Monday, January 24, 2011

What we did different last year

I typed this up just a few days before Christmas...our busiest time of the year.  When I wrote it, I was very tired and thought it best to tuck it away for a few weeks before sharing with you all (a self editing of sorts).  I just came across it while looking for a different file on my computer (funny how that works) and think it might be a good time to share.  Sorry this is such a business heavy post...I'll share some other fun things later this week.  For now, here it is...I decided not to edit the tense and just leave it all as though you were reading it the day I wrote it. Hope it's not confusing!

:::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::


WHAT WE DID DIFFERENT THIS YEAR - Dec. 22, 2010

When I began this business in beginning of 2007, it jumped off with a running start.  Within 7 months I had quit my day jobs and focused solely on Moop (the fact that Jeremy had a full time salaried job was a big factor in this….we had a cushion to rely on…Moop certainly was not making enough money to support anyone then) - 2 weeks after quitting, Etsy got in touch and wanted to feature us.  I was so thrilled!  The feature was slated for the Monday after Thanksgiving….Cyber Monday.  Sales went through the roof during the few days of the feature and continued for at least 2 weeks at that pace.  It was overwhelming, to say the least.  We flew in my mother in law, Jeremy was spending all of his time outside of work helping me, I had a wonderful assistant (word up, Meaghan!!) but we were made upon order with a 3 week turnaround and had a backlog of over 100 orders and a custom wholesale order of 75 bags that was not going so well.  I was sewing from 6am to midnight everyday from November to March.  Most of the orders placed during that hectic time did not ship until a few days before Christmas and even more did not ship until almost a month after Christmas (and still, everyone of you were so patient!!)  But, even with all of that work, we were not making much money.  It was an exciting time to have so much attention pointed at Moop and so many super nice and encouraging emails from friends, customers, colleagues and strangers - but I still cried every single day!  I was doing everything wrong.  (i'm sure you all remember those blog posts about how tired i was)

First: working in a made upon order business model works if you have one sale every few days.  You can make one item every few days and it not drag you down.  But, 30 sales a day..all made upon order?!  That does not work.  You become less like a studio and more like a sad factory.

Second: When pricing the product you are making, the whole endeavor cannot be simply a labor of love.  And I had priced everything as though it were.  We were loosing money on many many many items that shipped out of our studio (home).  That! is not good.  I was interested in running a business and a business must be profitable in order to remain in business.  I learned a lot about running a successful business during that first year.  We've since worked out all of the pricing problems, found reliable suppliers, designed an ongoing line that accounts for what we can realistically make, removed the option of custom orders (which we only ever always loose money on) and have built a workspace that is solely about Moop (not in our living room, though we do practically live there).  This is healthy for us, means happy bags are made for you and means my creative energy still exists within me.

Third:  The grasshopper and the ant.  We were a weird mixture of the two.  We would sew and sew and sew to be filling a backlog of 3 weeks worth of orders all the time and still not be ready for the winter holiday season.  Every November the number in the backlog would more than double, but we would attempt to keep to a 3 week turnaround so our already heavy workload would have to double.  You can imagine the stress this would cause.  The holiday seasons were so exhausting that I had a hard time enjoying the time spent with family (i was always the one asleep on the couch).  My daughter's weekends and days off for school breaks would be spent watching me sew and sew…there just simply was no break.  But, this year - and largely because Jeremy joined me for one full year of kicking into shape - we've been able to make this holiday season virtually stress free.  It's three days before Christmas and every single order that was promised for Christmas shipped 3 days ago..we've managed to keep to our 2-3 day turnaround and we still have a stock of bags!  In fact, aside from what has come in since yesterday morning, there are no outstanding orders!  And our order volume is up 60% from last year!  So, this year, we get to be a family of ants, taking a few days off because of 3 years of hard work.  

