Inc 500, 1584!

Each year INC. Magazine creates a list of the fastest growing private companies in the US. In the past they listed the 500 fastest growing, but recently expanded the list to include the fastest growing 5000. The rank is based on the rate of revenue increase for a company over a period of three years (not total revenue, not profit, just growth).

 We made it last year and I’m pleased to report we made it again this year (number 1584). We dropped a little from last year (1234), but I still think that 180% growth during a major recession is pretty good. We’re on track to rank quite a bit higher next year as well. We’re not huge by any means, but it’s great to think that we made a company from scratch, we provide jobs, stimulate the economy and our community, make a living, and even have a few fans here and there. Owning a company can be incredibly stressful, but it’s very rewarding as well.

Shoulda Woulda Coulda

I’ve been in the retail business a long time. I’m certain that our customer service record is excellent (far above average in our retail field). But no matter how good your service is there are just some people you can’t make happy. Consider this customer email:


We are not very happy campers. It’s Friday, 15 minutes to 5pm and the Post Office still has not delivered this package.

We have been tracking this package and it sat in Coppell Texas for 2 days.

I would think with a blade this expensive, of a limited edition run, your company would provide “free shipping” that was substantially better than the U.S Post Office.

Now we face the weekend wondering where this order is at, did it get stolen in the process, or ruined, and what about the credit put on a card where no delivery has been made to the product ordered.

W. Ferree is an 87 year old veteran who’s been put through the ringer trying to patiently wait for this order to come.

It will be a very long, long time before we ever order again. It’s just not worth being treated this way. 

Ruth/Wayne. F.

Eastern State


Here are some facts for you to consider:

1. We processed and shipped this customer’s order the same day she placed it.

2. She selected (and got) 100% free 4-5 day shipping.

3. She had the option of purchasing USPS Express mail or FedEx shipping.

4. Every company on earth charges the customer’s credit card once an order ships.

5. Copell Texas is the location of a USPS mail sorting facility.

5. Her order was delivered about 15 mins after she wrote this email (it was signed for by her).

Here are some questions we had:

1. Why did she write us on Friday before her mail came when the tracking showed the package was “out for delivery?”

2. What would “substantially better” free shipping have been? USPS has been extremely reliable for us. She had other options she could have purchased.

3. Why would a customer think their package was “stolen” or “ruined” even though the tracking shows it’s in transit?

4. How does telling us the intended recipient is an 87 year old Veteran make any difference?

5. The recipient has been “put through the ringer?” Have these people never ordered anything online before?

6. “Not worth being treated this way?” Does she mean “great” or “excellent?” We just didn’t get it. Or maybe they didn’t get it…

Here is our email reply: 


Hi Ruth,

I have reviewed your situation and I think you are absolutely correct! The person responsible for packing and shipping your order has been terminated. They packed it and shipped it the same day we got it, but this is simply unacceptable. And I completely agree with you about shipping- if we are going to provide free same day shipping to our customers then it should at least meet their expectations in terms of reliability and speed. Our decision to ship through USPS has obviously caused you both a great deal of unneeded stress. I have called our postal representative and I gave them a piece of my mind! I let them know that it’s unacceptable to have a package sit in Texas for two days. I asked that the plant supervisor there be dismissed.

I would not be a happy camper either. The tracking shows that it will be delivered soon, but you’re right- it could have been stolen, damaged, or worse. My fear is that the postal employee on your route has the intent to deliver the item to the wrong address. Even though the item is enroute I think the best course of action is to speculate about what might happen. In fact, I will put a trace on the package. No one should be put through an emotional wringer like this- especially not am 87 year old Veteran. It’s only been five days, but you’ve been more than patient and I can respect your position.

In regard to the credit card charge. Though every company in the world charges a card once an item has shipped I am on the same page as you.  We should have invested the time to track your package (as we should for all customers) and charge you only once it has been delivered. I will send a note to our management department to see if we can implement this initiative. I think it could decrease the stress that most of our customers must be feeling (knowing that have been charged, but that their package could be lost somewhere while it travels to them).  

I would not order from us again. The way you have been treated defies description. Free same day shipping that does not meet your expectations is awful and you have my deepest apologies. As I said- the personal responsible has been fired. I showed them your email. They saw how you have suffered all week. They said if they had known the package was going to a Veteran with emotional problems then they would have tried to get it out before you ordered and would have used FedEx or UPS- anything besides our terrible postal system. Hopefully this will never happen to another customer. You should not have been treated this way- you are right. I am very sorry.


