February 27, 2009
Back to top
I received a surprise call this morning from a sewing operation here in Seattle. I had called them several months ago when I was just starting to look into different manufacturers. I think they fell off my radar because they don’t sew leather, but 2 of my smaller products won’t use any leather so they might actually be able to assist me with production. I guess they are trying to drum up business, and digging pretty far back in their records because I called them in October. I am meeting with them on Monday to tour their factory and see what services they have to offer.
I also spoke to a trademark lawyer today (she may be reading this). It seems that the problem I encountered isn’t uncommon. We discussed my options, and I could either 1) contact Jones Apparel Group to request a consent agreement (which could be costly), or 2) I could just scrap everything and start from scratch on brand development (which is also costly, but probably less expensive than the other option). I’m leaning toward the re-branding effort. Luckily I’ve had some luck with brainstorming today: I may have a name that I like as much as Jones Market, I’ll need to run it by the lawyer to make sure it’s in the clear. I’m also going to hire my favorite copywriter to spend a few hours on this naming exercise. Once I get the list whittled down, I’ll get the legal folks’ input and get them to do my trademark paperwork.
I just spoke to by graphic designer and label person, and luckily they handled the news well. We’ll get cranking soon on the new branding and go from there. I learned a lot in the last 24 hours, and it wasn’t as hard to bounce back as I thought it would be. But TGIF
February 26, 2009
Back to top
Things started off really good today, but somehow things spiraled downward pretty quickly late afternoon. Earlier today I spoke with one of the manufacturers in TX, and he is interested in doing some of my samples. I faxed him the dimensions and some sketches of my flagship product. So things were looking up– my product development was moving along and things were just peachy.
And then my luck turned. I began to come down with a cold, and…get ready for a doozy…I got an email from the US trademark office saying that “Jones Market” may have risk of confusion with Jones Apparel Group, and that my trademark approval request was declined. Jones Apparel Group owns a few companies with the name “Jones” in them, and although these companies make women’s clothing, in their trademark documentation it states that “bags” is part of these companies’ scope, even though they don’t appear to make them anymore. JAG also own dozens of brands (like Nine West) that make accesssories too. I never saw Jones Apparel Group as a threat because our products and target markets were so different. I have 6 months to contest this attorney’s findings, and I not sure how much leeway I have with this. I will be consulting my attorney to see if getting permission from Jones Apparel Group to use the name “Jones” is even an option. Of course, the obvious alternative is to just come up with another name and get over it. I’ll try to fight for the brand name within reason, but the likelihood is high that I’ll need to re-brand my company (which would require me to change my email address, blog name, brand ID, get new business cards…ahhhh the list goes on).
Oddly enough, I am much more calm about this than I thought I would be. I guess I see this as one of the many problems that a small business can face, and I’ll manage to get through it. I’m going to sleep on this and tackle the problem in the morning.
Man, being an entrepreneur is hard. I can’t believe I was bitching about bag lining a few days ago. How petty, in retrospect.
February 25, 2009
Back to top
I have some good news today, I ordered some exterior sample fabric! I am finally on my way to making bags!
The bad news was that I had finally found fabric that could work well for my bag lining (it wasn’t glow-in-the-dark, but it was waterproof and lightweight), and had been told by the sales rep that the color could be customized, but apparently that’s not true. BOOO! The fabric I really wanted is only available in black, which is not ok for my bag lining. So I am quickly scrambling to find other fabrics that could work. I had a few back-up options, so I put in several calls this afternoon to those fabric companies and I am hoping by tomorrow afternoon I can pick my lining too.
The manufacturer in CA has committed to building some samples for me (hooray!) so I’m feeling really good now. My contact Randy (the guy who is trying to help me find other reputable manufacturers) is busy this week so I’m just waiting till things calm down for him. The biggest sign that he’s stressed out is that now none of his emails include any punctuation. Lately he’s been sending me tons of information in one giant run-on sentence. I hope he’s just busy, and not high.
February 24, 2009
Back to top
I received some unsettling news this morning: my textile designer resigned today, and gave no notice. I hope I didn’t drive her away! Based on what her boss said, it sounds like the circumstances were of a personal nature, and this was not a layoff or firing. I’m bummed because I think she had been doing a great job, and she was turning things around at a decent pace. Now her boss is filling in for the time being, and things don’t seem like they’ll run very smoothly for a while. The good news (I guess) is that she sent the final package of swatches to me yesterday, which I received them this afternoon, so there isn’t any design work to be done for a while.
I am ready to order sample fabric now so I asked the sales rep for an order form, and he said he didn’t have one. So he just made an order form from scratch. It’s weird to me that the fabric mill wouldn’t have pre-made order forms or templates. Once I fill out the form, I’ll need to fax it to a guy named Moe in New York, who will in turn fax the info to the operations manager in the Pennslyvania mill. This faxing thing kills me!
