Hey guys, I thought I’d try a video update this time, because I’m sure everyone is pretty confused about what’s happening with the blue brick these days. The text of this video is included below for the hearing impaired.
Wingspan dropped on the same day as a pretty major yarn festival here in Toronto. Prior to wingspan dropping we had a few unexpected changes here; we lost both our dye assistants due to a death in their family, and we lost our customer service manager. So we went into Frolic already a bit frazzled.
We knew Wingspan would be big, but we didn’t know it would be THAT big. Yes, it had been very popular online, but we had no grasp of what going viral really meant in a numbers sense, and to be totally honest, we were excited for ourselves. We had made something that was hitting a note with the market and that’s a heady feeling for a small business owner. It simply didn’t occur to me to cull the sales back. I fully acknowledge now that it was a mistake. By the time we got home from Frolic and checked our sales for the day that horse had bolted and I’ll be honest, I threw up.
We formed a plan as quickly as we could, so here’s what happened next; as soon as we could we closed our store. The store would remain closed for three months. We hired someone to build a machine to automate part of my process and I ordered enough equipment to bring my daily yield to 80 skeins per day instead of previous 35 that I could do at home. What needed to happen could not fit in our home so we found a space we thought would be perfect and signed a lease. I fully admit here that we were pretty green and inexperienced.
As fo the fulfillment schedule I plugged the numbers I had into an excel file. The date it spit back was July so I went with that.
We got the keys, and a nasty surprise. The back of our space was still occupied and that guy wouldn’t get his junk out until late June. This was a problem because that’s where the dye stations were to go. We continued dyeing at home, but with a greatly reduced yield.
We received access to the back in late June and the can of worms opened. We had no hot water, the lighting was wrong for accurate colour correction, we needed a levy to contain water from the dye stations, we needed an electrician, we had a leaking roof. There was no natural gas, no power outlets, and no proper drainage. The perfect space was not so perfect.
The suppliers we hired also fell through. We got less than 20% of the equipment we thought we’d have, and our daily yield got no higher than 50/day. Despite my best efforts to secure more equipment it would stay that way though the summer and into fall. The supplier building the machines was unable to do the job and I just kept throwing good money after bad thinking things would turn around. As of now we’re almost done wingspan and a working machine never arrived.
So yeah, lots of mistakes. Things I can only see in hindsight.
We’re a small company. That means anything can tip us. A hold up at the supplier end. A problem with utilities, illness. We kept adjusting that excel file every time something went wrong and updating our timelines online, and things started to look pretty ugly.
We were on a fixed income because of the company closure, and determined to make good on our word that we would issue no-questions-asked-refunds to anyone who was unwilling to wait. That means we refunded about a third of the original sales, without being able to bring in more revenue. When we came out in support of Ravelry we lost an additional 20%. That meant only one thing, we had to reopen the store or risk going under. To prioritize our orders we backed out of all our summer and fall festivals, which normally represent a large portion of our annual revenue.
It turns out that too-rapid growth is a big reason why small companies collapse. The Blue Brick is only four years old, and we have grown quickly. We were not experienced enough to know that refunds would become a hole in the bottom of our boat that was out of control, or the ramifications of offering up the refunds when we had optimistically already invested the funds in hiring an all new team, equipment, space, renovations, and of course, the actual raw yarn.
I think we’ve all seen this year that social media alone can bring a company down. We didn’t consider or anticipate the amount of labour that would go into social media maintenance in todays online environment. We are not a PR firm and it would be disingenuous and contrary to what folks expect from small business for us to hire a firm to deal with the messages that come in, on instagram, on Facebook, through the website, by email, on Ravelry, and in comments, and that can get overwhelming and messages can slip our radar. This is an era of unprecedented expectation for full transparency from small business, and a very personal amount of information being disclosed, We did our best to keep everyone up to date, but here, again, I feel we made several mistakes and for that I apologize.
The Blue Brick is not a sweatshop. I believe in a living wage and solid labour incentives, i believe in an all-women business, and I believe in a beautiful social environment, open to all, to come and be part of our creative space. This is a far cry from me working alone in my basement and it costs much more money than the Blue Brick was historically making, thus necessitating the addition of more products to the store, and a diversified revenue stream that allowed me to leverage non-yarn items, items I could make while yarn was drying. I know that ruffled some feathers, but no company can make it without revenue. You cannot quadruple the size of a company, fail to quadruple the sales, and not run into trouble. Hindsight is 20/20.
That brings us to today. We are 8 days away from completion and not planning on breaking, but going straight into the August 1st orders. We want everyone to know that we remain utterly committed. We love our customers, we know we wouldn’t be here without them. We hear you, when you express frustration with us. We are also frustrated with ourselves and the naivety that led us here, but we made the best decisions we could with the information that we had, we stayed true to our refund commitments, we stayed true to our commitment for an inclusive environment by supporting Ravelry and we accept that all of this brings consequences. We are doing the best we can to deal with them as professionally and transparently as we can and bring the company to a place where this is balance; balance between demand and fulfillment, balance between the various skills and mediums that I can provide, and work life balance for the wonderful people who so hard here to bring you unique and beautiful things.
I’m signing off for now, thank you for listening. As always please feel free to write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions, or if you’d like to reach me directly, email@example.com. Thank you.