Risk – What Flavor Do You Like?

We all accept that there is risk, certainly it’s something that those of us in the firearms sector understand as part of the business. Most times it revolves around what we do and sell, and less around how we operate.
Shopify recent policy update has left more than a few businesses in Canada and the US reeling. And for us here at Telos, it didn’t come as a surprise. We have been getting ambiguous answers from Shopify since day one and have recently been advising our clients to move off it ,both in term if risk and in terms of cost savings.

THE ROOT OF THE MATTER

So you need an ecom store. Obviously there are thousands of choices out there for solving that problem. ALL of them involve some risk, but as we have seen recently, there are risks that are very different in practice.

So just what do SaaS (Software as a Service) vendors offer to a business?

TECHNICAL SERVICES – All the geek stuff get offloaded to the provider. SSL, Security patches (or lack thereof), bandwidth, scaling up in peak times, and overall form and function of the website all happen in the background. But it’s not all roses and candy. These folks are not 100% perfect at their jobs. Shopify has regular outages that impact stores of all subscriptions rates, and you PAY for this type of convenience. In addition, many providers are following the Apple model of “we build the base and let others sell apps to add functionality. At first blush that sounds great, until you have to pay %$50 a month for some basic functionality that should really be included i the base version.

BUSINESS OPERATIONS INTEGRATION – Many options to plug into shipping, POS and other brick and mortar system exist, IF you have their hardware and software. There are connections to accounting software (via paid third-party apps) and inventory control and tracking are available, but rudimentary compared to more robust (and more complex) systems like Magento (see below)

FLEXIBILITY – Fantastic integration, but only if their system meets your needs. Often there is not a ton of flexibility when it comes to customization, and when it does, its costs money. There are thousands of templates available to change the look and feel, but again, you must have some basic code knowledge to get them to work with your changes, or you have to hire a code geek to really make it perfect.

RISK – You are, as we have seen recently, at the whim of the corporation and its policy. You have no real contract, and even a the Shopify Plus level where you negotiate your platform fee, you never see a contract that outlines what rights you have and how you are protected. ProTip – You aren’t protected, the vendor is and you are risking your livelihood on its policy.

So what is the alternative?

Self hosted options range from shared server space on GoDaddy, to dedicated servers hosted in data centers in Canada, running licensed software where you have a contract and will not be bullied around.What does this look like?

TECHNICAL SERVICES – You need the proverbial “Guy”. A third-party company, and local geek you know and trust, or combination of the two ,you need someone who can set up a server and install software, patch it, understand backups, restores, versioning and be able to respond in a reasonable amount od time when something blows up. And it will.

BUSINESS OPERATIONS INTEGRATION –  Often these self hosted systems can have complex and very robust inventory systems, as well as POS integration and third-party credit card processing options. Once it’s all plugged in and working ,you are good to go with little to no monthly payments for the functionality

FLEXIBILITY –  Where you would pat monthly for an app to give some extended functionality over the base system in SaaS, in a self hosted system (Magento, WooCommerce ,PrestaShop etc) you buy the module once and get 1-2 years of support, new version upgrades (often automatic, particularly in WordPress based systems) for free, and very little in the way of issues. Major base system upgrades however might require paying to get to the latest supported version, but overall the cost is equal or less that SaaS apps.

RISK – The risk shift from strategic to technical. You are 100% in control of your software and systems. Assuming you have hired the right “guy” or company (shameless plug) you are in control of if, when and why you upgrade. No policy changes can impact you, and you service cannot be shut for anything less than non-payment in most cases. But if the site goes down, or if there is a security breach, it’s on you.

 

So why don’t more businesses choose to go self hosted? Because its technical, and scary, and it’s easier to roll the dice with SaaS.

Until they won’t take your money anymore.

SHOTS FIRED! Shopify Rolls AntiGun Policies

Shopify is a platform we have been working with for a few years now. We have had many assurance from Shopify to our clients at all levels that they were not anti-firearms, and as long as you could source third-party credit card processing, you were good to go. FYI…Shopify’s internal processor is STRIPE, and they have always been anti-firearm anti-gun.

