The Metal Ethos

The Metal Ethos blog truly marks the end of an era at NiciArt. Selling on-line offers comfort to those who seek anonymity in cyberspace, but for a company like NiciArt that thrives on telephone support, interacting with customers and working in all three dimensions, cyberspace is a cold vast frontier. The first step in conquering that cold dark space is both members stepping out of cyberspace with separate blogs and social media presence to focus on a bit more on our individual thoughts and efforts. As such, we decided to go with the Metal Ethos as a logical addition to Nici’s Blog, The Metal Spot.

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While the Metalspot is hosted on WordPress and offers full functionality for most bloggers, one of my goals was to test a custom template and eventually begin to offer our own WordPress and Active Blogger Templates as digital downloads in Etsy, so moving to a self hosted platform was necessary to use custom templates. The template chosen for the initial design is Morning Time by WP Look Studios which features a very clean and simple design. As a header banner, I chose a photo of Tom’s Thumb in Scottsdale, AZ for intrigue, fascination, and being inspired by the endless wonders of nature instead of strictly limiting the Metalethos to business, products, or just product promotion. After receiving our 100th Etsy order, we hiked to Tom’s Thumb and even discussed the possibilities of taking on NiciArt as a full-time business back in 2011. Never would I have even dreamed those first 100 orders were just a tiny step, therefore beginning the blog with Tom’s Thumb is actually far more appropriate than a flaming torch, polishing wheel, or some sort of trite marketing slogan.

NiciArt was never planned or discussed over coffee, rather NiciArt just happened and we knew exactly what we had to do without the need for a script. In so many ways, I am incredibly grateful for Etsy and that first Christmas in 2011, where our little shop was launched from page 254 in search right up to page 1 overnight. Today, Etsy continues to deliver steady traffic and orders even as election shock hangs on the horizon for many like an ominous rain cloud. For us, we only really worry when things start making sense and chaos becomes an orderly plan.

Once “the” meeting place after work, the Etsy forums have strayed a bit from good wholesome discussions and debates to repetitive post regarding SEO, low views and sales, or celebration milestones for that first sale. Don’t misunderstand, the Etsy forums are still a wonderful resource with many dedicated shop owners sparing their precious time to help others succeed. Unfortunately, many successful shops are experiencing a slowdown coming off the golden age of Etsy where sales were fast and easy and now time is such a limited resources, many faces are missing in action from the forums. Embracing the end of era with excitement about the future rather than lamenting the passage of time is a far more productive mindset. Starting the Metal Ethos in parallel to Nici’s efforts on the Metal Spot is just one more step forward for 2017.

 

 

Black Friday

Black Friday 2016 is in full swing with sales trickling in through out the hour, however volume is definitely lower than expected heading into the midday hours. Much like being glue to the electoral maps on November 8th, we are filling orders while keeping another eye focused on the stats.

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We attribute election shock as the sole reason behind the sluggish start to the holiday season which was most likely at the forefront of Thanksgiving dinner discussions leading more shoppers to head on out and grab a 4k TV to keep up with the media circus in 3840 x 2160 rather than swing by Nici’s Picks and pick up an engraved metal guitar to help strum away the election blues with the gift of music. What is interesting to note is last weekend ushered in record sales, which strengthens my argument that people came together over the past few days and revived their political furies, thereby shifting the mood temporarily away from holiday shopping. In my mind, I’m imagining the pumpkin pies fly as Clinton and Trump supporters clash over healthcare, immigration, and the economy.

Looking back at history, I’m sure Truman’s win over Dewy or McKinley vs. Bryan caused quite a stir at the time, but what might be truly unique in this election is the role of social media as well as conventional media in creating such an amplified aftermath and fallout with some of the most divisive politics since the civil war. The biggest curse of all is “uncertainty.” Whether the next president be Clinton or Trump, we would take simple corruption for the next 4 years over the madness about “what’s in the box.” Unbeknowst to many, Pandora doesn’t take vacations” and by not even being able to agree on basic set of fundamentals principles governing how we should coexist with our neighbours, protect our natural resources, guarantee access to healthcare, and promote education as the path to upward mobility and a better future, we may very well be gift wrapping Pandora’s Box for the next generation.

 

 

 

 

Back in the Game with Etsy

Seeing Etsy’s stock dip back to $12.86, we re-entered and will continue our long position.

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I could have also elected to hold through the little dip and add to the position, but I really don’t want to play big on Etsy. Not only do I see investing as a necessary evil to turn a little measly Etsy Shop salary into a sustainable living wage, I enjoy breaking up the work day with a little background research and reading the charts.

