oh, we don't want you to take it all' I'm told. Perhaps ordering more was an option they never considered? That was one conversation.

2) To rectify a persistent stock shortage on a particular item, I offered to commit to a sizable quantity giving them the opportunity to plan ahead- that's right, still didn't get my inventory as agreed.

3) Got a call from the GM- 'I want you to change your blog entry on the Taurus 3 bandsaw'- it  seems he didn't like me using the saw to point out the incredible price discrepancy between the free market we find in your great country compared to ours (yes, I can buy a saw for retail in the U.S. for about a hundred bucks cheaper than I can from OOCSGS at wholesale- go to our on-line catalog- I even tell people they should save some money and buy it in the States- we couldn't buy it here and sell it at a fair markup anyway so why bother). He felt he had the right to edit us! Then he asked if I minded if he hired one of my recently departed staff. I reminded him, the decision on how he chose to run his business was his alone and I would never try to interfere, as it was mine to run mine (the posting stayed).

4) We have a quirky kind of electrical standards thing here in Ontario. So if you want to sell a saw legally here, the only source for such a saw is our OOCSGS. We were accused of selling non-approved saws (I guess they couldn't count how many we bought from them). So, what happened? Maybe they should call me and have a polite (or not) chat? Maybe see what could be done to encourage me to buy more inventory from them rather than elsewhere? How about working with one of their (once?) largest retail customers? Nope. Got a registered Cease and Desist letter. Yup, I can't make these things up Gary Brown.

And that's the kind of situation we have today here in Canada.

"zircon encrusted tweezers" *snort* If you keep that up, I'll be going to Montana soon... I still remember watching Zappa conduct his band. Someone screwed up and they stopped on half of a dime. He gave 'em the downbeat and they picked it right up. I was in awe of their vibraphone player.

I take it the current condition is probably like the one here in The Cities. One major supplier for the grownups and then a dozen or so places that have a handful of glass and supplies. The small places are dropping out one by one. I think, besides the supply issue, the hobby side of glass just isn't in a growth phase right now.

Geez... sounds like OOCSGS is working on a formula for going out of business. If not now, not too terribly far in the future. I had to chuckle over that whole bit with CSA approval on the saw. You NEVER burn a bridge with someone you are dealing with. The cosmic wheel turns and it'll come back and bite you in the buns, sure as shooting. I have been around in my little niche long enough to see folks that pooped on me get their comeuppance. Since it sounds like you have to deal with these bozos I'd just show up on their doorstep and have a "come to Jesus" meeting (as my late Dad used to say) with the current management. Now, the interesting fly in the proverbial ointment would be if the wholesaler was jumping over you are retailing directly to folks that would normally buy from you.

Ain't small-medium size business grand?

OK. Back down to the garage to continue mucking things out. Scary things are coming to the surface. Things like a 1973 picture of me in an argyle sweater with a big bow tie. The clothing you put on to please girlfriends. Sad.
Yours Truly,

Gary, you give me way too much material…
Maybe if you stayed in the garage, I could get some real work done, rather than ruminate over your emails!

Friday, 11 July 2008

The Rant Continues...

Once upon a time we used to have two wholesale stained glass suppliers. Ah, the good old days. When the free market and competition kept everyone on their toes. If you didn't find the stock at one, the other most likely had it. Price too high?  Try the competition.  Seldom could you not get the items your customers wanted. And at a fair market price too. 
Ah, just brings a tear to my eye reminiscing about those days...
Today, we have a totally different scenario. We now have only one supplier (they bought the competition), and they actually said "This is particularly exciting because of the benefits it brings to the industry".
Yes folks, I can't make this stuff up- they really said that! 
Reading from a letter received from them, they assured us that now they'll have "Improved product selection", "Better pricing", and my personal favourite- "Improved inventory management: Maintaining increased inventory levels to meet the new volume of sales, will decrease stock-outs". 
Our craft is made up from glass and foil/lead.
Today, we went to get some glass- out of the 272' we needed desperately (we wanted more), we got 5.7'. 
Today we wanted to get 300+ rolls of foil. We got 10.
We did get two boxes of lead though- too bad we don't have any glass to put into them...

