Friday, February 22, 2013

Combating the February Funk

February tends to be a slow time of the year for our store. Sometimes the entire day will pass and the only person I see is the mailman. Being the extravert that I am, these slow days can really start to bring me down. I've tried extra hard this year to keep myself busy with odds and ends to pass the time and help me feel more productive at the end of the workday. Here are some of the projects I've been tackling in efforts to avoid what my family and I have identified as "Andy's February Funk".

1.) I purchased a used flat screen at a great price for the showroom. I hooked it up to my computer so I can show customers enlarged pictures of products they are considering. It's been very helpful to be able to show someone a picture of the exact item they're thinking about buying in the exact finish they like. Jenny helped me make a DVD that has a slideshow of product pictures on it. We run it on a loop so that pictures of things we don't have space for in the showroom are at least continually in sight. It has been neat to see customer's reactions. The biggest advantage is that people see stuff and ask about it without me having to pull out a catalog. Pulling out catalogs just feels kind of sales-y to me. The TV helps get the conversation started naturally on the customers terms. Both the TV and dresser came with warnings about how death or injury can occur from crushing if a TV falls, so I bolted and chained both to the wall. Turned out nicely, you can't really even see the chains unless you're on the side looking right behind the TV. 

2.) I ordered new product brochures and more business cards.

3.) I've been trying out new fun products. This chair has a slip cover that Velcros securely underneath giving it a clean look. The covering is removable / washable and can be swapped out for another fabric when you're ready to change things up. Pretty neat idea. 

 4.) This is a 4 foot by 4 foot "a-frame" sign I put out on the corner. I have been using a plywood version of this sign, but the paint was starting to fade. This will be a nice replacement and look more professional. Below is a picture of the way it use to look. It's kind of funny, but this sign is seriously some of the best advertising I have ever done.

5.) I finally revamped the website and gave some much needed attention to our social media. Jenny helped me shoot a video where I introduce myself and the store. You can see it on our website by going to "About Futons", or just watch it on our youtube channel. It feels good to finally be giving these things some attention. I have been resisting learning how to use social media for some time, but this February I finally got on board and it has been good for business.

So those are some of the things that have help keep me "funk free" this February. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Repair Or Replace

At Jenny's suggestion I recently repaired a paper towel holder we use in our kitchen. This task had been on the "honey do" list for quite some time and to be honest, I was ignoring it. I believe when it broke my first thought was, eh... just pitch it, a new one can't be more than $10 or $15 bucks. I had had it tucked away neatly in our pantry conveniently out of sight so I didn't have to be reminded of something I was supposed to be fixing. The past few days though I noticed it was making appearances around our kitchen out in the open. Upon re-discovering it I thought to myself, hmmm... that's funny, why haven't we thrown that thing away yet? When I mentioned this to Jenny she said I should fix it and do a blog post about it, hahaha!!! So, anyway, here I am... posting about our now fixed paper towel holder.

It was a simple repair. I don't really know why I was putting it off. Anyway, having this project brought to my attention did also remind me I had promised a friend (Matt and Sarah Witry) to fix their cutting board. Funny enough, similarly to how I had found a convenient little hiding place for the paper towel holder, I also had tucked Matt and Sarah's cutting board neatly out of the way at the shop so I wouldn't think about it. Hmmm, I'm noticing a pattern to my procrastination tactics, out of sight out of mind, right?!? In my defense on this one, Matt did say it wasn't a big deal if I didn't fix it. Anyway, here are pictures of the repair job on the cutting board. 

This repair job was a little more involved than the paper towel holder, but it really wasn't tough. I glued and doweled it to prevent it from breaking in another spot and really the only time consuming part was sanding the dowels down in diameter to fit the holes nice and snug. I must say, I am glad I repaired these items and I'm proud of the job I did on them. We could have just thrown away the paper towel holder and bought a new one, but chances are the new one would have eventually broken too. I'm glad I fixed these things. It feels good to repair something instead of tossing it in the garbage. 

Friday, February 1, 2013

I'm a Cheapskate Continued

It's no secret that I enjoy a good bargain when it comes to technology. While my pursuit of bargains is mostly motivated by wanting to save money, for me, being a cheapskate is as much about remaining aware of what I consume as it is about finding a good deal. A perfect example is Jenny's and my phone usage, both home and cell. We use to pay for a land line and also had two cell lines with US Cellular. All totaled together, we were paying over $100 per month for phone service. We never used all of the allotted minutes on our cell plan. Likewise, we hardly ever used our land line but felt we needed to keep it for 911 (depending on a call center's system in-bound 911 calls cannot always be traced to an exact cell location) Bottom line, we were paying for stuff we were not using. Below, I've noted a couple changes we made to our phone usage that saves us a ton of money and actually provides us with more, and better, service. These changes meant some upfront cost but they will definitely yield long-term savings and best of all, we are not tied to contracts.

