Film at 11

Most of the things sold in The Hiker Box are items Tom or I have either used personally or seen in use.  Some other things are based on best-sellers in the field or what’s the newest from a great, reputable company.

And then there are the customer requests.  Things customers have asked for time and time again to one of us and it becomes our mission to obtain that product and have it on the shelf.  If only for the other one of us to ask, “Why in the heck are we carrying a pedometer?” and some day be able to taunt back, “See!  I sold a pedometer!  Thank goodness I ordered them!  WE WOULD BE BANKRUPT OTHERWISE.”

(Note: sometimes this does not go as planned.  Sometimes you hear 4,510 requests for an item but as soon as you have one, no one else ever wants one ever again.  And sometimes you will order one, people will ask for one, then look it at on the shelf, shrug, and leave without purchasing.  This may or may not have happened with pedometers.)

Many of these product requests fall outside of the range of “Hiking, Camping, Backpacking” and more into the range of, “You are a convenient store for tourists to pop into and ask for random items they forgot to pack.”  I will say that at least 65% of these requests are items you might sometimes eventually use outdoors.  Or carry outdoors from the car to the house.

We get a lot of general sports-type requests.  We get a lot of specific-there-are-three-outfitters-in-a-5-mile-range-catering-to-that-activity requests. (We usually do not act on those but give referrals.  And it has so far worked nicely in that other stores refer customers to us as well.)

But come summer, this is tourist town.  And I have lucked out on choosing some products that have nothing to do with hiking.  We sell out of swimming floats and collapsible umbrellas.  We did rather well with critter nets and citronella candles.

Where we have completely flopped is batteries.  Even when we sell an item that REQUIRES batteries.  They are just not the type of thing we can purchase in enough bulk to be well-priced and while someone might wonder if the grocery store carries collapsible umbrellas (it does, but you did not hear that from me), they are fairly sure they can find batteries there.

So imagine my excitement when I had the cutest girl come ask me, “Do you have the stuff that goes in here?” pointing to an opening in a camera.  I started to show her the batteries, all excited that I was definitely going to make a sale because I have been a cute little girl once and I remember having terrible price-comparison skills.

Then it dawned on me.  She was asking for FILM.

(No, we don’t carry film.  And it will take many more cute little girls to ask for it before I make it a mission of mine.)

 

My Own Boredom

It’s Sunday which means I’m at The Hiker Box, “working”.  And if ever there were a time for quotation marks around the word working, it is February in northern Wisconsin at an outdoor gear retailer at 4:35 pm on a Sunday.

Low is neg twenty tonight.  High was neg three.  There were a few people out, but they meant business.  Drove to shop A, purchased needed items at shop A, drove away.  We had three sets of people come in the entire day.  Only one who purchased something.

I’m not complaining and I’m not really stressed about the situation either.  Because hey, we had a sale!  That’s all we need to keep it from being a zero day.  Come April, when we will have been open an entire year, we can start the comparison worrying.  For now, I will take what we can get.

It is quite boring to sit in a shop by yourself all day.  If this were just a job, I’d go insane.  But it’s not.  It’s my own business.  The boredom is comforting and indulgent.  I do not think of the million things I could be getting done at home the way I might in a lull at another work place.

Of course there are a million things to be done here.  And I do some of them, every Sunday.  I chip away that long list of ideas and research and grunt work necessary to build a business.

But then I might watch a movie.  (Last week it was “Mile….Mile and A Half”  And yes, I want to now run off and hike the John Muir Trail.)   Or read a book.  Or prepare for the rest of the week mentally so that I am in a better position to spend more time here knocking out more work in the afternoons versus feeling like I defended my thesis all morning and now wish to lie down for a month or two.

Since I work another job during the week, Sundays are my day to feel like I actually own a business.  I get to open the door and flip the sign.

Even when we’re busier, it has it’s boring moments – QuickBooks, anyone? – but right now with the lull after the holidays and before the spring/summer season, the boredom allows me time to reflect on this crazy choice we made.  I appreciate that.

Although I would appreciate a second sale too.

Drop and Give Me Ten

It is Sunday again, which is my day to run the shop solo while Tom concentrates on home chores and projects.

It is a slow day here, which sometimes frustrates me because I think of all the things on my to-do list that I can’t accomplish while minding the store.

But we are experiencing some schedule tweaks, and therefore I have been off my game and not very sure what my to-do list should look like.

(We had a good schedule down pat for a few weeks, but now the grocery shopping and meal prepping days will change to maximize our CSA that starts Wednesday.  And this past week was the first of the Thursday night street dances that continue through the summer.  We are staying open during the dances and a 10 pm bedtime definitely is an adjustment in our lives.)

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One of my tools for accomplishing things when I’m not really sure what I should be accomplishing is the List of Ten.  I write down the first ten things I think of that need to get done in the day and I do them.

Often this will jog my memory and list-making abilities so that I can map out a plan for the near-future.  But today it hasn’t, and that’s OK too because I got ten things done.

(Technically, I’ve done 6 things.  Seven, once I hit “Publish” on this post.)