As we discussed last night over dinner, there are so few good opportunities for the middle class to find solid upward mobility. Those fortunate enough to sock away a little extra every year will most likely drift through the doors of Chubb, Schwalb, Merrill or other well known wealth management investment corp, while the 1% venture over to their buddy running a Hedge Fund. The big players are likely to offer a mix of mutual funds, ETFs, and on rare instances they will sweeten the deal with a few dividend aristocrats such as PG or WBC. Total returns on such vanilla investment portfolios are often times between 4% – 8% on up years. Many Hedge Funds flirt with 12%-15% albeit the risk may be significantly greater. In the end, the question I was left to ponder is whether wealthier folks are willing to take on greater risks because they simply have more financial security or whether wealthy investors tend to simply take higher calculated risks from the start, therefore they have become wealthy through a sum of well played and well calculated risks. The answer is obviously a mix of both ideas, while the sad reality is even the most industrious and hard working blue collar worker will most likely only find wealth through pure luck as long as they continue to believe hard work is the one and only path to successful upward mobility.

Too often I write about the challenges of running a business without pointing out the positives. Initially, the home office worker is usually bedazzled by the freedom of “self-scheduling” which soon is nothing more than a passing dream when the 7 day work week schedule takes hold and you wish for even more hours in a day, but the real freedom is in leaving behind office politics and taking control of your own fate. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of self-determination over your own future as perhaps the biggest drive towards leaving behind that fantastically comfortable cubicle where the weather is 67F and fluorescent all year round. Once you take that first step away from being safe beyond the felt padded aluminum walls and well protected under the fortress of ceiling tile overhead, seeing the bright sun overhead can be enough to send just about anyone running for cover. As the days pass though, sunrise becomes a welcome sight and signals the beginning of the next fight instead of drudgeries of rolling out of bed in order to start the mindless motions of a routine. It would seem after 4 years of NiciArt, the creative processes should be well entrenched in our daily lives, however we are just beginning to mature enough to recognize creative processes reach well beyond our business and influence all aspects of our choices. This year, creative process brought me to manage my own trading, retirement, and investment portfolios. Like closing your eyes and diving straight into the deep dark water below, the leap of faith has returned 17% this year. Of course, that’s not exactly an amazing accomplishment when the markets are up, but again it’s not always about the immediate results rather the actual creative process and inspiration to look to self-determination. Perhaps I’ve just been listing to a bit too much Rush lately and have “Freewill” stuck in my head….

 

 

Etsy Stock Sale

After Monday’s resistance at $13.00, I decided to close out my long position on Etsy and take home 3.2%. My gut feeling is Etsy will retest, retake, but settle in somewhere in the low $13s. The reason to invest in Etsy is Etsy has a unique and almost unchallenged position in a niche market, however that niche is also has limited growth. As Etsy continues to pursue a path of spreading traffic and sales across all shops, I am convinced we will see defectors jumping overboard or perhaps just a quiet resistance migrate their efforts to other platforms. Much like the airlines attempt to pack extra seats in a 737 for those thinly covered routes where raising fares is not an option, there is only so much profit to be squeezed out of the handmade art market and as elbow room begins to demand premiums through the Promoted Listings an equilibrium between new sign-ups and those exiting the emergency doors is on the horizon.

The only possibility I foresee for a sizeable long-term return on investment would be through an acquisition from Amazon, Shopify, or similar platform looking for a side show and not relying as much on seller services to turn a profit. Even more remote would be someone like Warren Buffet rolling out of bed and just deciding he loves Etsy, thereby adding Etsy to the Berkshire Hathaway collection. All joking aside, Etsy remains an unlikely acquisition target marching to the beat of their own drummer. Although Etsy’s 3Q earnings came out ahead of expectations, CFO Kristina Salen’s departure next year, leaves a significant leadership void with one of their top voices of reason no longer sitting at the helm and leaving the controls in the hands of dreamers.

For the time being, Etsy drifts in and out of love it or leave it status in the Etsy Forums with very few sellers straddling the fence of neutrality as just observers. Besides a brief stint of entanglement in the Storm and Drang politics surrounding the Etsy Seller Advisory Board, our sales remain steady year over year.

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No business blog post is ever complete without a trite photo, of course.

With the arrival of the holiday orders, our Etsy Shop is smack in the middle of the herds heading to the watering hole and the competition this year has even more sellers vying harder than ever for a position.

 

The Holiday Rush has Started

Usually the holiday rush starts the Friday after Thanksgiving around midday and wave upon wave of orders leave us buried for those 4 weeks heading into Christmas and New Years. Much like trying to shovel snow in blizzard with a soup spoon, trying to get ahead is impossible, however we manage to keep up with short nights and long day. This year, the holiday rush started on Saturday the 19th, before I even had a spare moment to list our Christmas items.

