what i learned in 1 year of business
I recently listened to a podcast that discussed the importance of always maintaining perspective in all facets of life. After hearing this, I figured it was the perfect time to reflect on the highs and lows of our first year in business-- including all of the key dates, events and milestones that helped lead us to our biggest takeaway.
July 26th, 2017.
After 7 months of realizing all of the things that we didn't know about launching a clothing brand (and, trust me, there were a lot), it was time for us to go "live". I'll never forget the day. Kyoko came over my house in the morning and we spent 4-5 panicked hours trying to figure out a few little (okay, actually not that little) issues with the site. Needless to say, I had to issue an apology later in the day for letting the stress get to me. Anyway, everything was finally squared away and we turned the website on together, like, both hands on the mouse, together. And, yes, there really is a button to press. It felt like we were launching a space ship or something. I remember a ton of excitement but, also, a huge sigh of relief- we had done it. All of our effort to develop our first assortment and it was now available for purchase. As you might expect, we headed to the bar to celebrate and "cheers" every sale. Sidebar- the coolest (and, at times, cruelest) aspect of Shopify is that we receive order notifications to our phone. You're probably thinking "duh, all apps send notifications" but, let me tell you, there is nothing like seeing that banner pop-up and hearing the "ca-ching" alert that accompanies it . Anyway, in hindsight, I can say that our launch was quite successful. But, in the moment, I remember us both feeling a little disappointed. Like, that's it? It feels absolutely ridiculous to say that now, but we had developed such unrealistic expectations in the months leading up to our launch. Much like our ignorance in regards to launching a brand, we would quickly begin to realize how much we still needed to learn about building one.
September 15th, 2017.
The momentum of our launch was lost as quickly as it had been gained. We settled into a new normal, our reality as a teeny tiny brand. For context, our sales in August were the equivalent of the first five days of our launch at the end of July (insert shocked face emoji here). I'm not sharing this because I'm looking for a pity party, but it's worth pointing out how crazy difficult it is to sell online as a new brand. I realize that it's probably shocking to some people that I would have been caught off-guard by this. But, as someone who values thorough, well-vetted critical thinking from peers and team members, my impulsive tendencies surprise even myself at times. IE. we didn't have some 20 page business plan going into this as you might expect. Anyway, we weren't content to just mope around so we decided to throw a party in the form of a pop-up shop. It was our attempt to "turn that frown upside down" if you will. We had food, music and awesome weather and a whole lot of people came out to support us. Mission accomplished-- we left that night feeling re-energized and extremely grateful to have so many people in our corner.
November 25th, 2017.
You probably know this, but the day after Black Friday is known as Small Business Saturday. It's one of life's greatest juxtapositions-- the frenzied corporate madness followed by the calm after the storm known as #shopsmall. I remember waking up in the morning and seeing posts on Social Media and really feeling a sense of camaraderie with other shops and businesses, most that I didn't even know on a personal level. It was a good reminder that there are so many people out there going through all of the same things that we are experiencing . In an effort to capitalize on this holiday of sorts (hey, I'm a merchant after all), we had another pop-up shop. I remember thinking to myself, "man, if you would've told me two years ago that I would be working during the Ohio State/Michigan game". Truth be told, business was pretty slow and I watched the majority of my game on the IPad (with a few drinks) but, nevertheless, it was not a typical "football saturday".
January 11th, 2018
We managed to sell through the majority of our initial production run during the holiday season, so we set out to get more inventory. After all, "you can't sell apples from an empty cart" as a certain infamous CEO would remind us in our corporate days. I used to tire of hearing such an obvious statement, but the man was right, you can't sell product that you don't have. Fortunately for us, we were put in contact with a great family-owned manufacturing facility and were ecstatic to finally receive our first shipment after the new year. As they say, it's not what you know but who you know. Along with this transition to a new factory, we decided to begin to sell wholesale to interested shops. If you haven't gotten this impression yet, I'll just come out and say it-- I'm optimistic to a fault at times. In this case, I never really had thought about wholesale because I didn't think we would need to do it. After all, why would I let someone else sell our product when we could just do that ourselves? (LOLz) Luckily, we recognized our ignorance and found some great shops to partner with and it was a nice step forward for us as a brand to now be available in brick-and-mortar locations.
April 21st, 2018.
We began attending markets and fleas a few months after our launch as a way to reach new customers and make sales that we were struggling to make online. We were pretty late to the party so a lot of events had been filled, but we managed to sneak our way into a few. Thank goodness we did because it helped us truly realize how much easier it is to sell when you can get your product in front of a customer for them to touch and feel (captain obvious here). Retail is an emotional experience (thank you, Mike Jeffries) and for a brand that relies on quality and not price, it's a lot easier to convey this attribute in-person as opposed to online. Fast forward to this year- we knew it was time to hustle. We sought out all of the best local markets and this was our first big event of the market season, The Cleveland Flea. The weather sucked, but it was an amazing day. We made a lot of sales and all of the "ooohss", "ahhhs" and "omg that is the cutest thing ever" left us convinced more than ever that people love our product. Our job was to find them.
July 25th, 2018.
One year. Was it everything I imagined? Depends what you mean. Did we hit our sales goal? You know, the aggressive, too many digit number that I had settled on with no real explanation whatsoever. Well, no. Did I grow as a person? Absolutely. There is nothing more humbling than going from a well-established, corporate business to a start-up. Square one. So many days of "Will you please answer my email?", "Can we please just make one sale?", "Why is this so hard?". I've always valued grit and tenacity and this past year helped me gain an even better understanding of what these traits look like (and why they are so important).
As for my biggest takeaway, well, what I really learned this past year is that there is only one question that matters.
Are you happy? That's it. And there shouldn't be a "but" or an "if" wedged in the middle of your answer. For me, I am so grateful that I can say the answer to that question is a resounding yes. Although the path forward isn't crystal clear and there will surely be a whole lot of twists, turns and detours along the way, I can't wait to see what year 2 holds.
Here's to the next 365!