May 2012

Monday 28th May 2012.

A Significant Day

  • 7th day in a row of sunny weather – which for the High Peak is far from usual !
  • Took the day off from the workshop to concentrate on chasing up unpaid invoices & marketing.

After a rather busy weekend being slow cooked in a marquee at Hardwick Hall Derbyshire Food Festival and having had a far from great return on investment in time and stock for the event despite it attracting in excess of 13,000 visitors I was encouraged by the numbers interested in the Fan-Ce and its smaller brother the Fan-C. I handed out a couple of hundred cards with the website details.

So Monday was spent building the market as far as possible mostly through Twitter…ing, trying to ‘crack the social media’ approach. the plan of searching out Wood Burning Stove installers, Retailers, makers etc seams to be helping.

As of tonight we have 36 followers and have tweeted 63 times (not sure if this includes re-tweets or not ? I have found 108 accounts to follow most directly related to the Stove market some indirectly. All that since 18th May – 10 days . Has it paid off ?

  Well the main Significant thing 
is we took our first Twitter Created Order !!
 From http://www.northmillstoves.co.uk/
Thank you !

This is great news. A stove retailer covering the key target market area. I have posted the last stock Fan-Ce special delivery – fingers crossed all goes well and they follow up with another order.

That now leaves me with a slight issue – no demo unit, still awaiting the production components for the hubs and base discs. Having phoned again this morning, we have been advised,

 “we are awaiting the material and I will get ‘Mr Smith’ (name changed to protect the innocent etc etc) to call you back when he gets in and confirm delivery date”.

  This leaves me in a less than ideal position. I will call back again first thing…just to nudge it along – am feeling a little nervous that my eggs are all in a very small family run basket right now and the attention to detail & service I wanted may be spread a little thin.

What next – I’m still thinking on that one – Wednesday Pm will be #lookeastmidlands hour on twitter and I will once again look to build followers etc. I really am in need of getting a decent set of images for the product – to use for the website page, twitter account, Facebook page and a brochure for stove shops.

As an aside, I wrote to my local MP to ask that he support the movement to scrap the latest 3p/ltr duty rise and explained that as a ‘small start up business’ its hard enough as it is without further tax burden and the follow up knock on effects such a duty rise causes.  Will he even read the email though ? I suspect not as it will likely be one of many and be scanned and trashed. Sad that my confidence in the political system is such ! Must be overkill from the phone hacking scandal public inquiry – dare say there will be another budget cut to pay for the next one of these as well.

Website hits keep improving,  which is encouraging.
If you read this please do leave a comment, thanks
I end the day Encouraged

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Wednesday 23rd May

Bright sun again – great for the solar panels but not so good for the woodburning stove and accessories market me thinks ! Got the import duty * VAT bill yesterday for the TEG modules – paid that online and received the modules by 9.30am this morning.

Having checked the machined sample parts which arrived last Saturday, I have modified the base disc 8mm was just too thin and looked it. The prototypes have all been 12 – 14mm thick – which not having measured them (I ordered 10mm slices) I hadn’t expected them to be over size by that amount.  So I suspect the component price will be ‘reviewed’ in light of more material – coupled with the slightly higher import duty & VAT & ‘handling fee !….. the margins are already being squeezed !  More order volume will off course improve things, though no orders this last weekend or this week. Possibly the arrival of the sun and Stoves have been cleaned out and left cold – which I always think looks sad.

Once the components arrive I can start the assembly and get some new product images for the website, twitter account @thefan_ce and brochure / flyer  – I hope to have a part batch by the end of this week so that I can fulfill existing orders which I have been holding back awaiting the new improved parts.  I also hope to get some in so that I can make up some demonstration units for the Derbyshire Food Festival at Hardwick Hall this weekend. With an expected 10,000 + visitors I hope to at least have a few interested.

