While sitting here checking in another restock from Micro Arts Studio, Facebook reminds me that one year ago, I was doing the exact same thing with our very first shipment of inventory – also from Micro Art Studio. Looking over the shelves here now and seeing all the great products from our overseas partners, it is amazing to me how much has changed in our first year. It seems like the perfect time to look back over the year and see where we have been and where we are going. This means talking about our successes as well as some rough spots and what have done and are doing to improve on them.
Infinity Harbour started because I was frustrated with the lack of availability of products in the USA. Several online retailers listed carrying products but would be out for months and months at a time. My initial thought was that I would place a direct order with Micro Art Studio and Bandua, negotiate a discount, and sell half of it to cover my personal table. Seemed like a great way to get a gaming table paid for myself. I clearly had underestimated the pent up demand because as soon as I started putting feelers out into the forums, I was inundated with requests from people wanting these products. I was also surprised to find that the manufacturers were equally enthusiastic about getting their products into the USA with more consistent availability. Thus, with some great partners in place and customers excited to have product, we launched with a large shipment from Micro Art Studio (Poland) and Bandua (Spain). We didn’t even carry the Corvus Belli (Spain) Infinity figures at that point. Soon we added Plast Craft (Spain), Antenocitis Workshop (UK), CNC Workshop (Australia) and very recently Deepcut Studios (Lithuania) as direct partners. These direct partnerships have been key to providing you with high availability of these product lines and we have been delighted with the relationships we have built with these companies. We also brought in Corvus Belli and Customeeple (Spain) from distributors. I was so nervous paying for those initial orders. Would this stuff sell? What had I gotten myself into? Anxiety was running high to be sure but so was my belief that it would work out and that there was a demand for a niche Infinity retailer. Now, it seems funny to look back at how concerned I was at the size of those initial orders as we restock that same amount regularly now. We were never going to be the largest seller online and that was fine. We wanted to make sure we had the best products available and the best in customer service and I like to think that we have largely succeeded on those points.
Besides selling product, we wanted to play an active role in supporting the game and growing the community of players in the US. To that end, we have supplied lots of clubs and groups with ITS packs and supported some great events around the country. We provided prize support to the Twin Cities Infinity League, Twinfinity Tournament, Kingdom Con, Operation Space Bunny, and Battle for the Bayou to name a few. We are already committed to several events in the next year and will continue to play an active role in supporting events large and small.
Now, in interest of full disclosure, there were certainly some growing pains. Some of these I think have been resolved and some we are still working on. Initially, it was really daunting and beyond our financial resources to stock the entire Corvus Belli line. We had to pick and choose carefully and gradually increase our stock. We initially did a combination of focused purchases based on the most popular factions and products as well as drop shipping orders on demand. This meant that there were times it might take almost a week from when an order was placed until we received your Infinity figures from our distributors. It also meant that we pretty much had to manually update stock availability on a daily basis to reflect what was available to us. In order to try and have as much availability as possible, we worked with multiple distributors in multiple locations. This meant higher availability of inventory, but required an enormous amount of manual labor for us. Luckily, after about 6 months of grinding away with this manual process, we were able to make a large inventory purchase so that we no longer had to drop ship any product. We started carrying the whole Corvus Belli line and carrying it deep enough to handle demand. We now restock weekly and availability is generally really good across the entire line.
When we launched, our website and our accounting system did not talk to each other. This meant we had to manage customers and orders in two places and manually enter everything twice. The main problem in this for you, was that there were times when a product may have been sold locally and before we could update the website, you placed an order for the same item. This led to a fairly frequent situation where we would have to refund parts of orders and was frustrating for you and for us. This clearly was not a good formula for customer satisfaction or particular efficient for us. Consequently, we invested in some software integration to link our ecommerce site and our accounting systems so that your orders and our inventory items would stay in sync. This system has been in place about six months now and has overall been working great and inventory sync issues have been completely eliminated.
This brings us to shipping. Shipping product out in a timely manner has always been our biggest hurdle. It took us a couple months just to figure out what size boxes and how many of each kind we needed to stock. We tried several carriers and eventually settled on USPS Priority as the best combination of price, speed in delivery, and quality of parcel delivery. As of right now, USPS has damaged less than 1 in 1,000 packages we have sent which is really good for everyone. Now, some of our customers have complained about slow ship times. Other customers have come to our defense (which we appreciate). However, both sides of the argument are correct. Some of our customers have been fortunate and gotten things quickly, but it is also true that some customers have not had their orders processed as quickly as they or we would like. Again, most of the problem here lies in manual processes and those which require double manual entry in multiple systems. In order to address this complaint from customers and to improve our shipping, just in the past month we have invested in some new shipping solutions which we hope will improve things for everybody. This includes software integration to eliminate manual entry of shipping information and things like dedicated postage label printers that are also integrated into the shipping solution to speed things along. We have also made improvements in our pick list generation and order handling methods to shorten the time from order placement to order shipment.
In conclusion, I would like to let all of you know, we are grateful for the opportunity to have served your Infinity needs the past year and thank you for going on this journey with us. There have been growing pains and lessons learned but there has also been fun and camaraderie as well. We have lots planned in the next year – new products, events, and more. We look forward to working with you in the next year and those to follow.