January 29, 2009
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I know I keep crying wolf, but I swear I am now really close to finalizing my fabrics! The textile designer sent me an email to let me know that my “color blankets” should arrive tomorrow, which she describes as “different color combinations woven on different colored warps.” I am still getting the hang of the textile lingo. I guess I’ll see what a WTF a warp is tomorrow.
I got a signed NDA from a manufacturer in Georgia, and I emailed them my designs. I think I’ll probably get their price quote next week. If all goes well I’ll be visiting the factories in CA and GA in the next few weeks. And once I choose a final manufacturer, it’s all going to move pretty quickly from that point.
I’m not sure if this is a sign of the economy weakening, and retailers being desperate to find fresh merchandise, but Bloomingdales put an ad in the trade newspaper WWD (Women’s Wear Daily) to invite designers to come for an open call for Women’s ready-to-wear and accessories on March 6, April 3, and May 1. I should have my prototypes ready by May, so I might give them a call to see if I could secure an appointment. I wouldn’t want to fly all the way out there and arrive at the crack of dawn, only to find that the line is 300 Yankees deep.
I won’t be updating this blog until Monday: my husband is taking me on a surprise belated birthday trip this weekend. So no work for me tomorrow!
Have a good weekend.
January 28, 2009
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Today I contacted a company called “Texas Manufacturing”, and was blindsided by the fact that they do all of their manufacturing in China. In any case, the owner was very helpful and provided me with the name of a another TX manufacturer who might be a good option for my production needs. I figure that until I hear back from the manufacturer in CA, it would be good to have at least 1 or 2 backup options. I emailed my NDA to the owner and will hopefully get a price quote back by the time the CA manufacturer gets back to me.
I also attended another webinar (sorry Sean) about Amazon’s fulfillment center. I got more details about their program, and it looks like the consumer would really benefit a lot if he/she ordered a product fulfilled by Amazon via the amazon.com website. A customer qualifies for super-saver shipping if they order more than $25 worth of merchandise fulfilled by Amazon, and the products could also be shipped with free 2-day shipping for Amazon prime customers. And according to Amazon’s website, “When selling on Amazon, the merchant does not have to set or collect shipping charges. You simply pay the fulfillment fee regardless of what shipping method the buyer receives.” For Amazon orders using Amazon fulfillment, merchants are charged fees for monthly storage (per cubic feet), order handling, pick & packing, and weight handling, and these costs depend on number of orders, number of units, and weight.
Amazon also offers basic fulfillment for companies, and the costs associated with this are storage, pick & pack fees, and shipping costs. The downside is that it takes 3-5 days to ship items (according to the webinar speaker) and merchants pay another fee based on shipping method and shipping weight. One thing to note: Amazon does not do fulfillment for hazardous or highly flammable merchandise. Good thing my bags aren’t going to be toxic and explosive.
The rest of my day was filled with lengthy calls about zippers and zipper pulls. Good times.
And the best thing that happened to me today: I found 2 bucks on the sidewalk! WOOHOO!
January 27, 2009
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I received a packet of leather swatches today and tested out all of the samples, and only 2 of them mostly passed my water-dumping and Brawny-towel-rubbing amateur tests. After only a few minutes though, the best-performing leather began to form small wart-like bubbles on the surface. Gross.
Now that I have exhausted all of my US leather supply options, I think I know which vendor I’ll use. By talking with dozens of leather vendors, I feel like I know a lot about vegetable tanned leather now. But unfortunately, in the grand scheme of things, this information is relatively useless, much like my other random trivia knowledge about Thundercats and Sound of Music.
I watched a webinar this afternoon about website optimization, and although I felt like 90% of the presentation covered very basic stuff (“How many of you use Google?” Seriously?), I did learn more about shopping carts. When I speak with my web designer next week, I might actually provide some added value.
OK, powering down. Adios!
January 26, 2009
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Today I attended an Amazon.com-sponsored seminar held at the Pacific Market Center (I found street parking, and got free coffee). The session was led by a VP of Amazon’s Home & Garden store. I walked in a little late, and as I entered the room the speaker was reviewing the first slide: Amazon’s mission statement overview. I was surprised by his “death by powerpoint” approach, but I looked around the room and noticed several older ladies nodding their heads as he spoke. They were nodding along, not nodding off. Either they were faking it, or they were really into corporate-sounding things like mission statements and customer-centric marketing.
I hadn’t done too much research about Amazon’s merchant opportunities, so this session was great for someone like me who was starting up a new business and was researching distribution channels.
He explained there were 2 main things that companies should look into when considering a partnership with amazon.com. I had to dig around their website to get the pricing specifics:
1) Becoming an Amazon merchant: for a monthly fee of $39.99, you can use Amazon as a sales channel. In addition to the monthly subscription fee, however, when Amazon collects your sales price and shipping costs from the buyer, they deduct a commission of 6 to 15 percent of the sales price (for most products it is 15%), a per-transaction fee of $0.99, and a variable closing fee.
