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Jody Reese Interview: Publisher of the Hippo Press

1. Tell us about your company and why you started it.
The Hippo Free Press is an unnewspaper. We publish weekly and are a more news magazine format with a large calendar and food section. We answer the vexing question of what to do and where to go in southern New Hampshire as well as address quality of life issues in the region, from traffic to the environment in an accessible fun way. From a very basic P&L standpoint, Hippo was started to provide advertising options for small businesses in the southern New Hampshire market. Looking over the market in 2000 we saw daily newspapers catering to national advertisers and large retail and auto customers. Similarly radio too focused on the national market. Many of the independent restaurants, retail and service businesses either didn’t advertise or felt their advertising was ineffective and expensive.

2. Describe the kinds of articles you publish, and who your target audiences are.
We tend toward quality of life type stories. We want readers to use our publication to get the most out of living in southern New Hampshire. We write about interesting political figures, new restaurant openings, and trends in live music. A recent issue explored the unusual life of birds in urban areas of southern New Hampshire. Our target audience is affluence, educated and active between the ages of 25 and 65. Most of our readers own homes and are married. This reflects the suburban nature of our market.

3. Describe the growth you’ve experienced over the years. Why do you think your publication caught on?
We started as a shoe-string operation with no employees, a few thousand weekly copies and 16 pages. Today we average 72 pages per week have the second largest circulation of any newspaper or magazine in the state and have 25 employees and 30 plus contributors. We have purchased a few other publications recently that are different from Hippo, but utilize our backend.

4. Most print newspapers that rely on paid subscriptions are dying out. What role is there for a free print newspaper in the digital age? What is your niche?
I’m not so sure I agree that paid papers are dying out. Clearly they face some daunting challenges in the classified arena, but many hold strong advertising positions in their areas of influence. And that I think is the key. It’s not as important what distribution model a paper uses, as finding a clearly defined advertising base. In the previous years daily newspapers tended to have a large base of classified advertising customers. Those customers have been moving toward more database driven models, such as craigslist or Monster. This has upended the paid daily business model. As for the role of free newspapers’ role in the digital age, I see free newspaper struggling with finding digital revenue streams just as much as the paid papers have struggled. The bottom line is you can’t earn enough revenue of a local audience online though banner ads. However, I do think that free and paid papers can use their digital platforms to create more value for current customers and maybe even use digital to break into new markets. Our niche from a customer perspective is small independently owned businesses with a touch of community banks and education.

5. In general, what are your thoughts on the death of the traditional news media? Why is it happening and how is this creating new opportunities for entrepreneurial journalists?
The term death is overused. People still watch the 6 o’clock news, they still listen to talk radio and, yes surprisingly, they even buy daily newspapers. True, some of the largest daily newspaper companies in the country have declared bankruptcy, but those bankruptcies are related to highly leveraged buyouts. In reality, large metropolitan dailies have created business models around a book of business that either doesn’t exist or that is moving to database driven avenues. If dailies are to survive they need to re-learn how to serve a local advertising base. That said, any business model upending creates plenty of business opportunities for entrepreneurs. People’s easy access to the Internet allows journalists to go after large affinity groups and create online communities that advertisers will pay to reach. I also see an opportunity for a one-person site to reach a large enough audience for that journalist to support themselves. The Internet lowers the cost of entering publishing but doesn’t mean it’s easier to be successful. Compelling content still needs to be created and an audience still needs to be reached. Both of these things are tough to do.

6. Who are your competitors and how have you succeeded where they failed?
We complete against several paid dailies, a few radio stations, cable, google and some glossy magazines. We’ve been able to pull a substantial number of advertisers out of the dailies’ weekly entertainment tabs. Most of those tabs offer very limited local content. We’ve also been successful against radio, which has seen a dramatic loss of audience and advertisers. Overall, on the business conversion side, we’ve been successful because we focus on small local businesses. More than 400 local businesses place display ads with us each month more than any of our competitors. On the audience side of the business we’ve been successful because we create compelling local content that isn’t available anywhere else. We keep standards high and keep advertising and editorial completely separate.