PS. I just checked the status and it looks like the item was delivered and that you signed for it. I can only assume that you have not gotten it. Everything else has gone so horribly wrong that I’m sure someone else has it and has forged your name. Please let me know!


Okay, we didn’t really send that email.  But I sometimes I wish that we could send this stuff. 

Here’s what we really sent:


Hi Ruth,

I just checked the tracking info. It appears that the item arrived there around 4:50pm.  

The order was shipped the same day it was placed, and arrived in 5 days. I don’t think that’s unreasonable, but I do feel bad that it didn’t meet your expectations. We have found USPS to be reliable and affordable.  

Hopefully Wayne enjoys the knife and finds that it was worth the wait. We are very grateful to our Veterans and the service they have provided to our country.

I regret that you feel that you have been treated badly. We try to provide good service.



There you have it. Proof that our customer service is superior until the bitter end. Did she reply? Nope. Sometimes people just want to be unahppy. Hopefully she can find something wrong with the knife so she gets a chance to complain again!

Retail Resolution

If anyone wonders where I went… November happened and then December came right after it. One word: Retail. The two months leading up to Christmas get nuts. Planning, preparation, exponentially increasing order volumes, emails, phone calls, product reordering, stocking, shipping, holiday emails, nightmare customers. These are the times that I live for and that I dread.

Next week will be the busiest yet. Right now we do between 150-200 orders a day but that will jump as the desperate turn to us for seasonal salvation. The one thing that ceaselessly irks me is the customers who blame us for ruining Christmas. People need to step up and take some personal responsibility. Last year we had a lady who ordered on Christmas Eve. She sent an email and said in effect “I just placed my order. I paid for Express. It better be here tomorrow! Please don’t ruin my Christmas.” It was about eleven in the evening. “You have got to be kidding.” I replied. I like the last little rush we get, but things would be easier if people would order a few weeks in advance.

This December is going much better for me personally than last December. Last year I had a chest infection that lasted from the end of November 2008 until June of 2009. So far this winter I’ve just had a couple of mild colds. I give a lot of credit to a new allergy medication I’m on. Since my immune system isn’t busy fighting inert allergens now it can fight real stuff. Yeah! I’m also able to get more sleep this year compared to last year. Gotta give credit to my work crew there- they are awesome.  Come to think of it, I’ve only slept one night at work this winter (compared to maybe 10 last year). That is some real progress.

And speaking of progress! I had some work I was supposed to do tonight- image editing for new products. Generally I edit images while I watch something in our theatre. But tonight was different… tonight I couldn’t take my eyes off the movie long enough to work. In fact, I had to put my computer away because I was simply too mesmerized. By what, you ask? By progress. Theatre progress.

Some of you may recall a post I made awhile back about getting a Sanyo Blu-Ray player. That was a big step for me.  But the player had an audio syncing problem (it wasn’t compatible with my Onkyo receiver).  Also, my projector at the time was 720p so I wasn’t getting the full resolution offered by Blu-Ray. Well no more!

For Christmas (pre Christmas) I got a Sony Blu-Ray player. No audio syncing issues! I also picked up an Optoma 1080p Projector (the picture is amazingly bright & clear).  And this time everything is using HDMI. Last night I installed the projector.  Tonight I tweaked the Onkyo to work just right with the new Sony player. Then I popped in Terminator: Salvation. I just sat there, blown away. Wow. The jump from DVD to Blu-Ray took a long time, and there were some bad snags, but ultimately I think it’s been worth it and I’m completely stoked.

Anyway, work beckons. There is much to do. I’ll be back next year. I’m like Frosty. Except that I’m not made of snow. And I wasn’t brought to life by a magical hat. And I hate kids (not mine).  Yes sir, just like Frosty.

Update: February 22, 2010. Above you’ll find a post documenting some of my projects that I finished up in the past few months. One of them was the theatre- I finally consider it done! The projector is mounted and calibrated correctly. I routed all the HDMI cables and got a power cord that’s not spliced together. And we added a mini fridge! The theatre is officially the coolest room in the house!

Inc. 500, 1234!


