I think back when blogs were conquering the Earth, a common slam on them was that a lot of people would just write “Sorry I haven’t updated, I will soon!”, and then maybe a little more detail, but not much. I keep holding myself back from doing that, because I have been meaning to update, but I never have a ton of time.
I started my little side business selling camera film in Canada, and originally my idea was just “Hey, it’s a pain to buy this stuff here, and I’m sure I’m not the only one to feel this way, so I’m going to start a little online store, and it won’t be too much work, and who knows, maybe it’ll take off after a year or two”, but things went a different way. The store has become much more popular than I expected, much quicker. I’m spending a lot of time importing merchandise, shipping orders out, re-stocking, etc. It’s fun, but unexpected.
I’ve always loved the idea of having a small, well curated online store. For some reason, it appeals to me to create a really well done online store that looks really nice, has a lot of detail, but doesn’t necessarily sell much. I tried doing this a little bit about 10 or 12 years ago, but back then I had to write the software myself, and it took a lot of time. Nowadays, you can get something together much quicker, although there’s still a lot of work to do an decisions to make.
There’s one online store idea that I’ve always wanted to do, but it always seemed to be too much work, because I’d have to go buy some boxes, figure out shipping rates, buy packing tape, etc. Now that I’m actually boxing up orders and shipping them regularly, I might actually do it.
The idea was to create an online store where you’d visit, and there would be a webcam pointing at a single book, streaming constantly. That would be the only book for sale, and there would only be 1 copy, and when somebody bought it, I would walk over, move it out of the way, and put a different book up for sale.
I was thinking that I could call it The World’s Smallest Online Bookstore, but I’m not 100% sold on that name. There seem to be a few actual brick and mortar businesses who call themselves the world’s smallest bookstore, and I imagine if I searched hard enough, there has to be someone using that as the name for their online store.
Interestingly, the main result I get for the world’s smallest bookstore is a place that closed in 2016 and was about 2 hours north of Toronto, in the Kawartha region. I really like that area, and I usually go to Bobcaygeon once a summer, so I wish I had known about the place before it closed, it looked really cool. The article I linked is a very good read, it’s at least looking just for the picture of the signage.
Toronto also used to be the home of The World’s Biggest Bookstore, which I went to many times from when I was a kid onwards. It closed a couple of years ago, which wasn’t incredibly surprising. Turns out that occupying a huge chunk of prime downtown real estate is only good when your industry is booming.
Here’s a little history of good and bad times to be a small or big bookstore, decade by decade:
1980: Huge brick and mortar bookstore: Awesome, profitable idea.
1980: Huge online bookstore: Bad idea because online doesn’t exist.
1990: Huge brick and mortar bookstore: Still looking good!
1990: Huge online bookstore: There is some online, but still a bad idea.
2000: Huge brick and mortar bookstore: I think this is still okay.
2000: Huge online bookstore: Oh yeah baby.
2010: Huge brick and mortar bookstore: Yeah, not looking so good.
2010: Huge online bookstore: Oh yeah baby.
2020: Huge online bookstore: This went so well the founder started a literal spaceship company.
2020: Tiny webcam-powered online bookstore: Wow this went even better than expected, and after 3 years, I am happy to announce that I have purchased 2 spaceship companies.
I’m in the film business. I know what you’re saying: “What?”. I am saying the same thing. But uhh yeah, I am running a little online store selling film. Camera film. Photo film. You know the stuff. The site is called Buy Film Canada.
The main deal is that my biggest hobby is film photography, (which is on a general popularity upswing lately), but it’s a little frustrating if you live in Canada, because there just aren’t quite the options as in the USA for buying things. Cameras, film, etc. cost a lot more here than in the USA. I’ve always really liked the idea of having a good online store, but I never have anything to sell lately, and I decided this was a good spot to start one up.
It’s taken longer to get going than I expected for various reasons, but I guess that’s just how everything in life is I guess. I’ve done various online commerce things over the years, although not for quite a while I guess, and I was reminded of a few things.