7. Do you have plans to expand?
We do, but not in a geographic sense. Last year we expanded our offerings to included commercial printing. We now sell most of our customers business cards, post cards and brochures. We can design, print and deliver those products very inexpensively with our current infrastructure. We also started a fan club to identify our most ardent readers.

8. How are you different than or similar to other free papers in other cities?
We’re not as youth oriented. Our market is more mature so we are too. We offer a large children calendar section and events for kids. We don’t have personals and don’t permit sex ads.

9. How has the recession affected your company and your competitors?
In some ways, the recession helped. We’ve seen many businesses that were once satisfied with their level of business start advertising to bring in new customers. Many unemployed or under-employed folks have decided it’s a good time to open a business. In the last year more than a dozen new restaurants have opened in our area. Almost all of them have some on board with us. This recession has really hurt those media outlets that rely on national advertising. Specifically radio and television stations have seen a steep decline in ad revenue. They have responded by trying to focus on the local market with lower rates to limited success. The dailies too have tried to attract more local customers by lowering rates. Both of these groups fail to realize it’s not the price of the advertising that’s the problem, it’s the value to the customers.

10. What lessons do you think your company’s story holds for small businesses in other industries?
Quality and focus. You just produce a good quality product and you need to have a customer base in mind that is large enough to support your business. We spend a lot of time and money creating compelling content so people will pick up our paper. This translates into a large audience with specific demographic traits that a certain group of local businesses need to reach. The key is “need.” If we didn’t exist how would the local cafe reach people? That’s how you know you have a solid place in the market that will survive recessions and changes in how people use technology.

April 1, 2010   No Comments

The Benefits of Using Dropship Suppliers

Dropshipping is a rather contentious topic amongst the legions of online sellers. There are those who love it and swear it’s the panacea for anyone interested in starting their own ecommerce business and then there are others who don’t believe in it as a distribution channel. Our opinion on the matter is slightly more moderate: dropshipping is a great way for small and medium sized companies to source products to sell online for a profit, however you can’t just slap a bunch of products on a website and expect the dough to start rolling in. Like any successful business, an online store requires a sound business plan, a well thought out marketing strategy, excellent customer service and some good old-fashioned hard work (and this holds true regardless of whether or not you support dropshipping).

So is using a dropshipper the right choice for you? Well, to ensure that everyone is on the same page, let’s define dropshipping first. In a nutshell, dropshipping is a supply chain management technique where when a customer purchases a product from an online store, the retailer passes the order information to a wholesale supplier and then the supplier processes and ships the order to the end-customer – hence the term dropship supplier.

For many new businesses, partnering with a reputable dropship supplier offers a way to sell a wide variety of products without the cost of carrying that inventory. Also because the supplier isn’t paid until after a product sells (and you’ve been paid), it’s a low risk way to test new products or to just start an online store.

Working with dropshippers offers other advantages to the online store owner. Since you don’t have to place an order with a supplier, wait for the inventory to arrive at your store and then start selling it, you can get the jump on hot products and new trends much quicker than a retailer who does not employ a dropshipper. In fact all you have to do is stick the product on your website, promote it, and wait for the orders to start coming in.

Most importantly, using a dropship supplier allows you to focus on your core competencies. More likely than not you got into online retailing because you enjoy the marketing, the selling, and the customer relations side of owning a webstore. That’s also what you’re good at. Using a dropshipper means you get to focus the majority of your efforts on this piece of the business and let the dropshipper focus on order fulfillment. Ultimately this leaves you more time to make more sales and more money.

These are just a few reasons why you’d want to consider using a dropship supplier. The best advice we can offer is for you to do your research and locate a reputable dropshipper that supplies the products you want to sell. They’ll be able to answer your questions and you can decide whether or not this is a business strategy you wish to pursue.

For more dropship and eCommerce tips visit the Shopster blog

Shopster offers a suite of Dropship and eCommerce solutions for small to medium sized businesses. Thousands of online merchants from around the world rely on Shopster as it simplifies the complexities of online retail, allowing merchants to manage their store, transactions, and supply chain relationships in one easy to use place. Shopster is an official eBay Solutions Partner.

Guest Blogger: Suzanne Lucas – Communication Manager of Shopster eCommerce Inc.

