Friday, February 28, 2014

The Cougar Store: Celebrating a Year of the Cult of Reasonable Prices

The Original Goal

Last March I decided to take half of my liquid ISK and invest it in starting a low sec market. At the time, I had little to know idea about what I was doing. I had friends who were market traders and made billions a day. I had tried my hand at market trading in the hubs a few times but I often went away frustrated and burnt. I did not know what I was doing and while well off and comfortable, I was not a massively wealthy player with tens of billions of ISK to throw around on a whim.

I didn't care.

Now March comes around again and I have held this low sec market for a year.

My time in Eve is full of projects. It is how I have found my place and my path in the game. My talent is fitting into those areas left deserted or neglected. I often find what I should not interesting. Salvaging, my earliest form of true income is one that I enjoyed and still do enjoy. Boosters answered my interest for industry and filled what seemed to be a need. The market was only the next step and like everything else I had no actual idea as to what I was doing. I did not know if it would work. I had four billion ISK that I was willing to take a chance with.

Like everything I do in Eve I decided that I would write about it. The Cougar Store was a name created from an inside joke. It also made me smile and the tongue in cheek aspect suites me quite well. From there I created a simple win scenario. I didn't want to lose my four billion ISK. If the idea failed, I'd cash out and take my lessons learned. I didn't actually know what would happen if the plan succeeded. It was beyond my scope of knowledge at that time.

The goal was simple. Create a market in Bosena where people could buy their basics without going to Teon and getting screwed by the prices. In my dreams, I'd eventually upgrade everything and carry tons and tons of items. I would wrap it all neatly into one corporation of alts who would support the market. It would eventually become a self sustaining project and even if it made no profit it would have proven itself if it did not lose money. Working the market was more an idea of community service. For, if we do not improve our own community who else will? And thus, in naivety and hope I set to work building a market from the grounds of ignorance to the heights of success.

It worked out.

A few months in I wrote a guide to how I was stocking the market and how I visualized things. I spent a lot of time reading other market traders blogs, learning about economics and receiving advice. I often argued against the advice. I was offered loans. I appreciated that people were willing to assist me with ISK but I did not want to be beholden to anyone. I already did not know if I'd be able to pay myself back. Sinking other people's money into my unsure future did not appeal to me and I wanted to be independent in this thing. At the time, I had just written my first year summary of the game and I was in many ways seeking independence and something to call my own.

TCS fit a lot of that but I was overshadowed by the memory of Sard for a long time. After all, Sard did the first successful market into Molden Heath. To move from under his shadow I would need to keep it up and claim it as mine. Eventually, that happened. People stopped calling Bosena SardMart and stopped comparing my methods to his. They were different and both worked.

What do I do?

I buy items in Jita and relist them for somewhere between 0-20% on average of their cost. The time I go over this is very low priced modules. I may buy expanded cargohold I's for 6k in Jita. I may list them for 10k in Bosena. This is tempered by the fact that my average hull mark up is 2%. My markups adjust with the items and the demand but it never sores far away from the goal.

I try to source directly from people but my market is unreliable. What sells flows and shifts with the current meta. I cannot buy enough to keep an industrialist stocked but I always take time out to buy from them when I can. It is a little thing but it means something to me.

And I do not care what the Regional price is. I base off of Jita because the game understands Jita as the center of the asset world. Sometimes it is a bit high but that is on rare occasion. As I learned more about the market I learned to dodge manipulation or say, "Not today" for some item or another.

I then ship it down to my high sec staging system and jump it into my low sec market. I have my own Jump Freighter alt who is trained in Racial Freighter V, Jump Freighter V, JDC V, JDFC V. I ship my own items or I contract Red Frog to move them across high sec. Never do I move my freighter with more than a billion ISK inside of it. Everyone has their own limits, that is mine. A billion ISK loss I can absorb. It is the price of doing business. I see absolutely no reason to move more than that. It isn't worth it to me. "Almost no chance," of being ganked is not good enough. That is what the Red Frog contracts are for. Those noble space truckers get plenty of my business.

Money In

The Cougar Store's current worth is 15 billion ISK. That is not how much money the corporation has made. That is a summary of its current ISK/Orders/Assets as I write this blog.

Money Out

Market Alts: TCS has three fully trained market alts.

Trade: 20k ISK
Broker Relations: 100K ISK
Retail: 100K ISK
Marketing: 3.5 million ISK
Accounting: 5 million ISK
Wholesale: 35 million ISK
Tycoon: 100 million ISK

Total cost to train each market alt: 143,720,000. Total cost to train all my TCS employees: 431,160,000

Office: My first few office bills were around 40 million ISK. Bosena was full and Diz pulled THC2's office spot for me to use. A few months later, THC2 fully moved to Bosena and several of the offices emptied. The payments started to plummet and are currently sitting at 5.4 million. At the start, it was a significant bite into my profits to maintain the office and not something I had calculated into my plan.

