Thursday, June 25, 2009

Excuses and business

I'm not sure how many businesses out there get an influx of orders that simply and fully sets them back about a week.

Add on top of that capital problems... moving to a new 'facility'... and the problems you'd love to have in business become real world problems that stress you out and make doing your job that much harder.

Well, Soapier has had such a hiccup!

If you read in our earlier post the outpouring of support that we received... you'll see that we've gotten in excess of 500 orders in less than two weeks.

That, in and of itself, is incredible.

The problem is... for all intents and purposes, there are only two people working on all of those orders. Namely, my mom and my sister.

So, first, we had to purchase soap base. We had used what we had in stock to get out wholesale orders that were placed during the transition period.

The soap base company wouldn't ship our order out because we paid with paypal. We had quite a few customers pay via paypal, so since the money was there, that's how we paid.

Unfortunately, for some unknown reason that even the paypal people could not explain, they decided to hold the money we had sent for 24hours. Thus, our supplier would not ship our product.

Hiccup #1.

So, I had to get every cent I could scrape together, and pay for the soap. It was basically all the money I had. And it wasn't a ton of money.

So, they refund the paypal money, ship the product. Crisis averted. I get my money back once paypal clears to my mom's account... yay... and my sister goes through the arduous task of creating soap for, then, 375 orders.

Now, let me explain.

Each loaf of soap yields 12 slices of soap. So, depending on the complexity of the soap being ordered... creating a loaf of soap can take anywhere from 20 minutes to about six hours.

Not six hours of sitting there waiting for the soap to harden... but six hours before you can use an insert, say for Sweet Pea:



Every one of those swirls has to be created first as a long bar of soap. Figure there's six different colors... then you have to curl the slices... this one is probably our most complex soap.

So, she's making soap. My mom's making soap. Florida, at the time, was baking from some serious heat. They're working with no AC. It's pretty crazy.

So, now we have product to ship. People who ordered two bars, one bar... we're able to get these out quicker than ones that ordered 10 bars. Only because we're trying to get the soaps out as quickly as possible.

Enter paypal, again.

We are printing the majority of all of our labels through paypal's shipping center. But the downloaded excel spreadsheet from our shopping cart won't merge with paypal. So, my mom is entering addresses one at a time. And on a pc, she's having trouble switching windows so that she can see the info, then type it in, then go back, what state, ok, then what zip, crap there's an apartment #...

Then the news story hits. And that takes a full day away from soap making. It's funny. Just over 1 minute of news coverage, and it took four hours.

Now, for those business owners out there who are stubborn and know it... you'll know that the majority of the time, handing over the reigns to someone, when you only trust yourself to do it right... this can hurt a business. It's a state of mind, and sometimes you just need to do it yourself.

Well, I had to find out what was going on with the shipping, because we'd gotten a couple of emails asking for tracking numbers.

So, I jump in. I'm working on a laptop, so I don't have my dual monitors that I had (I gave them to charity when I moved to NY, they were old, worked, but wayyyyy too heavy to pack and lug, again). What I could do was split the two screens so that I could see all the info from the shopping cart, and the paypal shipping template.

Problem solved. I got 98 labels done in two hours, and we were back on schedule.

So now we're shipping about 80 boxes a day.

See, it's not just making soap. It's then cutting the loafs. Then shrink wrapping. Then labeling. Then invoicing and charging credit cards for those orders that didn't go through paypal. Then writing out gift cards to people who sent gifts.

Normally, this wouldn't be a problem, regular sized production facility and office space or not. We're organized. Or, I should say, they're organized.

But whew... this took some doing. We're almost up to date with orders, thank god. International orders are getting sent out. That was another headache... we'd never shipped international Soapier orders before. So, we had to estimate shipping overseas, and then contact each customer with the actual shipping cost. That took a lot of time.

One of the things I've tried to drill into my mom's head is the simple fact that, unless you're in a very specialized situation (perhaps as we are in right now), customers do not care that you're working 18 hour days.

They just want their product.

That's not to say that people are insensitive. As I said, I think we're in a pretty unique position, and we're so thankful for people who are being so patient with us... but when you're a business owner, customers are key, and you make them happy. You want them to stay customers.

So, working ridiculous hours is part of the business. I've pretty much been up until 2 or 3 in the morning for the past week or so, every night, trying to make things easier, while I'm 1,151.51 miles away from my family.

On a lighter note, I can't stop drinking berry smoothies.