April 1, 2010   No Comments

Throw Off Your Shoes

As one of the iconic humorists of our time, Tom Lehrer, once wrote “Spring is here, Spring is here. Life is skittles and life is beer. I think the loveliest time of the year is the spring. I do, don’t you? ’course you do.”

Spring is, indeed looming over the horizon, and that means, it’s time to start thinking about putting away that winter gear and bringing out that box of spring and summer clothes that have been lying dormant underneath your bed.

Lucky for you, DollarDays is making it easy. Look for whatever you need at DD, and then head on over and find the wholesale Flip-Flops that DollarDays has made available. For as little as $.95 per piece, flip flops are a great way to bring in the spring.

March 31, 2010   1 Comment

How to Save Money on Fashions While Having Fun Doing it

For some reason, many of us tend to overspend on clothing. Perhaps it’s because we tend to associate our clothes with status, confidence, even luxury.

Thankfully, there are ways to look good and be comfortable without breaking the bank. There’s nothing like finding a skirt, a pair of slacks or a designer T-shirt for much less than their original full retail prices. It’s even better when you can find these items in places that make a day out shopping lots of fun!

If you’d like to have fun finding fashions for less, there are many options to choose from. Here are some suggestions that can help you find great clothes for much less than what department stores charge.

Check out your local thrift store.
Thrift stores are experiencing a cultural re-awaking because people are starting to notice that they can find lots of great deals on clothes and other things. As a result, many thrift stores around the country are re-inventing their images to make them more friendly and inviting places to visit.

This is good news for fashion-conscious consumers because they can find great deals on clothes from the Gap, and other top brands while also having fun browsing through merchandise in a fun atmosphere. In fact, many consumers have found such great deals on fashions at thrift stores that they have stopped shopping at department stores for clothes!

However, you can still shop at department stores and save big.
It’s lots of fun to shop at department stores to find deals on fashions because if you plan ahead, you can almost find great deals on clothes that you can actually use.

The best way to plan ahead is to wait to buy fashions until there is weaker demand for them. This can help you save a lot of money on fashions because retailers need to make room for new inventory that’s in higher demand.

A great example of doing this is waiting to purchase swimwear until wintertime. Many fashion-conscious consumers do this because they can usually purchase top name-brand swimsuits for 1/2 or even 1/3 of their original retail prices.

Finally, don’t forget to also check your local clothing stores for great deals on fashions.
Local clothing stores are lots of fun to visit because they each have a unique personality that makes it easy to spend the day looking over their stuff. They can also offer consumers lower prices on fashions because they often have lower overhead costs than national retailers. This makes them a great place to find hard-to-find fashions for much less than what a department or specialty store would charge.

As a result, it’s possible to find great deals on fashions while also supporting their local economies! What more could a shopper want?

March 26, 2010   No Comments

Planning a Frugal Summer Getaway

summer-getawayFor most of us, summer is the perfect time to get away from it all. As we all work to tighten our belts, vacation doesn’t have to be on the chopping block, at least not entirely. Vacations can be expensive, but remember that hypertension and burn-out are even more so. You don’t have to cut out your vacation entirely, but you can vacation a little smarter and save yourself hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

*First, plan ahead. Winter is the best time to start thinking about your summer getaway. This allows for the best budget decisions and helps ensure that your expectations are realistic. Not only is it wise to be prepared, it can really liven your mood in the mid-winter doldrums to make concrete plans for fun in the sun in the months ahead.

*Take advantage of off-peak times. If you’re planning to fly or stay in a hotel, you’ll find that it can be well worth it to stay away from the holiday weekends and weekends in general. The early weekdays of Monday and Tuesday are great days to fly or book a hotel at the best price.

*Do your homework.The Internet is a great resource for low rates on everything from dining to accommodations, complete with user reviews and precise map locations. Don’t be afraid, however, to get away from the computer. Your family and friends can be excellent resources on good places to go, the best deals, and ways to vacation for less. All you’ve got to do is ask.

