We know you want to know about Astro Dog, so welcome! My name is Nadine, and this is my husband Marcel.
Together, we own and operate Astro Dog from Brisbane Australia since 2018. Would you like to know more? Let’s ask Marcel some questions!
Tell us something about yourself, have you always been interested in Astronomy? Are you an expert?
No. That sounds terrible, but it’s the truth. I only got interested in Astronomy in my 30s. My background was Tech Support, Commercial Training, Education, Administration and Business, so that was my forte and it took up so much of my time. It wasn’t until later, when I left teaching that I had the time and inclination to pursue Astronomy. Like most people, I wanted to get into Astrophotography right away and learned I knew nothing after all. You asked me if I’m good at it – no, not really. I quickly decided that Astrophotography was too much for me, I’m a pure visual observer now and I love it. I also still consider myself an amateur, but I love what I do, and I learn more every day. I make it a policy to know as much as I possibly can about every single thing we stock certainly, and constantly learn something new.
But you know the main Stars and Constellations?
I actually suffer from prosopagnosia, which is an inability to remember faces and also relates to problems with finding your way around, so, getting lost easily. So, when I’ve met a person, I may not recognize them when I see them again – at all. I may just walk past them. It took me up to eight months to remember the faces and names of my classes at High School as a teacher. What’s that got to do with the stars? Well, it takes extraordinary effort for me to be able to both locate and recall the names of the stars, and I am slow to learn the connections between them. But all it means is that it takes longer – so I’ll just enjoy the journey at my own pace.
Wait – it took six months to know the faces in a class? Really? How did you cope?
Really. I bluffed until I knew the actual names, pretended to recognize people once they recognized me all the while hoping I’d learn who they are from the context. I didn’t know about Prosopagnosia back then, so it was confusing to me how others did it so well, I thought I was not trying hard enough not recognizing it was kind of impossible for me. But, one day, a kid came in and pretended to be in my class, and I let him until the kids threw him out. I knew then that I had a major problem… But, back to it, it also seems to also affect my memory of the stars. It takes me a very long time to learn new star positions, and the names of stars. It’s quite maddening at times, but I try and be patient, and enjoy learning at my own pace, though it takes me far longer than most. I also try and learn from people and be humble and listen carefully when they explain something.
Well, what’s the inspiration behind Astro Dog?
Truthfully, he developed from a user on cloudynights who wrote about their faithful dog who goes out with them when they watch the stars – perfectly content to just be faithful, and just be there, loyally. And that touched me. My idea for the Astronomy Store was to stock products that would be like that dog – they would be genuinely faithful and useful – things you would really want to take with you observing, not leave in a draw somewhere or feel disappointed over later. “Astro Dog” was born that day. I promised myself I would never stock bad scopes or equipment that people wouldn’t want to keep. I’ve kept to that commitment – it’s why we don’t stock ‘department store’ telescopes even though we could make a lot of money selling these duds. I won’t stock yoke or flimsy equatorial mounts or stock products that promise ridiculous magnifications. It’s wrong, it’s immoral and it kills Astronomy for people. If I get gear that isn’t right, we won’t stock it, or we remove it from sale – the good gear we do get, we continually improve. That key quality too, fidelity, was going to be Astro Dog’s ‘nature’. We made sure we had an honest shipping policy, a good return policy and that we looked after our customers when things just went wrong. It works. ‘Astro Dog’ as a name seems weird perhaps to new customers, but it has reminded me every day of what we stand for, and I like him, he’s cute and keeps us on the ‘straight and narrow’.
How did you decide on Astro’s looks?
We had the fortune of finding a terrific cartoonist, Luc. As he worked through what we wanted from Astro Dog, he created an absolutely adorable mascot. We knew it was Astro from the minute we saw it, and Luc just nailed it. He’s vibrant, energetic, a tad cheeky, but loyal though and through.
Can you share some “Astrodog’s” that didn’t make it? Yes, we had a few other contenders, I’ll share one.
That is hilarious. That is just so… wrong. Do you have a physical shop front?
No. Astro Dog was designed to operate as online only, warehouse style from the ground up.
What do you mean?
Not operating a shop front allows us to eliminate costs and keep prices lower. We are also better positioned to service our clients Australia-Wide and so do online orders and delivery exceptionally well, as that’s all we do regardless of whether you buy from astro_dog on eBay, or via our website. We also provide phone support for when you need to talk.
Is it the same experience, you know, eBay and the website?
It is certainly similar. Clients who buy from our eBay site get to use eBay’s vouchers and promotions, while customers who buy from our website get to use different voucher codes, can use Afterpay and improved payment systems and also have improved return policies.
What’s the return policy?
All customers are covered by the Standard Customer Protections of course, but we go beyond that. If you change your mind about something you send it back within 30 days and get a refund, credit for something else.
What if you’ve used it?
Same thing, but a 10% restocking fee applies. We don’t take that – we simply reduce the return by 10% and list it as a used item. Our competitors want 15%, so I figure 10% is kinder while still fair to the second owner. I won’t put a product back in stock as new if it’s been used.
I don’t think I would like that if I were a customer.
Let’s talk about values. What are Astro Dog’s values?
Be honest in all things, so we are honest with all stake-holders, including government, suppliers and customers.
Care about others as you would for yourself. I try and put myself into my customers shoes.
Be humble and learn. I guess that’s hard when things go wrong.
Things go wrong?
Oh yes. At the beginning, everything. Every single one of our first five orders went wrong. We sent out a headlamp and it got crushed by the courier. The poor client tried to glue it together and never even complained. I sent a used book out with a name in it from the former owner, which I hadn’t mentioned in the item description. And I promised a courier delivery and then discovered it was triple the price of what it would have cost us with Australia Post.
What did you do?
Well, I touched base with the client who had bought the headlamp and he told me what happened. I was horrified and sent him a new one. Actually, it’s thanks to him that we have such a fantastic packing service now. The client with the book, well, I offered him a partial refund to make it right, and he was very happy. And of course, we offered to honor the courier but asked if he would mind if we sent it with Australia Post as the courier was going to be triple. We were just honest – and honesty really is the best policy.
What’s a side of Astro Dog that customers never get to see?
Just the endless amount of businesses and suppliers that help us to do what we do. Finding them is hard work, as you don’t just want a terrific product, but they need to be willing to work with you, be reasonable and accommodating and care as much as you do. Yuzhong and Kson really hit the mark for us there, they have been wonderful suppliers. But we also work with Australia Post, Kson, Rigel Systems, Confectionary companies and …
Oh yes. Other businesses print business cards. Astro dog gives out Jelly Beans. Much better. Now, after COVID-19, we eliminated manual handling of food, so it’s gone to Gummi bears. Yum.
How big will Astro Dog get?
Well, I don’t know. Our customers are still finding us, and getting to know us, and seeing what we can do. When they have an interaction with us, it’s a positive one, and that leads to growth. I think we will do well if we stick to what we are good at, don’t change too much, stick to our values and grow sustainably.
Last question (bats eyes) – Do you run it by yourself?
No. I handle everything presale, plus customer support. You handle Administration, Pick and Pack and everything that happens post-sale, except support. Wonderfully so!
Thanks for the Interview!