The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Commerce and TFL

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Elagins's picture
Elagins

Commerce and TFL

Some vigorous discussion has begun to erupt on one of the threads where I posted the fact that I'm selling baking stones and other baking supplies and equipment. It's clear to me that this topic is really far bigger than my posts and I feel it deserves far wider discussion here.

I've been thinking about doing this for some time, in large part because of my own baking interests and the OUTRAGEOUS prices that specialty purveyors like KA and most others on the Internet charge for their merchandise.

Now, I'm not opposed to making a fair profit; I AM opposed to gouging and profiteering in a market that, in the words of an old friend, is "overstimulated and undersupplied." Right now, I perceive a very powerful and widespread need for ingredients and supplies among hobbyist bread bakers like ourselves at reasonable prices, and sorry, but $2.50/lb that KA gets for their Type 55 clone and $2.67/lb for durum flour, plus shipping, strike me as obscene. Someone commented here not too long ago that KA seems to have changed its business model from selling ingredients to selling heavily marked up equipment and high-priced, low value-added merchandise like their mixes. Clearly, that appears to be the case, and in so doing, I think they're alienating the people who most depend on them.

My goal is to offer hard-to-find-at-retail ingredients, supplies and equipment at fair prices to people who want, need and appreciate value. Where better to communicate with those folks than on a site like TFL? This site has become a magnet for hobbyist bread bakers and the source of an enormous amount of information. I'm proud that I've both learned from others and shared my own successes and failures over the nearly 4 years I've been a member, and look forward to continuing to do so.

We are indeed a community, and, in my view, what better way of being a part of that community is there than to serve its collective needs fairly and honorably?

-- Stan Ginsberg

venkitac's picture
venkitac

Hi Stan, I'll agree with the objective: I would love to find out good flours, good yeast, stones, etc  that I can buy at reasonable prices (in particular, finding the right flour at the right price seems like a difficult exercise right now). I'm not sure how to achieve the objective without commercializing every TFL post, yet have TFL be the place where people find out about these goods for sale. Maybe have a commerce section to TFL where people can sell goods to hobbyist bakers, and have a percentage of the profits support the site itself?

DerekL's picture
DerekL

We are a community of amatuer bakers who share information, not a group of fish in a barrel.  Posting commercial ads in an amatuer forum is, in my opinion, neither fair nor honorable because you profit from the work of others (read: Floyd) without paying your way.

althetrainer's picture
althetrainer

I don't have anything to sell but for those who wish to advertise here on TFL, may be paying a small fee to the site will make that more appropriate?  Just my humble thought.



tananaBrian's picture
tananaBrian

I have seen this discussion come up in many forums, and the most successful solutions that I have seen are the common sense ones, not the draconian "YES, ALWAYS OK" or "NEVER EVER!" ones.  When someone responds to a thread about some product that their business sells and it is on topic, then that would seem fine.  If they start a thread and the thread is really nothing more than a glossed over attempt to troll for customers, then that is not the same.  Stan has been here for a long time and has never acted like that, so I would not vote for the draconian "Thou shalt never mention thy business name!" answer.  If his products compete with paid advertisers on this site, then I think he should buy an ad as well since that would put TFL in a pinch ethically.  Otherwise, I see no reason to chastise someone for mentioning their company or product(s) in on-topic responses to various threads.  I see no compelling reason to restrict putting URLs or company names in signatures.  I think the common sense answer is the right one.  I think that people here will naturally let someone know if they are getting out of line ...TFL works very well in a self-regulated mode and people here tend to be very responsive to others and their opinions ...as illustrated by Stan himself starting this very thread to canvas feedback from people.  Perhaps the worst thing about being draconian is the fact that so many good people here might not otherwise hear about good companies and good products that they are interested in (baking stuff that is.)  Why should we have companies and products hidden from us?  The lesser pain is to allow a little sense to pervade here and not be overly sensitive to these things.


