Chris DeLine

Cedar Rapids, IA

Thoughts on Razzle Dazzle Cedar Rapids: 2023

Published in Blog, Razzle Dazzle Cedar Rapids. Tags: .

Razzle Dazzle Cedar Rapids 2023

I’ve never really written out what Razzle Dazzle is, or where it came from, but now seems like as good a time as any to do that. Razzle Dazzle Cedar Rapids LLC became a business on January 2, 2023, but the seed for the idea was first planted what feels like a lifetime ago. A kid of the ’90s, I was in grade school just as sports cards started to see a surge in popularity. My dad and I bonded around cards, and we’d go to flea markets, local shops, and even trading card shows to round out our collections. Growing up in western Canada, it should come as no surprise that hockey cards were my favorite type, among the sea of sports whose cards began to flood the market. As time grew on, however, my collecting hobby expanded to all aspects of sport and non-sport trading cards, comic books, and music. The story from there to here is a long and winding one, but the relevant connection comes somewhere in the mid-to-late ’90s where I sold my first couple CDs to other kids at my junior high school. By then, we’d done some sales ourselves at sports card shows and flea markets, but this was one of the first steps outside of that which I’d taken on my own. I’m pretty sure I bought the discs from a local pawn shop called Cash Converters for $3/each, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t get my money in return when selling them. I loved the music, and just being able to buy the album, listen to it, dub my favorite songs to a cassette, and dump the CD for a small loss seemed well worth it at the time.

This continued in some way, shape, or form for a few years, casually selling music to classmates for what my memory tells me is a marginal loss. In 1999 though, at the ripe age of 15 I signed up for my ebay account (this was the Wild West internet which pre-dated age-gating account sign-ups). I can’t tell you why, how, or when I made my first purchase or sale on the site, but before long I remember moving my fledgling in-person CD hawking scheme online where I started buying and selling sports cards, CDs, and things like live concert VHS tapes I’d find at the pawn shop. This was also pre-Pay Pal, which meant that once a sale was made, the buyer would have to send physical funds in the mail to the seller before the item(s) were shipped. People were sending me money orders, cashier’s or personal checks (or “cheques,” as they’re known in Canada), and physical coins and bills in the mail. Once the money was received and confirmed I’d toss their item(s) in the mail. Occasionally I’d sell domestically, though mostly I’d sell to the U.S., and from time to time I’d ship things across the world. I remember someone in an Eastern European country sent me money via some form of postal service and once the funds cleared I sent them my Pog collection via the Canadian Post without so much as a tracking number. Times were different.

My family moved from Canada to the U.S., and I eventually made my way to college, where I attended a small school in Western Iowa. I got my bachelor’s in Business Management/Entrepreneurship, largely because I liked the idea of selling hockey cards, but also because I really had no idea what to focus on with my education. Somewhere along the way my interest faded in sports cards and — while I was still regularly buying CDs — music was well into the process of its digital transition, and my desire to deal with buying and selling also passed.

As a junior in college my interests turned to the online culture around music and in 2005 I started what would become my digital base for the next seven years; a music blog called Culture Bully. One of the benefits of being in that field at that period of time was that, as the website grew and its reach expanded, I began to receive an increasingly steady stream of incoming physical media for review. This mostly came in the form of promotional CDs, but also included the occasional piece of vinyl, swag, and even larger items like a cellphone and Microsoft’s regrettable largely-forgotten Zune, which I then sold on Amazon or ebay. This bonus income stream continued on until I gave up on music blogging and sold the website in 2012.

Within a year or so of that, however, I found myself Kansas City-bound, where I helped open up a physical record store. I played a supporting role in that process, largely aligned with building the shop’s online presence, in addition to doing the bulk of the buying/setting up distribution from wholesalers. My tenure there was a brief one, but should help depict another influence for the picture that would later develop. Over the coming decade I bought and sold stuff, but never with any real success or direction. I’d dabbled in ebay a little from time to time, and thanks to the treasure trove that is McKay’s in Nashville, I had an outlet to buy and sell stuff that would occasionally fan the long-burning fire of media-focused entrepreneurial spirit within me.

The name…

It’s silly and it makes me smile, but Razzle Dazzle was originally just a joke that came up on a trip to Atlanta that a now ex-girlfriend and I took somewhere in 2019, I’d like to say. We were at a bar having lunch, and the idea of getting a Sailor Jerry-style tattoo that just said “RAZZLE DAZZLE” cracked us the hell up. I saved an image on my phone for reference and returned to it every now and then for a laugh, but that’s as fas as it ever went… Until a few years later, a move to Iowa, and a period with too much time on my hands where I came across a bunch of Instagram videos urging me to refurbish and sell used sneakers. You can’t make this shit up.