The recent policy change went from “No High Capacity Mags” to ,among other things:

a semi-automatic firearm that has the capacity to accept a detachable magazine, with one or more of the following items:

  • magazine capable of accepting more than 10 rounds
  • bump stock
  • rapid fire trigger activator or trigger crank
  • barrel shroud
  • thumbhole stock
  • threaded barrel capable of accepting a flash suppressor, sound suppressor or silencer
  • grenade or rocket launcher
  • flash suppressor, sound suppressor or silencer
  • pistol grip (or in the case of a pistol, a second pistol grip)
  • forward pistol grip

This makes it impossible to sell pretty much anything but shotguns, and alienates practically every firearms related store in Canada and the USA.

We try to guide our clients to the best solution, and from a strictly technical perspective, they are one of the most robust solutions out there. There ARE other solutions available. They can be more or less expensive that Shopify depending on your current Shopify subscriptions, but they put you and your business solidly in control of your web environment.

Telos Alpha has begun severing tis relationship with Shopify, and will no longer be a Shopify partner once we have migrated our current clients off the Platform.

More here from Bearing Arms

SEO and Firearms – Part Two – Keywords are…key

Keywords. you probably hear about them every single day, multiple times and filter it out. Either because your just don’t understand what the hell the are, or don’t care.

But ignoring them will kill you.

SEO (Search Engine Optimization) as we discussed in Part One is about people finding you in search engines. The search engine has little programs that “crawl” your website an index everything, then that index is stored at the engine. When someone searches, it looks at that data with a very particular eye (the algorithm) and pulls relevant returns from the vast ocean of websites on the internet. What people type into Google etc are “keywords”.

So how are SEO and keywords connected?

At the most fundamental level, you need to have to words that people would use to search for you product or service, on your website.

Keywords 101

Yep, that’s it. SEO 101 is figuring out what your customers would type into a search engine to find the product or service you are selling, and putting those keywords in you website in product descriptions, about pages and blog pages. The term “keyword” can be misleading here, as they can be composed of several words.

For instance, lets say you sell grommets. If you made them you might have the word grommet on you page by default. So your keywords could be:

  • grommet
  • grommets Canada

But to really convince Google that you are an expert in the grommet field, you should have some more descriptive language in your product descriptions like:

  • custom grommets
  • Canadian custom grapple grommets
  • cerkoted grommets
  • painted grommets
  • super strong grommets

So you product description might look like:

“ZerpCo. grommets custom grommets are the state of the art in custom grommet technology. Cerkoted grommets are our speciality, with 48 hour turn around times and a 1 year guarantee. If you are looking for Canadian custom grapple grommets, these are the right grommets for you.”

This is a simplified example, but you get the idea. Make sure your language matches the language your customers are going to use to find your products in a search engine. This not only forces you to really study your product copy and get a real grasp of the product or services key advantages, but it makes your pitches stronger and more powerful on other mediums, like brochures and print advertising. Now there are more advanced keyword approaches, but this is 101 remember? Get this done FIRST. Before you start to worry about keyword generators and back linking.

And yes, it takes time. Unless you have a SME (subject matter expert) that you can outsource to….oh wait…insert shameless plug here…that’s what we do. Or we can guide you on how to do it yourself, which will always result in better results.

Why?

Because who knows your products better than you do?

Stay tuned for Part Three – Site Structure

 

Grey Ghost – Dolling Out The Details

That day has come, after months (sometimes years) of prototyping, consulting, R&D, and in manny cases in the firearms industry, destroying several iterations of your shiny new product, its time to get the word out and get them into production and out the door in nice little boxes.

But unless your market, no ones know about it. And no matter how fantastic the product is, if no one knows about it, how can they purchase it?

These days we in the firearms sector can’t advertise on Facebook or pretty much any social media site. Most of us have decent number of social media followers, so what do we do to get attention and get the word out about our fantastic new firearms product? There are a couple of answers.

VIDEO

Video is my far the most engaging format for posts on social media, regardless of platform. Instagram has just opened up their video platform to 60 minute videos, jumping form 15 seconds. Very telling change don’t you think? You may have noticed several new SaaS (Software as a Service) offering on Facebook that will take you images, and create a video slideshow, just to get the post recognized as a video on Facebook and get it better distribution. I hate that personally.  A slideshow isn’t a video ,the two are drastically different. Perhaps thats the director in me getting bitchy, but, well, rant over. For now.