There does seem to be a cheaper option for someone who isn’t expecting to sell high volumes on the site: If you are forecasting less than 40 orders a month, you can sign up as an Individual seller with Amazon which has no monthly fee but instead a per product sold fee of $0.99. I couldn’t tell (without fully signing up first) whether there were any hidden costs.
2) Using Amazon as a fulfillment center: they can pick, pack and ship for you, whether someone orders your product via amazon, or whether he/she orders your goods from another distribution channel. I downloaded their rates to review another time, so I am not sure how their prices compare to other fulfillment centers. One huge advantage for orders placed through Amazon.com that they fulfill: Amazon will manage all customer service associated with fulfillment of those products, and handle returns and complaints.
I had a chance to speak with the VP after the session, and I explained that I was planning to launch a line of ecofriendly laptop bags in the spring, and let him know that I was looking into various distribution channels. He strongly recommended that I sign up as a 3rd-party merchant, but he suggested that I skip using Amazon as a fulfillment house if there was a chance that I’d have a hybrid selling model (via Amazon, my own website, and maybe in stores). I was impressed that he wasn’t doing a hard sell on their fulfillment. I got his business card and I definitely plan to follow up with him later.
Today I received another set of fabric swatches. So far I have 3 out of the 4 that I will be choosing from, so I am close to finishing this fabric design process! The bad news is that I like all of them so far and I can’t afford to launch with all 4 patterns. I guess having too many good options is a good problem to have. No complaints here.
Well, that’s all for today. Bye!
January 23, 2009
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As of this morning I hadn’t received the production cost estimates from the manufacturer in CA, so I thought I’d give him a call to see what was up. Well, he told me that the manufacturing facility would be MOVING over the course of the next 2 weeks (thanks for telling me beforehand!), so everyone there was busy packing up boxes and moving machinery. It will likely be the 2nd week of February before I can get his production cost estimates. Argh, another setback. Unfortunately I need the manufacturer to confirm how much material I need and what components he recommends, so I won’t be able to order anything until I hear back from him.
So in the meantime I figured I would contact a few additional manufacturers that were recommended to me by my consultant. Of the 5 contacts he sent me, 3 of them had headquarters in the US but the actual manufacturing was done in Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, or Mexico; and 1 of them was recently shut down by the FBI because of an illegal immigration raid. The owner was charged with harboring illegal immigrants AND falsifying government documents. Good grief. I still have one more lead to follow up on. My hopes are not too high at this point.
On a positive note, by exhausting all of my vendor leads I ended up with a reasonable range of supplier and manufacturing options. I may not end up with the cheapest options because of the tradeoffs I’ve made, but at least I have vendors who can provide me with what I need to get these bags produced.
January 22, 2009
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It was tough hearing the news this morning that Microsoft would be laying 1500 people off today. I wonder what would have happened to me if I had stayed at Microsoft? Only a handful of people knew this, but I was planning to move to a new group: the Windows marketing team had extended an offer to me, and I was just about to go on an interview loop with the Office marketing team. The stars were finally aligned and I miraculously didn’t burn any bridges or step on any toes during the job hunting process. I was *this* close to changing jobs when I decided to instead leave MS to start my own company. I’m glad I followed my heart (insert cheesy violin music here), because I would have been extremely paranoid about my job security in my new group. I’m pretty sure I would have been miserable.
Anyway, what’s done is done. Let’s change the subject.
After yesterday’s parking fiasco, I was surprised that I was able to attend a PR seminar at the Pacific Market Center this morning because I found street parking next to an abandoned warehouse that looked haunted. The seminar was only an hour long, and included a panel of small business owners who fielded questions. The people there seemed more “with it” than the people who attended the seminars at the Seattle Design Center. Next week I will be attending seminars for Amazon merchants and website optimization. Admission to all of the sessions at the PMC are free for registered trade merchants, buyers, wholesalers, and harmless-looking Koreans who successfully sweet-talk their way in.
This afternoon I tried to negotiate with a leather vendor, and I failed. Doh. She didn’t budge at all on price. I even offered to increase the order quantity, but she still wouldn’t give me a price break. She said that the leather prices have not increased over the past few years and they couldn’t lower the price or they’d lose money. Hmmm. So now I need to decide whether I’ll fork over the money, or go with my backup leather option, which is a little cheaper but has a “stiffer” texture. There is also still a chance my leather guy will pull through this week– he’s finally back from the Western Wear Sales Association trade show so I can resume nagging him again.
I guess that’s all from me today. Bye bye.
January 21, 2009
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My day started off pretty rotten. I wanted to attend a Pantone color seminar at the Pacific Market Center, which is a regional marketplace for wholesale buyers and sellers. I arrived at the building with 5 minutes to spare, but there was nowhere to park. All of the nearby parking lots had been roped off, and security guards were only letting buyers park in the lots. I am sure this was a gesture to make buyers to feel welcome and special, but this meant that merchants were driving around trying to find street parking. And what kind of market would this be if there were buyers but no merchants?! After 20 minutes of combing an 8 block radius, I decided to turn around and go home. What a waste of a morning!
