My market research became obsolete within mere months following the American Made woven baby wrap startup boom. My pricing model turned out to be way off, (to say the least), and what started out as an attempt to make the most of a bad situation turned into a PR backpedaling nightmare. It was not my prettiest moment.
What ensued next was
, (and I'll sugar coat this a little bit for time's sake), was a highly successful negative campaign, aimed at Poe and yours truly, in Facebook Land. Sales down. Confidence shot. Hope in the toilet. Business account running dry. You know, typical fun entrepreneurial startup woes. I wanted to throw in the towel.
Time marched on. Production happened in the Carolinas. Maybe tides will turn. Over three quarters of my first run of woven wraps was mistakenly sent to my competitor from the textile mill. Of those, many were sullied during shipping, and a handful had weaving flaws. Because, of course. But I carried on.
Don't even get me started on pre-orders. By popular demand, I opened up a pre-order for a design called Spangled. Prototypes came out flawless and things seemed to be going well. Then I got the news. There was a delay at the dye house. Weaving couldn't start until they had the yarn dyed. It was close to another 8 weeks. Did you know customers dislike delays almost more than business owners? And they can be quite vocal about it too, (and rightfully so). The wraps were finally woven and sent to our new local finishers.
I was passionate about supporting the local economy and found local finishers. I loved the family and deals were made by handshakes. My kids adored accompanying me on trips to check on production. Candy was often involved. The learning process was slow for the both of us. The lingo, the timing, the delays, the soft deadlines, the missed deadlines. Patience was tried, exhausted and thrown out the windows. Labels were swapped out. Seams were tacked. But eventually, some handsome wraps were made and sent out. Relationships were fostered.
New designs were crafted.
A collection was curated. Fabric was woven and delivered. Then the bomb was dropped. More delays at finishing. Sadly, we had no choice but to leave our tiny and beloved Vermont finishers to find a company with greater capacity and more experience sewing baby carriers.
So a little further south we ventured, (though still in New England), and a new cut and sew company with stellar reviews, reputation, capacity and familiarity with baby carriers was found. But production would not be simple. As the small fish in a big pond I had an entirely new set of procedures, protocols, and lingo to learn. It was a bumpy road. I learned the nuances of digital patterns and production markers and cutting tickets. But as often does in new business relationships, wires can get crossed and miscommunication can and often does occur.
This dance was no different and would not be spared a bump or three.
Outsourcing, Lean-Manufacturing, off site manufacturing, etc., there are many names for non-vertically integrated manufacturing and many benefits. The drawbacks though can be summed up a couple of phrases: the geography between two companies almost always guarantees that there will be less less than ideal amounts of clear communication. What that leads to can not be distilled into one category, trust me.
One has to laugh.
In the face of delays, mistakes, miscommunication, errors (on both sides), and backwards sewn seams, sometimes you just have to throw your hands up and laugh. I wish I could tell you that starting a business, running a business, and attempting to keep said business afloat was fun, easy and cheap. But it has been in my experience, none of those things.
Somehow we muster the wherewithal to persevere, to carry on. But I don't think it is how all the fancy business magazines and Shark Tank bios make it out to be. It is not pretty. Never have I felt tenacious, undaunted, or invincible. A more accurate description would be: clinging to the edge of sanity, grasping for evaporating morsels of hope, crawling through seas of invoices and red tape, and all the while sleep deprived, run-ragged, emotionally raw, with naked vulnerabilities publicly plastered on social media. Will the public hate me? Will they laugh at me? Will anyone buy my product? Will my family forgive me? Will this baby of mine succeed or fail? What does it all mean? Will my mission statement be met?
"I started this business because I wanted mothers and fathers to be able to carry their infants and toddlers ergonomically, comfortably, and in style. Babywearing strengthens the bond between child and caregiver and I am honored to play even a tiny part in that."
Tread lightly down the startup road my friend. Prepare for the journey of lifetime, and avoid as many potholes as you can.
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