Micro Entrepreneurism, Simple Living & Art
We just got smacked in the face with this realization.
Business is slow. To be really really honest, its been slow all year, but December being slow is hitting home.
For the past three years December has been our gravy month. Our mind blowingly amazing end of the year kick in the bank account. The first good one helped move us to Floyd, the second one probably helped pay off some debt, and last years helped us move to Hawk-mo.
See, the thing is, this year, without our super awesome big order from Founders Fund, we’d be way behind last years numbers. We planned for staying even, which means we didn’t budget quite right for reality, so I’ve been looking forward to December as the great equalizer. Counting on the bonanza that is Christmas shopping to give us that nice little end of the year cushion that makes January, February, and March a little less scary. But alas it does not seem like that is going to be the case this year. This is the year that we have to start to come to grips with the fact that making wallets isn’t going to be our livelihood forever. Not that we ever thought it would be anyways. I just didn’t expect it all to come crashing down so soon. And maybe crashing is a strong word. Ok, its definitely a strong word. We are still paying ourselves and paying our bills, just neither with as much cushion as would make me comfortable. It means I’m gonna have to put my budgeting pants on. The same pants I wore to get us out of debt. I think they still fit.
Don’t get me wrong though. We aren’t giving up on RAGGEDedge by any means. This is just a kick in the reality pants. The reality that we did NO marketing work or promotions this year. That this year we decided to see if we could rely solely on our customers to spread the word. A true grass roots marketing plan, if you can call it a plan at all. Here the end of the year is and we’ve decided that while that plan kept us afloat, it has left us feeling vulnerable, worried, and scared. I’d rather work a little harder at it next year then feel like I do right now.
There is also the reality that we live in a rural bubble with no cell phone service, practically unusable land lines, and (luckily) acceptable internet. We love it here, but it makes it easy to forget that we are not our customers. The world out there is marching on without us. The people that buy our things shop on their cell phones; our website is not mobile friendly. They are constantly bombarded by advertising and sales; we don’t advertise, or have sales. Google is king; our website is not SEO friendly (but we do still manage to come up first organically for carbon fiber wallets). Websites are getting ever sexier and more streamlined; our website shopping cart and functionality is cumbersome to say the least and far from being on par with other higher end brands. Branding & creative design is also super important, and I feel like I suck at that. To say we have room for improvement would be an understatement. But the good news is room for improvement means we aren’t dead in the water. We’re at a low, a place we have most definitely been before, and we will dig ourselves out, just like we did before. We’ve identified some things we can do to improve the situation, and we will plug away at executing them, one step at a time.
On top of all of that, this year, a company we consider to be a big competitor, Flowfold, went BIG. They ran a successful Kickstarter project, they went to Outdoor Retailer, and they started selling on Amazon. They realized “carbon fiber” is a keyword that matters (as did TONS of other wallet companies). We know for sure we lost our Uncommon Goods account to them. Basically, what I’m saying is, they’re pushing, pushing, pushing, and perhaps part of the problem is that we haven’t stepped up our game? Not to mention all of the other copy cats that have been popping up on Etsy at a rate of about one a month.
I feel like our livelihood is in danger. Here and now I’m telling you that we aren’t going down without a fight.
I’m not sure what the answer is here. There will always be competition and copycats. So basically, we have to figure out how to coexist with them, because they aren’t going any where. The question is, how do we make people care that they are buying a RAGGEDedge Gear wallet? This is where I get lost because branding, the way the big companies do it, is way way out of our price range. The only smaller “brands” I have to look to are Katwise and Ayumi Horie. Both of whom fall into the artist category more so then brand. Going with their lessons, we’ve thrown out crazy ideas like making less things, selling them for more, and letting them become sort of exclusive. But this feels kind of wrong and I’m not sure it would work. We are constantly adding new products to the lineup, but it seems farfetched to believe that something could surpass our wallets, which right now make up about 65% of our business. Is getting into the game that is wholesaling really our only alternative? The thought makes me sad. I truly wanted to believe our customers could and would keep us out of that rat race.
The good news is our customers are happy. We get rave reviews from them all the time. In fact, when I started feeling down about December, I immediately went and read our Etsy reviews. They made me smile, as they always do. The people that do end up buying from us, love, love, love what they get. Its up to us to figure out how to be able to keep making what we do, so that they great wide world out there can keep enjoying it. I’m guessing the answer will come. Maybe slow and steady and creep up on me like, or slap in the face style. It is hard to tell.
For right now, we march forward. We had planned on new website framework research in January, but the slowness of December has moved that up to the forefront. We have known for a while that we have outgrown the functionality of our website backend, Zencart, we’ve just been stumped as to what to move towards. Thankfully I have found some hopeful candidates (the only one I can remember right now is Magento, but there were 2 others) and will soon be thoroughly researching and testing their platforms.
As for saving money, the easiest thing to do is take less paychecks. Payroll and payroll taxes are killers. Ugh. We hate taxes. We knew this year was going to be a spend everything we have on infrastructure at Hawk-mo rather then put in the bank kind of year, and it has been. We made some spendy mistakes, but for the most part we have done a lot around here with very little by repurposing, craigslisting, and the kindness of helpful hands. In planning for next year, we’ll just have to take projects a little slower, and put the larger ones on the back burner until we feel comfortable affording them.
Always in the back of our minds is the question of the next step. Right now I’m just trying to believe that it is going to be ok. And I’m amazed at how easy it is for my confidence to crumble. One, not great pre-Christmas week and I’m a mess. How fragile I feel.