Monday, November 17, 2014

We've decided to "sell something that is a finished cosmetic".  So what is that thing going to be?

Kat, Mui and I brainstorm on our own, then come together for a thunderstorm of plans bigger than can be contained in a whole pad of post-it-notes.  We quickly run into the discouraging amount of the work in front of us.  What are we getting ourselves into?

Just to reconfirm our fears, I look here:  That's right ... 681 new websites were created in the 60 seconds it took us to wad up our last five ideas.  But on the plus side, over $400,000 was spent in online shopping . . . 

Is it even possible to consume enough sugar, caffeine or V-8  to sustain this plan?  Exactly how does one go about competing in the Tour de France while on a tricycle?

In my 20 years as an entrepreneur I have seen plenty of people start and succeed in a small indie beauty business!  Sadly, I've talked to my share of panicked customers who planned poorly, or teary-eyed divorcing entrepreneurs who bet the store and lost the war.  I've also received the occasional email or phone call from someone who took their ideas and soared, supporting not only themselves, but their family and the families of all their employees. 

As far as I can tell, success is the result of consistent movement towards a goal.  You show up for work every day. You stay calm and focused, stay kind, keep it simple and keep it fun.  Take it one step at a time. 

With this advice in mind, we three agree to pick the top three ideas we've come up with, work on them for a week and reconvene to see if they stand each other's scrutiny. 

Next post:  "Mui's Great Disappointment"  (Hint:  her best ideas were already taken and pretty much fully developed by another brand).

Did you know?
MAC Cosmetics was founded by a makeup artist and photographer working out of their kitchen to develop a line of color cosmetics.  They grew by word-of-mouth until Madonna was photographed wearing their Russian Red lipstick in the 1980's.  Then they grew by leaps and bounds.

Kaila's Pro Tip
The first step is often very difficult.  But I won't say it is the hardest step.  It is the first hard step that you will take in a (hopefully) long journey which will be filled with hard steps.  Being an entrepreneur is hard.  It hardens you.  You might as well learn early on how to relax, breath, keep it simple and keep it fun. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Launching a brand, Step One

“You never really know a man until you understand things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1960

For almost 20 years, I and my company, TKB Trading, LLC have been sourcing and manufacturing supplies for crafters and small-business makers (mostly soaps and cosmetics related). 

Every single one of those nearly 20 years my employees have implored me: "Why not make our own finished makeup?  We have all the ingredients.  We already make plenty of other things such as pigment blends and cosmetic bases.  We're like 90% there, let's make our own line. It will be fun!"

I have always said "No". I didn't want to be distracted from our core business.  I didn't want to "compete" with my customers.  I didn't have the space or time. 

This year, however, I have changed my mind.  The internet of 2014 is hugely different than the internet of 1995.  What it takes for my 2014 customer to launch or for my 1995 customer to remain competitive has also changed.

I used to have a steady finger on the pulse of what my customers were experiencing simply because I was growing my own business at the same time.  We were growing up together.

Now, as an older internet company, that finger has slipped.  

I pondered:  Would developing a branded product from start to finish and selling it online make TKB a better supply company? 

I concluded:  Yes.

  • I will better understand what my 2014 customers go through and discover areas where I can be more supportive.  
  • My employees will become more knowledgeable, engaged and excited and hopefully be able to share all of this with our customers.  
  • If I record the process on this blog (and I will try to do this weekly) I may possibly help that customer be successful in their own launch.  
  • Finally, who knows, maybe I'll make an awesome product that will have Hollywood knocking at my door.

So here we are at step one in launching a finished cosmetic brand:  Deciding To Do It.  Deciding to carve out the time, money and attention from our current lives to do something else.

Do you remember those first, early days when you decided to Do It?  When you decided to stop pondering and start performing?

20 years of TKB'ing

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!

Sunday, October 03, 2010

TKB's Big Pour, the quick recap

I'm not going to say our "Big Pour" event was particularly easy to host -- it was a huge distraction from our usual daily routine and I've got lots of catching up to do.

I'm also not going to boast that it was a lucrative & smart business move -- prices were pretty low and in some cases flat out loss leaders. Next time around I'll need to shop smarter.

What I am going to say is that after 12 years of standing toe-to-toe 50 hours a week pulling, packing, and generally running an online business with no public face, Van and I got to see 100 folks walk into our warehouse with smiles on their faces and stories to tell. It was a juicy, most welcome buzz.

We're doing it again, for sure. First Saturday in November.

I'll blog more on what we learned from this event. I've got lots of thoughts about how we can continue to connect with local people in a way which energizes all of us to be more successful and creative.

For now, I get an afternoon of relaxing. Maybe a hot chocolate in my future?