December 19, 2008
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So far I have made several decisions that some smart people have recommended against. For example, choosing to manufacture and source materials in the US instead of overseas has left many of my designer and production acquaintances scratching their heads. Investing in a somewhat pricey graphic designer to do my logo and branding was also questioned by a few. Even my latest IRA investment strategy has gone against what Suze Orman is preaching these days. And quitting Microsoft may have nearly given my parents a heart attack. I am pretty sure that I’ll be making many more significant decisions in the future that may leave people questioning my sanity. But I know that my decisions are typically based on some sort of reasoning, or gut feeling, or a combination of the two. I just hope that as I take more risks in 2009, I will also gain knowledge that can help me become a successful entrepreneur.
When I was 5-years-old my mother asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. Most of the kids in my kindergarten class wanted to be a fireman, ballerina, or astronaut. I told my mom that I wanted to be rich. When she asked me what I would do with all of my money, I said without any hesitation that I would make a gold statue of myself. I still remember the look of shock in her face. I’m not as shallow anymore, at least I hope I’m not. But I hope that I can rekindle that enormous ambition when I launch my new product line in April.
Many of the vendors I have been dealing with are closed until January, so my blog entries may dwindle until then. If this is your last day to view my blog until 2009, happy holidays and happy new year!
December 18, 2008
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Good news: I finally picked a fabric supplier. After reviewing samples from over 15 vendors, I finally found the partner I want to work with. And since this vendor is a textile mill and not a reseller, the costs are actually lower than I thought they’d be. Cool!
Bad news: I still need the fabric to be customized. They basically need to take a pattern that is traditionally found on wool or cotton and weave it using recycled polyester. And then they need to add an eco-friendly finish to make it water-resistant. This process will take about 10 weeks: 2 weeks to pick final colors and patterns (they still have some work to do), and then 8 weeks to weave it and coat it. Nearly all US textile mills are shut down over the holidays, which means I don’t get this process started until January. And this pushes my production run to April. Geez!
It took me a while to find fabric that I like, mainly because I was really particular about the fabric selection process, but also the vendors took a long time to get back to me. I held out my decision until I heard from all of the textile mills I had solicited. One of the last vendors to get back to me sent me a really heavy box, and I thought this would mean that it was full of a breadth of patterns to choose from. After I opened the box I saw that they provided me with a full breadth of ugliness. I showed my husband how ugly and dated the fabrics were, and he said, “they look like the curtains someone would find at their grandma’s house.” That comment pretty much sums up the box o’ ugly.
While the fabric weaving is on auto-pilot I’ll be working on other things with long-ish lead times such as label design, zipper customization, leather procurement, hangtag design, and HTML web design. I’ll also need to figure out where to store my stuff, find a website shopping cart solution, and figure out inventory and order processing management. This is all new to me, so learning about all of this is great!
It’s off to Portland for me tomorrow, weather permitting.
December 17, 2008
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Today I spent most of my work day setting up last minute meetings before the holidays with various vendors. I also ended up speaking with a guy in Seattle who works for a label making company. This lead came from a friend who isn’t connected to apparel manufacturing in any way, she just happens to know a guy who makes labels (thanks for the lead, Nikki!). The label guy is really resourceful and open to helping out start-ups. The turnaround time for labels (once the designs are confirmed) is 2-3 weeks– I thought it would take much longer.
There are many bag designers who think that labels are not where you should spend your time or money. They think settling for a cheap label allows you to spend dollars in other investments. As for me, I know that a label is a way to express my brand, and I will likely spend a lot of time focusing on my company’s branding. My business cards, website, hangtags, and labels are all things that can help me define and differentiate Jones Market from say, Vera Bradley (*puke*).
On a side note, I am a little frustrated by the false snow weather reports. I am supposed to meet a guy in Portland this week and I keep rescheduling due to inaccurate meteorology. I think that every time a meterologist gives a false storm report, he/she should be forced to do live reporting from inside the storm when it actually happens.
