Supplies And Cost Optimization

Since we have picked up a subject of money in the previous post, I thought I’d pick up where I left off. Obviously, having enough supplies is important – while you can get away without a thing or two, in general supplies are what makes your business running. It’s the grease for the wheels. As with all logistical issues too many can be just as bad as too few.

At the beginning of operations we have agreed not to spend much time on supply hunting, preferring the convenience of fast delivery to price. With that in mind we signed up for Amazon Prime and that solved our problem of ordering when we “almost ran out” of something. Most of supply items are eligible for Prime and, therefore, delivered for free through two-day shipping. They would be overpriced items, at least at the beginning, but we have decided that given small space we were allowed to operate in and inability to stock up (and take advantage of wholesale price) might as well be offset by prompt delivery time. This was especially true during certain promotions, when we started running out of things differently than before.

Once the business had a full schedule and had run through the motions a few times, the time has come to the point where we could optimize the costs. Knowing what we needed and how often allowed us to order certain things in advance forgoing Prime shipping, but winning on the cost of the items. Additionally, certain items were being replaced with their less expensive equivalents: do you really need one of the most expensive paper towel s to wipe equipment clean after disinfection or can you do away with cheaper brand? Having certain predictability allowed us to forgo Amazon completely and order from other merchants, who don’t quite adhere to such strict shipping policies.

Yet another thing on our savings list was to verify if we, indeed, needed to use certain things at all. For example, we always offered single use razors for patients who forgot to shave the treatment area prior to their appointment. It sounded like a pretty neat idea at the beginning, taking care of your clients and all. What we’ve discovered was that it significantly increased the length of individual appointment (what could have taken 10 minutes dragged for full half hour), is totally unpredictable (we only learned of the situation at the moment a client walked in) and person who decided to shave on the spot still felt very uncomfortable. This led to major schedule shifts, people waiting excessive amounts of time or even leaving without receiving a treatment. From almost any point of view this benefit was creating more trouble than it was worth. We decided to ditch razors altogether. We changed the language on any promotional items requiring the shave and stating that person who didn’t shave will not receive the treatment and lose their appointment or session (in case of a voucher from a deal site). While it may sound a bit tough on customers we actually received a positive feedback on this move as schedule became just a little more predictable. And we dropped purchasing one item off our supply list.

The always fluid nature of offers on the market creates a never ending quest to seek the most efficient way to supply your own business. This takes time and goes along with “deal hunting” (that I was frowning upon in two previous articles). The upside is that you are getting merchandise, not services, and therefore can always objectively assess whether you are getting a good deal or not.

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    FiOS vs Cable Internet: A War For Your Wallet

    ISP Speeds The battle rages on – every day when I happen to turn on the TV I see more and more commercials for Optimum TriplePlay, that includes cable TV, internet and phone services. Less then a month ago I’ve seen just as many commercials about Verizon FiOS – again, same old three – TV, phone and internet services in one package.

    While the speed issue has been addressed many times, there’s one big problem (availability) and a few small ones (which service plan to choose and why). With Optimum Internet there’s only one level of service and a Boost addition to it, that speeds things up a little and allows you to use ports for HTTP, FTP and SMTP services. Which means you can have yourself a web server and finally can use your web site’s send e-mail capability.

    So what’s the story with FiOS? The guy ain’t so good. Any level of consumer-grade internet service will keep your HTTP, FTP and SMTP ports locked up, so even if you are paying $139.99 per month for the top 50/20 plan with one-year contract AND add premium features (in case you need any), you still can’t put your web page up from your home server and you still can’t send an e-mail from your own domain. Sorry, but FiOS doesn’t seem to like geeks, nerds and small business owners (I count myself as all three to some degree).

    The resolution? Business-grade packages. The same level of service: 50/20 with one-year commitment and dynamic IP will set you off for $239/month. If you have never heard of DynDNS and want static IP – your monthly bill will be $279/month. However, you can bring it down back to $239 if you slave yourself to another year of commitment. Oh, and did I mention the cumbersome installation process that includes burying the cable to your business’ location, special box installed in electric closet, special wiring, UPS installation and responsibility to replace a battery in it from time to time?