*Be fearless in asking for discounts. There are a whole variety of ways to get travel deals for less on every basis imaginable. AAA, AARP, and a whole host of organizations offer a variety of travel discounts. Be sure to ask about any discounts, coupons, or other deals that might apply when you do your booking. Overcoming your pride could save you plenty. After all, the worst thing they can say is “no”.

*Budget for everything, even little things, and stick to it like glue. A great way to do this is to leave the debit card and credit cards at home and bring cash instead. It’s wise to wear a money pouch to evade pickpockets, but having cash helps you keep better track of how much you spend, and on what. Paying cash is so much more fun than using credit because you’re free of worry over the size of your statement the following month, allowing you to fully enjoy yourself.

*Start buying things now. You know you’ll need things like camera batteries, sunscreen, maybe even a new swimsuit. When you plan ahead you can defray the costs over time and be well-prepared when the time comes.

*Avoid the crowds. Try something different than your usual, popular destinations. These are often cheaper options and add an element of adventure to your vacation.

What have you done to save money on your vacation?

March 19, 2010   No Comments

5 Steps To Meeting Any Financial Goal

money bagsWhether you want to get rich quick, get rich slow, or something else entirely, there’s a simple process that applies to successfully reaching any financial goal. Saving money is great, but that saving should have a purpose.

Wal Mart’s recent I’m saving for ad campaign points this out well. As consumers, we tend to mindlessly chase bargains for the sake of it, not considering why we’re putting ourselves through it. Sure, some of us just love the thrill of the hunt and landing a great deal, but most of us are just trying to be wiser with our resources.

What are you “saving” for?

Declaring your goal is key. Good goals govern your daily choices, all of which add up to big differences in your financial situation and lifestyle over time. Making little choices day by day can get tiring and test your persistence. Just ask anyone who’s ever tried going on a diet. But if you follow a few tried-and-true problem solving principles, reaching for your financial goals can be a rewarding and succesful challenge.

1. Declare a specific goal within a precise time frame. Goals like “get out of debt” aren’t nearly specific enough and may even be counter-productive. A better example might be “cut household expenses 20% by January 1st next year”. You need a goal as specific as possible with a time frame you could practically set your watch by.

2. Observe your current circumstances. Pay attention to what ever might get in the way of meeting your goal: current spending habits, lifestyle, employment , debts, etc.

3. Make a plan. Take into account all the obstacles you can foresee, and try to anticipate things that may come up. Suppose you’re saving to buy a car with cash. What will you do if your current vehicle dies before you have the chance to replace it? Being as prepared as possible will keep frustration and discouragement at bay.

4. Check your progress. Your goal should be specific enough that you can set intermediate goals and check your progress. If you’re not going according to plan, correct yourself. If your plan doesn’t seem to be working, go right to step 5.

5. Observe again. Make a new plan if you must. Did your plan work? If so, great! If not, now is not the time to get down in the dumps. Now is the time to use 20/20 hindsight to your advantage, figuring out just what went wrong and how. Using what you’ve learned, make a new plan. Try again.

One final, unofficial step: have fun! There’s nothing like the feeling of taking charge of your own destiny.

Repeat this process as many times as you have to, but always remember that you are in charge of your financial destiny. What keeps you inspired, moving forward persistently towards your goals?

March 12, 2010   No Comments

Outsmart Winter; Stay Warm

Winter’s on its way out, which makes this a great time to start stocking up for next year.

RIGHT NOW is the perfect time to stock up on all of next years winter gear: jackets, wool socks, and Fleece Blankets. “Why?” you ask. Because everything is amazingly cheap.

Today and Tomorrow only, for example, Dollar Days is selling Mark Gold brand Winter fleece blankets at a huge discount. Buy 12 at $3.99 each and get 12 free.

March 9, 2010   No Comments

Interview with Jon Strimling

jon strimling
Jon Strimling is President, CEO & Founder of the American Biomass Corporation

Please briefly describe your company.
American Biomass Corporation is the parent company of a family of logistics enterprises which, collectively, form the nation’s most efficient, most extensive network for biomass fuel distribution. AB works with hearth shops in unique, customized ways, from offering wholesale pricing on the highest quality wood pellets, to finding contract delivery solutions in often sparsely seeded markets. WoodPellets.com, our retail arm, provides a convenient online platform for consumers to order fuel for home delivery, as well as an educational portal that offers the latest information on fuel testing data, home heating technologies, and renewable energy legislation. We also have a subsidiary dedicated to the development of the bulk wood pellet market: Revolution Pellet Systems was inspired by the overwhelming successes of widespread bulk pellet adoption in the European market, and employs a team of engineers and some of the brightest minds in the biomass industry to develop domestic solutions for bulk-fed wood pellet heating systems.

