Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Birthin' our New Baby
TKBTrading.com 5.0!

TKB was founded in December 1997.  Over the years, we have had plenty of .... simple-looking.... web designs.

What we lacked in flash and sizzle, we made up for in prices, heart and innovation.  Time has caught up with us though and we really needed to become "mobile friendly".  For this reason we are now launching our new version of "us".  It's a lot prettier!

Here are some functional issues and differences between old and new site that customers have asked us to explain.  We will post more answers to questions as they arise!

Q: Why the change?  A:  We have to be mobile-friendly for our customers.  Our new site will have other awesome functions, but the mobile-friendly was the main issue.

Q:  Is my order history going to come over to the new site?  A:  Sadly, no.  The old site was so old fashioned it did not integrate with any of the new site options we had.  We have, however, kept our old site information active so if you require us to look anything up for you, reprint orders or do any similar research, we are happy to help you.

Q: Are all the products and prices the same?  A:  For the most part, yes.  We have added some new products to the new site and will continue to add at that location. We have also changed how we sell our plastic jars and made some adjustments on prices as a result.  If you see something that confuses you or seems off, or that you simply don't like, please let us know!

Q:  Is shipping the same?  A: Yes, it should be.  Eventually we hope to implement something which will allow the international customers easier checkout without going through a "quote" process.

Q: Did you change your company name to howtomakecosmetics.com?  A:  No.  As tried and true DIYer's we are pretty much making the transition to the new website on our own.  This means a lot of learning curves to navigate.  To make the process a little more tentative we have temporarily had "two" versions of our company.  One at howtomakecosmetics.com and the other at tkbtrading.com.  However very soon both addresses will point to the exact same site.  So you can type in either address.

Q:  Is the change of a website the first step in some kind of overall plan to change what TKB does, what it sells or who its customer base is?  A:  No. We don't normally have overall plans anyway, usually we stick to mood swings. Of course, we do hope, once the dust settles on the launch we can turn our attention away from website development for a while and back into sourcing new recipes, ideas, products and such.

Anyway, it has been a looonnnggg process to get this baby birthed.  I'll try to blog about the important things I learned, in case they are helpful to those out there, but in the meantime, hold on to your seats.  TKBTrading 5.0 launching soon!


Saturday, June 27, 2015

My Lovelies

My Colors are So Lovely

In April, I vended at the Handmade Soap and Cosmetics Guild (HSCG) annual trade show in Indiana.

I introduced My Lovelies, a new line of hue-intense pigments perfect for soapmakers.

I offered them in both powder and liquid forms.  The powders are best for the Cold Process soapmakers, and the liquids are popular with the Melt and Pour Soapmakers.   All the colors are soap-stable, strongly-hued and non-bleeding.

Equally important (to me), I make them!  Did you ever make something so lovely and beautiful you had to keep running back to look at it, even in the middle of the night?  That's how I feel about My Lovely Perfect Blue.  In cold process soap, it just glows.

My Perfect Blue

The colors also blend very easily into nail polish.  While the colors are not all approved for use in cosmetics in the USA, I'm not a hater of using in them nail polish.  I'm usually pretty high on my horse when it comes to telling people to follow FDA guidelines.  However, I recognize that nail polish itself is not particularly natural or "safe" and that most indie nail polish makers would really rather be left to make their own decisions.  The things they put in their polish!  I've come to accept that my job is to simply label the products correctly and leave the decision on use to the maker.

Since the April show I haven't had a chance to really promote My Lovelies, but I'm trying to make up for that now!  On our website, keep your eyes peeled for:

Blue Ribbon, Electric Violet, Vivid Tangerine, Rouge Red, Summer Yellow, Lemon Yellow, Perfect Blue, Hot Pink, & Turquoise Blue.

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Universe Brought Me a Building

... back in 2010. I thought I'd share that story.

Like everyone else, TKB started out in a basement.  That was way back in 1995.  Over the years, the basement expanded into a bedroom and then from a bedroom into a flat. 

We were in that flat for a long time.  Van studied for her citizenship exam there.  I would yell to her over the boxes "What are the three Branches of government?" or "Who are our Senators?"  and she would proudly end up educating me about things I long forgot.

Every year there was also some kind of
"The Great ...fill...in...the...blank" mistake. 