OK, I’m done now. See ya manana.
December 16, 2008
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Today I received a box full of fabric swatches from one of the textile vendors, and it looks like 2 or 3 of their fabric patterns could work for me. I am supposed to get the other vendor’s samples this week and then I can compare pattern preferences and costs. I am very excited that this long, drawn out textiles drama may be wrapping up soon.
My consultant is putting together a spreadsheet of all of the materials (including quantities and costs) I will need for my bags. Once I add my manufacturing and shipping costs I’ll get a pretty good idea of what my overall production costs will be. Based on the costs I have already seen, I can see that my competitors have made compromises to keep their bag MSRPs relatively low. Some use plastic zippers instead of metal ones, some use knock-off magnet closures instead of the ones from the US company with the patent. It’s amazing to see how many costly elements go into bag production.
My consultant proved to be very useful today. He knows the owner of a well-known hardware vendor, and he was able to reduce the minimum quantities of hardware I would need to purchase in bulk. I am very glad I didn’t cut him loose earlier!
Tomorrow I was supposed to go to Portland to meet with a leather vendor, but we decided to postpone the meeting until Friday because there is a snowstorm headed our way and I didn’t want to take any chances with the weather.
Overall I thought today was a good day. I’m looking forward to the rest of the week.
December 15, 2008
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My consultant has one last deliverable to send me by end of week (which is already 1 week late), and then I will let him go. When I hired him 3 months ago, I knew nothing about this industry. Now I know a heck of a lot more, and I don’t think I need his services for much longer. He has given me some good leads and provided a good sounding board for my ideas, which ranged from stupid, to pretty cool. I don’t regret my decision to hire him. I think I just outgrew him.
Every day I think about operational cost tradeoffs: would I rather hire a consultant on a project-by-project basis, or buy cooler zippers? Or rent warehouse space? Or attend more tradeshows? Well, I’m the bossman now, and I get to make that kind of call. Scary! So I vote no consulting. At least for now.
I know this is a bit premature, but I have also been researching order fulfillment and distribution centers. From what I can tell the pricing in this industry is not standardized in any way. For example, some companies offer flat monthly fees, others do pay-as-you-go. It’s hard to do exact apples-to-apples comparisons on services. Although there are high costs associated with order fulfillment, there are some advantages to going with an order fulfillment center from the start:
1) Shipping costs would be lower because these distribution centers have volume discounts with companies like UPS and FedEx
2) They buy shipping materials (boxes, tape, etc) in bulk
3) Many use order management (supply chain) software with user-friendly reporting
4) I would not have bags and boxes piled up in my closets, home office, and bathtub
4) I would not spend my afternoons packing the bags in boxes from my closets, home office, and bathtub
There seem to be hundreds (maybe even thousands) of distrbution centers in the US. I hope I can find a suitable one that is cost effective, reliable, and won’t go belly-up.
Well, that’s all for now. Adios.
December 12, 2008
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Today was pretty much a bust as far as business progress goes. I spent a huge chunk of time sorting out my 401K. In 2003 I rolled over the retirement savings from my previous employer into the Microsoft Corporation Savings Plus 401K plan, and that was pretty easy to do. And that was about the last time I really looked at my 401K investment portfolio.
Last week I received a letter from Fidelity to inform me that had a few options:
1) I could leave my money in the Microsoft plan
2) I could move it to a rollover IRA, or
3) I could take it in cash
I met with a Fidelity retirement representative for a complimentary one-on-one consultation. In the end I decided to roll it over to an IRA, which has a wider range of investment choices than the MS plan. I opted for a conservative investment strategy, with a mix of CDs and mutual funds. I probably should have done more research in the different fund options, but I figured that slowing down my rapidly depleting retirement savings was better than leaving it alone.
My husband and I are debating whether we should go to the Google holiday party. Go? Stay in? It’s so cold outside.
Verdict: Looks like we’re eating Chinese food and staying in!