It has surprised me how many ‘Twitter’ accounts are out there promising to ‘shout’ about your business in return for your ‘following’ them, does this ever work ? It costs nothing to follow… other than a seemingly endless stream of links which you couldn’t possibly follow up.  Do users follow up the abbreviated links… an awful lot of tweets are as far as I can tell encrypted / abbreviated links – I only follow the links if I have a vague idea of where its going to in which case the ‘tweet’ has to at least have some kind of introduction. Maybe Tweeters ave some advanced Tweet user software which allows the links to pop up in a side view for a quick review ? When I have a few minutes I will spend some time looking at Twitter as apposed to Tweetdeck or my HTC mobile version.

Tonight is the Twitter Hour for ‘Look East Midlands’ – last week we picked up a few followers and I hope to be a little better organized this week and pick up a lot more !

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Cyber Land or is it Cyber Space ?

I really do need to get my head into gear before I venture in cyberland… I have now set up a Twitter Account @thefan_ce – it should have been easy enough except I wanted to be able to link accounts with @look.creations… no idea how so a new account was the way to go – this blog and the Twitter widget below are now linked to both….(I think) I will tweet this when I post it and see what happens.

So now to spend some time searching for potential interested parties on Twitter to follow – on the ‘off-chance that when they get the message to say “New Follower” they will look and may read the profile and then be interested enough to follow the bread crumbs.

That is how it works isn’t it ?? None direct sales, just indirect links and bread crumbs ?? well if doesn’t increase sales I’ll up to to leave a chip butty every day ! then go all out with a direct link to the webpage paypal button !

The question now remains how to determine ‘interested’ Twitter Accounts which may lead to potential sales…. I will start with looking for account names linked to woodburners / stoves etc… bound to be an ” @Mr Woodburner Stove” on there ??? we will see.

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Is It Me ?

Often quoted by my colleague Tony Gould long since retired and busy with skiing and antiques (I hope) – we would have a brew and recount how could it be so that this or that has carried on – were we the only sane people to see it ???

It must be something to do with working for myself and my own timescales, I forget that other businesses do not always work 7 days.  So when I place an order Friday late afternoon, I then wait until Monday  …afternoon and expect to get a reply saying ‘OK all is well you will get your parts by….” needless to say that it’s now Wednesday and I still haven’t had confirmation of the ‘first offs’ or expected delivery date….. do I ask too much ? I know I am impatient – but I also know my order is small beans and not worth much as it is to a small engineering shop – it doesn’t take much to write an email does it ?

Having spent the better part of the day milling two Pine Trees into boards for a friend t make into garden benches.  This evening I spent an hour on Twitter seeking some new followers and trying to get some interest in the website and this Blog.. There is a great little feature run every Wednesday evening by an Enterprise LookEastMidlands, where if you use the ‘#lookeastmidlands’ and tweet it goes out to all those following #lookeastmidlands… well I think thats how it works.
So this weeks hour has been rewarded with 7 new followers of  look_creations. maybe I should have a twitter account for the Fan-Ce ?? Will think on that.

I have managed to work out how to get Google analytics to track the Blog views as well as the website, I have YouTube tracking video views and so far things are ticking along with the Fan-Ce webpage getting around 10 hits per day.

I have purchased various website domains based on typical searches for the product and set up forwarding addresses to the existing webpage.  I still have to establish how these affect google search positions etc – so by the time it all gets set up I should be able to boost the existing traffic levels and work out some cunning Keywords & Addwords for the new pages.

Next priority aside from making the fans up, is to get a brochure / flyer for POS and get some sample product out into a few Stove Shops – then make a really decent professional video for YouTube and the webpage and link all the YouTube channels to it to merge the feeds back to the webpage / online sales page. According to YouTube Stats’ most views have been by males 20 – 45yrs old – so I’m thinking bikini clad gorgeous model caressing a cool bottle of beer while watching the fan spin on top of a woodburner ?……erm…. maybe I should stick to the woodturning and furniture 🙂

Tomorrow – I have to get on with a commission to get some funds for the next development on the Stove Top Fan-Ce.

