How to Stuff a Stocking
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September 17, 2007
A long silence
I haven't been able to write here in months, because I've been agonizing over the decision regarding whether to close the store and couldn't do that publicly for obvious reasons. If you've ever "birthed" a project like this (yep, that's what it feels like!), then you would commiserate with me about how hard it might be to shift gears to a totally new incarnation of said project!
But yes. We are closing the store. Our inventory is poised to be donated to a great local charity we know who can resell the merchandise (so we feel great about that, of course). And I've been working for weeks, behind schedule, to update the website so that all our wonderful customers would see what's going on (some of whom are chomping at the bit to place an order!).
As you've seen elsewhere on the site, we are still committed to sharing and posting ideas - so keep us bookmarked for that! We plan to add lots more info - but this is what we've been able to do so far. Got ideas? Send 'em our way! Share your ideas here.
For more details about the "Why" of our decision, click here.
December 15, 2006
The thing that surprises me year after year are the items that are popularly marketed as stocking stuffers. So many reporters online and in print like to feature items that are $25 and up (for a single item!). Larger retail websites tend to offer those more expensive items, too... and I always wonder how anyone could afford to fill stockings for an entire family with these pricey gifts! I know that everyone has a different budget, but at my house if it's more than twenty bucks, it gets wrapped separately and goes under the tree!
Of course, it's not just the price that can be a little high; have you seen the SIZE of some of the things advertised? I just looked at a stocking stuffer list that included: an 41-piece emergency kit with full-sized tools and jumper cables; a fondue set; and a fleece throw blanket! How exactly do you jam an entire fleece blanket into a normal sized stocking? And what stocking mantle hanger can adequately hold a huge tool set?
Little things, folks. Small, relatively inexpensive, fun things. That's what goes in the stocking, next to the tangerines and walnuts if you're a real traditionalist. Keep it simple!
December 9, 2006
Here's to marriage! The hubby and I have been married for 10 years this week! We have been celebrating all year; we started off with a crazy 10-year-anniversary party in June where four couples starting their second decade of marriage gathered for a great meal. We ladies kicked off the evening by showing up in our wedding dresses, which still fit (well, give or take a few buttons in the back). Our next anniversary treat was a delicious meal at one of San Francisco's finest, Fifth Floor (thanks to a generous gift certificate from my dear one's company). Finally, after all the stockings have been stuffed and Plumpstocking quiets down, we're planning a romantic January getaway to someplace tropical, TBD.
Beyond all the champagne toasts and roses, though, is what it all represents: 10 amazing years married to the person who seems to have been hand-picked just for me by God. He really has seen me through it all. Surprisingly, he hasn't once threatened to leave me even though I risked our finances, my health and sanity, and practically every waking minute to birth Plumpstocking.com and keep it going for the last few years. As the old cliche goes, I couldn't have done it without him.
Happy Anniversary Honey! I love you and I'm looking forward to several more decades to come.
November 13, 2006
I just finished sending off an email to a vendor who was interested in selling products on our website. I thought you might find it interesting because it shows our commitment to high quality products. Here's the email (with names changed to protect the innocent):
"We've reviewed your product again in light of the rest of our catalog of products. At the present time, our concern is that the quality of the [product] doesn't seem to be quite at the level of the quality of the rest of the products in our catalog. [Some details here.]
One of the most important things we do when we select the items we sell is to examine them to make sure they're of the highest quality. If something "slips through" and if we find that customers are not happy with the quality of an item we sell, we generally discontinue that product.
The reason all of this is so important to us is that our customers cannot see the products before purchasing. We work hard to win their trust by always surprising them with the quality of our products when they open their order at home.
I think your product is fun and will likely do well in a regular store front, where customers can examine the product in hand and then decide if they feel the value is right.
Thanks again for contacting us about your product, and I wish you good luck and prosperity in your business."
November 1, 2006
Oh, I am so glad October is over! Year after year October is the month that just about does us in. When our November babies were being born, we scurried around trying to clear the to-do lists and "nest" before baby's arrival. After our "Plumpstocking Baby" was born, October took on a whole new look. These days, it's about loading all the new products into our database, photographing every item, and receiving everything in at our warehouse. It's also about adding new features to our website (like our new ability to accept gift coupons; we give these away at local school fundraisers, radio station giveaways, etc.). No matter how prepared we think we are, October always gives us a run for our money!
Now, with October behind us, we are looking forward to focusing on merrily filling all those orders so that you can merrily fill your stockings at home. Ho Ho Ho and on into the season we go!
October 1, 2006
The store is open!
Our grand seasonal re-opening begins today! Our warehouse is ready and we have new products coming in every day, so you'll be seeing those "COMING SOON" messages slowly disappearing over the next week as we get more and more product in. It's an exciting time for us: we fling open the virtual doors and get ready as we ramp up, up, up toward Christmas! Ho Ho Ho... I think I'm almost ready for Christmas Carols! I think I'll go celebrate with some eggnog drink mix!