1.) We purchased an "Ooma Phone
Ooma enables your home phone to work using your internet connection. It's a little box that your existing home phone plugs into and then connects via Ethernet cable to your router. You are then able to make and receive phone calls using your internet connection. This type of calling is called Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP or Voice Over IP).

The Ooma device normally costs $230 but Best Buy and Amazon usually have them on sale for less than $200. After it is hooked up you only pay a federal telecommunications tax of roughly $3 to $5 per month. The service itself is free and it is not contracted. All of the features phone companies like to charge extra for like call waiting, long distance, caller ID etc... come free of charge. They do charge extra for international calling but at a very reasonable rate (2 cents per min. to Canada). Your account is manageable online so you can set up the $3 monthly fee to automatically charge your credit card. Best of all, your address remains on file for 911 calls, meaning phone companies now have no advantage over Voice Over IP systems. I was skeptical at first that so much could be offered for so little of a cost but believe me, we've had it for 6 months now and it is as good as it sounds. I found out about Ooma through Consumer Reports and several of my friends and relatives now have their own Ooma systems too.

Some Cons: It cost $200 and it was kind of a pain to hook up and get my number ported. If you use multiple handsets I recommend getting a phone that has a main base and comes with other hand sets that only require being plugged into a regular wall outlet. Also, they do a kind of sneaky thing when you set up your account by automatically starting you with their "Ooma Premier" package that gives you additional features you don't really need at an extra $10 per month. I had to opt out to make sure I was not being charged for "Ooma Premier". This being said, I feel the pros of Ooma definitely out way the cons. We've had it hooked up for 6 months now and only pay $3 per month for a pretty rocking home phone setup. 

2.) We've also changed our cell phone provider. We had been paying US Cellular for 2 lines at about $42 per line. After getting sick of that we got Tracfones which are pre-paid cell phones. We have been using our Tracfones for 4 years now with pretty decent results. While they seem under-equipped when compared directly to a smart phone, they get the job done and only cost $10 a month per line. For that we've been getting 100 minutes for each line monthly. More minutes can be added anytime if you run low and Tracfone does support text messaging as well as some really basic web browsing and e-mail. The phones themselves only cost $10 to $40 depending on the model you choose and can be purchased at Target (qwerty keyboard and touchscreen phones are available).

We found that having Tracfones in conjunction with a land line (Ooma), worked pretty well. It has forced us to be conscious of the amount of time we are on our cell phones and the savings is really phenomenal compared to what we had been paying US Cellular. The drawback to Tracfone for us has been the lack of apps and that the web browsing and e-mail are very limited. To accommodate for these shortcomings, I purchased an i-touch and after installing a couple "telephone/texting" apps, I found I was basically able to use my touch as a smart phone when connected to a hot spot. So, for two years now, I have been using my i-touch in conjunction with my Tracfone to essentially have a smart phone at very low cost. This unfortunately means I do have to carry two devices and have two numbers but I have found it really isn't too bad. I just think of the money I'm saving and it seems worth it.

Now, the really awesome cell phone savings to report! Jenny and I have be watching a start up company called Republic Wireless since early 2011. They offer a smart phone that prioritizes using a wireless internet connection when it is available instead of cell towers ($19 per month / $200 to buy the phone).

Calls are made and received via VOIP while supporting e-mail, web browsing, text messaging ect. just like a normal smart phone. When you move outside of a hot spot, your phone automatically connects to their towers (they contract with, and use Sprint's towers). Here is the really amazing part, they don't limit your usage. Unlimited calls, data and text! They do however encourage their users to be aware of how they use their phones and ask that you prioritize hot spot use. Because their phones are able to use hot spots when available they can charge WAY less than the average smart phone plan. They do not require a contract, you can keep your old number and cancel anytime. So Republic Wireless let's you do exactly what I'm doing with my touch and Tracfone but with one device and one number. Jenny just received hers and has been enjoying it quite a bit. I will be getting one soon.

The Cons: The upfront cost of $200 is a little tough to stomach. Also, this concept is still in Beta so you're kind of left on your own if you run into trouble. The good news is that they have a very informative website and usually any questions you have can be answered if you're willing to dig a little. They do have a 30 day cancellation policy, so you can try it risk free.

So there it is. We were paying over $100 per month for our phone services and now we pay about $40 per month. That's $720 of savings a year! I could buy a rocking banjo with those savings, or find another worthy cause to be giving it to!

Thanks for reading.