Each year INC. Magazine creates a list of the fastest growing private companies in the US. In the past they listed the 500 fastest growing, but recently expanded the list to include the fastest growing 5000. The rank is based on the rate of revenue increase for a company over a period of three years (not total revenue, not profit, just growth). Low and behold we’re 1, 234th! By many measures it’s a small accomplishment, but there’s some satisfaction that goes with it too. I don’t think we’ll make the 500 list anytime soon (maybe one day), but we’re not doing too bad!

Blog Bog

In the world of business there’s literally something blog worthy every day, and it was my intention to blog at least once a week (I have failed miserably). I find time is exceptionally tight these days as I’ve taken on some new projects. I expect I’ll seldom post more than once every few months for the next year or so, but I’ll try to make the posts full of adventure, intrigue and romance. Uh… or not.


I Just Want to Fit In.

So you’ve come up with the perfect idea. You’ve given it copious amounts of thought and you’re certain it has viable business potential. You can easily envision yourself building a business around the idea and you are, to put it mildly, manically euphoric. Great start! What’s next? Easy- figuring out if there’s a market for your business and understanding the gentle art of cramming yourself into that market.

The Market: In this case “the market” isn’t a physical place. Rather it’s a idealistic representation of an economic cycle (i.e someone sells something, someone buys something, and so on).

Let’s say your idea is to sell some type of product: shoes (don’t scoff- visit The question is simple: Is there a market for shoes in which you can sell the and a customer will buy them? One quick look around reveals that, yes,  there is a huge market for shoes. The idea has “Cam’s Business Idea Approval” (that’s a CBIA for future reference).

Okay, that was easy. Now let’s complicate things a bit.  What if you want to sell shoes with a type of new super sole you’ve developed? Is there a market for that? Looking around may not help as much in this case because (obviously) no one else is selling a shoe with as much soul as you (those puns just come out of nowhere). There is, as we have already noted, a strong market for shoes. If your product is part of a larger market and is better than existing products then there is a market for it. This is a great segway into…

Visible Advantage: This terms, as I use it, refers to anything that potential customers see as a reason to purchase from you as opposed to a competition. Lower prices, larger inventory, faster shipping, more articulate product descriptions, hot babes, anything that distinguishes you in some positive way from your competition. Generally your advantage comes from doing something better than others in your market. The idea of a visible advantage is incredibly obvious, but I’m floored by how often companies overlook or misunderstand this necessity.

Cam: Sure, I think selling ties could work. What’s your edge?
Client: We’ll have a website!
Cam: Okay. And what advantage will your website have over other tie websites.
Client: It will be on the Internet.
Cam: Oh… uh. Well, other websites that sell ties are online too.
Client: We’ll have Tomy Hilfiger ties. My brother wears them. He always says, “If it’s not a Tommy, it’s not a tie!” They’re popular.
Cam: Other competing websites will probably carry the same brands of ties. Is there anything unique you’re going to do to set yourself apart?
Client: Well, we’re going to sell a lot of ties.
Cam: Sigh.

Visible advantage is what allows a company to enter and succeed in an already crowded market. The result is simple: The market expands to accommodate the new business or the market remains the same and a company with no visible advantage goes under. You want to sell shoes? As long as you’re better than your competition in some way people will buy shoes from you. Once you can define your advantage and once the customer is aware of it you’re on your way.

Visible advantage is also what allows you to enter and succeed in an uncrowded market. If you’re the guy with the new shoe sole that that is your advantage. It’s your job to make sure the customer understands why your sole is better and why they need your shoe. When you focus on a small part of a larger market you’re working in a niche. A niche can be a an excellent visible advantage.

To recap: You have an idea. You identify your market and your competition.  You build your business with a visible advantage over your competition. Angels sing your praises and you drive off into the sunset in a green Lamborghini.  I can’t tell you that any of this is easy (those Italian sports cars are hard to drive!), but it’s straightforward, it’s simple and it works.


A couple of thoughts that will be part of the next post:

  • A visible advantage isn’t doing something someone else is already doing- it’s doing it better
  • In a crowded market you don’t have to be the best- it may not be practical. However, you must be better than the worst.
  • In a niche market you should strive to be the best.
  • One visible advantage is a start. The more you have the better you will do.
  • Even if you become the best don’t pat yourself on the back. Someone somewhere is gunning for you.
  • If you’re successful and you’ve never heard heard of this visible advantage nonsense, then you have a visible advantage.

This post is CBIA certified.

What’s the Big Idea?