There was the The Great Green Disaster of '08.  I won't point fingers at who made the decision to over-burden our shelves with liquid dyes.  Needless to say the next day we laughed at our foolishness as we mopped up about 50 gallons of green dye. 

There was The Great Missing Kisses Disaster of '12.  Again, to protect the innocent I won't mention who forgot to order enough sifters to go with our jars.  For two months while we waited for production to finish, we scrambled week by week to find quick-ship suppliers to keep us in sifters so we could fill orders.  I got so sick of Van coming up and telling me we were out of sifters again, I insisted we start calling them Kisses.  "I don't want to hear another damn thing about being out of sifters!" I insisted, "Tell me we are out of kisses and at least I can do something about that!"

We also witnessed the changing of the world on 9/11.  That was such a sad day. I had to work but I kept running to the TV to see what was going on.  Van continued to work hard as usual, ignoring my restlessness.  Finally at the end of the day I asked her, "You realize that this was a hugely important day, don't you?" And she smiled and said "Yes".  That smile irked me and I snapped, "What do you think is important about it?"  "It's my birthday!" she replied.  We laughed through tears that day.

Anyway, I'm rambling.  About 10 years of rambling in that flat until we got so crowded we could be standing three feet away from each other and not see the other person.  We had to yell just to get our voices over the tops of boxes. 

I kept moaning that we needed to move to a bigger place but I didn't have time to look and I didn't think we could find what I wanted.  Because I knew exactly what I wanted:  I knew the size and the location and the price that I could afford.  I just had no idea how it was going to find me.

And then, one day someone knocked on my door.  A couple of complete strangers -- brokers as it turned out -- with a flyer in their hand.  That flyer was for the exact building I had imagined.  Down to every detail. 

Maybe it strikes you as anti-climatic that the universe came to me dressed in suits.  But actually, no one every knocked on my door except the FedEx driver.  And, the building they showed me was in a completely different neighborhood; it wasn't as though they were canvassing the neighbors. 

When I asked them why they knocked, they explained that they had just opened their company that week and they were trying to find clients, so they figured they would just start knocking and I was the second door they chose.

So maybe you will now believe me when I say that the "Universe" (with the help of the SBA, a lender, a few brokers, and some contractors, as well as my co-workers and husband) brought a building to TKB.
Moments like these are what have kept me going.  I hope you also have many such moments in your lives.

Monday, October 08, 2012

The universe brought me a conveyor

2012 has been yet another year of organizing my company.  I've made a lot of progress, enough that about six weeks ago I was starting to become clueless about what the next steps were, and I knew I needed to make more changes. It occurred to me that Fedex had given me a free scale and a printer to improve my shipping so maybe they would also give me free advice. I asked my rep if there was anyone at Fedex who could come to my warehouse and tell me how to set up a more efficient shipping department.

Within a week, a very nice man came out, watched what we did and made just a few achievable suggestions:
  1. Give the staff specific job duties so that when they come in they just tear into their job. Before that, we kind of shared duties, one person jumping in when another needed help. My advisor pointed out that people are more relaxed when they know what their job is and they are faster and more efficient when they do the same thing over and again. At first my husband was worried that they would get bored doing the same thing over and over, but my staff all report "no". They much prefer working this way.
  2. Set specific goals for your staff. For example, tell the picking clerk exactly how many orders you expect them to pick in a shift, and then see what can be done to help them meet those goals. Of course find ways to reward them when they do. We do bonuses every quarter and it was really fun this quarter to start rewarding people based on real, definable achievements.
  3. Improve storage by making better use of the front room, getting rid of things that are obsolete, and going more vertical with existing shelving.
  4. I think he was trying to keep the list short and sweet so I wouldn't be overwhelmed but just as he left he paused and said softly, "Maybe you should get a conveyor".
Within the first couple weeks, I implemented all but the last of his suggestions and saw a huge change in attitudes and efficiencies. That last suggestion, though, it was just weird to me. I'm not a small thinker, but I'm also not a big thinker. When someone suggests to me that I need a conveyor a part of me starts laughing inside.

Then I began to pay attention to how my shipping staff was handling boxes. There was a lot of lifting and putting down, a lot of boxes getting in the way of foot traffic. Maybe we actually did need a conveyor. Something that they could pack the boxes on, then push the boxes out of the way into the waiting hands of the Fedex driver. Just maybe.