Repayment: I repaid myself my original investment of 4 billion ISK. I then used that to buy a jump freighter. The jump freighter is not a TCS asset but a personal one that I use for all of my endeavors.

Mistakes: My biggest money sink is screwing up market orders. I list thing after thing and sometimes get caught in a repetitive loop because I always round my numbers. I refuse to play 99999 games with prices. The side effect is that after listing 30 things at 100,000 I get to something like Hydrogen Isotopes and instead of listing it at 800 ISK I list it at 80,000 or 800,000 ISK. POOF! Brokers fees galore. My corp wallet bursts into flames as something laughs in the background. From the ones that I have caught I've burned around 3 billion ISK in mistakes over the last year. I don't make that many but most cost between 2-600 million ISK when they are made.

Giving it away: TCS has sponsored a Rawrcat (Jaguar fleet) roam and spent some ISK giving people ships when they have needed them. That's sunk about a billion and a half across the year.

Taking over Bosena: I've sunk a billion ISK into buying POCOs. I've planted 4 or 5 of them so far and given away one. I have a 3% tax rate on my POCO and they are one course to repay their investment cost.

The Cult of Reasonable Prices

I could have made more but that was never the point. And what I did make, I made selling in low sec.

My religion of reasonable prices kind of developed as both a joke and a reaction. I enjoy the imagery of it. I'm a bit fanatic about it. Anyone that talks to me learns that quickly as they run away from my wide eyed ranting when they suggest I raise my prices. The entire point of TCS was to improve Molden Heath by providing a reasonable market. It was my going out and cleaning the streets, planting trees, and painting over the graffiti of the Ghetto.

These graphs are from the last year and chart the arc of prices. Each expansion has an effect on the market as CCP has changed manufacturing materials and the access of said materials. But, even without that, these prices never would have come down if no one made them come down. That is why there is that sharp drop. The items I most affected where PvP items. There was no competition to the high sec market and that market put the prices wherever because their audience was relatively captured.

How do we improve low sec? We do it by doing it ourselves. CCP can and (hopefully) will give us tools to mold Eve. But they are just tools. We have to make the rest happen. If you want a market you have to make a market. If you are not willing to make the market than you may never have a market. If you cannot make the market, for not everyone can, than you must support those who do make the market.

I received a lot of support. From people listening to me as I babbled over things that excited me to escorting ships, making cynos, and sending me lists of items they would like to see stocked.
Sometimes I fall...
There have been a lot of mistakes made on this road. I've watched a PLEX worth of ISK vanish to my inattention. I've made the wrong purchases. At one point, I was cutting my margins so thin that I was losing ISK. When Sard came back to the game and decided that he wanted the market to be in a particular place I felt crushed. I was still new and careful with what I was doing and I didn't feel that it was my place to argue or fight what he wanted. After all, my goal was to improve the area not stroke my own ego. But working with people is hard. Sard decided to leave again and I found myself struggling to rebalance everything. I was learning how to deal with relisters and people who undercut me. People who had vocally come to work areas of the market vanished and left me feeling as if I'd never catch up with what needed to be done. Sometimes, it was hard and consumed my entire day.

But often I run...

"No one loves it like you do." I've said to myself many, many times. My market became something that I was passionate about. I was excited about. I burned to tell everyone about the way that the world had changed for me. I picked up a lot of the rules I was reading and threw them out of the window. Instead, I operated on a trial and error basis, making small experimental forays into various areas and seeing what hte response was.

Instead of stocking 20 billion ISK in things and selling from my stock I decided to haul or contract my stuff. This worked beautiful. When TCS was rolling a billion a week, stocking twice a week was easy for me to do. As sales increased I started contracting the moves. I was burning money in contracts but that money was worth it to me to spend. It gave me back free time that I needed to play the other parts of Eve that I wanted to play.

My original goal was to work up to stocking battleships. I never reached that goal because I decided that it was not a useful goal. Battleships are something people tend to plan for. To stock them I would tie up several billion ISK for something that may sell one every few weeks. Instead, as the store became successful and easily self sustainable and other people were interested in what I was doing. I'd shoved the success and my philosophy in everyone's face around me so I did what any loyal worshiper would do and spread the word.

A market works and you don't have to trump up the prices.

Making ISK

I run TCS prices by hand. After months of stocking and thousands of orders I learned to gauge percentages. I'm always willing to shave off of my profit to undercut everyone else. The regional market is mine. When people look at buy things they will see that those things are available at a comparable or lower price in low sec. And maybe... just maybe... they will realize that you don't have to screw people over to make money.