Brian


 

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

Stan,


Thanks for moving this discussion to a thread of its own.  


Although you were on the receiving end of my initial question, you are not the first nor probably the last person who will post here with commercial content.  Many of us have done so, whether on our own behalf or on the behalf of others.


I'm very much in favor of your business objectives.  How you'll make shipping an inexpensive proposition for heavy, bulky items like flour, I don't know, but good on you for trying.  (By the way, send me a note with your current product and price list; maybe you have something that I need.)


What tripped my trigger was, over a span of a few days, several posts in different threads that were advertising your products/services.  It wasn't so much the commercial message as it was the repetition.  Yes, that's good advertising strategy, but it isn't what I'm looking for in a thread featuring a discussion on Topic Fill-in-the-blank.


From what I see, the answer isn't to stamp out commercial communication.  You, or others, want to provide goods or services to potential customers that you perceive to be of benefit to those customers.  If you can't reach them, you go out of business and your customers, actual or potential, lose a benefit.


Unfettered commercial communication carries its own set of consequences, however.  One of the things that makes TFL so enjoyable is Floyd's deliberate eschewing of intrusive advertising.  Yes, advertising is present but not in the in-your-face forms that are featured on other sites.  There are a number sites that I choose not to frequent, even though some of their content is of interest to me, because their advertising is so pervasive.  I would not want to see TFL become the Internet equivalent of the San Ysidro crossing from Tijuana where motorists are barraged by hawkers.  (And no, I'm not suggesting that your efforts in any way approximate that scene.)


So, how do we accommodate these intersecting, and sometimes conflicting, objectives in a win-win fashion?  Maybe Floyd can expand the "Store" header in the site's banner to be an arcade.  Maybe you can buy advertising rights. Maybe something else that isn't occurring to me.  As my header suggests, I'm interested in finding a balance, even though I'm not sure what that might be.


Thanks again for starting this thread.  I'm interested to see what the other Loafers combined wisdom comes up with.


Paul


 

deweytc's picture
deweytc

I live in an area of Kansas that offers little in what is available.  I drive 150 miles just to get flour that is not chemically altered.  I have asked the local grocer if he could get KA flour and it is not even listed in his ordering book.  And 15 miles is WalMart and they offer nothing but what sells.  So, I would be more than interested in finding a way that I could get the best flour shipped to me at a low cost.  The shipping from KA makes it impossible to order from them.


If Stan can do what he says, then he should go for it.  But I would not tolerate "in your face" bloging about it.  It would change TFL concept completely.  I enjoy reading all the blogs and have learned from them.


So, in the meantime, I will continue to drive to get my supply of flour and hope that someday there will be an alternative way for me to purchase without costing an arm and a leg.


Thanks


Duane

davidg618's picture
davidg618

I'm a firm believer in small business, entrepaneurship, and competition. I'm also a firm beliver in a level playing field. There are advertisements thoughout this website.
Someone's paying for them; Floyd may, rightfully, be getting a part of the fee. I think any member, despite his or her honesty, strength or character, or apparent bargins, should compete on an equal basis with the advertising nonmembers. I'm actually surprised Floyd has remained quiet on this thread, but that's his business, not mine.


David G.

ehanner's picture
ehanner

Stan,


I think we are talking about two things here. First is what you seem to think is profiteering by KA and others



OUTRAGEOUS prices that specialty purveyors like KA and most others on the Internet charge for their merchandise.



I understand that you and probably most of us would like to be able to buy for less on our own terms. I would be a little careful however in characterizing the profits of most others as outrageous.


Secondly, the question of how best to promote your venture and should you be using the forum to promote your personal interests.


In my view, this idea of using a free forum as a way to kick start a new commercial operation should be brief and informational. As a member here I think most fellow members would tolerate a notice to provide a service, once. After that, either you have a business or a hobby. If it's a business, then treat it like a business and decide if advertising on the Fresh Loaf fits into your plans. Freeloading on your friends would be bad form as I'm sure you would agree. Ultimately, success will come only if your product is perceived as a good value to a large general audience. The little bit of buzz you might get here will not support an ongoing operation in my opinion.