In the summer of 2022 I moved from Nashville to Cedar Rapids, but before I started my job-hunt, I found myself at the Goodwill Outlet store here at the behest of Instagram’s algorithm, urging me to explore the possibility of buying cheap, beat up shoes, and reselling them for what was certain to be quick and painless profit. I didn’t make a ton of money, but I did have a little bit of success buying and selling shoes. I was living in a cramped apartment when I first landed in town which quickly grew even more cramped by the incoming waves of “product” I was buying. Before long I purchased an overbearing wire rack which I planted right in my living room, but by that time I’d all but given up on my idea of flipping sneakers. They took too long to clean, I wasn’t great at selecting quality styles (perhaps more importantly, I just didn’t have a passion for them), and by the time I had a hundred pairs (or so) lined up in my living room I’d decided the venture wasn’t for me. I discounted what I could and donated the rest to a charity drive a local sneaker store was hosting. I was still putting that wire rack to use, however, only by then I’d moved on to buying and selling CDs and DVDs.

I had a large DVD and Blu-ray collection when I moved North, and I initially began buying more used titles with that in mind. At one point I picked up a small handful of CDs, however, thinking “what could it hurt?” I had zero success selling them on Facebook so I lugged them to Half Price Books, where I was offered what can only be charitably referred to as “laughably small compensation.” I still took what they offered just to be done with the experiment. But I wasn’t done. I started noticing more CDs, then I started noticing good CDs and DVDs, then I started buying and selling them little by little on ebay, then a large jazz collection hit Goodwill and I dove in. By the end of the year I’d flipped the switch on my ebay account, re-branding it as “Razzle Dazzle Cedar Rapids” (if only, once again, to make myself smile). My sister made the logo. I started buying and selling more. And right as the calendar turned, so too did I make the change from doing this as a sole proprietor to running my little online store as an actual LLC.

Recording some thoughts here seems like a valuable thing to do, if only to capture some memories of the process so that I might be able to return to them later. This year I moved into a new house, changed jobs, and lived a full range of experiences ranging from truly wonderful to completely dreadful. In there are some lessons I’d like to document relating to goals for the business’s upcoming year and ways I’d like to better operate things moving forward.

Razzle Dazzle Cedar Rapids ebay 2023

Diversifying Beyond the Goodwill-to-ebay Pipeline is a Critical Next Step

In 2023 97% of my gross revenue came from one source: ebay. I don’t know if that’s good or bad yet, but one thing I do know is that it seems dangerous as hell to put all your revenue generating eggs into a single revenue producing basket. I opted not to use Discogs for most of the year, and ultimately sold less on the site in 2023 than I did (in about a quarter of that time) the year prior. Last month I cleaned things up and cross-posted everything across Discogs again, and saw a small uptick in sales there, but not enough for me to feel like it’s going to count for a whole lot of anything this coming year. (There’ve been some changes with the site which seem to have alienated some users. Time will tell.)

In the past year I’ve moved on from several small income sources that I experimented with in 2022. These areas include selling stuff on Facebook and Craigslist, in addition to thrift, pawn, and even record stores, but have proven to require too much time and energy for what they produce. One spot I’m looking to explore further is a website called Eagle Saver that I had a successful sale of some less desirable CDs (that would have otherwise be considered junk to me), which netted me about $40… but again, that’s table scraps from leftovers no one wants, not the main course.

While I might explore other options I’ve not yet discovered, I’m challenging myself to try selling at at least one record show and one pop-up or flea market this year. I’ve made friends with some people who do pop-up markets in Iowa City and am on the waiting list for a record show that goes down quarterly in Des Moines. If that works, and I don’t hate it, I’ll thinking about trying another. Either way, I’m dead set on the need to try to find another avenue beyond the ebay behemoth. My goal for this next year is to increase non-ebay sales by roughly 100%, bringing that total to 7% of my gross revenue.

Similarly, I’d like to start finding other outlets for purchasing inventory. This year I had a breakthrough moment with the Cedar Rapids Public Library sale, picking up roughly 600 discs (most of which were useless to me… but for the price it was well worth the effort). There are a few other areas I’d like to explore in the coming year including yard and estate sales. I might be able to make some headway on Facebook with more aggressive offers on items, but I’m not holding my breath there. Because of the success at that first library sale, I’m going to investigate others in the area, as well.

Reduce Unnecessary Expenditures & “Calculated Bets”

I’m fairly conservative when it comes to finances, and I don’t think I really went too far out on a limb with anything I purchased this year. That said, I have come to realize that straying outside of my area of focus tends to get me nowhere. Question: Is it a piece of physical media? Yes? Great, that’s what I buy and sell. No? Sorry, I shouldn’t buy or sell it. This comes back to my experience buying and selling shoes. I’m just don’t care much, which translates to not being that good at it. For about a week I entertained the idea of buying and selling books, but even there I ran into a similar conclusion. I made a little money but I didn’t like doing it. These are all part of what I mean when I say “calculated bets” — they’re purchases that are outside of my store’s scope which stand a chance to pay off — but there’s another consideration with this, too: Buying low and selling slightly less low.

