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The economics of small business – running an eCommerce site

Our website provides a wealth of information for Revere Ware enthusiasts, and we also sell our parts through it.  But operating a small-business eCommerce site continues to be more and more challenging.

For starters, it costs the customer more because of shipping.  With many retailers offering free shipping these days (most notably Amazon.com) customers sometimes are outraged that we charge around $4.50 per order to ship, which can look pretty unreasonable if you order a part that costs $4.00.  But the economics are such that, if we charge $4.50 for shipping (the bulk of which goes to the USPS and a little goes against our fulfillment service) we actually lose money on shipping; on average, it costs us $6-$7 to fulfill an order.

When we first started out, and most of our sales were through our website, it was less, and the shipping charges roughly offset the fulfillment cost.  But as more of our sales moved to Amazon.com, and our volume through our website dropped, the fixed part of our fulfillment service started to drive the cost per shipment up.  The fixed cost is what they charge just to have the service, hold the inventory, etc.  With high volumes, this is very little per order, but as the volume drops, it starts to be a significant cost for each order.

Our sales are shifting away from our own website to Amazon.com for a couple of reasons. The first, of course is that people enjoy the convenience of buying from Amazon – the 1-click ordering (not having to enter all that information) and the free shipping are great.  The second is, given the alternative, some people have a lack of trust for a website they don’t know from Adam.  Lastly, we discovered last year that Amazon.com actually advertises using Google Adwords to capture the business that might actually have been destined for our website.  Yes, they compete with us to drive our sales to their website, even though it is us selling in both places.

But there are a lot of good reasons for us to continue to sell through our own website.  The first is insured availability.  Amazon.com Marketplace is pretty one-sided against the merchant.  Often times, Amazon.com will suspend one of our listings because of high return rates.  This happens because, as a third party selling on Amazon.com Marketplace, we have no ability to set rules about returns; people often buy our parts, without bothering to read the description, and then return them when they don’t fit, providing some lame excuse that makes it seem like the part is defective, so they don’t have to pay a return shipping fee.  This makes it looks like we have an abnormally high return rate at times, which causes Amazon.com to periodically suspend a part listing here and there.

Second, Amazon.com can for no good reason suspend a sellers account, and often does according to this article.  If that were to happen to us, at this point, the economics of our business (we work hard to provide parts you can’t get anywhere else, because we care, and make a little money off of it) would be hard to justify.  If we didn’t continue to sell through our own website, it would make no sense at all, and our parts would likely no longer be available.

Third, we have much less control over the content of our listings on Amazon.com, and our interactions with customers, than on our own website.  The listings are not considered our own, and it often takes some finagling to change the content, because someone occasionally resells a part they purchased from us through our listing on Amazon.com.  And, despite the fact that our own website has a wealth of information on dealing with issues with our parts when they occur, we can’t direct people there or risk having our seller account suspended.

There is a large movement in the US right now to buy local, in response to the difficulties that online shopping presents to local businesses.  In my own town, there is an 11% vacancy rate in our main shopping district, where 10 or 20 years ago 1-2% was typical.  The move to buy local is to support small local businesses that are valuable to the community in more ways than just what you buy there; they provide jobs and help support the local tax base among other things.

Similarly, in light of the increased dominance of eCommerce by just a few large platforms, perhaps there needs to be a similar movement to support small business websites like ours.  I believe businesses like ours provide something valuable that just wouldn’t exist if everything was dominated by Amazon.com and the likes.  Yes, it cost more to buy through our site, but it makes more sense if you purchase multiple items, and consider that when you do buy from us, you are supporting something worthwhile.

So yes, by all means, buy local, and, when you do shop online, buy from small business websites.

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Vintage cast iron pans

As far as I’ve always been concerned, cast iron is all about the seasoning.  You can take just about any cheap abused cast iron pan, clean and season it well, and it will perform like a champ.

In fact, that is exactly what we’ve done personally, purchase some basic cast iron pans at thrift stores, and clean and season them.

But, I am also a huge fan of history.  So while I don’t think a vintage cast iron pan would necessarily perform better (feel free to make an argument against this presumption), The idea  of owning an using a cast iron pan that has been around for 100 years, is interesting.

Along those lines, here is a video on how to identify vintage cast iron cookware.