September 15, 2006
Time to order! We are busily placing orders with our vendors for the upcoming holiday season. As we spend, spend, spend, I have to keep telling myself: if you stock it, they will come. That's why we'll make sure our shelves are full of the coolest, most fun, most novel stocking stuffers anywhere for our store re-opening on October 1st.
Lucky for me, I'm not alone in this activity. One of the best things about being the boss is that every once in a while, you get to hire a friend. We've done that quite a bit at Plumpstocking.com (during our first year, we even had friends visiting from Romania who helped us pack up orders!). Our newest hire is my good friend Kirstin, who lives literally a block and a half away. I've known Kirstin since before Plumpstocking.com was born, so she's witnessed the growth of our business. She's just completed our newly developed training program and is already busily assisting with buying all those products while her two-year-old daughter naps. Later, Kirstin will help out with customer service too - she's multi-talented! I am so grateful to have Kirstin as part of our team.
August 30, 2006
Announcing our newest addition to Plumpstocking.com: Charity StuffersTM! Since Plumpstocking.com began, it's been important for me to create a business that was about more than selling gifts. As much fun as I do have choosing stocking stuffers all year and seeing those orders get filled at Christmastime, I've always known that Plumpstocking.com would eventually represent something more... And so, we introduce Charity StuffersTM. Charity StuffersTM are basically cards that represent a $5 donation to the charity of your choice out of our list of 18 charities. This way, you can nestle some goodwill into that stocking next to the toys, and candy, and gadgets. At the low cost of $5, a small donation will, when added together with other donations, go a long way toward supporting some of the best charities in the U.S.
I hope that you are as excited about our Charity StuffersTM as I am! The spirit of giving - that's what Christmas is really all about.
August 21, 2006
Just before we left on vacation, I attended the San Francisco Gift Fair. One of the fun new items I found were Wikki Stix. As I was chatting with the rep about them, I mentioned our family's planned vacation road trip to Oregon and Washington. "Take some samples to try in the car," she said.
This is such a great example of how we try to use and test the products we sell here at Plumpstocking.com. I suspected that these would make good stocking stuffers, but the proof was in the way these really did entertain my 2-1/2 and 4-1/2 year olds on our road trip. My daughter made people, houses, and animals with hers; my son balled his sticks up and stuck them together, sort of like play dough. We had a great time twisting and pulling and experimenting. They even stuck to paper, the car window, and the dash. They were easy to remove and the kids hands were not messy afterward (although I do still need to figure out how to get the wax off the car window). Our rating: thumbs up! We're planning to feature them in our catalog this season, so be sure to look for them in the stationery category!
July 15, 2006
Preserving the Magic?
My friend Kelly and I were washing our cars in the driveway with our kids on a sunny afternoon the other day. Her observant 7-year-old daughter looked up at the back of my car and asked, "What's PlumpStocking.com?" I paused because I am aware that my window decal, which includes our URL and "Online Stocking Stuffer Store" could potentially spoil the magic of Santa Claus for those kids who are old enough to read but young enough to believe in a little Christmas fairy tale.
I looked over at Kelly and proceeded with caution. "I have a store that sells lots of little things that make fun stocking stuffers," I said. I waited for the follow-up question, "But doesn't Santa do that?" I was ready to come up with an elaborate explanation about how we're in cahoots with the bearded one. For some reason, Rebecca was satisfied with my answer and walked off to soap up her sponge. Whew! Dodged the bullet that time!
July 11, 2006
A couple of weeks ago, I get this call from some guy (we'll call him Mr. Ripoff) from Platinum Television Group. He mentions interest in our store for a holiday program they're producing. We set up a phone interview for the following week. How embarrassing to admit, I was actually a little excited. We've had some decent press mentions, but TV, well now, that would be great. So we commence with this "interview", and I'm innocently spouting "We love Christmas! That's what makes us special!" and other similarly enthusiastic messages (that's me, I have lots of energy!). FORTY FIVE MINUTES of my precious time later, Mr. Ripoff informs me that it costs $20K to be on his show. Are you kidding? I've never heard of having to pay to be on a program. Particularly his purported "educational" program. But I don't want to offend this guy (Hey, maybe I'm wrong? Maybe you do have to pay to be on TV?). We schedule another meeting to discuss further.
Meanwhile, I leave a voicemail message for my publicist and do a little more research on these guys. Now, before accepting the first interview call, I had already checked out their website and Googled them, and it looked legit. This time, with a $20K price tag looming, I dig a little deeper. I manage to find someone who'd worked with them in the past. So I call her up. Incredibly, this kind, very busy entrepreneur actually calls me back to give me an earful about these jokers. Apparently, they prey on startup companies like ours, taking advantage of our desire for some good publicity. They promise magazine ads, national network TV spots, all kinds of great media attention, and then simply deliver a 5-10 minute video piece about your company (albeit nicely produced). Beyond the video, the rest of the promises are hollow, and you're out $20K with no new public exposure.