1)  Add One Product to the online store for The Hiker Box.

Looking at all our items to add to sell online is daunting.  So every Sunday this goes on my list.  We are doing it all ourselves so that in writing the descriptions and specs we get to learn new things about the products.  I try to maximize my impact by adding a product that we carry in different sizes, colors, etc so I end up adding 2-4 products at once.

2)  Clean Three Carpet Spots

The store carpet was not anywhere close to new when we moved in.  Then we added a house-training-in-progress dog.  And you know what?  I was not one bit embarrassed about the strains before that.  But now I am paranoid everyone thinks ALL the stains are puppy accidents.  We don’t have a carpet shampooer, so another task I break down in small do-able sections.  (Also hard to do when the store is open with foot traffic.)

3)  Wash Dishes

For years tourists have complained about the lack of public restrooms in the downtown stores.  Now I know the super-secret reason: these places were built a long time ago with little to no plumbing in the store areas.  We have no bathroom or running water on the main floor.  We have to navigate the cramped stairwell to use the basement facilities.  In our “kitchen” area, we’ve placed two bins and labeled them “Dirty” and “Clean”.  This provides some order, storage, and a transport device to get the dirties down in the dungeon and clean.  Tom does most the dish-duty here so I figured it would be nice for me to chip in today.

4) Photos of Wall

If you do not follow The Hiker Box on facebook, you should if only for our Wall photos.  We put up white glossy paneling on our back wall and leave a bunch of dry erase markers out.  People draw pictures, say good luck to us, write where they are from, and all sorts of things.  Every week I post a batch of photos from the Wall.

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5) Clean Wall

About every other week, I make room for more notes and pictures.  A spray bottle with rubbing alcohol and water mixed does the job quite well.  It cost us about eighty five dollars to put it up and we have definitely gotten that much enjoyment out of it.

6) Blog

TA-DA!  (I’m a bit internetted out these days keeping up with The Hiker Box and my own personal social media.  I have actually made a weekly schedule of what to post when so I ensure we keep ourselves current and varied.  I may end up doing that with this blog if I can decide on topics other than “What I feel like right this moment”)

7) Drink Eight Glasses of Water

Probably not necessary, but I had a pretty big food binge yesterday and I want to help my body process it as best possible.  I also have gotten away from measuring my water intake so a brief check-in on the tally isn’t the worst idea.

8) Cook Taco Stuff

The one meal I know I want to make this week to use up some mushrooms.  That will have to be done later on, but good to have on my radar as I sometimes get home and feel like I’ve entered an alien land where I can’t remember anything but where I stashed the wine.

(It is called Taco Stuff because 1) we rarely eat tortillas anymore so it’s just the taco innards I’m referring to and 2) I never make it the same way twice, using up whatever vegetables need using up.)

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9) Re-stock Socks

10) Laundry Stuff

I’m stretching with these last two.  Socks were such a minor task it might have taken longer to write it down than actually do it.  And laundry stuff is something on my weekly schedule that hasn’t changed.  (I’ll wash delicates tonight, pre-treat stains and sort as best I can tonight.  Tomorrow the final sort will occur and one of us will go to the laundromat.)

Stretched or not, there you have it.  My ten things to-do today list because I have no clue what to do.  Do you have a favorite motivator/prompt/fallback plan you pull out when you don’t know what to do?  Let me know!

Oh Yeah, I OWN A STORE

I finished the last post regarding scheduling issues and realized I had not bothered to mention that I own a store now and IT IS FUCKING AWESOME.  You should run out and get yourself one.  Right. Now.

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The fact that this is one of the most amazing times of my life and if it all goes down the drain with our savings tomorrow I will still be ecstatic and think this whole crazy scheme was worth it is not a fact that dwells and festers in my mind until I absolutely must let it escape via my keyboard.

But as a friend pointed out a while ago, people might like to know I’m happy.  I’m allowed.  I’ve earned it.  And it’s a hell of a lot more fun than hearing how I struggle to go-here-do-things-then-go-there-do-other-things.

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A couple of side notes:

1)  You should save money aggressively for a few years before owning a store.  Not only will this provide Capital (yeah, I capitalized it), but it makes you extremely good at living on a pauper’s income.  Technically our income from the store is around negative three thousand dollars.  Probably closer to five. But we own so many hammocks!

2) Own a store because you love and/or find interesting the goods and/or services you provide.  You don’t own a store to become rich.  You own a store because you want to be your boss, see a niche that needs filling, and want to spend hours upon hours explaining goods and/or services to people because it fascinates you.

3) Find a niche and fill it.  Tom and I are just extremely lucky.  We wanted to move to out of FL.  Had a spreadsheet and everything.  We had the opportunity to do so somewhat cheaply with Eagle River as our destination.  We also knew the area was somewhat lacking in hiking gear.  Boom.   Voila.  What-have-you.

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It is a little disturbing to be open before the true “season” up here.  We have had days (hello 18 inches of snow in 24 hours in APRIL) where no one stops in.  But overall the response has been positive and we are moving forward full speed ahead.