Now, the video raises an interesting point about older models having a smooth finish, vs newer models having a rougher finish, which made me wonder, which is better.

Here is an article which discusses the difference, although has a much more complex explanation of why newer pans are rough and older ones are smooth.

The entire concept of seasoning cast iron, which acts as a leveling agent so the proteins won’t adhere to the pan, was a result of home cooks trying to fill in this new, rougher surface. The roughness that you feel on much modern cast iron is sand, which used to be removed during the cast iron production process. However, that step has since been removed by many modern manufacturers. “A lot of cast iron today is produced in 90 minutes,” says Powell. “But at the turn of the 20th century, cast iron would sit in molds for upwards of 48 hours before then being tumbled for 24 hours before it then received its final packaging.” As a result of this, vintage cast iron was incredibly smooth.

Ah, so it turns out that not all cast iron pans are equal, and older ones with a smooth finish are much easier to maintain, don’t require the same level of seasoning, and generally work better.

I’m off to the thrift store to try and find a vintage cast iron pan.

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Revere Ware to produce new vintage quality copper bottom cookware

In a stunning reversal of their decades long production of cheap cookware that mimics the look of the quality of pre-1968 Revere Ware copper bottom cookware, World Kitchen LLC, the owners of the Revere Ware brand, have announced that they are dusting off the old molds and equipment, and will once again start producing cookware to the exacting pre-1968 standards.

However, in a twist retail analysts are calling “interesting” and “different”, they are taking a cue from denim manufacturers, and will offer the cookware in pre-worn condition, with three basic finishes.

Weary

Abused

Not quite new

The new cookware is available immediately through eBay and select thrift stores nation wide.

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Sizing sheet for vintage 2-screw skillet and sauce pan handles

For our 2-screw handles, which fit pre-1968 vintage style cookware, we provide specific measurements to compare existing handles with, to find the correct size.  Still, people do seem to have difficulty with correct sizing often enough that we decided to make a helper sheet to help determine the correct size.

 

You can can download the PDF version of this sheet here.  If you download the PDF file and print it in portrait mode on an 8 1/2 x 11 (letter size) sheet of paper, you can just hold it up to your old handle to determine the proper size replacement.

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Issues with Revere Ware lid knobs

Lid knob

Issues with replacing Revere Ware lid knobs are probably the most frequent thing we get asked about, and, much to our frustration, one of the most frequent reasons for returns and negative feedback.  We figure it is helpful to review all the issues and solutions we’ve come across.

Our knobs are made for Revere Ware

First and foremost, the knobs we sell are only for Revere Ware lids.  Revere Ware lids have a screw attached permanently, and thus, don’t need a screw.  We often get negative reviews for not including a screw.  If you want to use our knobs on other cookware, you can, you’ll simply have get a screw yourself from a local hardware store.    You’ll need an 8/32 machine screw made of either brass or stainless steel that is between .25 and .35 inches long.

Revere Ware knobs and screws can rust

Sometimes, a Revere Ware screw can come off the lid.  Usually, this is due to rust.  The screw on a Revere Ware lid is made of stainless steel.  Over the years the Revere Ware original knobs have had various types of metal inserts inside of them with the threads, some of which were aluminum.  Putting dissimilar metals in contact with each other can cause galvanic corrosion, and the with the Revere Ware stainless screws and (mainly) aluminum lid knob nut inserts, this often happens.

When the screw and nut insert rust to each other, rust can often get between the bottom of the screw, where it is welded ot the lid, weakening the junction.  Simply trying to unscrew the knob from the lid and break the screw off of the lid, leaving the lid with no screw.

If that happens, have no fear, it is an easy fix requiring only a drill and a new screw from your local hardware store.  You can find the instructions here.

Bakelite can deteriorate, leaving the screw insert on the lid

This is the number one issue we have.  Bakelite is brittle by nature, and over time, especially if it has been repeatedly washed in a dishwasher, the nut insert can come loose from the inside of the lid knob and stay attached to the lid.

We have a more extensive blog post describing this problem here.

The solution is to simply grab the insert with some pliers and unscrew it.  In some cases, if the insert and screw are well rusted together, the screw will break off. See the section above on rust.