A few more internet searches turns up hits on the Ripoff Report as well:
When Mr. Ripoff calls me back, I ask for client references. He directs me to their website. I say, "Really, I can find real names and contact numbers for clients that I can actually talk to?" and he says, "Oh, yes, of course." Not true, of course. He sure ended the call quickly after that. What a surprise, I have not heard from them since!
And the moral of the story is... Always, always get client references and follow through on those references before you pay anyone for any solicited service. Do your homework!
July 6, 2006
Catalogs everywhere! They're piled up on my desk, on an extra table I set up in our family room, on the floor, on the sewing machine... Catalogs from food vendors, toy vendors, publishers, sock companies, pet companies... But I'm actually a little ahead of the game this year. I'm usually doing this sorting activity in August. On vacation. In trying to avoid that particular scenario from happening to me again, I'm optimistically presorting everything now. I've been receiving catalogs literally since January, from every trade show vendor whose booth I ever graced with my brief presence, so you can imagine how they've piled up!
Once I sort everything by product category, then I stack the piles on an old bookshelf in our garage (yep, it's the glamorous annex of my at-home office). Next I'll take the stacks one by one and create a list of every product I'm remotely interested in ordering. Equipped with this, I can blaze through the next trade show, filling in the gaps for products I want but haven't sourced yet. When I'm not too pressed for time, this product selection process is actually quite fun!
So now it's back to the stacks for me...
May 23, 2006
Yup - we've closed up "Santa's Workshop" for the summer. For a while there, we were working to move toward a year-round business. But after careful reflection, consideration, and business analysis, we've decided that for now we will focus on what we love, and what we do best. That's Christmas! So we are going to concentrate on bringing you nothing but the best stocking stuffers.
As I said in an earlier posting, we will still be hard at work year-round, even when the store is closed. So check back for content and product updates, and let us know if you want to be on our mailing list by sending us a message. We'll be counting down the days until October 1st, and we hope you will too!
May 2, 2006
Even in May, you'll find me tooling around town in our family's Honda CR-V (our only car - a blessing of urban living), with "PlumpStocking.com" emblazoned across the back window. There's nothing like having a marketing decal on your car for improving driving courtesy. After all, the last thing I want to do is offend a potential customer!
If you do see us zipping around the SF Bay Area, be sure to give my kiddos a wave - they'll love it!
It's easy to wonder if this type of marketing is effective. I should probably add the car window decal as an option in the "how did you hear about us" field of our shopping cart just to see! A couple of weeks ago, one lovely lady actually approached me and asked for a business card in order to check out our website. That's a good sign, I suppose! If you're reading this, "Hello Lisa!"
April 13, 2006
I've had people ask me, "So, what do you do in the off-season?" Well, first of all, you'd be surprised how many folks think it's never too early to shop for Christmas. There are also plenty of others who love our idea (creating a gift of assorted fun goodies) for other holidays and occasions over the course of the year. But as for most retailers, it's true we do the bulk of our business during the Christmas holiday season. So what are we up to now?
Right now I am busy: reviewing and negotiating contracts with the folks who work for us; attending gift shows and other venues searching for great stocking stuffers; sorting through stacks of vendor catalogs, also looking for hot new products; making plans to update our website (both our intranet and our extranet); working on PR opportunities; checking out the competition; considering other information we might add to benefit our customers; and developing more year-round offerings. As you can see, we are definitely not snoozing (or vacationing on a tropical beach somewhere - I wish!). Our work is absolutely year round!
April 6, 2006
Last night we attended a benefit event for one of our favorite organizations, Sunset Youth Services. They held both silent and live auctions. I'm proud to say that we donated hundreds of dollars of merchandise for the silent auction displays. It was a great evening; the mayor of San Francisco (Gavin Newsom) and our District Attorney (Kamala Harris) attended, as did many neighborhood officials (police captain, district supervisor, and more). The live auction item of a personal tour of the mayor's office by Gavin Newsom went for over $1000! It was great to see people literally flinging their money around lavishly to help this great cause.
March 1, 2006
Back in January, I had intended to provide a list of some of the charitable organizations we support. Here are a few that we donated to in 2005:
February 28, 2006
Where has the time gone?
Ah, dear customers, life is bittersweet. The reason for my absence from this blog throughout December was that, well, we were incredibly busy (which is a great problem!). However, the reason for the lack of entries in January and February is that my wonderful, sweet Dad passed away unexpectedly in January. Needless to say, it's taking some time for life to get back to normal, and I've taken a lot of time off during this time. I'm slowly getting ready to jump back in and get going on all the great improvements and new offerings we have planned for you! Thanks for your patience. And remember, life is short - so hug those who are most dear to you, and live life to its absolute fullest - starting now!