And Fourth:  Have good people work with you.  I've had various assistants from the very beginning.  They have all been great, wonderful, fun people who I love dearly.  When we moved to Pittsburgh it was just Jeremy and I, toiling away at Moop, spending all of our days and nights and weekends and holidays making our name in a new place, trying to grow our business.  Last year's holiday rush was definitely the hardest.  Our sales were much much higher than the year prior, our studio was not in our home, our home was a cold renovation project with few fully intact walls and we were both working 6am-midnight bringing Parker to the studio after school (there was a cot in the back room where she would fall asleep at night before we headed home).  We were more than tired from work - we were exhausted from life in general.  Last January, we brought on Jeremy's Mom to be our shipping manager.  Boy, was that a good idea!  And then we hired a studio assistant.  Boy, oh boy, was that an even better idea.  We all spent full days sewing and sewing, building our stock, slowly shifting from a 3 week turnaround to 2 weeks to 5 days to 2-3 day service (which we now are).  It took us until late summer to accomplish this…but our investment in studio help prepared us for this holiday season.  We now have a stock room with completed bags all ready to ship.  We have all still worked 6 days a week and plenty of overtime hours in order to fill every holiday order and have had little time for much else but we will all be able to take a few stress free days off to spend with friends, family and loved ones and that makes us all very very satisfied.  

The lesson in all of this is: do not run your handmade business in a made upon order fashion.  You will find you'll have more customers, you will be able to make them happier, you will be happier and you will enjoy much more the very thing that led you to start your business in the first place.  It's taken almost four years to get here, but I really look at the last few years as a kind of self imposed business incubator that helped me build the business I plan on running for many years to come.  So, if you're still with me at this longwinded point in my narrative, here's a quick video tour of Moop studios.  I just got a new iphone and I love love the HD video feature!  I guarantee there will be many more Moop videos.  This one was taken yesterday..and as you can see, we've been pretty well cleaned out of bags.  Typically there are piles upon piles of bags in progress but everything we've made has shipped out within a few hours of being finished.  So, thanks for reading and I wish you all the very best, most happy, joy filled days.

xoxoxo a million times over,

Wendy


:::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

Thanks for reading!
xxoo
Wendy

10 comments:

  1. wendy--i'm so so happy you shared this! it is full of so much wisdom, knowledge, heart and experience and is completely invaluable advice for all of us. thanks for sharing! :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you so much for posting this! I have felt the same struggles and frustrations in trying to own a small business..and really appreciate that your company is so personable and honest. Your work is fantastic..and the hard work is definitely shown! Keep it up.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I loved this post, thank you so much for sharing the Moop story! I have a feeling it will help A LOT of up-and-coming businesses and it's an awesome peak into how you got to where you are. As a proud Moop bag owner (Letter Bag, Gunmetal Gray :), this was so interesting to read. Good luck!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thank you for sharing your experience. It gives an interesting sneak peek into the backstage of Moop to fully appreciate the prettiness up front .
    Very very valuable advice.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Great advice! Thanks for sharing. I have to hand it to you for all you have accomplished. You are quite an inspiration!

    ReplyDelete
  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I actually meant that I cannot believe you didn't edit this ;-)

    ReplyDelete
  8. This is an amazing post! thank you SOOOOO much for sharing. I highly admire your work and take so much inspiration from your progress. This is such a familiar story for me and we are going through a lot of the same struggles. Again, super awesome post and now I'm gonna go watch that video! Keep up the amazing work!

    ReplyDelete
  9. Great advice - thank you. It is so stressful to run on a made to order fashion. I struggle with this and so often think (why am I doing this)? LOVE your blog!

    ReplyDelete
  10. Not enough small businesses share this kind of honest report...unedited is a gift! i am constantly called upon to consult about just this sort of thing, which i love to do... but it's so great that people with your humor humility, grace & experience are willing to put it right out there. Kudos, & congratulations all that you've achieved. it IS worth it!!!

    ReplyDelete

Hello! Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment!
We read every comment and love to hear feedback on what we say and do. But, because of "comment spam" we review all comments before they are posted. Don't worry, unless you're a robot leaving weird strings of words and letters, links to porn or not nice things, your comment will show up soon.