The one thing that I already knew, but I’ve had to explain to a lot of people, is that one of the bigger hassles in running a business involves dealing with suppliers and getting merchandise. The problem manifests itself in different ways, depending on what you’re selling, but it is always more of a hassle than you expect.
In a lot of cases these days, people buy stuff from China (possibly custom made, possible something already being manufactured), and get it shipped over here. When you first look at a site like Ali Express or DHGate, you see all this stuff listed and the interface looks somewhat like Ebay or Amazon – just enter your quantity and buy it. People who have dealt with it, though, quite often have very frustrating stories about how late things came, how different the merchandise was from what they expected, how long they had to wait for samples, whatever.
In my case with the film, I had a few challenges. The first was that creating a relationship with the Canadian distributors is not a piece of cake. Before even approaching them, I suspected that they probably get inquiries from photographers who just want to buy and stockpile 200 rolls of film at a cheap price. My suspicion was definitely correct, and I had to go through a definite process to get an account setup. I was not remotely surprised at this, but it seems like a lot of people I talked to said “Oh man you’d think they’d be eager to sell you a bunch of film!”
Apart from that, there are some distributors that I can’t even get in touch with, even after emailing and phoning and leaving messages. This is something I’m sure I can get worked out now that the site is up, but it’s interesting.
Anyhow, none of this is a problem. You can always find alternate distributors if you look hard enough, and I’ve got the site up now and my only real hurdle is just selling enough of this film. I’m making a pretty small markup, and offering free shipping over a certain order size, so my only real worry is making sure I actually make a profit on the site haha, but whatever.
Okay that’s all, I’ll try to update here with stuff unrelated to that store soon. I was thinking of creating a standalone blog that basically documents the process of setting up and running an online store, instead of sticking all that info here, what does everyone think, should I do that? Or post it here? Or just shut up? How about I shut my mouth? How about that!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
So, a quick thing: As I mentioned in a couple of earlier posts, I’m starting a little online store, and part of the idea is that I’m selling a type of product that isn’t that easy to get in Canada as in the USA. You can buy this type of product at some stores, but not a ton, and in a lot of cities and towns, your options are very limited. There’s no really good (ie. reasonably priced) way to buy online from a Canadian company, so a lot of people are stuck ordering from the U.S., and paying import fees and border fees and whatnot.
So since I’m mostly concentrating on Canada, I think it’s important that the store’s name communicates that. A lot of the value the store gives is that I’m shipping thiese items from inside Canada, which should make things faster, and cheaper. I bought the following domains:
buyXXXXcanada.ca (just backup for the .com version)
and just plain buyXXXX.com was already taken, and I’m sure they want $20,000 or something for it (the XXXX is a common 4 letter word).
Hey you know what, I just got curious, and I phoned the company (Afternic) who owns the .com version of it, and asked how much it was, just for the sake of this blog entry, and they wanted $9999. I talked to the guy a teeny bit, and I think I probably could have negotiated this a lot lower, but I honestly don’t know what it’d be worth to me – would I pay $500? Maaaaaaaaybe, but I don’t know if I’d get a huge return for that price, even if the store does well and lasts a long time. So the price is, predictably, way too much for me, but really, it’s not as insane as you might expect. Actually let me go on a tangent here:
There are big brokering companies that buy a huge amount of domains (this one mentioned they have 11 million on hand), and then sell them, and it’s interesting to me that the prices are not always nuts. I’ve phoned about a couple of other domains in the past (also just for curiosity), and they’re never as bad as I expect. The big domain broker companies obviously have a decent feel for how much people might actually pay, but if you ever approach just some random joe-schmo who owns even a mediocre domain you want, they always think they’re going to get $50,000 for it, and I think maybe sometimes (but very rarely) they do. I think it’s less and less common though, and I would bet if you saw a chart of domain prices, it’d be steadily falling.
I don’t have a ton of domain selling or buying experience. I’ve always been very, very interested in the whole field, but I’ve only sold one domain. It was a 5-letter, made-up word, and I owned the .com version of it for 8 or 9 years, but never did much with it. Then, in 2012, a guy emailed me saying he wanted to buy it. I think we had a brief exchange, then weren’t in touch with each other for 6 months, at which point he came back and was more serious.
