Vbz.net

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vbz.net is Woozle's online store.

The store currently carries mostly printed and tie-dye t-shirts, with an emphasis on high-quality and aesthetically-oriented graphics. I buy the merchandise at wholesale prices from the printers (Liquid Blue and The Mountain are my two largest suppliers), and resell them at retail. Orders are collected and managed with software I wrote myself (currently rewriting and documenting it).

The store is at http://vbz.net; it also has its own wiki site, at http://wiki.vbz.net, and an IRC channel which nobody uses. A brief history of the store is here.

Short-Term Goals

making it web-based

The major change underway at vbz.net is rewriting the store management software so it no longer depends on expensive proprietary programs (MS Access, which requires Windows) and instead uses an open-source platform (Linux + MySQL + PHP) while adding a web interface -- thus making it possible to manage most (eventually all) store operations with only a web browser; currently this is done using applications which require MS Access to run. I've done most of the "under-the-hood" work of moving the data from Access to MySQL (moving the customer data over securely was especially ticklish, since MS Access 97 doesn't seem to have any cryptographic functions) and I've written part of the web interface.

The web interface will also allow customers to manage their orders online, e.g. check the order status, make changes, get tracking information for packages, and so on.

I'm also working on a "status" page which will let casual visitors see some general, anonymous information gleaned from orders: profit & loss by month, item popularity statistics, and possibly other information.

retail model

I'm also moving towards keeping more items in stock, whereas the original idea had been to stock as little as possible and primarily sell items on backorder. Under the that model, I would try to minimize the turnaround time by accumulating orders as quickly as possible and ordering from each supplier as soon as I had enough customer orders to fill the supplier's minimum; this has proven to be awkward at best.

The most visible effect of this change is that instead of showing both in-stock and backorderable items in the same listing, the store now displays the in-stock items first, followed by a separate listing for everything else -- with a header which clearly indicates that the items aren't in stock ("we don't have these in stock, but we can (probably) get them:" or similar).

what we sell

I'd like to carry more work by local/regional artists and musicians. This is what I actually started out to do, in 1995 (before Amazon!), but I was talked into the t-shirt arena by a former business associate. That association didn't end well, but that market is still quite viable (and strangely underdeveloped by major players like Amazon or Wal-Mart) and could help provide steady revenue to counterbalance the more erratic flow of dealing with individual artists. (My experience with that market is that most items don't sell at all, while a few will have substantial sales -- and then it becomes an issue of ensuring a steady supply, which can be difficult when the supplier is generally busy earning a living doing something else.)

Dealing with individual artists also requires a lot of social contact and especially phone calls, which is something I avoid at best.

Long-Term Goals

I would like to experiment with open business ideas, using vbz.net as a guinea-pig. I'd like to use it to work out a model whereby large profits can be generated for all involved without devolving into something that is anti-community and essentially amoral (if not downright evil).

I would like vbz.net to make enough money that I can live reasonably well off my share of its profits without having to work on it constantly. (I've done enough of the opposite – working extremely hard without being able to live reasonably well – that this seems only fair.)