So you want a business huh? You want to build the next Microsoft, become the next Donald Trump and marry the latest popular arm ornament. Where do you start? I’ve got a great idea- start of the beginning. Where’s the beginning? Hang on tight, becuase I’ve got the answer. The beginning is the idea.

As I talk with potential customers [*1] about running a store, the thing that frustrates me the most is that they want to start their business in the middle somewhere. Lunch conversations have literally gone like this:

Customer: How do I do order fulfillment- do you think UPS or FedEx is better?
Cam: What are you selling?
Customer: Well, my buddy makes these little wooden puppets that kids seem to like. But maybe that’s dumb. Maybe we could sell something else. Maybe wooden hats.
Cam: Well, it’s important to figure out what you want to sell.
Customer: We’ll probably go with the puppets. But it’s hard to get to get these things off the ground, you know? I mean how will we find time to do advertising?
Cam: Well, the first step is to decide what you want to sell.
Customer: Is advertising hard? Do you think we should use Google?
Cam: I’d say the first thing to do is decide what product you want to market.
Customer: Well, one thing I know- we’ve got to sell something good. I hope we can find a cheap place to rent for a store. How much does your store cost?
Cam: I hate you and you’re lucky this fork is plastic.

Times are tough now. You can’t simply announce that a great idea will be forthcoming and have venture capitalists begging you to take their money. From what I understand this was the case a few years back, and now companies built on the idea of an idea are completely gone. Nice work there. So let me drive this home again- you start your business by thinking of an idea.

The idea itself can be anything. Maybe you have the great idea for a world changing invention (way to go!). Maybe your idea involves buying some spiffy niche product wholesale and reselling it (works for me!).  Or maybe you can provide some incredible service that everyone wants (make it free for Cam!). Lie in a hammock, brainstorm on paper, harass your friends- just find the idea.

Now you have to ask yourself an important and potentially uncomfortable question: Can i build a business around my idea?  Let’s say you love pickle and jelly sandwiches. No one makes a better PJ sandwich than you! Maybe you should open a pickle and jelly sandwich shop, right? But in the nick of time you realize that no one else on earth will eat your sandwiches.  Sometimes common sense is all you need for a business evaluation.  Other times it takes a little more work.  You need to churn your idea around. You need to imagine how a business could function around it. The idea has to be viable enough so that it can support an infrastructure of processes (processes are big- we’ll talk about them one day [*2]) to reach a desired goal (usually money!).  And even after you figure out everything in your head, you may not know an idea isn’t viable until you’ve started working with it.  We’ll go more into depth on that later.

So to recap: A business starts with an idea. Find an idea and ask yourself if you can build a business around it.  That’s the first step [*3]. Now is not the time to figure out of your cousin Bubba is going to be a good customer service rep (“I just wish he knew English”) or if you should start planning your retirement. Begin with an idea and evaluate it’s business potential as best you can.  Then you decide if it’s something you really want to do, something that will be within your ability range, something you can afford, and so on. We’ll get to that soon. If you want a business just start thinking of ideas.


[1*] Potential customers for our ecommerce software, Blaze.

[*2] Processes are a fundamental requirement to achieve a successful business. Processes solve problems, create order and make you feel warm and fuzzy. I’ll be writing a section on developing processes in the future.  This will be updated with a link when the post is done.

[*3] Yep, all my business started with an idea. “Can I sell knives on the Internet and make money?”  worked out pretty well. “Can I pour lime juice into water, add caffeine, add the words “natural” and “power” and make a million dollars?” We shall see.

Cam on Commerce

camoncommerceopenimage1.jpgMost of you are probably familiar with Joel on Software. The guy is a blogging champ and often comes up with some great ideas and philosophies I’ve applied to my own business. Yeah, he writes about software and his software company so not everything he says applies to what I’d doing. And then I got to thinking, “I wish someone would do a blog specifically geared toward commerce.” And then I thought, “I could do that. Cam…. Cam on commerce.”  So there you have it- the origin story.

Maybe I’m not the best guy to do it. Maybe I can’t write with the wit, clarity and stunning charisma of people like Joel. Maybe, maybe, maybe- but the domain is registered and I’ve set up the blog and I’m on my way! Maybe one day someone will read the other blog and find something useful. That would be really cool. One in awhile I may say something helpful. Plus it’s a nifty was to organize my thoughts on business. Go there now!