I’ve spent the last few hours trying to get quotes for business insurance. I’ll need to get property coverage and also liability insurance, just in case some weirdo decides to eat one of my bag shoulder straps or something. I may also get “business interruption” covered while I’m at it. I may go with a “business owner’s policy” (BOP) that covers several things so I don’t need to cobble together several plans. So far I’ve gotten a quote from Safeco through Costco (you save approx. 10%!), and I have traded voicemails and emails with someone at State Farm, who handles my renter’s insurance. I have one more lead I’ll speak with tomorrow, Redmond General Insurance Agency, who gave a presentation at the SCORE new business seminar. Hopefully everyone will get back to me within the next 24 hours so I can get my insurance and finally get this off my to-do list.
I have insurance info overload. It’s quittin’ time.
February 23, 2009
Back to top
This weekend I suddenly got inspired to work on my press release, so I spent several hours writing my pitch email. It’s coming along pretty nicely. Because I worked this weekend, I thought I’d take it easy today, hence this early blog entry.
The fabric designer will be sending me the fourth and final installment of patterns to review tomorrow. After I see the color options I’ll be able to pick which of the four patterns I will want for my launch. Economically speaking, it might be easiest to just go with 1 or 2 of the patterns and use them across all of my products– I plan to use this approach for the leather. However I really like all four patterns, and I may end up mixing and matching all of the patterns with the different products, especially since I found out that the minimums for the fabric orders aren’t as high as I thought they’d be. I’ll have a better idea of what my launch plans will be once I see the final pattern color options tomorrow.
I received some webbing samples in the mail today. One of the packages was “inadvertently” damaged in handling by my postal service. Normally I’d let this type of thing slide, but this has happened to me 4 times in the past month, and now I feel like I’m being targeted by the USPS. Trust me, there’s nothing being sent to me worth looting. I actually feel sorry for the postal worker who might be illegally opening my mail. So far he’s opened envelopes containing the following:
1) Brown nylon webbing
2) Vegetable tanned leather pieces
3) An invoice from the Marriott Residence Inn
4) A birthday card that plays “I Feel Good” by James Brown, from my parents
I really hope these are just random, accidental mishaps. Otherwise I may make a concerted effort to only use Fed Ex and UPS for all of my business shipping.
February 20, 2009
Back to top
I checked on my trademark application today. I looked up the serial number sent to me from the US Patent and Trademark Office, and I found out that my application is currently being reviewed by an attorney named Guttadauro. Just so you know, there is a grace period for making changes (at no cost) to a filed application, so if you screw something up you still have time to fix it before the application is processed. I made one amendment to my submission on 2/5, three whole months after I submitted my original request, and my file was assigned to an attorney on 2/6, just one day later. I got really lucky. Let’s hope I filled out the paperwork right this time so Ms. Guttadauro has no problem approving my trademark request.
Several months ago I was given a well-respected leather manufacturing referral, but just recently when I was ready to contact everyone, this referral was nowhere to be found. His website was defunct and when I called his office number, his phone was disconnected. And despite these signs suggesting he was out of business, I decided to stalk him today. I googled him and after combing several pages of search results, I found his email address on a website about fly fishing tacklebox manufacturing. I emailed him and he wrote me back within 15 minutes. Apparently he’s alive and kicking, and still doing leather manufacturing. He warned me that leather manufacturing talent in the US is virtually non-existent, and as a result he has opened up operations in South America. And for some reason he is diversifying his business investments by manufacturing nutrition supplements too. I didn’t ask too much about that venture, it was kind of weird. It appears that this guy Randy is well-connected and he promised me that he’d try to help me find other manufacturing options within the US. What a nice person!
See you next week!
February 19, 2009
Back to top
I’m still investigating into whether I can (or should) make leather shoulder straps for my laptop briefcase, so I decided to look into other options just in case. I found out that most non-leather shoulder straps for laptop bags are made out of something called webbing: the most common webbing materials are nylon or polypropylene. Today was the first time I had ever used polypropolyene in a sentence. It reminded me of the word ”phenolphthalein” from high school chemistry class. I was told by more than one manufacturing expert that nylon is the best shoulder strap material because it’s durable and looks nice. Polypro (the slangword for polypropolyene for people in the know) is much less expensive than nylon, a whopping 50%+ cheaper, but it isn’t as durable. Another disadvantage is that the quality of the weaving for polypropolyene is not as nice as nylon.
I spent the entire morning calling webbing sales reps, trying to find brown nylon webbing that was at least 1.5 inches wide. Apparently this color is impossible to find in stock. Nearly every single sales person tried to either convince me that I should go with black nylon webbing (since that color was readily available), or that brown polypro webbing was a better deal. After 3+ hours of cold calls, I finally found 2 decent leads for the type of webbing I wanted. Things were looking bleak for a while.