December 1, 2005
My family and I just started lighting our Advent Wreath last night (yes, we're a few days late, but we were out of town!). We used the Advent Candle Holders in our Advent Wreath. I didn't have the right size candles, so I shaved off the ends of some tapers and jammed them into the holders. Whatever works, right? I keep reminding myself that our family Christmas traditions and celebrations don't have to be perfect, as long as we enjoy them and each other. We hope you remember that this season, too!
November 27, 2005
I just have to say that the "Flybabies" are the world's nicest customers. We have received countless encouraging emails. What a blessing to have such supportive customers!
November 26, 2005
What a day!! The FLYLady (www.flylady.net) forwarded a testimonial I wrote, and since it mentioned our website, "Flybabies" from around the world (!) visited our site. Although our server was big enough, we found out the hard way that some settings were causing our big server to act like a little server. Unfortunately, Saturday afternoon and evening found lots of our customers getting error messages or very slow response time on our website. Wouldn't you just know that I was out on a date to celebrate my wedding anniversary (and nowhere near my computer!)? After a few hours troubleshooting the problem, we finally got it fixed later that evening. What a stressful evening!
November 24, 2005
Happy Thanksgiving! My mother made the best turkey and gravy this year using one of those Reynolds Oven Bags. When it's my turn next year, I'll definitely try that! On the Plumpstocking.com front, it's been a quiet day. It's nice to know that folks everywhere are taking a break to relax with friends and family.
November 15, 2005
I took some photos at our warehouse today. Here is one of our "elves" packing up orders!
November 1, 2005
Plumpstocking is included in Red Hat Society Lifestyle Magazine in the November/December issue. Welcome Red Hat Society Lifestyle Ladies! We think you are fabulous! We hope you have fun shopping for stocking stuffers with us!
October 31, 2005
Women's World hits newsstands with a piece on Plumpstocking.com on page 4 of the November 8th issue. Women's World readers: welcome to our website!
October 24, 2005
After months of looking, I finally found the right chenille socks (that is, the right quality at the right price) to put in our stocking stuffer assortments. These things are like heaven on your feet. There are going to be some happy moms and grandmas out there on Christmas morning! These stocking stuffers should be up on the website by Halloween.
October 21, 2005
We donated a huge basket full of Plumpstocking.com goodies to one of our favorite charities tonight (Golden Gate Community Inc., which runs "social enterprises" that give at-risk-youth job training and mentoring). Our basket went for 25% over regular retail prices in the silent auction!
October 20, 2005
At the risk of being called a geek... I am so fired up about our new order status functionality! Now customers can check the status of their order and link directly over to the UPS tracking information. Just another step toward a real-time shopping experience for our customers. I love it!
October 18, 2005
One of the best parts of this job is testing fabulous gourmet samples. This week it was Raspberry Linzer Torte and Espresso Decadence Cake. YUM. They're great, super rich, and make perfect stocking stuffers. We will definitely order these. Better hurry so that we can get them up on the website by the end of the month!
October 11, 2005
We pumped up our server today in anticipation of some press mentions. Migrating a server is never fun, but at least I'll be able to sleep tonight without worrying that our server will crash when certain magazines hit the newsstands! Which magazines, you ask? We'll be sure to tell you once they're published.
October 7, 2005
Great full-color article today (front page, shopping section) about us in the Contra Costa Times. One more to add to our growing press list!
October 6, 2005
Made a visit out to our warehouse today. Looks like our staff out there are getting the hang of our picking and packing system. One of the ladies who's tasked with assembling the stocking stuffers into their cellophane bags and tying the pretty raffia bows said that they love filling our orders. They feel like Santa's elves. That's just how we felt last year! We used to blast the Christmas tunes and pack all day...
September 29, 2005
Just a few more days and we will have over 300 new stocking stuffers! I'm thrilled with our fabulous new gourmet food (featured in the "Just Gimme the Goodies" Stocking Stuffer Assortment). We've added a bunch of new toys, our most popular category of stocking stuffers. And for the guys, we have some great gizmos and tools. (Check out this cool fishing plier tool! [link removed]) I am so excited to get these items inventoried and up on the site.
August 16, 2005
Big day today... we officially moved our inventory of stocking stuffers into our new warehouse. Hurrah! I'm excited about our new staff there. Detailed-oriented, organized, and kinda friendly, too!
August 5, 2005
Welcome to our blog, which I imagine will be full of the various milestones we make as a growing online retail store... I wish we'd started a blog earlier, so we could really show how far we've come. But in any case, here's your chance to be a fly on the wall in our offices and our warehouse as we pick and pack the perfect stocking stuffers for you. Thanks for your interest in our family business! --Kathleen