Quo vadis Klabauter-Shop?

This blogpost is not really about sailing, but rather about entrepreneurial issues. But maybe it is still interesting for one or the other reader.

Not even one and a half years ago, at a time when Corona was still associated with a beer brand, I wrote a blog post about my life as a digital sailing nomad. In this post, I talked about how I finance my life on board: I cover a large part of my travel funds through the income from the Klabauter-Shop.

When I wrote the article, my income was just high enough to finance my modest lifestyle on board.

With the Corona pandemic, that has changed. While local retail in Germany has suffered greatly from the restrictions, online retail has been booming. And fortunately, not only Amazon but also the small retailers have benefited.

This is what it currently looks like every day at my wholesaler’s warehouse. A good part of the packages is from Klabauter-Shop.

Especially in the last few months I have made record sales and there were 3-4 times as many orders as last year! Even though the average order value is lower than in recent years, I can now not only live well off the income from the business, but I can also put something aside every month.

Of course, this opens up completely different perspectives and I’m very happy that I no longer have to watch every Euro I spend in a restaurant in Barcelona, for example. If the store continues to run so well, my income would currently also be sufficient for a decent life on land. Or maybe someday allow me to afford a more comfortable boat.

The price of success

But, like so many things in life, there are downsides: In the recent months, running the shop has become a near full-time job for me, which takes up a lot of time. Above all, I have not yet managed to set myself fixed working hours, so I often answer customer inquiries on weekends or in the evenings. Of course, I can also go to the beach or read in a hammock during the day. Nevertheless, I’m afraid that it will be quite a balancing act to take care of the shop this summer, to start my new project BoatHowTo and at the same time to continue sailing and exploring the Med.

Even though many processes, such as creating, sending, and posting invoices, run automatically, the current flood of orders brings considerable amount of customer inquiries, requests for changes of orders and returns that have to be processed and booked.

Currently, I spend quite a bit of time in the “boat office” and a coworking space in Barcelona.

In addition, due to the current shortage of resources and components, many manufacturers are experiencing delivery problems and are unable to meet promised delivery times. This then results in (understandably) angry customers waiting for their goods. Even though it’s not my fault, it’s of course not nice having to put customers off again and again because the promised deliveries from the manufacturers simply don’t arrive at my wholesaler. In any case, these are turbulent times.

All in all, however, I still enjoy customer contact, and every now and then an inquiry results in a nice chat among sailors. In any case, the overall feedback on the Klabauter-Shop is very positive, which of course motivates me.

Nevertheless, I am currently facing an important question:

Grow or stay small?

Growing further would mean that I would have to hand over the accounting and annual financial statements to a tax consultant. It would probably then also make sense to set up a limited company (GmbH in Germany). In addition, if the order volume remains as high as it is, I would have to hire someone to handle the customer inquiries for me. This in contrast would certainly be a relief after the training period and would also help me to take time off and enjoy a few relaxed sailing day

On the other hand, the costs for tax consultants and employees would also eat up a large part of my profits again. And it is also not clear how the economic situation will develop. Some of the customers will probably buy in walk-in retail stores again in the future. And if there were to be a major economic crisis, the water sports industry would probably be hit pretty hard. Because of such imponderables, I have actually always been very happy to be able to run my business without large fixed costs and investments.

The alternative would be to stay small, or possibly even shrink and take some “consulting intensive” items out of the assortment. With an order volume like last year, the effort for running the store would then be limited to a few hours a day once more and I would have more time for sailing again. Then I could also take more care of BoatHowTo and my other projects, the KlabauterKiste and BootsBastler.org. And I would have significantly less fixed costs and responsibility, which can also mean a gain in freedom.

However, without a co-worker who could replace me for a few weeks, it is currently difficult or impossible to sail longer distances at a stretch. And I still want to cross the Atlantic at some point…

Since the start of the Klabauter-Shop I have never been able to take a real “vacation”. Longer than 3 days at a stretch without working on emails is simply not possible with my current business model. That’s another price to pay for freedom that one should not forget. In exchange, of course, I can work from anywhere and manage my time freely.

What to do?

On one hand, the entrepreneur in me is looking forward to new challenges and the opportunity to build a “real” company. And of course if I would do this, I could continue to live on my boat and perhaps build up a nice cushion for retirement provisions and the like. On the other hand, the sailor in me always remembers Heinrich Böll’s “Anecdote concerning the Lowering of Productivity” (here is a translation of the original text). Last year, I was able to lie in the sun and enjoy life with little money and without a limited liability company, tax advisor and everything else that comes along with it…

There used to be more hammock in the old days…

I have not yet decided how to proceed. In any case, I am very curious about your ideas and opinions on this topic. Feel free to write them in the comments. Maybe there are also experienced entrepreneurs among the readers of this blog who have already faced a similar decision. I’ll keep you posted in any case….

P.S.: If any of you readers would like a job (probably a mini-job at first) in the Klabauter-Shop, please feel free to drop me an email. The job would of course be completely location-independent, so actually ideal for other long-distance sailors or digital nomads. Maybe the prospect of competent staff will help in my decision making… 😉

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1 comment
Pete says 29. May 2021

Great update, Jan!
Consider using outsourcing and a tax consultant which can work using the accounting platform you prefer, many include automated features and are quite inexpensive these days. I was in the same situation but decided to hire an accountant. In my case they only check in once a month to make sure everything is organized and reported correctly (1-2 hours work per month).

It is worth the investment because it will free up a big chunk of your time which you can use to focus on your new projects and sailing. Consider a “virtual assistant” (try a search). Spend wisely until you get multiple sources of income and can “spread the risk”.

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