P.S. if you're in the industry and just as frustrated as we are (or not), tell us- drop us a comment (please! I've heard enough from Gary Brown!). 
If you're one of the hundreds of our customers who have been affected by this, make a comment (Please! Remember, it's the Gary Brown thingy). 
This blog encourages comments and/or critiques, all unedited for content. 
Of course your comments can be done anonymously (to all).

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Too Much Brevity Lately, Time For Another Mikey Rant

So here I am sitting at the cutting table, clipboard in hand, ready to cut some glass…
Oops, can’t start yet- mail has just arrived. Have to see if my X-ray specs have come in. Nope, just another flyer from our one and only Canadian stained glass supplier (OOCSGS). It’s another flyer full of suggestions and advice from them telling me how I should run my business which brings me to my rant. I’ll quote from a previous issue:
New Business Opportunity for Spring-Summer!
Cabinetry Customers Need Your Glass!
Here Are Our Recommendations On What Pattern Glass To Stock!

They go on to list the most popular styles, which to me seems to indicate that they already know these styles are popular! Every single monthly newsletter from OOCSGS for the past year has been touting the fact that clear textured glass is becoming more popular and we need to order more and sell more.
So what do we do? At least I did- I sent out letters, and solicited businesses, offered free samples, set up accounts and encouraged my cabinet customers to use the glass OOCSGS says I should.
And then I went and cleared extra space in our showroom to make space for larger sheets (don’t need to now- our OOCSGS will cut them down- oh yeah, for a fee- yes, folks, I can’t make this stuff up- I feel like I’m dealing with Rogers Cable), and begin to warehouse some of these styles. I feel I really don’t have to- after all, our OOCSGS will have lots because they already know it’s popular and they want it to be even more so. And as for the ebb and flow of demand, they’ve got staff with over thirty years of experience so they should be on top of their game and have no supply issues, right?
But what if one customer came in and bought it all? Nah, that could never happen- they’ve limited our buying in the past to assure that would never happen so they wouldn’t let someone else do that, right?…
So, anxious to fill an order for one of our largest custom cabinet customers (and one that we’ve held on to for over twenty years), I run out of German New Antique (yeah, it’s on OOCSGS’s list of ones to promote). No problem, I’ll just call in an order to get some…
What’s that? Don’t have any? Won’t be getting any until next month?
So, I lose the account. The resulting drop in income means the bank forecloses on the house, I lose the business, my Ferrari mechanic moves back to Modena, wife and kids leave me (even the dog), thousands of customers dependant upon FIG fruitlessly try to find as good of a supplier, entire stained glass industry suffers (except Bullseye and Gary Brown of course), OOCSGS goes out of business putting their entire staff of (what seems like) 200 out of work, I get a job writing for Mad Magazine (I thought he already worked there... The Missus) and become a healthier and calmer person.
And now you know the rest of the story…

Monday, 7 July 2008

And Finally...

And One More...


And Another...

Another Mold...

A Few Molds of Note:

Gary Brązowy's mold of choice...

Molds Out and Up For Sale

Our latest truck shipment included a large (over 300) number of ceramic molds for slumping and fusing. And how random is this- they seem to be manufactured everywhere- so far we've seen not only the 'made in' tags from the usual China, but Italy as well. They are now priced, and appropriately displayed with loving affection on a newly devoted wall at FIG World Headquarters. See pricing here... and pictures here (but be patient- it's a fair sized pdf file)...

Thursday, 3 July 2008

You Meet the Nicest People in the Witness Protection Program

Met Jennifer (see pic above) and her sidekick, Chatty Pam, yesterday. Turns out she's opening a store with the focus on fusing today. She sent us an incredibly boring write-up of her business which Mikey felt would inflict too much pain on his readers, but wanting to help Jennifer promote her new business he's edited it down- here's the details-
Her company, Home and Haven has expanded into a glass studio and store in an outbuilding on her property in Kitchener, allowing her to spend more time at home with her husband and children, her true inspirations. Please be welcome at the Grand Opening of Home & Haven, Friday, July 4th, from 5-8 p.m. (but fun people can stay later!)

Phone: 519-579-7213
Location: 817 Queen's Blvd.
Kitchener, ON
N2M 1A6
Email: homenhaven@yahoo.ca