Seriously. I just had one, and I want another. I put in frozen strawberries, fresh blueberries and raspberries, and soy milk. I can't stop drinking them. Luckily, across the street is a fresh fruit and vegetable stand. They're all over the place in NYC.

Ok, ok.

Anyway.

That's where we're at today. I looked at the addresses I'd entered in, and saw I was getting caught up... I figured I'd update this again.

Hope you're all looking forward to the weekend!

Oh, and our awesome old PR company sent out a press release for us today, for free. That was very nice of them. You can read it here, if you'd like.

Talk soon.

J

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Dusting off

Well. Dear reader, hello!

It's been just over 10 months since I updated this blog. Soooooo much to tell you.

Some good, some bad. Mostly bad. And then good. And then REALLY good.

I don't know where to begin. My girlfriend's cat Kaylie is crying at the door for my girlfriend, and I cannot concentrate.

First off, let me detail the mediocre rise, the plateau, the fall, and the new beginnings of Soapier.

Soapier started out as a retail store online. It was the brain child of my sister Erica, my mom and myself.

See, my mom had started making soap in her basement, to sell at craft shows and all that. She named it First In Line Soap. She had this image of people lining up for her products, and thus liked the name. I created a flash website for her, we did the shopping cart, and then waited for some wholesale orders to come in.

Now, this was pre-google. Pre-adwords. Pre-all-that-shit.

And we had no idea how to get new customers. I mean, sure. "Let's get on Yahoo!"

"Yes! Yahoo!"

Crickets.

You see? We don't know a thing about how to do that.

Time went on. Business cards were given out. And she was making a real go of it. And she loved creating new soaps.

Enter my sister. Business started picking up and my mom needed help, and so my sister was helping her. And we thought "Why aren't we selling our soaps online, retail?"

It was a good question. And so we all sat there and thought of a name for a retail store.

Now, I'm not tooting my own horn here. Seriously, but Soapier was mine. My thought, my idea, my legacy. My (insert word here).

Now, I can't remember when we purchased the domain name soapier.com*, but in my opinion, it's an AWESOME domain name! I mean, unless you own soap.com or soapy.com... is there anything else out there that strikes to the heart of our business?

* The soapier.com domain name is for sale. Contact me at john@soapierforsale.com

And so we bought a template website. Fixed it up. Got new pictures...

And then... I quit my job. See, I'm sure some of you can respect the idea of working in an overly stressful environment. Well, I couldn't hack it anymore.

So, I figured "Hey, I'm talented. I have experience. I'll work freelance!"

And I did. For two whole weeks. And then a day here. There. And then I couldn't find a thing.

I mean, really. That was May of 2007. I was unemployed until I left NY in February of 2008 to move to Florida to help with the business. See, at this time, we had gotten a loan and had money to pay for our salaries, rent, and the new retail store we opened (there's a post here somewhere about it). And the first month we opened that retail store was the best month we'd ever had. It was ridiculous.

We kept fixing the store up. We had wholesale customers. Things were ok. And then summer hit. And 100 degree heat is not for vacationers in Florida. So, ok, we knew that.

And then the housing bubble burst. And then the economy started tanking. And then... and then... and then.

In five months things dried up. We even lost wholesale customers we'd had for years... they had either shut their doors down, or were not buying our product any more, to concentrate on other products... or for whatever reason. They were trying to save their own skin. And we couldn't blame them.

So, we have a retail store that's pulling in close to nothing. It's not even breaking even. We have a wholesale business that is floundering. We have two places we have to pay rent on. We have three salaries. Electricity. Internet. Water bills.

I stopped taking a salary in July and broke my lease for my apartment. I dumped things in storage, and put other things I could sell at my mom's. I moved in there, too, to save on rent and food and all that stuff.

August was a pain in the ass. It's super hot. You have to run the AC.

And you know, it's funny, but in the months I was in Florida, I was in very good shape. I mean, I was exercising all the time, eating well... my anxiety problems were not as prevalent in Florida, as they are in NY. Don't get me wrong... this has been a 10 year battle.

10 year battle.

I've been a graphic designer for 10 years.

Holy crap.

Ok, ok.

So. I'm a drain on the business. My sister, irreplaceable. My mom, of course, is the rock of the business.

So, I move back to NY. I move in with my girlfriend... the economy is not at it's worst... the store stays open, the production facility stays open. They're saving money without me down there... they have to work a little harder but, that's life when you own your own company.

So, I'm in NY. And it's September, and it's a good month to find work.