The new knob can be hard to screw on

Because of the rust issue (see above), a screw can be left with some corrosion on it that can muddy the threads.  Additionally, manufacturing tolerances may have varied over the years such that some screws are just slightly bigger (despite having the same specification).  In both cases, a knob can be hard to screw on.

If you see some corrosion on the screw, spraying a little WD-40 on it will help loosen the rust and allow the new knob to screw on.  If it is just hard to screw on, adding a little oil of any time (one customer used olive oil) will help the knob screw onto the threads.

Occasionally, we do have defects

Lastly, on rare occasions we’ve seen a knob nut insert that simply didn’t have the threads.  If this is the case, we are happy to replace the defective knob, just contact us.  This is pretty rare though; we’ve seen three of these in tens of thousands of knobs sold.

 

 

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Revere Ware detective work – process patent drip coffee pot

We get quite a few questions about the history or age of a particular Revere Ware item. Often, information is thin and it is hard to nail down something like age with any certainty.

Recently, customer Diane asked:

I have stainless steel, copper clad, drip pot that has a patent number of 2272609. Can you tell me the age of this particular piece of Revere Ware?

Based on the work of Charlie Anjard, who compiled the best Revere Ware historical information we have (see history, vintage & process patent, and the photo guide), we know that the process patent stamp identifies cookware that was made between 1939 and 1968.

process patent stamp

We have collected a number of Revere Ware related ads, catalogs, instructions, and brochures over the years.  The earliest piece we could find that showed the drop coffee maker was the Revere’s Guide to Better Cooking, from 1941.

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We also have catalogs dated 1953, 1955, 1961, and 1966 that show the drop coffee maker.

In this case, it seems that the piece could have been made anywhere between 1941 and 1966 definitively, and quite possible for the entire period from 1939 to 1968.

One other thing that is notable is that, according to Charlie’s photo guide, Revere stopped making the drop coffee pot in the late 1970’s.  From 1968 through the late 70’s they would have been made without the process patent stamp on the bottom.

 

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Replacement lids

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One of the most common questions we get is whether we carry replacement lids for such and such a size Revere Ware piece.

We don’t carry any lids (just the knobs), and the official source for Revere Ware, World Kitchen, sells all of one of the traditional copper bottom lid sizes now.

The solution is to tap into the robust marked for used Revere Ware lids on eBay.  We’ve had an eBay helper site for Revere Ware cookware for a number of years now; it separates listings on eBay out by type and size, and is updated every 30 minutes.

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On the front page, we show a graph of the number of listings for Revere Ware items since 2009, which continues to grow; there is a very robust marketplace on eBay for just about anything Revere Ware.

When it comes to lids, there are a couple of considerations.  Here is our help text at the top of our lid listings page:

To find the right lid for your cookware, choose a size that is listed with measurements the same size or slightly smaller than the inside diameter of your cookware. Revere Ware lids are usually just slightly smaller than the cookware they fit. eBay listers will show this as anywhere from 1/16″ to 1/4 inch smaller than your cookware diameter. Very few Revere Ware pots in our experience have a diameter that is NOT a whole inch; exceptions we have found include a 6 1/4″ skillet (that takes a 6″ lid) and 5 1/2″ saucepans. However, based on auction listing we’ve seen, there do appear to be 6.5″ and 7.5″ sizes as well.

For example, lids listed measuring 5.25 (5 1/4), 5.3125 (5 5/16), 5.375 (5 3/8), 5.4375 (5 7/16), and 5.5 (5 1/2) inches are all probably the same size measured slightly differently by different sellers and should all fit a sauce pot with a 5.5″ inside diameter.

Which brings up another point – people typically ask, “do you have a lid for a 2 quart sauce pan.”  That is a hard question to answer, given that Revere Ware altered the dimensions of their sauce pans and pots many times over the years.  A 2 quart pot can come in one of several diameters.

Use the instructions above to find the correct size.

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Vintage double struck stamp

A customer sent us this photo.  It is the first time I’ve seen a double imprint of the vintage Revere Ware process patent stamp on the bottom of a piece of cookware.

Update 6/20/16:  We’ve since seen some auctions for double-struck stamp pieces.  This seems to indicate the value for pieces like this is relatively low, at least in the eyes of the sellers.  These pieces tend to list for about that much even without the double-struck stamp.

double_struck_stamp_auction_sauce_pan double_struck_stamp_auction_dutch_oven

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