The guy wouldn’t tell me exactly what he wanted it for, but he did say he was just some random guy with a business idea. I did as much digging as I could, and I couldn’t find anything to suggest that he was actually a front for some big company that could pay me a lot more, so after a bunch of negotiating, he agreed to buy the domain for $1250 (I think his initial offer was $250 and my first counter was $2000). When he finally launched a site, it did indeed turn out that he was just a guy with an interesting product (some kind of mask to help you sleep if I recall).
I own Pitas.com and I’ve never, ever received any remote interest from anyone in buying it. I have never tried to sell it, but I imagine if I did, it wouldn’t be that desirable – what would possibly go there? Years and years ago, I looked up a bunch of fast food names, and none of them had anything up other than “Domain For Sale” notices. Hotdog dot com, Hamburger dot com, Hamburgers dot com, Chickenwing dot com, etc. – I’m sure they were all registered a long, long time ago, but none of them have ever had anything interesting there.
This is actually what I find very frustrating about the domain name business: For the most part, it seems like there are a huge amount of domain names for sale, and so, so, so, so many of them just sit around forever, unused, because nobody really needs them. Having a great domain name is nice, but as people become more web-literate, and also just type business names into Google more, the value is less and less.
I think as the general value of domain names goes down, the amount of people looking to buy “special” (anything over $100) ones also goes down, so the domain brokers are relying even more than ever on making all their profits from fewer and fewer sales. This means that when they actually have a potential buyer on the hook, they’re going to want to get the max value from the domain the customer wants. I’m not explaining this well I don’t think, but anyhow yeah, it’s too bad. There have certainly been times in the past where I’ve wanted a certain domain name, and phoned, fully knowing that they’re going to ask for $3000, and fully knowing that I would never pay over $200 for it, but also knowing that nobody else will ever want that domain, or do anything with it. So it just sits there and is never used.
Anyhow, back to my little store: I don’t actually mind, in this case, that I can’t get the buyXXXX.com version of the name. It might actually be a good thing, because just owning buyXXXX.com doesn’t actually signal that I’m focusing on selling to people in Canada. It might be nice if I ever branch out and really start trying to market outside of Canada, but I don’t really anticipate that happening; it’s definitely not some goal I have anyway.
So I had to make the decision between buyXXXXcanada.com and buyXXXX.ca and to begin with, I went with the .com version, and I set up the commerce software to go along with it, and had the whole store set up there.
But then, I really got thinking about which of the two is better, and it was very, very tough for me to decide.
On one hand, the longer domain is a .com, and it also has the Canada keyword inside the name, so if you’re a potential customer and you see that name, it will signal you right away that it’s a Canadian business.
On the other hand, the .ca name is shorter, and a bit catchier. It also feels a little more like an actual brand name, just a little less generic, you know? It doesn’t have Canada in the actual domain name, but I do think that here in Canada, people are quite used to .ca domain names, and I think that on first encounter, having .ca in the domain might be just as good a signal of “Hey this is a local business” as having Canada. If you read any article on domains, they always say something like “The dot com name is king!”, and I still mostly agree with that for a lot of websites, but I think people outside of Canada probably have no clue how common and accepted .ca names are here. I don’t think the idea that people will go to the .com version by accident is that big a deal here.
So, in the end, I went with the shorter buyXXXX.ca name, but I’d definitely like to hear any opinions from people reading this. Heck, it’s not too late to switch if I’ve made some huge horrible mistake haha! (Although I think that even if I picked the wrong name, it’s unlikely it would be a really catastrophic mistake – maybe it makes a 2% difference to traffic/sales long-term or something).
Okay, so this was 1400 words on “I chose between these 2 domain names, but I’m still not 100% sure I was right” haha, which is kind of par for the course on this blog. I have a few upcoming entries, and I’m very close to actually launching the store properly, at which point I’ll actually talk about what it is, link it, etc.