Between September and November of 2008 I sent out over 100 resumes. I went on one interview. To be a stock boy at a wine store. And I didn't get it.

I had sent out resumes to just about any kind of job I felt I could do. That was the only response.

It was about October/November that I started having panic attacks every time I left the house. Now, I'm an avid bike rider. I shipped my bike up. I could ride in September. October was ok. After that... forget it. Going to the grocery store became an event.

I'd get half way, and have to turn back. If I had to take the subway... I'd trying and convince myself that nothing was going to happen while I was on the train. That would take half an hour, on the platform, trains stopping, going.

It was terrible. And the thing is, I still have this problem. And I've been working on it. And I'm on my fourth medicine. And I can't tell if it's working, because I still get panic attacks.

And, yes, I'm seeing a therapist.

You know, people might say 'why's he sharing all this' and the fact is, I'm almost at the point where I have nothing to lose.

Some of you readers are coming from Reddit. If you are, you might have seen one of the following threads posted.

Hi Reddit... I need some help


A Thank You From Soapier to Reddit

You can read those threads, or you can continue and then read them.

So, I get to NY. And I slowly become a mess. No money, no work... no reason to leave the house, and I slowly become agoraphobic. And OCD. And depressed. It's like a snowball.

Things are getting worse all over. My mom's borrowing money to keep the business afloat. We're giving product away on our wholesale site to entice new customers.

And things get worse.

We have to close the retail store. No choice. No money is coming in. We had hired a retiree to run in 4 days a week... she wasn't even selling enough for her $50 a day salary. It was a joke.

My sister can't draw a salary any more. She gets work with her husband at CVS.

Then we have to close the production facility that we're four months behind on in rent.

We put things in storage. My sister moves into a cheaper place, and we move stuff to her home to start making soap for wholesale orders.

My mom is beside herself and has no income coming in. She's behind on her mortgage. She starts going to garage sales to find things to flip on ebay. She's 61 and has two marketable skills. Bookkeeping (no degree) and soap making. She goes on five interviews. No one returns her follow-up calls.

See, back when I was actually working, I purchased a lot of artwork, as investments. I loved collecting artwork. So, I started selling pieces off, so that I could send money to my mom. Then I got a part time job with the job that stressed me out so much in May of 2007. They contacted me out of the blue, and it was a godsend.

I ended up missing four days of work over the course of a few months because I couldn't get on the train to head up to work. I tried taking taxis. I'd get halfway there and have them turn around, head home.

Now, I get 1 day a week... 2... when they need help. It's enough to keep me in pocket money, but it's not enough to help my mom with her mortgage or bills. Seriously. And it takes me a half an hour to get out of the house.

I'm running out of options. We've no money for advertising. Our wholesale customers are drying up. My mom's borrowed money from pretty much everyone she can think of. She's going to lose her home if things don't shape up...

So, I'm here, 35 years old. House ridden (80% of the time), a mess, broke... and feeling like a complete and utter failure on all counts. I mean, seriously. I can't even get a regular job type job, just so that I can send money to my mom.

So, I take a step that is a hail Mary, like you wouldn't believe. I'm sure Redditors will agree that the odds of what happened on reddit were about 1,000 to 1.

It is impossible for me to describe my mom's voice pre-reddit thread. She sounded like her, but something was missing. And there are so many words that I can use to describe them, you know, but they aren't going to come close.

My mom called me on Sunday, June 14th, two days after I posted the first reddit article. I said "Hello."

Nothing.

"Hello."

Silence.

"Hello?"

Now, I don't know about you guys, but I haven't heard my mom cry in about 20 years. And it was because I did something very stupid.

She was crying and said "Bay News 9 just called me up and said they want to do a story on us." She said that someone from Reddit (yes, I know who) called them and told them what had happened.

And, as most of you have seen, my infamous hair made it onto Tampa news.

Sigh.

I've had friends from all over write me to say "Dude... it's no wonder you didn't have a girlfriend all through college." Or reasonable facsimile's thereof.

My mom, after that phone call, sounded like a different person. Or the old person. You know. It's almost like you see someone with a new haircut, or something, and you're like "God, look at that..." and then a few days later, you can't remember the old cut.

Well, that's what happened here. Old mom, depressed, under stress... new mom, under good stress, working her ass off, accomplishing things... different/same old person, just new, again.

It's refreshing, you know? And I hope it lasts.

I thank you for reading. I hope to keep this journal up with more info, more adventures, and more stuff. All the best to you,

John