How Much is that Glyph in the Window?
For the past year or more I’ve provided a steady and significant income to ten toons doing nothing more than selling Glyphs and Glyph-related Accessories. I have done this without spending an excessive amount of time at it, and I have done so without being a cosmic jerk to everyone else on the market. The gains are modest by comparison to the "goblins" among us but they are gains despite the presence of such creatures.
There is no complex formula to memorize or fiddly process to follow. It’s all a matter of good old common sense and old-timey business practices.
Without trying to force my precise methods on anyone, let me put down what the general principles are. You can follow through in whatever fashion you want.
First Principle: I am a shopkeeper
When a buyer approaches the auction house, it is often with trepidation that the item they wish to find won’t be there. My job is to ensure that when someone comes to buy a glyph, one of mine is there to be bought. I may have been undercut, but with 430ish glyph types out there, the odds are pretty good that I’ll have something they want at the price they’re willing to pay.
This is all about opportunity. A customer provides an opportunity to fulfill a need. Your job as a shopkeeper is to ensure that you can fulfill that need.
Practically every specialty shop I have been in sticks to a specific type of product and/or service, but within that narrow confine, covers all the bases. Big*Mart may carry camping tents, but only Camping Equipment World carries tents in fifteen different sizes, from fifty makers, all the time. My job is to be the Camping Equipment World of glyphs.
This means inventory
A shopkeeper doesn’t generally have five items in the front window and make everything else to spec. They maintain an inventory of items to sell ((The Internet does change those rules a bit, but let’s pretend it doesn’t exist on Azeroth and see where that takes us.)).
This means a couple of things to me and you. First it means that you need to know what the possibilities are – what kind of glyphs exist in the first place? And secondly – and more importantly – it means you need to keep track of what you have on hand at any given time.
The main reason for the latter is that you don’t want to tie up assets in stuff that won’t sell – but you also want to make sure that stuff that DOES sell is always available to your customer.
I’m afraid some effort is required at this point.
How you go about this is up to you. I have a spreadsheet on Google Docs that I use to track average sale price, inventory levels, item status (available, stocked, warehoused), and so forth. There are many other tools available for this, but this was the weapon I chose. There may even be in-game tools for this. Or you might choose an old fashioned bound ledger ((This does have a certain romantic appeal, I confess. Especially if I get to use a fountain pen.)). Up to the individual.
At any rate, when an item sells, you decrease inventory. As you create replacements, they get noted, too. All you need to do now is figure out what the right levels are.
This is a difficult subject. Different servers have different demands, and things tend to move in cycles. I’ve seen glyphs that didn’t sell for months suddenly fly off the shelves, then cool off just as quickly.
My own personal practice is to keep two of every glyph in stock at all times. For items that sell faster, three may be more appropriate, but you have GOT to know the market before you run the risk of overstocking, and since I check things once a day there is very little down time even if I sell out on an item.
Getting stocked up
Developing an inventory in the first place will more than likely be a drain on the coffers, if you buy your materials. Most dealers will need to take time to develop inventory slowly. But choosing the wrong items will likely result in bankruptcy. So, choosing your initial stock is important.
There are many tools out there to help out with this – such as The Undermine Journal – but be aware of what they represent. Most, if not all, of these tools use the WoW Armory Auction House feed to access AH information periodically. That feed, however, does not offer real sales data, last I looked. It offers data on what was posted, and what was no longer posted, but it does not indicate if an item disappeared because it was bought, because it expired, or because it was cancelled. Without that information, the best these tools can offer is a guess, which some of them do attempt.
A fair approximation can be gained from the average post price of an item over two weeks’ period. Such an item with a lot of activity and a fairly flat price curve is probably a reliable seller. An item with a steep sawtooth sales curve (starts out high, drops off rapidly) is probably moving nowhere and all the activity is due to constant undercutting. Items that sell quickly rarely see a lot of undercutting.
Yes, there is risk here in that a price is inflated due to artificial manipulation, but since you’re going to make at least one of everything anyway, just view that as an advance copy and move on.
The Supply Chain
Where you get your glyphs is largely up to you. In my case, I actually make the glyphs, but I purchase my raw materials. But, if you have the time, gathering your own mats and milling them is a lot more profitable, by many orders of magnitude.
However, a lively glyph market will support a vendor that buys supplies off the auction house. You just have to know what to buy and when. On my server, for example, Whiptail is generally as cheap as Cinderbloom and Stormvine, with a significantly higher yield per stack.
A really lively market will pretty much require you to at least supplement your supply chain with bought materials. On my server, I generally go through twelve to twenty-four stacks of Whiptail per day, usually in excess of twenty. Unless you give up a significant amount of your time to gathering, there’s no way you can keep up with that sort of demand on your own.
If you choose to buy your glyphs straight up for resale, then your margins are going to be even thinner, and you will need to account for supply costs in a lot more detail. That will also require a LOT more of your time.
Keep the good stuff up front
With over 430 types of glyph to sell, just moving and posting them can eat a significant chunk of time. This is why I have a three-tier inventory. Tier 1 is the stuff that sells. Tier 2 is the stuff that usually sells but isn’t right now. And Tier 3 is for the stuff that rarely, if ever, sells.
Tier 1 I always keep in stock, two items at a time.
