One year ago this week, I quit my job and went full-time in the sleeve business. (Go here if you want to see my post about that event.) Little did I know what the year would hold. It has NOT gone as planned, and if you had told me the directions I would be going, I would have said you were crazy. I envisioned a nice little business that wouldn’t really take me too far out of my comfort zone. Umm, No. I have learned this year that this business has a mind of it’s own. Where it is going and how it will get there is not really up to me. I am just along for the ride!
I planned to go totally retail, web sales primarily. I am ending up marketing as a wholesaler to gift shops (hospital, nursing home, airport), college bookstores, organizations doing fundraisers, etc. This necessitated standardizing sizes, colors, styles. I am also selling retail on the web and sites like Etsy–where I am selling specialty patchwork sleeves, crocheted rugs made from salvaged fleece scraps and kits so that crafty people can make their own rugs and other items from scraps.
I thought I would make them all myself, then maybe have other women sew for me from their homes. I have ended up hiring a manufacturer in Allentown, PA (MonaLisa Fashions) to make Sleeves for me. So far about 2,200 of them this year. (No, I haven’t sold that many yet–like my dad always says, “You can’t sell out of an empty truck”. We are stocking up for the winter/Christmas season) I still make special orders and sleeves that have not been produced in bulk yet.
In the beginning I watched for half-price sales at my local fabric store and bought bolts of fleece when it was on special. Now I have wholesalers on both coasts that I order from. Nearly 4,000 yards this year. Our basement and garage are full of boxes of finished sleeves, bins of bolts leftover from the fabric store days, and bags of scraps and various projects.
The hospital gift shop project has spawned a line of display hangers and laminated display posters.
I had one serger when I started. Now I have two (one for backup when/if the first one goes down in the middle of a job). I now have a machine for monogramming. And a laminator for the display posters. We are enlarging our storage capabilities so we have a place to put the next 1,200 that are coming in a few weeks. I had to get a new laptop so I could keep in touch with orders on the road.
I thought I would print a few brochures locally as I needed them. We ended up ordering 5,000 each of 3 styles from a printer in CA.
Needless to say, we have accumulated some debt this year. My mom and dad are investing in the project (thanks for believing in me) which I will pay back with interest as the sales pick up. My long-suffering husband has put up with my long hours, mono-maniac focus and the dip in income since I quit work.
We are on our second website with a new logo and everything. Our son, Ryan, was instrumental in the header and layout. Our other son, Cody, has helped with some of the photography. My friends have played a huge role too. Denise laid out the brochures through multiple tweaks and changes. Connie partnered with me at the Farmer’s Market. Tina helped me produce display materials. Others have listened, given feedback purchased sleeves.
I have learned more than I ever wanted to know about EIN numbers, customizing invoices and sales receipts in Quickbooks, getting my phone to sync with my laptop, trademarks, postage scales, shipping, paypal, HTML, RN#’s, woven and printed labels, how hospital gift shops operate, companies that supply gift shops, how to paint pvc, garment manufacture, garment sizing, etc, etc, etc. But it has not been all bad. In fact, I have enjoyed a lot of it–at least once I was through it…
Managed to pack in a fair amount of travel as well, business related and graduation from college related.
But the biggest difference of all is that a year ago, everything loomed so large. Just about everything on my to-do list was something I had never done before and much of it seemed scary. I have noticed just the last few weeks that a corner has been turned. More and more of what needs done is becoming more familiar–the research and decisions have already been made and it is such a relief! There are still new mountains to surmount, but the ones I have already climbed have prepared me for them. And the view from here is really exciting!
So my 10 year plan is on track. Who knows, I might even get there early!