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Friday, April 8, 2011

Define the life you want and refine your business to accomodate it.

It is time to hit the "applause" button.  We deserve it, dontcha think?  Those of us who have survived the last few years and lived to tell about it are due a pat on the back and some raucous applause.

WHOO HOO!  You go, girl!

We have downsized, belt tightened, sold off dead inventory, kept folks employed and tap danced to keep customers happy.  We have paid bills on time and scheduled marketing events and sent out emails.  We have worked harder than ever to keep the doors open.....and they are still open.  It feels good.  In fact, my little business is in a bit of an expansion mode at present.... and THAT feels really good.

You see, not too many years ago the story was much different.  I had huge sales numbers and thought that I was kicking ass.  Ironically, my business was in a crisis mode but I was totally clueless until it was almost too late. Oops.  I didn't realize that the economy was cyclical and that I had simply been riding a wave. [ mean the good times don't last forever?   Who da thunk?]    I was more artist/marketing strong than process/accounting strong.  I didn't like the yucky stuff like bookkeeping and there was always a squeakier wheel to grab my attention.   I had a family with three busy teenagers.  My internet business was home based, and in my head that meant that I was a stay at home mom...meeting every need and expectation except for some important ones required by the business.  It only took a few unexpectedly slow months for the world to crash in on me.  Cash flow seemed to disappear overnight.  Gulp.  I had way too much inventory....WAY too much.  The debt appeared to be unsustainable.  Hubby was pissed.  I was freaked.   I couldn't meet my financial obligations for the first time in my life.  I talked to a bankruptcy attorney, but knew that I would not be able to live with that option.  It was a dark time.

Fortunately, I am as tenacious as a bulldog and failure was not an option.  I refused to bankrupt the company --it was a  moral issue for me.  I also determined that my my family would not risk financial security to pay the price for my foolishness.   Some how, some way I needed to pull a miracle out of my ass.  I found a business mentor, learned some humility, and got it together.    I spent the next two years working 12-15 hour days in a state of barely suppressed  panic.    Bad choices necessarily forced other choices and I paid a heavy price for my irresponsibility.    I had to forgo a  paycheck, no money for perks,  not enough time for my family and certainly no time for crafting....every penny was thrown at the debt and every hour was thrown at the business.  It was awful, but it was effective.  Although I am not yet completely debt free,  I am getting close.  The remaining debt amount is insignificant enough to make a banker yawn.  Yup, I have morphed into a halfway respectable business Quickbooks balance actually matches my bank account balance.  It is a beautiful thing!

My two years of  Panicky Debt Hell ended when I realized that I was actually Going To Make It.  I had dodged a bullet---the business was going to survive, the debt was going to get paid.    Now what?  I did what I had to do when I had to do it, but I was no longer willing to work  12-15 hour days.  I wanted more time with my family, with my dogs, in the garden and in the studio.  Once I had defined the life I wanted, it was easy to refine my  business to accommodate that life..  I downsized, dropped some product lines, said good bye to some high maintenance/low margin customers, tightened my belt, watched my inventory like a hawk, and cut back on my work schedule.  If I don't have cash, I don't buy.  It works.  Another benefit?  I learned to work smarter, not harder.

Of course, I continue to refine the business as my life morphs from one stage to the next.   I will soon be presiding over an empty nest. Sigh.  One minute I am a teary, weepy mess as I bid adieu to my daughter's little girl self, and the next I am excited by the new opportunities that await me.  [Menopause, manic depressive, or normal?  You be the judge].

I am putting the finishing touches on  a number of workshop proposals as I seek to increase  national teaching opportunities for 2012.  Additionally, I am getting ready to launch a new line of felting kits, which has me totally jazzed.   I have more ideas than time and  cannot wait to wake up in the morning.   The funny thing is...I am working 12 hour days again, but it doesn't feel like work.  I am happy and invigorated.  I am thankful for the lessons that I learned during those difficult years.  The economic challenges of today seem small by comparison! I will never, EVER, EVER get into debt again. My heart is filled with gratitude and I look forward to each day.