This year we are adding a few handmade Christmas Tree ornaments in limited quantities:

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a merry Christmas Bronze Snowflake Christmas Tree Ornament for Custom Engraving available on Etsy and NiciArt

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and our classic Dad with Baby Feet now on a bronze Christmas Tree Ornament for new and expecting dads also available on Etsy and Niciart

Both snowflake designs were drawn on a sheet of bronze and sawed entirely by hand using a jewelry saw. Those readers familiar with Etsy would probably suggest we release more than just two designs in order to have any chance of competing in the Christmas Decor category, but time is such a precious resource at the moment with the holiday orders, so we’ll have to wait until summer 2017 to release a full line up of designs.

On the first Day of Christmas My True Love gave me Etsy Stock

Getting in the holiday spirit, we started working on that Christmas shopping list which now includes opening a long position on Etsy Stock @ $12.59 with an intended exit at $13.75 by the close of the year.

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While our sentiments regarding Etsy as a selling venue for NiciArt and Nici’s Picks would be perform down from outperform just a few months ago, the arguments for a stock run up to $13.75 and most likely well beyond include:

  • Oversold
  • Tech stock rebound from dip following the Trump win
  • Near $16.00 high last month
  • Holiday sales
  • Bullish social media pumpers out in force
  • Citi Bank target of $20.00
  • Investors primed for risk taking after DRYS went up 1500% in less than a week
  • Cash from shipping rally, AMD, WNR, and other huge gainers is in play
  • Bearish sentiments about a Trump economy may keep markets active as investors look for plays before 2017
  • Bullish sentiments about a Trump economy might convince some longs to increase their positions or new money to enter the markets
  • Etsy shaking off the “hipster only” reputation and focusing on being a marketplace for everyday gifts, housewares, vintage, decoration, and holiday gifts
  • No obvious negative set-ups or patterns on the charts as of Friday

After a long run of buy and hold with a portfolio overweight in REITs, future interest rate hikes, upward trends in 10 yr notes and a possible slowdown in real estate have us venturing into swing trading, short term holds, options, and 1-3 year longs with the potential for significant upsides.

Another particularly interesting buy this week will be Horizon Technical Finance HRZN with an attractive 11% dividend. Completely underfollowed and off the radar, Horizon’s technical analysis is enough to send most investors running for the hills before even investigating further, however their customer portfolio of private emerging technology and life sciences is a rather unique market for providing capitalization services with enough upside to convince me to consider a 1-2 year long position at the current price of $10.77.

Whenever the question about investing or Etsy stock emerges in the Etsy forums, I am always surprised by the strong sense of risk aversion and the view that investing is synonymous with gambling or taking a trip to Vegas.

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I certainly do not want to negate the risks, however bad decisions often mean being forced to hold or taking a small loss that is most often negligible amongst the gains. Choosing to sell the same product year over year, seeking forum sympathy when the sales are slow, and avoiding risk is far more dangerous in my opinion than taking calculated risks to get ahead.

 

 

Making Money is Easy, Doing Business is Expensive

Had someone even suggested making money in our jewelry and guitar picks business would be easy 5 years ago when we embarked on this journey, I would have baulked and dismissed such a claim as being absolutely disconnected with the obstacles facing small business. Since 2012, we have seen revenue increases year over year making our dream a reality, so we should be going out tonight to celebrate and crack open a bottle of wine? Not so fast.

Making money is easy, keeping it is the real challenge and 2016 is the year where that challenge has arrived neatly packaged in our mailbox from Blue Cross Blue Shield. Essentially with the 2017 premiums and other related costs, our healthcare costs will be 180% higher than 2014 and 400% higher than 2012. Adding to the fun, Google, Facebook, Etsy Promoted Listings, Pinterest, Wanelo, Reddit, and Twitter just to name a few also have their hands on a slice of our pie. While we are even more embolden to soldier on in 2017 and take those challenges head on, I think many smaller start-ups and Etsy shops will be forced to close, cut back, or rethink the return on investment for a small business vs a 9 to 5 job.  As Art is form of human expression and communication, the most talented artists would never consider abandoning their passion for creating and will either accept the title “starving artist” with a sense of indignation or perhaps even pride.

On the other hand, consumers may actually benefit from the culling of the herds as “easy money” has fuelled a sort of glue gun and felt revolution, where the next millionaire is just one trip away from filling their cart at Hobby Lobby or Michaels and when the transactions go awry, customer service need not apply. My sentiments from reading through threads on the Etsy forums, the majority of sellers posting are leaning towards closing their Amazon Handmade Shops, when Amazon institutes their pricey fee structure next year. From our prospective, increased fees are rarely comforting, but less competition could prove to be an excellent opportunity to grow our customer base.

The next step forward will be carefully considering the returns on investments in listings, new products, venues, social media, and advertising to identifying the winning vs the loosing strategies. We are now forced to hire and start a payroll in order to have group insurance. With a new hire, comes fresh ideas, creativity, and talent. No one can ever count on making money being easy, but counting on change is a certainty in business and in life.