Tier 2 generally gets rotated out of stock for a week, then gets brought back in. The price levels have probably reset ((I mentioned earlier how posting prices have a sawtooth pattern to them as they get undercut from a high price to a low price. This happens to Tier 1 items as well as Tier 2. Eventually the price bottoms out, at which point everyone withdraws. The next posting will be again at a high price, and we start all over again. )) so it’ll probably move back into Tier 1.
Tier 3 items go into a virtual warehouse, where they sit for a few weeks before being popped into circulation again. I almost always break these out during special events, such as holidays or content patches when a lot of people show up needing a lot of things that normally don’t move.
Now, what you call "selling" is up for debate. Currently, I determine that any glyph that doesn’t sell for at least 25g needs to go to Tier 2 for a week, and if it doesn’t sell for ten weeks in a row, it goes into a warehouse.
Due to undercutting, the "average" price an item brings in is highly questionable, since it varies depending on which part of the sawtooth you’re on. Therefore it is better to establish a minimum, below which you aren’t going to waste time on it.
Don’t sweat the goblins
There’s always a "goblin" – real or wannabee, doesn’t matter – out there undercutting something. Can’t get away from it. You can either engage in a long, wasteful, elaborate "war" with this individual (or – horrors! – a bot), or you can ignore him or her and work to alleviate the impact of such activities.
With 430ish glyphs on the market, you buy assurance through quantity. You will get undercut somewhere, but you won’t get undercut EVERYWHERE at ALL THE TIMES.
The proof is in the pudding. On a well-populated server with an active AH ecosystem, products sell every day, easily. Maybe I miss a few opportunities by not obsessing over The Other Guy, but then, he’s not my customer. My customer pays the bills, not that goblin dude.
Tools for the times
I will be first to say it: without tools, this process would be impossible. I’d be doing nothing but getting glyphs made and posting them, every day. Call that a game if you want, but I call it a job. A boring, soul-destroying job.
So, having the right tools for the job is important!
I am going to take off my hipster glasses and gladly join the throng of people that recommend Trade Skill Master (TSM). I use two of its modules primarily to get things done, and a third for non-related activities ((Basically, the AH buying tool is handy for finding bargains to resell, but I use it minimally because the glyph market is just too busy!)). The Posting tool moves items from your bag to the AH quickly; the destroy tool takes a lot of pain out of milling herbs.
Postal will help you process mail en masse, moving glyphs to your bags and cash to your bank. There’s also a TSM module for the mailbox, but I haven’t used it.
Google Docs will provide you with free tools to organize your data and find holes to fill and bumps to sand off.
Do be cautious of the more automated tools, though. Understand your market and train the tool to work properly within it. For example, I posted all my auctions by hand for weeks before letting TSM take over the job, by which time I was aware of the peculiarities of my market and either didn’t care, or developed a process to deal with it.
The most important tool is between your ears
And that brings me to the point that, regardless of what process you develop, what tools you use, or how you deal with adverse situations, the most important things you bring to the table are your heart and mind. If you engage in practices that are a little seedy, expect others to follow suit. If you play the game honestly and fairly, however – you’ll get by just fine.
Above all, keep your eyes open. For opportunities, trends, potential issues. Gather what data you need to make it possible. Don’t rely on tools to drive the whole thing. Keep your hand on the wheel at all times.
Room for improvement
The whole "working as a storefront" process is not without failings. Some are inherent, some can be improved.
I’m bothered by having to put items in warehouse, for example. That makes it impossible to make all things available at all times. Unfortunately, the AH doesn’t facilitate the customer doing the equivalent of walking up to the counter and inquiring about a rare glyph that isn’t out front. And NOT warehousing things just eats up too much time and bag space.
The other thing that doesn’t get captured well is sales frequency per item, in my current process. I don’t record when I sold an item; I don’t even have a database, and that’s what you’d need. I wanted to do this earlier in the process but eventually arrived at the conclusion that if I have everything up at all times, who cares about when it sells the best? I’ll be there anyway. But that does run the risk that the item is currently warehoused.
My current process is also very dependent on me personally catching all the details for sales, etc. Sometimes I forget to record a sale and my inventory gets skewed badly because of it. I live in fear of NOT documenting a sale twice in a row, meaning I’d have no items for sale, and no reason to make more when I looked at my inventory. My next step in that regard is to make a tool that will record each for me into a text file or something, but that’s for another time.
A while back I read on WoW Insider the advice of their goblin advisor regarding the selling of Darkmoon card decks. and the like. At the time it was very good advice, as many of the Darkmoon cards were BiS for several classes. But a week or so later, a new content patch dropped, and they were immediately trumped by the next tier’s trinkets, for the most part.
The upshot is this: Darkmoon cards – and the entry-level relics we can make – really aren’t as profitable as they used to be, not with so many good endgame items available through LFD and LFR. So, don’t build your business around them. It won’t work out all that well.
While there is still a very minute market for the very patient, don’t expect to see them flying off the shelves.
In fact, after close analysis, you may find that selling Embers or Ink will be more profitable than selling the cards they create.
And that’s pretty much all I’m going to say on this part of the market.
Does this work for other markets?
In a few weeks we’re going to move into the Enchanting market once again. Jas was doing that for a while, and it was tedious and dreary. Now that I’ve got a new system, though, She’ll be trying her hand at that and see how it works out.
The BIG question mark in all this is Mists of Panderia. With an overhaul to both abilities and talents, how will glyphs be handled? You can bet that I’m watching that like a hawk!