Who are your competitors?
We’re the only company that does what we do, focused on home delivery of the highest quality wood pellets direct to consumers. There are certainly other ways for consumers to obtain pellets, but it’s often through an ancillary part of a different business. On the other hand, pellets are our business, and we pride ourselves on our world-class customer service and our knowledge of all things relating to pellets.

How did you become the leading provider of wood pellet fuels to residences?
In one word: efficiency. We use patented logistics software to streamline the entire distribution process, and, even more importantly, we hold all our producers to strict quality standards. By independently testing all of our products and working with manufacturers to ensure consistent quality, we’re helping to make pellet heat even easier for consumers.

Talk a little bit about the intersection of social, political, and environmental values with best business practices.
Our goal is to make heating with wood pellets a viable option for consumers, and we make sure to look out for our customers in pending and upcoming legislation. American Biomass is heavily involved with some of the most effective, most respected nonprofit organizations and environmental advocates in the industry, including the Pellet Fuels Institute (PFI), the Biomass Thermal Energy Council (BTEC) and the Alliance for Green Heat (AFGH). We also have an internal team devoted to promoting biomass thermal to local, state, and federal legislators.

Could you tell me a little bit about how you approach marketing.
We try to reach customers both online and offline through traditional outreach and Web advertising. But we’ve found that, far and away, the most effective marketing strategy revolves around positive word of mouth. There’s no better advertisement than a satisfied customer recommending your business to a friend. So we make sure encourage those referrals through our PelletBucks rewards program.

Explain how you revolutionized the distribution of wood pellets to residential consumers?
We maintain strict quality standards for all of our fuel, and are the independently test all of the fuel we sell through a third-party lab. Nobody else in our industry does that. We make those results transparent via WoodPellets.com, so customers know exactly what they’re purchasing.

Please describe any other innovative aspects to your business.
We’re working to help develop bulk wood pellet adoption, distribution, and storage, along with designing and maintaining automated biomass heating systems. We’re building off of the European model, innovating on the techniques used by countries such as Austria and Italy in achieving massive reductions in carbon emissions and astounding self-sufficiency in fuel sourcing. We’ve created customized central heating systems for clients across New England; and we’re working on some very exciting new technologies that will make automated pellet systems viable for a much broader market.

You recently changed your Web site from PelletSales.com to WoodPellets.com. Talk about the benefits of strategic re-branding.
The name change has been phenomenal. WoodPellets.com is a much more intuitive name, and we’ve found it’s easier for customers to find us on the Web.

What challenges does your business currently face?
Our main goal, the challenge we’ve taken on, is educating consumers and legislators alike about the advantages of wood pellet heating. Pellet heat is sustainable, cost-effective, and domestically produced, and it’s vitally important – to invigorate the American economy and to reduce our carbon emissions – that wood pellet heat is given its due place in public policy and the green energy sector. We strive to make sure the consumers and policy makers have access to the most current information about testing data, new technologies, and all the benefits of pellet heat.

How is the recession affecting your business?
The recession has affected our business because it has forced consumers to alter their buying habits. Many simply could not afford to buy an entire heating season’s worth of fuel all at once and, instead, purchased smaller quantities of fuel throughout the year. We had many customers looking to finance their fuel, to work within budget plans over the course of the year. This presented an opportunity for us to offer new and exciting benefits to our customers – we now provide a wide variety of payment options, including RevolutionCard, a credit card simple application process, progressive security measures, and instant approval, allowing customers to manage their fuel payments easily and securely.

As a small business owner what lessons have you learned since founding your company? What advice do you have for other small businesses?
The most important thing for any business owner is to keep the customers in mind: quality matters in everything, from the product or service you’re providing to the customer service you offer.