I know that making the most out of what you can is an art in Eve. I deal with relisters quite often. It is not as common these days in Bosena, but the first moths the relisting was a bit of a war. I found myself struggling not only with strangers but with people that I knew and liked. That was the hardest bit. I couldn't press my beliefs onto them. They were not me and did not share my methods. Still, it galled me. Why where we destroying ourselves from within? Low sec can be a hard enough place to live in without your corpmates doing 200% markups on needed goods with their alts.

Anger has fueled a lot of the market. Not true anger of range and flames. No, a burning anger that some would bleed out those closest to them for some more ISK. It is not a wrong philosophy but it is not one that will make an over all, healthier region. And for some reason I started to care and then I started to care a lot. The more people told me that I was foolish, that I should raise my prices, or that my time was wasted in this effort the more determined I was to prove them wrong.

I moved my boosters to the market as well to supplement it.  I did buy backs from people who did accidental purchases. I ignored the wishes of my corpmates and stocked stabilizers and ECM drones. I learned what would move and would not. My methods are slow and careful.

I stock around 550-650 orders. This amount bounces around because I have other people stocking things like ammo, jump fuel, and various high volume small items. I keep spares of these in the corp hangar. I keep stacks of modules around 30-50. This gives an average of 2-4 weeks on a stack depending on sales volume. I sell Meta 4 and T2 except things where lower metas are normal, fit options. This covers damage controls, webs, points, and prop modules for the most part.

Ammo is sold as T1, T2, and Faction.

Everything sells and it all sells at different rates. One thing that I stress to those starting is not to look at the individual sales. Don't price your items the same way everyone prices these because that 300k ISK sounds better than making 50k ISK. The Cult of Reasonable prices is based on turn over. People will flock to that 250k ISK discount. It puts you at the top of the regional market.

Once they are in your station they might as well fit out their ship. After all this is based off of a low sec market and no one wants to undock an unfit ship.

I learned a lot about the game

A lot of people spend their time digging around EFT or Pyfa looking at modules. I spent my time digging around the market and comparing loss mails and commonly used items. The store started with a concept of 150 basic items and grew from there. Ammunition for 4 races in 3 (standard, T2, faction) different styles per race take up a huge number of orders. After that, fits stack on and from there its amazing how many rigs, scripts, drones, meta modules, and possible combinations there are out there. I can't name them all but I can easily sit and pull several hundred modules to stock with little to no effort simply because of familiarity.

And I'm not perfect

I make mistakes. I have a terrible habit of letting my items delist (I'm currently correcting that issue right now). It is hard not to list things high just because I can. Sometimes I want to be greedy. Some days I'm neglectful and others I just mess up. I buy the wrong thing, I buy in the wrong station, I mess up my listing... it goes on and on and on. I'm not perfect but I don't let it stop me. I'm not optimal at what I do but that really doesn't matter.

So, you want to try a market...

In PvP we tell people that you just have to get out in space and start shooting things. The same thing goes for this. There have been enough people who have contacted me to ask me what I do for me to know that there is interesting. I find this interesting game play. I know that there are others.

Markets are not going to make themselves. And often, you, the maker will feel terrible unappreciated. You'll be elbow deep buying orders and restocking them, using supplemental programs to keep tracked and keep stocked and everyone else will be giggling and laughing outside talking about the joy of ship explosions and how it is the best part of Eve.

And they are wrong.

The best part of Eve is the part of Eve that you enjoy. It is the part of Eve that keeps you logging in every day looking forward to what you do. And sometimes that thing is running a market simply because you want to give back to your game community.


  1. Glory to the Cult!

    You did great. I'm not sure you realize that you could do it, because you was able to not listen to anybody. Everyone told you to do differently and you didn't listen, did your way and win!

    Don't ever change!

  2. Interesting to read. It seems we have a similar course of play. Salvaging, Drugs, Trading, maybe I should start a low sec hub. Maybe after my "create a newbie lowsec corp" project is over. Good luck with next year and the CSM thing, it seems I already started a forum fight in your name ;)

  3. "The best part of Eve is the part of Eve that you enjoy. It is the part of Eve that keeps you logging in every day looking forward to what you do."

    Amen! Not only do you lead a cult of reasonable prices, you could start one called "The Cult of Enjoying the Game." Pretty radical, eh? This is a great read, and I hope it further empowers others to step off the curb and try things.

  4. Cool read... I have done some region trading and I came to a similar realization - i could make more if I tried to max out volume vs. unit profit. What you have done sounds like a lot of work Sugar - a job in fact! I admire you for sticking with it and doing it your way and I applaud your success!