(Anyone wanna buy a hammock?)

The Older And Wiser Gal For Me

What I have been “up to”:

1) Coming off the wagon.

After a month abstaining from wine, women, and song whiskey (which spellcheck will not let me spell the Irish way) and alcohol in general, I am enjoying a nice white as I type* so I better type fast before there are more parentheses and squiggly red lines under words.

I took a month sans liqueur to jump start healthy habits.  And I think I am not alone in that every person who knows of addictive personalities in their family tree tries to balance having fun with having too much fun.  After this successful stint I feel balanced.  Bring on the JD.

2) Signing up for Zumba classes.

Entirely unrelated, I have tripped over carpet 9 times this week.  Not even shag carpet.

I took advantage of a “first class if free” trial at a fitness center.  I had been worried it would be too high intensity and hurt my knees.  But evidently years of step-ball-chaining to videos has helped me learn how to modify hoppy, jumpy, moves to stuff less…exciting.  But still sweat-inducing.

3) Turning 39.

I am honestly too busy right now to mid-life crisis this.  Please feel free to do so in my honor.

4) Getting snowed on.

It’s snowed a few times in the past weeks, the last a heavy, 2-3 inch fast snow fall on Thursday evening that set me on despair.  (One setting click over from “self-cleaning”, in case you were wondering.)  But I woke up Friday and all the dirty, nasty snow was gone and in its place beautiful, white, this-is-why-you-moved-north-Jessica snow.  It was hell to drive to work but by the afternoon it was melting.  The high is 47 today!

We have dripping inside both the cabin and the shop.  Thank goodness we are delusional.  And also too busy.

5) Setting up shop.  Literally.

I wish I had more pictures to share, but when we get into a groove there is just no time. In fact, one of things I loved about yesterday was that I had so much to do I didn’t get out my phone until it was time to go home.

We’re waiting on only one big order now.  Everything else is kinda sorta out on the store.  Maybe even one or two things in a spot they will stay for over a week!  Although probably not.  (That’s actually fun, not frustrating.  The idea that it is OUR store and we have the power to change it as we want/need.)

The weekday balance is still not there for me.  Too many responsibilities and directions.  But I remind myself (and you) that it has been almost 4 years since I was required to be out of the home from X in the morning until Y at night.  There have also been extracurricular activities such as taxes and the final, nagging touches of the condo rental just in case my plate wasn’t full enough.

6) Trying to figure out how to end this blog post.

Location, Location, Location

Our store, The Hiker Box, is located in the heart of downtown Eagle River.  Once someone is here and walking down Wall street, they cannot miss us.

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Unless we are covered in snow.  Ours has the V awning with the truck in front.

The downside to downtown is that there is a Hwy 70/45 bypass.  But we see our potential customers as the summer vacationers, who often will take at least one trip in to grab some ice cream (across the street) or homemade fudge (right next door) or a souvenir  (the rest of the our side of the block).

Our store front is recessed a bit from the sidewalk with a huge awning.  We plan hang a sign from the awning and put benches at end walls.  We have a nice display window area – the door is offset from the middle of the opening so on one side of it is regular store space and on the other is a nice big, deep display area where we can definitely fit a tent plus other gear set-up.

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I’m a hiker, not a photographer.  Obviously.

Besides the location and the size (22 feet wide by umpteen feet deep – there is a false wall about halfway back to provide storage and office space on the main floor but we also have the basement if we ever want to expand the store floor space), we are excited about these rough hew log awning fixtures through out the store.  It feels very outdoorsy.

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We are remodeling the false wall.  More details on that later.

What didn’t feel outdoorsy was the white slat board installed almost everywhere.  And so we made the decision that no one in the retail business would ever do – we took most of it down.

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Tom’s ingenious system to remove the top panels.  Slat board is HEAVY.

(Slat board is like the holy grail of display.  Or so says everyone we’ve spoken to.  We’ve left it up in the back walls.)

Behind the slat wall is beautiful dark red wood boards.  There are lots of display options left in the basement from several past tenants.  Mostly clothing racks and we aren’t carrying any clothing besides socks and hats right now but we can probably make stuff work.  (Several nearby stores have lots of outdoor clothing options so we are going to be careful and choosey on what we end up carrying.  We want to compliment, not compete.)

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Dressing rooms at the ready when we do take the apparel plunge!

 

We have some items in stock, but until the orders from our two biggest vendors (Big Agnes & Kelty) we don’t have enough to truly justify being open.  We are finishing up our remodel of the false wall with a goal of having displays and product on the floor by the end of this week.

I will probably blog more about the store, as it will soon suck all my life up and I won’t have anything else to talk about.  If you are interested in seeing what else we’re up to, you can check out The Hiker Box website, follow us on twitter (@hikerboxllc), and like us on facebook.  Right now I manage the facebook page and Tom handles the twitter account.  I also tweet via @InProgressJess and some of that is hiking/store related.  But some of it is regular old Jessica In Progress with a 140 character limit.  If you’re into that sort of thing.