A month or so ago I went through my inventory on ebay and cut the store’s listings in half. I put a bunch of stuff into the “maybe this will become a store someday” pile in my basement and liquidated the rest of it. But in that process I also raised the bar slightly for what the minimum price of items will be that I’m willing to sell online. With each year, that bar will continue to move up. This means that when I’m buying items I have to be slightly more discriminating to make sure that they’re worth listing. Since I take offers and discount prices over time, that discounted price still needs to be above my minimum price for it to be worth it.

This also aligns with a broader dilemma I ran into, which is that when my value/price threshold is too low, I become backlogged with inventory to list. This results in inventory that’s worth listing sitting on my shelf, not getting listed in a reasonable amount of time. This means that I’m losing out on income. And when that pile of “to list” inventory begins to swell it becomes difficult to want to dive into at all, motivationally speaking. All of this is a means to set myself up for a more thoughtful buying and selling process, where I’m able to better stay on top of my listings, and those listings are then returning a slightly better rate of return than they have been this past year. I’ve made about 1150 sales so far this year (a sale could be a “lot” of items, not just a single item) and have netted about $5.37 per sale after fees and shipping. My goal for 2024 is to exceed 1200 individual sales, while also seeing my net sale price increase.

My biggest “bet” this year wasn’t buying items that could potentially sell, but preparing to lean into vinyl sales in 2024. I spent almost $800 on vinyl supplies in preparation for this (I anticipate these lasting well beyond a year), and need to keep that sunk cost in mind when thinking about this overall situation of “calculated bets.” Is all my inventory listed and/or cleaned and priced in anticipation for those upcoming record show/pop-up sales? If not, that problem is going to get out of control, as well.

As far as “unnecessary expenditures” goes, I’m proud to say that when going back over all of my costs for the year I didn’t make too many downright indefensible decisions in this field. Most on-the-fence decisions relate to costs I’m associating with villin. This includes what a larger business might call “R&D,” and other subscriptions and products that were helpful at one point (I canceled my Adobe subscription later in the year, opting instead to use a piecemeal of software that will largely get the same job done for me… but not before spending $260 on it this year, as one example). My biggest expenses this year were different start-up (and a few junk expenses) that won’t be repeated, including office furniture, electronics, and other one-time costs. There should be a big difference in this area between 2023 and 2024. My operating expenses this year were around $3,600 and my 2024 goal is to get that number down around $1,600. This is taking into account that I won’t be buying any more office furniture and will not have to buy any vinyl shipping supplies. If sales exceed my expectations in that realm, obviously expenses will rise, too.

Keep the Eventual Brick and Mortar Transition in Mind

After watching the Tower Records documentary several months ago the concept for building villin out as the publication arm of Razzle Dazzle Cedar Rapids really began to take form for me. Tower had its own in-store magazine it used to promote new releases called Pulse! (which has been revived, to some degree, online). This year I started shifting villin away from being just about Iowa music playlists, moving it closer to being more of a regionally-minded music blog. I have some broad personal goals for it in mind for the upcoming year, but I do want to also keep in mind that villin is part of my overall business plan. Several months back I started something called villin weekly, for example, which I can see being used as a vehicle to discuss new releases that I’d be stocking in a physical store when that day comes. That sorta crossover really excites me.

As much as I’d like to lean in on writing, I don’t see that as being a super valuable use of time. I enjoy it and want to keep that as an element to the process, but in 2024 there’s little appetite for written content about relatively unknown musicians, particularly when published on an obscure regionally-focused music blog. The articles and playlists being so niche, practically no one likes or shares them aside from the artists featured in the articles or playlists themselves. The other day I tried my hand at making a video for a playlist for the first time ever and can see that developing into something worthwhile. Podcasting is a direction I want to lean in on, as well, moving more toward being an unedited conversation as a final product, rather than the meticulously edited and transcribed podcast I attempted with the first wave of the idea. I want to start connecting with more nationally recognized artists and building this back up into a smaller version of Culture Bully… If this year continues to go like I think it might, in 2025 I’ll search out trademark protection for villin (or whatever other avenue might be relevant in that area) and build it into the LLC all proper-like.

A couple months ago a series of loosely related events led me to an internal feeling like I’ve got to try to make this work as a physical store. I think I can do it. I think I’d regret it if I didn’t try. I’ve started accumulating inventory for that store. I’m going to try to use some of these at physical sales this year, but whatever I don’t sell is going to maintain the purpose of building out a solid selection of media for when the physical store starts to come together. I was hoping that in two to three years I might have enough of a financial foundation to start looking for a small commercial property, but that is more likely to be four to five years down the road (particularly after some unexpected expenses came up this year). The big things for me this next year are to keep steady with the basics and see where that leads. There isn’t much exciting about doing the basic things well.