Fortunately, not every retailer has to learn the hard way.  There are many who have good instincts and get it right the first time.  Carol Garfield, of Dancing Beads in Medford, Oregon  is just such a Retail Rock Star.  You first met her a few posts back.

Carol owned a retail bead shop from 1995 to 2006.   The shop was her day job and it needed to support itself and her, so for 13 years she made certain that she was the "go to" place for beady inspiration.  However, as her 50th birthday approached, she decided that she was ready for a change.  [Menopause, manic depressive, or normal?  You be the judge].

Carol was able to close the doors debt free because she had always "paid as she played."   [insert sound of wild applause here].    She packed up her gorgeous inventory and went home, where she started a home based web design business.  Fast forward to June 2010.  Carol was not enjoying the isolation of her home office and decided to rent some space.  While looking for an office, she found the perfect retail space:

As I stood in the middle of the room I was astounded by the light coming into the space.  There were two rooms, and the smaller one was a sunroom!  Hardwood floors, a fireplace, and walls painted a great color further charmed me.  As I stood in the middle of the room soaking it all in a gentle voice declared with much authority, "You just found your bead store."  I didn't even know I was looking.

Carol's return to crafty retail after a two year hiatus came with some surprises....the out of control price of silver, for example.  However, most surprising was the dramatic way that marketing had changed.  
I think I closed the old shop at just the right time, and I know I've re-opened it at just the right time.

I've been amazed at how much the world changed in the two years I was gone.  Of course, the price of metals is beyond ridiculous, but as a red head, I prefer copper anyway, and have gotten my customers excited about it.  Shipping?!  Sheesh, twice as much, and twice as slow.  The online competition is daunting, and before long I will have an online catalog.  I do have a website, a blog, and a Facebook page for the shop, all of which I maintain myself, so the catalog is slow going.

What I've been the most amazed by has been the change in marketing.  I've always been a good story teller, and I've blogged since 2005.  Social networking wears me out, but I do it.  I tend to be more social face-to-face, than online.