Video can tell a complex story in a very short time. If its engaging, it can do ore than just intro you new product, it can drag you page stats and follower number up drastically, and get you into new networks. They are reusable in many case (if well produced with some forethought) and can be shot in a single day to product several videos, maximizing the ROI of your marketing dollar.

ARTICLES AND REVIEWS

A bit trickier than simple social media marketing, but very powerful, and often completely free (outside shipping your product to a reviewer and back) as its an “impartial” journalistic review. These relationships take time to build and develop, but believe me. These content producers need things to write about and will work with you to review your products. THe drawback is you dont control the narrative, so the review can be damaging. You need to initiate relationships with a mind to developing them long term ,and well ahead of product launch. In some cases the :buildit and they will come” thing actually works and you get folks calling you to review a product, but that pretty much only happens when you are running a planned and co-ordinated pre-release campaign with, you guessed it, lots of pictures and video WELL prior to your launch date.

The following are just two videos we did for S&J Hardware for their Grey Ghost Universal Shotgun. These had pretty much no other info with them other than the video and the campaign motto “Get ready to get Ghosted”, and got record breaking views and engagement numbers on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. It also resulted in a net gain of over 400 new likes on the page that had 4k followers, a 10% uptick. In 5 days.

Success is about strategy, and strategy is about planning. As a small firearms business ,you may not know how to do this. Thats where we come in.. Reach out. Have a quick chat with us, and we can quide you on both process and execution of a plan to get everyone to know about your fantastic new product.

Grey Ghost Teaser from S&J Hardware on Vimeo.

Grey Ghost Teaser Two – The Shoot from S&J Hardware on Vimeo.

2 Weeks In Nevada

One fo the wonderful things about the Internet Economy is getting and working with clients from other countries.

Out relationship with Valkyrie Combat has blossomed into a couple more fantastic relationships.

First off, we spent four intense and amazing days with Progressive F.O.R.C.E. Concepts at their P.A.R.C.  facility. Three 270 degree, 100 foot bays and one massive flat range, with a mountain backdrop and elevated targets made for some fantastic film opportunities. The mountain is riddled with goat trail straight out the middle east and hand dug cave mines that date back to the early 1800’s. Getting images of PFC Instructors running Valkyrie Combat modified Glocks was both challenging (these classes are hi-tempo and intense) and infinitely rewarding as we were immersed in the culture that both Valkyrie Combat and Progressive F.O.R.C.E. Concepts embrace.

Brain Hartman -Executive Vice President / Chief Instructor

PFC is not just its facility however. The Instructor Cadre are out of this world dedicated to the mission. That mission is increasing survivability of each student they interact with. They do this by constant, relentless examination of process and action. Progressive in the name isn’t just an afterthought. The only things that stays the same is the constant review and vetting of doctrine against new ideas, techniques and tactics. If it works better, and can be proven so, then the training changes.

I have shot on many ranges with many training companies and this one is fundamentally different. Many companies use the words “real world” in their training. PFC is the first company where I have seen that, in every course, on every day, in action as more than a marketing line.

They are not a firearms training company. The closest I can come to a proper description is a Gunfighter Survival School. They are truly a life saving, not a life taking company.

Returning to the networking storyline, we had the pleasure of getting connect (over a few beers) with Jason Daub, Head of Production from AviSight. AviSight is a pioneering (see what I did there guys LOL)  UAV and manned aerial company that works across verticals and retrofits UAV to fit the needs of their customers. They don’t wait for it to get invented, they design the solution, get the parts (often off the shelf), write the code and get the solution built.

Jason has a film background, and his pilot for the day, Richard Meeker, is a friend of Valkyrie Combat and made the intro and arrangements to get them on site to shoot with us. They were kind enough to come out and film with two fine pieces of aircraft (a DLI Inspire Pro and a Phantom 4 Pro) and get some fantastic footage. They also brought a FLIR chipped DJI 13mm thermal camera and captured some AMAZING footage with it as well. Stay tuned for that series of films.