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The second of the next batch of  Stove Top Fan-C ‘s has been purchased only a few hours after the first – thanks to Simon Martin north of the border in Angus. Which makes me wonder if there is a link between clients as I was very pleased to take a commission for an Oak Monks Bench earlier this year from the same area ! – You can see it here – I took a lot of pleasure in making that Settle / Monks Bench and was pleased the client was happy with it. Coincidence ?
It has been a good day for Fan-C sales – the first day I have sold ‘multiple units’ Fingers crossed it will not be the last.

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Sunday Morning, I promised myself I would get out and get on with making a furniture commission today, but I got the niggle that I must to check on emails and try to add the link to this Blog into the Website

13_May_2012_1

The latter took a while – not being up to to speed with HTML code or ‘I Frames’ etc and for the life of me I cant see how to simply add a ‘widget’ for the ‘follow the Blog’ to my website page -google search etc shows up nothing in the first few pages – does anyone look through more than three pages or “is it me” being impatient?

The good news was that I got another order for a Fan-C at 10.00pm last night – thanks Mr Blunden – this will be the first of the new batch with the fancy machined fan hubs. I do love the fact that people shop at all hours and as long as the website is up and running PAYPAL does its work for the ‘small’ % fee it charges.

There are plenty of Web designers out there, some good, some not so, some very costly some not so , I selected http://www.hammerweb.co.uk/ local to me and as far as i am concerned a good bunch of dudes – great work ethic and fun to be around. I should add that the use of the term ‘dude’ covers both the genders – cheers Adrian for the explanation.
It is now 11.30am the sun is up and shining on my Solar Panels so no excuse for not getting into the workshop.

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Marketing / Sales & Advertising

http://www.peakdistrictcreations.co.uk/members/look-creations/the-fan-c-recycled-stove-top-fan/

Now, I have always worked on the buying, Purchasing, Procurement  … call it what you will side of the fence.
I used to negotiate monthly pricing for  multi-million pound contracts for HDPE for blow moulding – and I always honored an agreement reached; after-all I expected the sales person to do the same – I was always happy and so was the supplier that we had reached an agreeable price.  All this was blown away when I ‘know it all’ came in and took over from me added best part of 15% to our costs and wrecked what had been a good long standing relationship. Still – he knew better !

So where should I start ???

Marketing
I purchased a website Domain to match the product Branded Name, I also purchased a domain name for a relevant search which gets a few hundred hits per month as it is…. I spent a few hours looking at Google keywords to see what keywords might be useful and ended up with a list of a few hundred – something I have to go back to and get a better grasp of.

I need to get some decent product images for the website, develop a decent YouTube Video with a great set of Keywords and Tags to ensure a high hit rate, develop a sales ‘brochure’ at least to leave at suitable agreeable retail outlets…

I want to be able to get Trade orders as these should inject ‘lumps’ of cash in exchange for batches of Fan-Ce products, but here comes the kicker. As I understand things, a retail outlet wants a mark up of at least 30% plus VAT. i.e. 50% mark up.

So if I sell the Fan-Ce at £99.99 Trade, it then retails at £155.98 providing the retailer with the 30% GM. But get this, in return for that I may be asked to process the ‘automated order’ package & post the Fan-Ce – so the retailer doesn’t actually do anything once the product is uploaded onto their website or put on display in their shop…. I have to say that grates a little ! What will they do to promote it ? 30% sales commission ?

My gut says do it myself and get the websales sorted; sell at a lower price but above the Trade Price – but my head tells me to put up shut up and get on with it – its retail – learn the game, they know theirs…. time will tell. At the end of the day stock, cash tied up none of it helps me, sales are what count as long as I make a margin to cover my costs and allow me to build a market position from which to make the next move…

One to think on while I await the parts for assembly, meanwhile I just got confirmation that the TEG’s have shipped today (Saturday) – 2 days early – so thats a good start. I posted the sample parts for the machine shop to make the hubs to fit yesterday – delivery to be advised early next week.

All this to progress and I now have no cash fund left – so I have to get on with making something else to sell. But thats another story.
Nest thing is to find out how to add to this blog via my mobile phone…
Oh – here is the latest HTC Desire movie with the Fan-C & FanCe products running atop my Morso Woodburner.