I'm celebrating National Craft Month (along with everyone else in our industry) and have sent out an email newsletter to the nearly 600 bead lovers on my email list.  I've started a monthly 'Make and Take' and aa result... I've made bag stuffers outlining all the fun that will be happening this month.  I'll be making bag stuffers every month as I have all my promotions, events, and sales scheduled for the year.  There is dead inventory in the closet that will soon go away as grab bags, challenges, or a donation to a homeless teen center.  I talk about The 3/50 Project to anyone who will listen.  I'm blogging, and posting my status on Facebook as often as possible.  Yesterday, the shop reached 100 'likes' on FB and lucky number 100 has a $10.00 gift certificate waiting to be collected.  I'm filming things around the shop I think might interest my customers.  I email a newsletter every other week, and I make certain I tell everyone thank you.  They're the reason I'm working so hard. weekly Beading Circle.  Seven people volunteered to help me teach classes this session, and we've scheduled 24 different projects, and techniques as
Community.  I had no idea what a hole I'd left by closing in 2008 until re-opening in 2010.  My old customers have been coming back in droves.  They missed the shop, the vibe, and excitement.  They love the new space.  The economy may still be rough, but people will always want to be surrounded by beauty, and are willing to spend a little to fulfill their need to create.  We're in the best business there is, we get to fulfill those needs, and our own at the same time!!
Wow....I couldn't have said it better myself.  Carol's brand new business is supporting her and she has recently expanded.  Her tips for success:
Make a Daily TO DO List and DO IT.  Carol always starts her day with a clear vision of what it will hold for her, whether it is a three hour marketing session or benign store housekeeping issues.   She does what she has to do before she even thinks about doing what she wants to do.  No quick peeks at Facebook, no playing with the inventory, no NUTHIN'....until the list is finished.  
Put your hopes and dreams out to the universe.    "I would like to make X dollars today."  Carol says that more often than not, she finds that she gets what she needs.  Don't laugh.  The universe currently knows that I am looking for a used leather couch for my studio.  It will come.  
Stay Fresh:  Constantly explore new techniques.  Carol loves to teach and says that as she learns and changes, so do her customers.
Be "Other Oriented."  Ask yourself what you can due to improve the shopping experience of every individual who walks in your door.  This one seems so obvious, but ask yourself....When was the last time someone treated you like that?  It is so rare that when it happens, loyal fans are born.  Carol spoke the truth when she told me that her customers are hungry for what they cannot find from on-line retailers...Human Connection.  
Say it, Girfriend!  Unh hunh, Unh hunh.
Those of you who have been with me a while know that I went through hell and back when I lost my dog to cancer late last year.    I did what I swore I wouldn't and  adopted little Cooper, in part because he had a certain Rosie-ish  shape to his face and in part because he needed a family.   
  Oh.  My.  God.
He is a terror.  An honest to goodness Demon Dog.  He pees with gleeful abandon the second he comes inside....after peeing quite happily and productively outside.   He hangs by the cat litter box looking for tasty treats.  He has slaughtered several of my chickens and even managed to kill the meanest rooster that I have ever owned.  This rooster was huge and had two inch spurs---I cannot even imagine how it happened.   The Roo was an ornery cuss  and would regularly attack  me when I stepped too close.   I guess Cooper actually performed a bit of a favor there, but I have to protect my hens!   
I  Googled "how to stop a dog from killing chickens" and learned ---from resource after resource---that it was fairly easy to do.  It merely involves tying the dead chicken's lifeless body to the dog's collar and letting it rot there for a week.  It is widely suggested that the dog be separated from the family during this process as the flies can be overwhelming.  Wow.  That kind of training is sure not going to happen in my lifetime.  Sigh.  Yesterday I found him in my bed, happily gnawing on the leathery foot of a long dead turtle carcass.  Today he cremated a baby finch hopping about the driveway.  Louder Sigh.    
My dog-loving daughter confessed that she wouldn't be upset if Cooper found another home.  My dog-loving husband thinks Cooper is a nightmare.  Of course, I am into "high maintenance and difficult," so I already adore him.  He looks quite the imp with that little patch over his eye and a dead turtle hanging out of his mouth.  What to do?
I guess it is time for me to pull another miracle out of my ass.  After all, he does remind me of Rosie.  She used to exult in Rooster Chasing, too.  So....Game On.  I am going out whisper the Dog Whisperer.  I am going to win this battle.  I hope.  Oops...gotta go...Cooper is heading toward the cat litter box again!
Pray for me....


  1. Pat, way to hang in there with the business and all the fun it can, has been and will be. Stay as debt free and cash rich as you can and try to keep Cooper from ruling the roost. As for ornery Roo , what goes around poor Bird.
    Best to You ! Jim Solien Minneapolis

  2. I needed this post today, I needed to laugh again. Life has gotten me down so much lately that has had me in a downward spiral. Its nice to know that one day, I will break free from this and focus again. Thanks Pat, your a gem.

  3. Jim:
    Thanks for the encouragement....I have become kind of like the annoying ex-smoker...preaching to anyone who will listen about the virtues of going smoke free. Except, of course, my drug of choice was inventory...lots of it! Regarding Cooper---YIKES! He went after an antique loveseat this morning. I WILL be the Alpha Dog. It is just going to take a bit longer with this little rascal!

  4. Kim:
    This too shall pass. The laughter will come again, guaranteed! There is too much goodness and light at Woodland Hills for the darkness to last too long! I am sending warm wishes your way.

  5. ROFL! Oh, Pat. The demon dog is cracking me up.

  6. He has captured my heart. I am not exactly sure why..............

  7. Pat, I have the female demon dog...Zoey. She used to wait for her 'tasty treats' by hanging out behind my golden retreivers back a pez dispenser. She has brought me perfectly decapitated squirrel heads.