Building An Earthship In Darfield, B.C.

We are a family of five living in Darfield, BC.
Our house is six hundred square feet in total and we are feeling cramped.

We have decided to build an earthship!

So starts the adventure ...

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Back to business!

With November 30th looming, I'm back on the payroll getting ready for year end. All of the paperwork that got put aside this year while we finished up two house orders and started our own house now has to be dealt with!

I'm also researching possible new directions for the business, including the sale of tiffin carriers, which I convinced Chris about a year ago that we should import from India and start selling! Well, the tiffin carriers arrived but we never got organized enough to start selling. Since then we've been busy completing orders for the business and planning our own house.

Tiffin is a snack or light meal (often hot) that came into being in India. A tiffin carrier is just that, something that carries "tiffins". Traditionally (and currently!) tiffin carriers (most often referred to simply as "tiffins") have been stainless steel containers, often nested in one another, with lids. They come in all shapes and sizes. I like to refer to them to North Americans, as stainless steel lunchkits. Most interesting is that for over 100 years, about 4,000 dabbawallas (the men who deliver more than 100,000 tiffins daily from homes to offices) have been accurately delivering tiffins in Mumbai (formerly Bombay) using a code system (most dabbawallas are illiterate) and the success rate is so high (only four mis-deliveries per 100,000), that the network was rated among the highest of any courier system in the world (according to Forbes Magazine several years ago). Check this link out for more information about dabbawallas.

Here's a picture of the kind our company is selling:

Notice the small metal container in the middle of this photo. We looked for a non-plastic container to put nuts, yogurt and dips in and finally settled on the magnetic spice containers that are readily available at most grocery/kitchen stores. It does have a small see through plastic top and yogurt and dips can get a bit messy if the entire tiffin is swung around or carried upside down. The magnetic bottom does not stick to the tiffin but does stick to our fridge, making instant storage for unused containers!


Obviously one of the drawbacks is that the tiffin carrier is non microwaveable...but our kids (and we) have been using them successfully for a year without this being a big deal. The sturdiness and the low environmental impact (you may never have to buy another lunch kit again!) is a huge plus.

We've personalized the kids' tiffins by buying metal keychains with their names or initials on it and clipping it to the carrier. At first they felt a bit conspicuous with the lunchkits, but now it is completely natural to them to use the tiffins. When we go into town on errands or out of town, we will pack our tiffins with our home made snacks and light lunches, to save on saran wrap, tin foil and other extra packaging (saves money when we don't eat out, too!)

In my spare time last fall, I started making bags for them. Here's one I made for Katie (the kids picked out their own fabric. This one is all sorts of red and blue insects on a lime green background). The top has a drawstring and the strap is adjustable. I made it to feel like a purse for the girls. There's a contrasting outer pocket to slip in metal utensils and a cloth napkin.

Stephen picked out NHL fabric and I went to great lenghts to cut the fabric so that whole hockey players could be seen on the bag. Rather than a purse strap, I made a short buckled strap (the buckles are the same as would be found on a backpack) and the idea is to strap it to your backpack somewhere. He used this bag once and then unfortunately somebody at school made a comment about it being baby-ish and that was THAT!)

This is Helen's and is a very rich butterfly pattern made very similarly to Katie's.

Right now, as I'm working on the company year end, I'm also investigating a method of selling the tiffins online. The tiffins are $25 plus taxes (I haven't decided if I'm entirely happy with the bag design, yet so those aren't for sale, but I have a really wide range of fabric with which to make more bags, when I'm ready). I currently have 100 tiffins in stock. We can sell them now locally without any issues.

Chris is also prepared to start selling composting worms. He's been building up the worm composters gradually over the last year and they are now ready to move onto new homes. He's setting the price at $25 per pound right now, which should get a sytem up and running. He's not sure if the company will get into selling worm composting bins at the present time, but his advice is free on how to make your own! There are companies that sell worms online ($35 per pound is the going rate) and shipping them does not seem to be a problem. However, with his small operation I don't think we'll be able to serve more than a local market.

The struggle with online sales is that we don't like the idea of shipping the tiffins too far because of the carbon footprint it generates. Also, although we use credit cards responsibly, we don't necessarily want to set this product line up such that it makes it easy for people to go deeper into debt. On the other hand, would the carbon footprint of shipping these offset the footprint of annual purchases of plastic lunchkits? Also, I question whether I have to be responsible for others' financial decisions...lots to think about.

At the same time, Chris has a few R&D projects in mind for the winter, that could also be sell-able at some point, perhaps on an online store...

So I'm carrying forward and investigating all options. Right now I'm trying to find a credit card merchant for selling on line that doesn't have long-term contracts or cancellation fees. I want the absolute basics -- I don't mind phoning in for card authorizations if I can bypass the cost of renting a fancy wireless machine! And I'm looking for one that would be easy for our Canadian company to deal with. After that, I will research how to tie in an online store with our accounting software (we use Simply Accounting). Suggestions and comments welcome!


Nicole up North said...

Paypal is great for payments, you as the vendor pays a bit to accept credit, but nothing if you stick to debit. Then you just make transfers to your bank account when you decide to. And it's pretty widely known and used now.

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