December 11, 2008
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After yesterday’s wake up call I went on a calling and emailing rampage. I left stern voicemails with 2 of the fabric vendors, who got back to me right away and apologized for their delays. I also emailed my contractor and gave him a firm deadline for a project he is working on. He admitted that he had gotten sidetracked on another project, so I guess it’s a good thing that I followed up with him.
Today I also reached out to vendors who create customized zipper pulls and had a conversation with a label design company. I found out that you can pretty much customize anything these days. You want a label with a picture of your granny juggling babies? Sure! You just need to shell out some money.
I also spoke with a leather guru who I will meet in Portland next Wednesday. This guy has been in the business a long time, and he has names of leather vendors and manufacturers that he is willing to share with me.
I’m very happy that things are starting to move forward again. Hallelujah!
December 10, 2008
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OK I admit, I have been complaining a way too much about how slow the textile and leather industry is. Now it is several weeks later and I think I’ve finally had it up to here (you can’t see it but I am holding my right hand slightly above my head). I’ve realized that their lackadaisical way of doing business has affected my company’s momentum, and this is unacceptable.
I’m fed up! I’ve just left messages with my fabric vendor prospects saying that tomorrow I plan to follow up with them on their status of deliverables. I will be more aggressive about asking for what I need, and I will be firm. I also need to push my consultant to turn things around a little faster.
My friend just sent an article about how Gucci is cutting back their leather goods production, which will signifcantly affect their leather order quantities. And as a result, leather vendors in Italy may go out of business. US fabric vendors need to realize that now is the time to build relationships and follow new leads, not drag their feet just because it’s the holiday season.
I’m a little disappointed in myself because I should not have let this drag as long as it did. I made the excuse that this was how business is done and shrugged it off. Well, the business climate has changed now and cash can be used as leverage, so I’m going to be bullish about getting what I want now.
Now my type A side is rearing it’s ugly head.
December 9, 2008
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This morning I received a comment on yesterday’s post from Bruce at Ohio Travel Bags. He offered to help me with any questions I had about hardware. Thanks Bruce!
When I started this blog I decided that I would be candid and honest about my business experiences, whether they were good or bad. Yesterday was the first time I had ever mentioned any vendor’s name, and within 24 hours someone from that company contacted me. This is both amazing and terrifying at the same time.
I recently went to a holiday gathering with former workmates and I found out that several of them regularly read this blog. Some of them use an RSS feeder, which does not seem to be tracked anywhere in my wordpress dashboard. And speaking of my dashboard (warning: non sequitur), Wordpress just updated the layout so it’s as confusing as that controversial Facebook UI update several months ago. There are buttons and links that used to be in the nav that are now reclassified somewhere else on the dashboard. I think Wordpress could have had better communication about their upgrades. Maybe I should wait to see if anyone from Wordpress support comments on this entry within 24 hours. Bruce set the bar pretty high.
December 8, 2008
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Today I received an enormous catalogue from a company called “Ohio Travel Bag”. This company is a distributor of all hardware associated with handbags, luggage, and briefcases– everything from trunk corners (the metal corners on footlockers) to combination locks on briefcases. The catalogue was 314 pages long!
As I skimmed the table of contents, I remembered that I didn’t know the names of any hardware other than zippers and feet. When I talk to manufacturing vendors, I sometimes use embarrassing language like the “thingie”, the “whatchamabobbie”, ”thingamajig” and my favorite, “doohickey.” So I decided to pore over every single page to learn the names of everything. Unfortunately my brain couldn’t handle it.
There were quite a few pages dedicated to something called ’conchos.’ I only found one definition on the internet that matched the concho pictures in the catalogue: A metal usually shell-shaped and silver disk that is used as decoration on clothing and harness. The conchos in the catalog featured bald eagles, skulls, the American flag, and of course, the State of Texas.
I am a little overwhelmed by the thousands of hardware options. Some people in this industry have recommended that I speak to my manufacturer and get them to tell me what they recommend, which seems like a sensible thing to do. I’ll add that to this week’s to-do list.
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