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The Stove Top Fan Development Phase

March 2012

Encouraged by the fact the DIY Stove Top Fan Mk I actually worked without dropping to bits, I set about working out how to improve it – it was short on air movement – which was the basic requirement and the base plate was ugly as I had done nothing other than drill and counter bore 4 holes in it.

I thought a round base would work well, found a supplier that would supply 10mm thick 75mm diameter discs and purchased 3. I had it in mind to make a further two Stove Top Fans, one for my front room Log Burner and the 3rd for sale (to hopefully recover the overspend on my budget).

Meanwhile, I had joined an on-line forum as I researched how other Solar Panel users were finding their installations.  This online forum was a great source of information, I read threads on just about everything I could and started posting about my little Stove Top Fan.

I was staggered at the number of forum members that followed my link to Youtube to see my MkII Stove Top Fan, I got loads of positive comments and a few questions back – I added the link to the Website and watched the google analytics page views climb to the highest figure for the site. I should add, that upuntil this point I had no idea how to use my HTC Wildfire with Video Camera or upload to Youtube… there was lots to learn and I set about getting to grips with it as fast as I could.

April 2012

How could I make best use of this new found knowledge ?
Clearly there was interest in the Fan, I had added a PayPal ‘Buy It Now Button’ to the webpage and had now sold a few fans. I made little money on the first 10 and recovered the material, postage and costs of earlier parts purchased and it helped me sort out what components worked with what fan etc… this wasn’t going to make me a millionaire anytime soon.  The early fans had the following issues.

1. Air Flow was ‘satisfactory’ – it could do with being increased
2. The fan hubs were not as ‘true’ as I would like and a real pain to make by hand on my union graduate long bed lathe
3. The base discs had to be dead flat otherwise the fans wobbled / walked – saw cut discs were not up o the job
4. The drive mount was tedious to make with any degree of accuracy
5. Each unit took about 3 hours to make and assemble

Now I knew the fan hubs were going to be the critical items, I had feedback from one client who identified his had a ‘slight wobble on starting up’, so I set about measuring up and then getting quotes for a ‘machine shop’ to make the units.

I found a larger version of the same Zalman cooler with c 20% more airflow – I could use all the same components other than the hubs which were larger for the bigger fan blades.

At this stage I started discussing my project with a friend and colleague – as a design engineer with a great eye for good design and manufacturing he offered a few hours free time to me and came up with a great little design for the drive mount.  I had found a suitable drive which would allow the use of M2.5 machine screw fixings – quick, simple, discrete – flipping fiddly when you have large hands –  but you cant have it all !

May 2012

After taking the prototype Stove Top Fan MK II – which I had now named / branded the The Stove Top Fan-C around to a couple of machine shops – I was feeling my efforts were to be for nothing, I had quotes back at £20 for a single fan hub if I ordered in lots of 25…. there was no way this was going to get off the ground.  I looked into buying a small bench top metal lathe on which to make the components – I knew the material costs, after all why pay someone else for something I could do myself until I got sales volumes up to sub contract it ! Fortunately, on Friday 11th May, I finally found a family run firm in Hants who saw the potential of larger volumes if the Stove Top Fan unit was a success. I secured component prices which enabled a workable retail price of the larger Heat Powered Stove Top Fan or as it would be branded the ‘Fan-Ce’ (‘e’ for extended…. as Fan-Cb…- b for bigger didn’t really work as a name !)

That night I ordered a further batch of TEG’s and said goodbye to the best part of £1000 and the final part of my business float.  If the sales for the fan fail and I can’t sell the units I am stuffed.

What was left – I purchased, fixings, website domain names (multiple), stickers to help with the branding, some corrugated boxes – which I now find are 1/2″ to small for the Fan-Ce… oh & I started this blog.

What Next:- I have to secure trade orders / interest against a completed Fan-Ce, I have to sell at least a dozen Fan-C models to cover my initial outlay and then push out the Fan-Ce as fast as possible to get some interest and hopefully forward commitments against which I can secure the next larger batch of components to be in a strong sales position for the 3rd qtr this year – when I believe interest in woodburning or multifuel stoves will pick again in time for the cooler months.