    There’s little argument that premium services should cost extra, and the extra $100 for 10x the speed of cable alone is a decent price. However, the real business justifiable reason why one would want to have business FiOS at home-based business is the unlocking of ports for web, FTP and e-mail services, since the speeds are the same for consumer and business packages. So essentially the difference between these packages lies in locking these important services. Which Verizon will happily unlock for you for an extra $100 per month. You can rent another managed server for less than that!

    Now, let me brag a little about why would Verizon want to do that. Perhaps the rationale is to force business owners to pay more (bad idea given the current state of economy, they probably won’t). Or maybe Verizon executives think that spammers won’t run their e-mail sending tools from cheaper FiOS (those times are so over, no concious spammer spams from home computer, no matter how fast the connection is). Of course, I don’t know the correct answer. What I do realize, though, is that as a small business owner I will very much bide my time before switching to FiOS now. Here’s why: I am paying $169/month for cable TV and internet service. It is not as fast as FiOS, but

    • I can send e-mails to my clients directly from my server/domain name and not use someone else’s SMTP service which I don’t know anything about
    • I can use web server occasionally when I need to put together a mock-up real quick. Although with running multiple hosting platforms I rarely do that, the “but I can” argument is still valid.
    • I have full access to home FTP and I do backup all accounts daily to home FTP in addition to remote server. So if I need that config file from yesterday’s backup – I don’t have to download the whole gigabyte of the backup from remote backup server.
    • I can stream music from home/home server without worrying about someone else having access to my music and me getting spanked by evil RIAA for that.
    • I use HTTHost on my home server to dodge direct use of POP/SMTP from remote location, including firewalled job places. Yes, I still use POP instead of IMAP because I like my e-mail to be accessible when I am offline and with 3 years and 4 GB of e-mail history it’s the fastest way.

    So, for pretty much all intends and purposes (except for heavy online gaming, which I don’t do) my existing cable internet hookup has more functionality and costs a lot less than FiOS, making it therefore a much better business and personal tool than overpriced FiOS.


    Land Line Is Doomed!

    Last night I’ve got mail. One of the letters was from a collection agency – they wanted to collect $21.30 on behalf of Verizon phone company. Turns out – I owe these monies to Verizon as a “final bill” – some last minute money extortion policy that they enforce. Apparently, someone at the billing department forgot to send me that one “final bill” in February, when I switched off my land line.

    So what’s a poor man to do? I called Verizon. Their local phone number is utilizing the latest and greatest in voice recognition technology. Whenever you call that local number an annoying female voice comes up and starts asking a zillion of questions. Is this the number you’re calling about? Am I right that this isn’t the number? What is the number you’re calling about? Is this the number you’ve said you’re calling about? What is the matter of the call? And so on and so forth…

    First problem is that you have to answer every single question in loud clear voice. In almost any environment, except your sound-proof basement there will be a background noise. Sometimes the noise is so significant that system doesn’t recognize a word from what you’re saying. Sometimes you are in a public area or at the office, or in lunch room. Oh, and SPEAKING OUT LOUD YOUR ACCOUNT NUMBER, LAST 4 NUMBERS OF YOUR SOCIAL SECURITY AND FULL CREDIT CARD NUMBER WITH EXPIRATION DATE IS A WRONG AND STUPID IDEA! Hello, do you hear me now?!

    I had to hang up and try again. After several attempts I got through to the live person and was told that “there is no person here, at Verizon, who would take your payment over the phone“. Everything has to be done via automated system that I already have been through. The evil, vicious circle was now complete.

    My guess is that somehow I will be able to figure out how to get those money to Verizon. Worse case scenario – I’ll go through the collection agency that sent me the bill. What I see is that Verizon, apparently, cutting every possible cost on land line phone business. Obviously, billing department has to have much more thorough training than people who answer the phones first. I expect the service fully fold to total uselessness in about a year or so. Given the rate with which people turn down landlines in preference of IP-based phones and cell phones, I really think landlines would be few and scattered. The tech support would be outsourced to India where poorly trained and badly English-speaking low-wage people will make you want to go back to automated voice-recognition system. Land line is doomed!