Last weekend, as hubby and I were tooling around town, I suggested we go to the Habitat for Humanity Reuse store just for fun. This is a shop like Goodwill or Salvation Army only more construction related, selling such things as door knobs and old paint. I wandered the shop for ten minutes before I saw my conveyor. Perfect width, perfect length, and perfect price.

At that moment, I heard that "ping" in my brain that happens when the universe brings me something.  That "ping" I heard the day I met my husband, the day I first touched the walls of my warehouse.  Never thought I'd hear that "ping" standing in front of a conveyor.

Maybe I'm getting better at hearing the "ping".  If I get better at hearing the "ping", then maybe, it's all going to work out just fine.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Inventory Talk

Eight months have passed since I wrote about inventory management and I am pleased to announce that we are finally putting our thoughts into action.

This process represents a huge challenge for me, because it is all new information and so it requires my complete attention. But the past few months have brought me a series of tough business dilemmas, one after the other, and I've finally realized that I will keep having such dilemmas until I knuckle down and get organized.

Coming very soon (because its the only thing I'm working on): a new website (the one we have now is about ten years old and very clunky), with newly-created SKU's for our products so that we can pick and pack more quickly, and with integration to our accounting software so that we know what we have and when to order!

I remember when I first learned accounting. My poor supervisor kept explaining double entry and whatnot to me and I swear every day I looked at the numbers they looked like a big plate of tangled spaghetti. Nothing made sense.

That's how I feel right now as I try to shepard all my non-existent systems together into a system. But we'll get there, and on the other side of this effort will be a much improved company and true freedom to be creative again, without the nagging feeling that things are out of control.

(p.s., the reason I'm posting here now is because I will be moving my blog over to the new site, and I needed to come over and check it out. I was surprised to see that there were over 30 page views of the blog just today. I guess it never occurred to me that people read it)!

Monday, November 08, 2010

Managing Inventory - Interesting Website

We recently worked with a tech person to help set up our Big Pour (an event where we invite local people to come in and shop in our warehouse), and he pointed out that even though we are an internet based company, most of our operations function "off the grid".

The way we handle our purchase orders, our accounting, our inventory, our payroll. Plenty of these things are done a very old fashioned pen-on-paper way. While this worked for a long time, we are pulling up our big girl boots and trying out new ways of doing things.

One of our areas of weakness is inventory control. So far, we have relied on Van's amazing memory, but that's not really working any more. In figuring out how we can improve, I stumbled on this very helpful, easy-to-read primer on the basics of inventory control.

The advice here is forehead-slapping simple.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Breaking through the Platitudes

Even the SBA likes to spread the rumor: Most startup businesses "fail" within the first five years. You've heard that, right? From the web, from your well-meaning friends, from your family.

This oft-repeated platitude has no doubt discouraged 1,000's of hopeful entreprenuers from making the leap towards self-employment and for this reason I consider it a bit evil.

The nay-sayers tell you that it is a lack of experience, money or sales that shut down 50% off all start-ups in the first five years. Umm. Yeah. That's kind of like advising a new bike-rider to stay in their seat and keep their feet on the pedals. We all kind of know that, don't we? No experience, no money, no sales = poor likelihood of success.

I haven't seen a lot of failures in my 15 years of entrepreneurship. What I have seen is my competitiors and business asssociates closing shop (not "failing"), and mostly due to personal reasons. Typically health (a sudden illness in the family or an inability to sustain the energy level it takes to run a business) or a family crisis (a divorce or a need to focus on the children).

This year I mourn/celebrate the loss of several well-established and successful businesses: Mineral Basics (finished mineral makeup) Aromaleigh (finished mineral makeup) and Southern Soapers (soapmaking supplies). Mourn because I know these women worked hard to build their companies and closing is bound to feel a bit like falling, celebrate because I know once they hit the ground they will pick the pebbles from their knees and get back up.

When you are young and dating, five years is a long time to be in a relationship that doesn't work.

When you are in college, five years is plenty of time to go from innocence to education.

When you work at a company, five years is a long time to be in one job, no question.

So here is my point: who cares if most businesses change (close) within five years. So do most relationships, schooling and jobs.

If you are thinking about starting a business and get stuck on the fear that your business will become a statistic, get over it. Starting a business, building a business and closing that business within five years is not a failure, it is an adventure, one that you will learn from and build on. Go for it!