March 1, 2010   No Comments

Kill Your Television?

Your television could be a huge source of wasteful spending in your budget, but it really depends on what you value. This is where making a budget can become a soul-searching experience.
Think about your television. Sure, it provides hours of entertainment, and great content. But did you know that the average American spends about 28 hours a week in front of the TV according to AC Nielson? That adds up to almost 10 years in a lifetime of non-stop TV watching.

If you work full time that’s at least 40 hours a week; enough time to earn your entire year’s salary. Consider how much you could accomplish if you shaved off even 4 or 5 television hours each week. You’d at least get a few of those years of your life back and maybe even increase your income.

On the other hand, it can be a good deal depending on your values. In 2005 the average American cable bill was about $40. That comes to about $0.36 per hour of entertainment. Compare this with movies that cost about $3.20 per hour.

Of course, more and more of those television hours are taken up not with content, but with commercials. Ask yourself if, on the balance, it’s really the way you want to spend your time and, more importantly, your money.

Before you decide, consider all the options. Maybe you could catch up on the yard work or home repairs. You could finally write that novel you’ve been procrastinating or finally fix up that old hotrod.

Recent developments in Internet technology are changing the landscape of home entertainment and those looking to live more simply would do well to sit up and take notice.

For instance, Wii just signed a deal with Netflix to provide streaming Netflix content to your television through the Wii game console. Streaming online content is now cheaper and easier than ever. Sites like Hulu and viewmy.tv allow you view all the same content online with far less commercial time.

Getting this streaming content to appear on your tv screen instead of your computer monitor is a simple matter of buying an adapter from an electronics supply store.

Consider trading in your ever-rising cable bill for a much cheaper Netflix membership. At only $8 a month, it’s a much better value.

Mind you, these solution have their drawbacks. Sports fans have far fewer choices, but ESPN does offer streaming sports content for a reasonable monthly fee. Also, the whole household has to carefully plan what they want to watch and when, setting up a queue that’s fair to everyone’s taste.

This process, however, means there’s much less tendency to just plop down on the sofa by default and flip on the TV. There’s nothing wrong with watching TV or movies, but be fair to yourself about how much time you’re giving to it.

February 26, 2010   No Comments

The Pitfalls Of Payday Loan Services

When you are running low on cash and payday is still on the distant horizon, it can be tempting to take advantage of the services of a payday loan store or website. By signing up with one of them, you can receive an advance on your usual paycheck and have cash in your hand when you desperately need it. Sounds great, right? The fact is, payday loan services can actually trap you in an steadily worsening spiral of debt and can make you fall even further behind with your finances.

Don’t Rob Peter To Pay Paul

What did people do before there was such a thing as payday loan services or cash advance stores? They scrimped and saved their money in order to get through tight financial times. As unpleasant as it may sound, sometimes you really do have to bite the bullet and tighten your belt in order to survive until your next payday. Sure, using a payday loan service will put money in your hands right away – but what happens when your actual payday rolls around? Therein lies the rub.

Get Your Paycheck Early – But Pay Dearly For It

One of the biggest problems with payday loan services is that they charge truly exorbitant interest rates for their small loans. Typically, receiving a $100 advance will cost you anywhere from $15 to $25. When payday rolls around, the lender then takes out the $100 that you borrowed, along with the interest fee. Now you’re out that extra money, and receive a smaller paycheck than you normally would have.

Don’t Get Trapped In A Vicious Cycle

Since your next paycheck will be reduced by the fees that you’ll be paying to the payday loan service, you’re likelier to fall even deeper into debt. That’s why so many people turn around and take out yet another payday advance loan – and the cycle gets worse. In no time flat, you’re receiving smaller and smaller paychecks and scrambling to keep up with the interest fees that you owe your various lenders – and you’re more in debt than ever.

Be Smart With Your Money

Instead of taking out payday loans and paying the ridiculously high interest rates that go along with them, you should try to squirrel away at least a couple of hundred dollars that you can use for those times when cash flow is tight. Sit tight and wait for your next payday to arrive. In the long run, you’ll be better off for doing so.

February 19, 2010   No Comments