People talk about going into business for a number of reasons. When I see that the motivation for launching a new business venture is because of the obscene profits of another company, it makes me wince. Anyone who is contemplating a serious new business would be well advised to make decisions based on the profitability of their own offerings and not righting the wrongs of the obscenely expensive competition. Once you look at all the expenses and costs of running an ongoing business you may discover a niche opportunity or you may wonder how the other guy does it.


From what I have seen so far, you have some stone and have sold a few and think you might like to compete for my business. I didn't notice what you think a fair price would be for your T-55 flour. Are you planning on milling your own or buying it from someone in the business?


If you do decide to launch a new business, I look forward to hearing about it and wish you well. If you don't, I'll look forward to seeing your posts as a baker.


Eric

Elagins's picture
Elagins

As usual, your comments are thoughtful and articulate.

At the outset, I think it's important to acknowledge that I wouldn't be launching this venture if I didn't think (a) there's an underserved market out there, and (b) I could operate the business profitably -- which, as I'm sure you know, includes not just the cost of goods sold, but also all the stuff that falls into the bucket called SG&A.

I think that as our baking community continues to grow and take shape, there will be a growing need for reliable sources for affordable essentials, i.e., hard-to-find ingredients, equipment and so on. I certainly don't foresee ever offering lucite bagel slicers, high-priced bread knives or electric bun warmers. The things I intend to provide are the things I myself need and have had a hard time finding in the retail world.

The question becomes one of reaching those bakers. At the moment, TFL is the best place in my view, since it's become such a broad community forum and because I've been a member going on 4 years, which makes me a relative graybeard like you and Dave and Norm and a few others. I believe I've built up some moral equity here, which I don't intend to squander by free-riding.

On the other hand, if I can benefit our community in an economically self-sustaining way, why not?

It's really a matter of balance. How much is too much and how little is needed to get my message across? You mentioned pricing and I deliberately refrained (with one exception) from mentioning prices because I didn't want to get involved in that level of hawking. I firmly believe that if people are interested, they'll contact me directly and offline to continue the conversation (as a number already have). My purpose in starting this thread, by the way, was also a desire to put the matter before our community, because I believe this is an issue that needs to be addressed. Floyd is aware of the discussion and he and I have been communicating as well regarding the right way to communicate about my business.

So to return to your original point, this was not a kneejerk decision born of outrage at KA's $2.50/lb flour (although that's certainly a motivating factor). Rather, it's something I've been thinking about for some time and needed to reality test with minimal financial risk to myself. Now that I've tested the waters and found that there's a real need for what I'm offering, I intend to build this business using every legitimate and ethical tool at my disposal, including paid advertising here and elsewhere.

Thanks for taking the time to respond so thoughtfully. I really appreciate everyone's feedback.

Stan

ehanner's picture
ehanner

Stan,


It sounds like you are addressing the issues in an organized manner. It can be very exciting at the beginning, getting all the ducks in a row, so to speak. I do look forward to seeing how you progress.


Eric

suave's picture
suave

I supported your idea of selling specialty items to the interested members when you first broached it.  I support it now, just as I share your opinion about KA prices.  Boy, do I!  That being said, I am a firm believer in conducting business in the open.  I have never ever called "to find out our prices" or registered "to see shipping rates", and I don't plan to do so in the future. And so I think it would be better for all of us if you came to some arrangement with Floyd about listing your products and prices somewhere where everybody can find them. Perhaps then more sensitive people will be less annoyed, for apparently your post rub them the wring way.  Unlike regular "Free shipping at KA!" posts, I might add. 


Just a thought - one of the boards I frequent has members-only buy&sell section.  An annual flat fee is required to be able to sell.  I think that would work nicely here.