The rest of the day was a lot better. I got the final invoice from my contractor and it was very reasonable. I am actually guessing that he gave me some extra time to make up for some of the project delays. And his final spreadsheet was a materials & cost exercise– it was very detailed and was exactly what I needed to speak with manufacturers. In his final email to me he asked me to write him a recommendation, so I asked if a blurb on Linkedin would suffice. He responded, “I would really like a written word doc that I could pass along to potential clients. When Jones Market is all the rage I will say I knew you when.” Ahhh, I’m a sucker for flattery!
I also called my short list of manufacturing prospects. There are 4 of them in total, and I am hoping that once I get the first production costs in from the manufacturer in CA this week I will be able to compare them to at least 1 or 2 other bids. One of the manufacturing leads I had received is a manufacturing company with the word “Luggage” in the title, but they no longer manufacture luggage. WTF?!
I guess I have no room to talk, my company’s name is Jones Market.
January 20, 2009
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Happy Obama inauguration day! I spent the morning at the gym, watching the inauguration ceremony with some very emotional workout fanatics. There were a number of people who wept while doing their heavy cardio routines. It was both touching and disturbing at the same time.
From the little research I’ve done, it looks like Obama’s administration will implement policies that will likely affect me as a small business owner. Obama will be carefully monitoring Chinese textile imports, which he promised he’d do to appease voters in North Carolina. This may be good for me long-term if I continue to manufacture in US. He’s also making small business loans more available to women and minorities. Does being Asian count as being a minority these days? Sometimes the government’s definition of “minority” is really just Black, Latino, or Native American. In any case, I should definitely be able to hit someone up for a loan, no problem, thanks to my gender.
I’ve come to realize that one top business priority for me is maximizing automation. Ideally I’d like all aspects of my operations to work seamlessly together with zero manual duplication. I want my website shopping cart to be integrated with my accounting software, and that should be connected to my distribution channel. After speaking with several small business owners, it seems that many of them did not have the funds available upfront to invest in their operations. And as they grew, they found that their operations were not scalable and a lot of their time was spent on duplicative efforts (such as manually inputting credit card numbers, or writing out mailing labels by hand). Knowing these challenges going in, I hope that I can avoid these business growing pains. Luckily my CTO husband has a software background, so hopefully all of this can be figured out with a cost-effective software solution.
My husband did my business taxes yesterday. I made $0 in 2008. Let’s hope that 2009 is better.
January 16, 2009
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As I had expected, a large part of my day was spent scanning images and re-doing scans of poorly scanned images. I now have the means to convert these images to jpegs to email, thanks to my friend from Adobe who gave me an old copy of Photoshop Elements. I emailed everything this afternoon, and I’ll be meeting with the manufacturer in CA early next week to see what the production cost estimates will be.
I also received more leather samples today, and I am happy to say that the pebble grained leather seems to be water repellent. Hooray! Unfortunately it’s also 20% more expensive than the other leathers. Boooo. The texture and color isn’t as bad as I thought it would be, though it wasn’t what I had originally planned for my bag aesthetic. I will likely buy this leather unless the leather guy can find an alternative for me. I am a bit bummed that I might not find a sleeker-looking leather that meets my criteria anytime soon.
And speaking of frustrating, almost every bag you see these days are lined with nylon material because nylon is durable, water resistant, lightweight, and inexpensive. And I can’t find recycled nylon anywhere! It looks like I may need to use recycled polyester for my lining instead, which works out ok I suppose. I am constantly surprised by the limited “eco-friendly” resources available to manufacturers. Now I know why the eco-friendly apparel and accessories are usually kinda ugly and frumpy: it’s because there aren’t any good materials to work with! I admire Patagonia even more now.
And now, as a business owner, I need to make a big decision. Should I give myself Monday as a holiday?
Have a good weekend!
January 15, 2009
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It looks like my blog from yesterday caught the interest of people who know zippers. Their comments were pretty useful. I have to remind myself that whenever I call out a company in my blog (like YKK or RiRi, or from an earlier blogpost–Ohio Travel Bag), I might be read by people who are from that company, competitors of that company, or people who have a vested interest in that particular industry. And now that I mentioned 3 companies again in this blog, I wonder if I’ll get more readers.
Welcome to my blog, new readers!
Today I sketched profile views of my bags and laptop sleeves so that my manufacturer would better understand the functionality of everything. The manufacturer in CA faxed me the signed NDA, so tomorrow I will need to scan my artwork, covert the files to jpegs, and send through my designs via email to the manufacturer. This may take up most of the day because I have nearly 20 pages of sketches, and for some reason I always end up scanning my artwork upside down. BTW I also seem to suck at making manual copies– my copies are always askew and I can’t ever figure out how to copy the two open pages of a book onto one page. I’d make a terrible admin.
And now it’s dinnertime. And that means quittin’ time. Adios!
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