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Launching my kitbiz, learning a lot

by crazybutable on Fri Oct 28, 2011 8:53 am

It's been quite an interesting couple of weeks!

Last week I started selling Stella Amp kits on my website. I even got featured on the Make Magazine blog (http://blog.makezine.com/archive/2011/10/the-stella-amp-a-cigar-box-guitar-amp.html), which was awesome! :) Of course, with every awesome, there are a few issues.

First, I almost immediately got terribly sick, which limited my ability to do... anything really. I went from feeling normal to horrible in a few hours. Sitting up and trying to use the computer caused some interesting hallucinations. This made it hard to ship kits. (Fortunately my wife was able to get a fair number of the orders shipped out right away.)

And wow, did we get a lot of orders! A lot of orders. In fact, after counting up the orders I wound up selling far more kits than I had in stock! :shock: Now, the e-commerce software I use (Drupal Commerce) is supposed to prevent this. But there was a wee little bug, it seems if a person ordered a kit, and paid for it on paypal, and then didn't click the button to bring them back to my website, my website didn't know that the order actually went through. So it didn't decrement the stock. And the order didn't show up in my list of orders. When I discovered this I quickly set the number of kits in stock to zero, but the damage had been done, I already had more orders than I had kits for. Also, the orders kept coming in, because even though the stock was set to zero, if someone had already put a kit in their cart, they could check out.

Fortunately, I had parts on hand to make enough kits for everyone who ordered one (and I had five left over; I sold three more and reserved two just in case anyone had problems receiving their kits). By Saturday I was feeling a lot better so we were able to get everything kitted up. But I had a bit of an issue, I couldn't actually see all of those orders. I got notifications from paypal that people had bought kits, but no address information.

I got my hands dirty and mucked about in the database for about an hour, and was able to produce a list of all shipping addresses. (Actually the first time I did it, I made a mistake and got a list of all of the billing addresses, and almost sent some kits to the wrong address, but I caught myself in time.)

I also discovered that I accidentally was charging 5.20 flat rate shipping once per item in the order, not once per order! So I had to issue a partial refund to the one guy who ordered two kits.

Oh, I also had to figure out how to generate packing slips / receipts. Just a teeny little oversight. First I did this complicated mail merge thing with excel and word that took hours to figure out, and looked really nice, but I quickly realized that it wasn't going to scale. I eventually figured out how to print out invoices from the website, which looks like poop, but has the advantage of being far quicker from a workflow standpoint. (Someday I'll figure out enough CSS to make it look better.)

I had no address label printer, so do you know how tedious it is to label that many kits by hand? And then wait in line at the post office as the clerk prints stamp after stamp after stamp? :roll:

Anyway, that did it for domestic orders, but there was another problem. Although I specified on the website that I would do shipping to the United States only, there was nothing preventing anyone from putting any address they liked into the shipping field. So I sold several kits to Canada and one to the Netherlands. Now I had to find a decent workflow for shipping overseas!

I eventually found Endicia. For a label printer I got a Dymo 4XL, which is large enough to let me print customs forms, addresses, and postage on one label that I can stick right on the package (everything is USPS small flat rate boxes.) For now, I'm just printing labels out by hand with their software, I haven't even tried to integrate it (I don't even know if it's possible).

I just finished up printing up the last of the international order labels and slapping them on boxes. Feels good to get all of this out and shipped. Sorry it took so long international customers but the website did say united states only, and I have to eat the extra shipping costs because I didn't charge you nearly enough for shipping.

Somewhere in there I ordered another round of parts for another round of kits and now I have a few more in stock in my store.

Oh, and to top it all off, after shipping kits to everyone on my list, I discovered that my list of shipping addresses included a few addresses which didn't correspond to a paypal payment! These are the guys who put the kit in the cart, entered their address, clicked next, made it to paypal, and didn't go through with a payment! Yet I mailed them kits because they were on my list of addresses. Oh well, what can be done. I hope they enjoy their free kit! :lol:

So after taxes, ordering an emergency shipping label printer, re-ordering all of the parts for the kits, not charging enough shipping for international customers, and accidentally shipping out free product, I think I'm about 100 bucks in the hole. :mrgreen: Hah! I'm sure it will all work itself out in a month or two.

At any rate, I have to say thanks Adafruit for having this great kitbiz resource. You guys are amazing, I cannot thank you enough. I never would have done any of this without you.
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Re: Launching my kitbiz, learning a lot

by adafruit on Fri Oct 28, 2011 9:14 am

crazybutable wrote:At any rate, I have to say thanks Adafruit for having this great kitbiz resource. You guys are amazing, I cannot thank you enough. I never would have done any of this without you.


_this_ is an amazing story and we're thrilled to see all this, thank you so much for the kind words - you did this yourself :)

cheers,
adafruit
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Re: Launching my kitbiz, learning a lot

by lyndon on Fri Oct 28, 2011 5:24 pm

Congratulations.
Having more orders than you can ship is a problem many people would love to have.

Tip: you can print address labels and postage directly from usps.com and then just drop the boxes off at the PO or request a pickup online. Flat rate shipping is such a timesaver!!
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Re: Launching my kitbiz, learning a lot

by jim123e on Mon Oct 31, 2011 10:02 am

I love your project and will definately pick one up. For shipping, if your package is under 13 ounces, you can use stamps and drop it in the mailbox. It doesn't matter if it is 1st class or priority. You might be able to save some $ by shipping 1st class. you can get 50 bubble mailers for around 20 cents/ea on ebay.
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Re: Launching my kitbiz, learning a lot

by cstratton on Mon Oct 31, 2011 11:41 am

John, I also found reading about your experiences very informative as I contemplate a first kit that may be ready to release in a month or so. If it's something you would feel comfortable sharing, I'd be curious how many kits you prepared in your first batch.

Jim, Interesting suggestion with the bubble mailers - I've also thought about that. If you don't mind, I'm going to ask some followup in its own thread.
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Re: Launching my kitbiz, learning a lot

by Technobly on Tue Nov 01, 2011 10:14 am

Very interesting story! I'm also interested in how many kits were overwhelming for a home based kit business... as I want to desperately start my own, and this would be a good data point. I've already started contract engineering and mfg'ing, but I really don't like the mfg'ing part. I want to get on to the next design and get product in people's capable hands faster as a kit.
Best Regards,
Brett W.
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Re: Launching my kitbiz, learning a lot

by george graves on Wed Nov 02, 2011 9:32 am

Great read. Please share more as you go on.

I do have to say, I feel like most all of your pain and frustration could have been solved by just using the built in tools in paypal.
New blog - www.digitalunderpants.com
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Re: Launching my kitbiz, learning a lot

by crazybutable on Wed Nov 09, 2011 5:46 pm

The difficulties were shipping, and having to make a bunch of kits I wasn't expecting to have to make.

We had about 25 kits in stock, and I think we had to make 20 or so more kits. Making 20 kits took about two hours for two people. Shipping was rough, it was hard to ship more than about 10-12 kits a day if you have to package everything up, label everything by hand, stand in line at the post office, oh, and type up an invoice in Word instead of printing one directly from your shopping cart software.

With all of the bugs and kinks worked out I can ship an order in less than 5 minutes, and when I'm done I can drop it off at the post office instead of having to wait in line at the post office.

George I thought of doing the paypal only route and I would have been done far sooner and probably would not have had the same hassles. But now I can add and manage new products easily (I've got a listing for PCBs and knobs now as well). The big downside is how much work it takes to style the store with HTML and CSS, as well as the constant drain of Drupal management. (New versions of the software get released every month now, have to keep up on new module releases, testing to make sure nothing breaks, etc.)
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