The last two weeks have been simply amazing, and we are looking forward to working with Jason, Richard and PFC again in the future.

Bottom line? Working with people whoa re passionate, and approach their passion with a heads up, focussed attitude is an honor and a privilege. It makes us want to do better, up our game, and drive to

 

 

The Right Tool For The Job

There was a meme floating around Facebook once. It was an infographic of all the gear used in the production of a rock and roll song.

It started with the rental of expensive guitars even more expensive vintage amplifiers and microphones. Then the inevitable decision between recording to analog, with all its inherent (and wonderful) flaws and vulnerabilities, which make it fantastic. Or going digital with provides a level of clarity and stability.

Expensive rental of Studio space. High hourly wages for engineers and production staff and an epic amount of money for a producer and someone to master it all down. Then to put it either on vinyl, which is the new rebounding tradition or send it to CD format.

The last part of the infographic was the most revealing however, because after all that money and cost to make a fantastic product that has a depth and breadth of meaning and emotion, its delivered via MP3 format on a device with skeptical audio abilities. And finally to your ears on a pair of headphones that cost $0.99 to make in China.

I found in many scenarios film is very much the same thing. I see guys running around doing videos for firearm companies with Red Epics and close to $70,000 worth of hardware. What’s the point if it’s all going to the YouTube channel. Even in 4k uptake is reasonably slow at this point and most people are going to watch it on their mobile device which isn’t going to deliver 4K anyway.

The picture in this post is my “Run and Gun” setup. It runs about $12,000 (half of that is a Chronos 1.4 high speed camera) for the entirety of the setup, not counting tripods or Steadicam gear. It fits in the two cases you see.

This rig also happens to include a full set of Sony lavalier mics, LED lights, a TASCAM digital audio recorder and enough batteries to shoot for two days straight.

Everything I need for a complete shoot practically anywhere including a blue screen rag would only add two more cases to this. In fact I’ll take a picture of the entire set up when I get back home.

The moral of this story is? Be careful what you’re paying for when you’re paying for media content generation. In many cases you’re footing the bill for someone’s technology obsession and not paying for the skill and knowledge that are required to produce a good product.

Not unlike gear in Law Enforcement and Military, the right tool for the job is key and ensures mission success, but it is the knowledge of the operator that should be getting the most attention.

Don’t judge a book by its cover or by how much gear it’s packing into the shoot.

How Big Is That Thing?

Let’s face it. A picture is worth a thousand words. Even more so on social media. But making sure the subject of your image displays front and center is key. So here you go. The 2018 social.medianimage cheat sheet we use at Telos Alpha to make sure the imagery we create for our clients for and display perfectly.

https://www.socialmediatoday.com/news/the-ultimate-social-media-image-size-guide-for-2018-infographic/519183/

The Landing Page – Nailed It

Anyone who knows us knows we are, in fact, bag whores.  Personally I have a fetish for EDC bags that goes back to well before my tactical days, and have a decent collection. The CFO however has stated that I must start recycling them to free up equity (wife said I have to sell some before I can buy more) for future purchases. I might go this route for winter or off reservation (read: holiday or business travel) daily carry. I have a Valance now, and use a TAD Axiom for EDC when I have to jacket and layer up.

On the marketing side of the house, the product announcement page over at ITS has some FANTASTIC images that really show the bag off in a series of lifestyle pictures. The page is a bit busy, but it has all the information I need to decide to buy. Which I will. Once I sell something. 😀

Check it out.

PFC Ballistic Off-Body Bag

Greg got interviewed by GUNS.com about his CCW rig. He has taken a lot of flack and stirred up controversy with his choice of off body carry, but honestly, after watching this video, I am convinced that this is how I am going to carry in the future.

The PFC Ballistic Off-Body Bag, aka B.O.B.B. is well covered in this video, and I think I am going to head out and buy one.

Article here: Ballistic Off-Body Bag

Bag can be purchased here: PFC Ballistic Off-Body Bag

And Another video from the manufacturer Progressive F.O.R.C.E. Concepts on how to set it up and maximize its potential.

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