I will post images of the various bits and bobs once they all arrive … and I check they fit ….

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November 2011,

 I hankered after a self powered fan for the top of my multi-fuel stove, I surfed the web, window shopped at stove shops and generally avoided buying anything.

Then  found a series of clips on YouTube about a nice chap in the US that had made a ‘Copper Top Sterling Engine’ – now this was what I was after. I looked for ready made version and these were in the £150 + price range…I spent hours watching little candle powered Sterling Engines made by model engineers whom I admire for their patience…

I understood the basics and set about getting the parts list together . Not having access to ‘lotion jars’ and thinking also that a larger diameter displacement cylinder with short stroke would make for a better unit – I discovered ‘scrumpy cider’ was on offer and it came in a good sized glass demijohn container. I had purchased three and had a sever headache as a result for a few mornings.

I spent hours working out how to cut the glass cylinder, diamond cutting discs, glass cutting tools and hot candles etc etc- I used some old jam jars to practice – which as it turned out I ended up using. I purchased 3mm copper plate and screwed rod and made up my ‘Improved Copper Top & Bottom Sterling Engine’ – I was shown how to solder copper pipe and tinning with a gas torch… and burnt myself on a couple of occasions as a result.

Having determined that this was never going to be a quick solution to my Stove Top Fan desire, I then started to look at how the Ecofan was made. More on that later.  Now my sterling engine had soaked up about 4 days of work all be it over a month, burnt my fingers and caused me quite a bit of anguish, I rushed the final assembly and ended up with a fancy looking slightly tarnished paper weight.  The basics of the engine are sound but it still requires working on to get it to run ! This will include a new displacement piston, crank shaft, connector rods, fan and fly wheel…like I say just a few more hours of work  !

Jan / Feb 2012
Back to the Ecofan research

I used to spend a lot of time looking into how to reduce the costs of bulk industrial packaging – I got pretty good at it I thought. Now the larger of the Ecofan models made over in Canada is in  my view a great design, being simple, minimal parts requiring assembly and it does the job – why the hell it is priced at c£140 I will never understand – if it were under £100 I would never had bothered developing my own version. But the Ecofan was over £100 and the low cost copies left me thinking that there was something taken out, besides I was going to make my own !

So I researched, I read about the Seebeck effect, Thermo Electric Generators and how different metals conduct heat at different rates and which worked best and by what extent etc. Then I set about looking to see what else was available. I came across DIY Stove Top Fans on You Tube made from TEC Module (Thermoelectric Cooler) and CPU heat sinks. All were big lumps of aluminium, with bits of wire strapped on, – see for yourself and search the web. Some are better than others and all work to an extent… allthough one or tow drop apart during the film !

I visited my local PC repair shops and was given bits and bobs which I hoped I could use to develop a prototype Heat Powered Stove Top Fan.  I searched the used parts market for a suitable CPU cooler and found the little gem that is the Zalman 9000 series flower cooler. Once I had purchased one of these, the £40 budget was almost blown(most having gone on copper plate and scrumpy !), I purchased a single TEG module (which blew the budget) and set about putting together a prototype.

Now I tried the TEG on the stove top and used a digital thermocouple with multimeter to get both the stove top Temperature and the output from the TEG – further costs but I thought this little fan would look the dogs danglers ! Try as I might I couldn’t get the damn thing to work. I corresponded with the retailer and got little in the way of help until after several attempts he released a useful bit of information.  This was a huge breakthrough, although I now needed more parts to get the prototype to work. If I had a stopped and thought a bit harder I possibly could have got there on my own…. but looking at the failed Sterling Engine I was not going to fail twice and I was getting impatient !

I butchered the CPU cooler, breaking the original fan / motor, so I fitted a smaller version from the parts given to me from the local PC Shop http://www.cbits.co.uk/   I used the only bit of Aluminium plate I could get a friend to part with..

Here is what I made:-

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