Going back to an earlier blog post, I really do think that many laptop bags look the same because the options that are available are very limited. If companies don’t want black ballistic nylon exterior fabric and/or black nylon or polypropolyene webbing for their shoulder straps, they would need to pay a lot more money or wait a long time for other options to become available. Webbing mills produce large quantities of black webbing, and then manufacturers buy it because there isn’t much choice, and as a result this leads to fueling more demand for the product. It’s predictable, but frustrating.
I’m glad today is over. Hopefully the 2 leads for webbing will work out and I won’t have to write about polypropolyene ever again.
February 18, 2009
Back to top
This morning I spoke with the 3 manufacturers that I am considering for my first wave of production. These conversations were painful and tedious, but essential for my business progress.
There are pros and cons for each manufacturer, here’s a topline summary:
Manufacturer #1: reasonably close proximity to me, can do more intricate leatherwork, but is pricey and really disorganized.
Manufacturer #2: has manufactured laptop bags in the past so he understands construction, but his factory is far away from me. Not flaky but only seems moderately interested in the project.
Manufacturer #3: same as above but he might be cheaper than the other two. He can’t do one type of leatherwork that I think is a dealbreaker. He’s flaky, but very interested in the project. He seems a little old school, like a “you play by MY rules” kind of guy, which is a huge turn-off. There can only be one boss-man, and that’s me!
I may end up asking manufacturer #1 to make samples, and if the #2 guy is interested, I may ask him to make samples too, and then see which manufacturer makes better quality products. I think the #3 factory is my back-up in case the others decline the job. I can’t believe how long it’s taken just to get quotes for prototypes. I also heard from a ton of people in the industry that it takes about 3 rounds to get the sample to look right. If I can get the samples done within the next 2-3 months, I can at least try to meet with buyers to try to secure orders for the fall. Unfortunately if things keep progressing as slowly as they have been, laptops may be extinct by the time I get my bags launched.
I spent the afternoon revising the hangtag copy and naming some of my products. It was a fun creative exercise and a good way to end my work day, which has finally come to a close. Adios!
February 17, 2009
Back to top
The manufacturer in CA requested a phone meeting for today, but he didn’t call me at the scheduled time. When I called him 15 minutes later, he apologized profusely and asked me to call him back in an hour because he didn’t have a chance to look at my specs, materials, or drawings yet. An hour later I gave him a call back, and I found out from his assistant that he was at the post office and would give me a call when he got back, probably within 15 minutes. He called me over an hour later.
So you might be wondering why I’m putting up with these shenanigans. Well, I think I have enough evidence now to say that most small-scale leather manufacturers are aloof and flaky. Do they want new business? “Yes!”, they all say, because business is slow and they really want to take on new clients to help with their cash flow. So given their upfront enthusiasm, I don’t understand why don’t they call when they say they will, or ever email back so people don’t question whether their email address is still valid. I’m completely stumped.
Now let’s look on the bright side. The CA manufacturer finally gave me a ballpark estimate for the bag prototype, so I can use this as a benchmark when speaking with my other 2 manufacturing prospects. I may end up having more than one manufacturer make samples so I can see which factory is easier to work with and has better construction and technique. I figure I’ve been pretty lean with my expenses to date, so some experimentation with picking a manufacturer might be worth the short-term cost.
In other news, I’ve finally finalized the fabric patterns and colors for my launch products, and almost finished with picking the bag liner, so this means that next I’ll order fabric samples for the prototype, and then work with the manufacturer to order the fabric and leather I’ll need for my first production run.
I’m so close to getting the production going. I wonder if the ”Little Engine That Could” felt the way I do right now.
February 13, 2009
Back to top
This morning I got stuck in the elevator at the Polyclinic, and that pretty much set the tone for the rest of the day. I pushed the alarm button and no one responded. I pulled on the little door to the emergency phone, but it was stuck. I was just about to get freaked out when the doors finally opened, luckily someone on my floor in the parking garage pushed the elevator button. I climbed up 10 flights of stairs to get to the doctor’s office, and the doctor ended up just referring me to a podiatrist anyway.
I spent the afternoon sending out fabric and leather swatches to a few manufacturers. I called one of the manufacturing companies that had blown me off to get some feedback on how I had handled my end of the discussions and negotiations. I wasn’t stalking them like a psycho girlfriend, I just wanted to learn from my mistakes and see what areas I could improve. It turns out that he was still interested in the project, he just wasn’t sure if his capabilities were advanced enough for what I needed to produce. Of course, rather than tell me this directly, he chose to not call me at all. I didn’t want to burn any bridges, especially since my list of manufacturing prospects is very short, so I may keep him in the consideration set in case the manufacturer in CA falls through.
I found out that my bag labels are done and ready to be shipped. Crazy! I find it funny that the labels are finished but my bag prototypes haven’t even been produced yet.
It looks like I’ll be taking Monday off, so I’ll see you Tuesday!
Next Page »