More about the inner workings of Wallypop than you wanted to know

Recently, at Fashion Incubator, where I’ve been reading, there’s been a lot of discussion about professionalism and what it means, with various regulars implying that various guests are not professional. I’m kind of sick of discussing it there, but thought I’d share my thoughts here.

Personally, I’ve always tried to run my business professionally, even though I am quite small. (I’ve been chuckling at the “you’d be surprised how many of us (regulars at FI) have fewer than 2 employees” comments – first, I don’t think I would be surprised and second, there’s a huge difference IMO between a business with 2 employees and a business with 0 employees.) Here’s what I mean by that:

1) I generally conduct myself in a professional manner, in dealing with customers, suppliers, fellow business owners, etc. I’m human and do not always succeed.

2) I strive for good customer service – fast package turnaround, accurate packing of orders, excellent handling of returns and complaints.

3) I am, to the best of my knowledge and ability, compliant with all laws and regulations – federal, state, and municipal. That means, among other things, I don’t actually run a “store” from my home, because that’s against the zoning laws.

4) I am insured. It is irresponsible (and unprofessional) to run a business that is not insured. I also have a tax license and accurately report sales tax. And income tax.

5) I have – and have always had – a business checking account, rather than going the “have a personal checking account but earmark it for business” route that some go. That’s just bad.

6) I have a nice work space that works for me, including a nice cutting table and adequate storage for fabric and inventory.

7) Running my business behind the scenes as a business and not a hobby. I maintain accurate records of purchases, expenses, cost of goods sold, sales, etc. I pay myself a fair wage.

8) Most important – I make a high quality product that I use myself and that easily competes with any other brand out there. I hear that from customers all the time. “I have a variety of name brands and decided to take a chance on a WAHM brand and purchased your diapers. They are my favorites.”  So it’s not just, you know, me and my husband saying that it’s a good product.

9) Continuous improvement. I strive to be continually learning new things – about running a business, about laws, about the products I sell, etc. I also strive to be continually improving my products. I’m a little upset because I’ve spent the better part of a year working on a new design for my Mei Tai carriers and I was just ready to start testing with the general public (rather than just friends and family) after the first of the year, but those plans are now on hold.

10) High quality. I use high quality materials, tools, machinery, etc.

I could certainly do more to be MORE professional. I could move out of the basement. I’m not well set up for browsing by local customers, and I really never set out to have my office be a showplace. And it’s not. Actually, it’s not bad, it’s just the odd trek one has to take to get there. I had plans to move into a better space (here at the house) in 2009, but those plans are currently on hold.

I could develop better documentation for retailers and seriously improve my wholesale paperwork and process. With about 10 wholesalers, though, most of whom are pretty small, it hasn’t been a huge priority. And I’m not currently seeking additional wholesalers, so, again, not a huge priority.

Some others have suggested that one also much purchase all supplies at wholesale to be considered professional, but I’m not sure I agree with that. I understand it, though. I don’t buy all my stuff wholesale because it would be impractical to do so, and would also make prices higher and give me less variety, which is part of what makes me able to compete with some of the bigger companies. Also, well, storage. I buy sherpa, hemp, terry, microfleece, and MM fleece at wholesale. Everything else I buy retail, or through co-ops. Most of the decorative fabrics – the cottons and the bottomweights with prints – are retail, because I have little use for a whole roll of any one print.

And, well, I can’t beat 86 cents a yard for flannel, even wholesale. And I can get that price retail. Shopping smart at retail – sales, coupons, special discounts – gets me really nice (not designer) fabrics at really good prices. And it gets you, the customer, a nice variety of fabrics to choose from for your dipes or carriers.

There’s also been some, um, sort of snide comments referring to my desire to keep my prices affordable for one-income families as being indicative of producing a shoddy product and being unprofessional, but, well, whatever. If that makes me unprofessional, then fine.

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About sarahtar

Our Family lives in central Iowa. We are Christians, conservatives, and crunchy granola heads. We love the outdoors, photography, and lindy hop. Turn ons are people who are polite, honesty, and really good root beer. Turn offs are mean people and people who make my life more difficult.

Posted on December 23, 2008, in Business. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. You are professional, from everything I’ve seen. And your products, ARE super Great!!

  2. I love wallypop products and have always found you to be the pinnacle of professionalism. As a small business owner, I find limiting definitions of professionalism to only small versions of larger companies to be small minded and lacking in creativity. Professionalism is about doing what is right and necessary in balance with customer service and quality. We also strive to follow tax codes, licensing, and technical specifications to the T rather than succumb to the lure of short cutting it.

    • I have wondered, these past few days, if feeling the need to walk around posting things akin to “no, but I AM a professional, darnit!” make one, in fact, NOT a professional. Or if they are more indicative of being immediately postpartum.

  3. Of all the items you list, other than product quality that you don’t think bears improvement (interested in a product review?) this would be my #1 choice for becoming more professional. Not increasing quantities, not relocating, not producing more stuff, just this:

    I could develop better documentation for retailers and seriously improve my wholesale paperwork and process. With about 10 wholesalers, though, most of whom are pretty small, it hasn’t been a huge priority. And I’m not currently seeking additional wholesalers, so, again, not a huge priority.

    The thing is, it doesn’t cost you anything to develop a saner process and these standards themselves, having unintended consequences, will actually save you a lot of money and time EVEN THO you’re not looking for more retailers. This is a perfect example of human nature, the propensity to devalue that which one doesn’t understand and favor that which they do. When I talk about “professionalism” it is most often in the context of what you wrote in that paragraph above that I quoted. Precisely that which you deem least important, is what I consider to be most important. Why not try it? I’d be happy to be proven wrong. 🙂

    • However, if you’re offering a product review, if it ends up looking like I’ll be able to remain open past August (or February even), I’ll totally take you up on that. I’ve never really sought the feedback of someone who doesn’t need diapers for utilitarian reasons.

  4. I receive product reviews with about every third order. People are happy. Are there things I could improve? Probably. Actually, most definitely. Many of the things I could improve (the tab design, for example) have consequences I don’t like. I like a different design for tabs, but the resulting change to the pattern results in a less efficient use of fabric, creating more waste and raising the price of the product.

    I’ve been working on some improvements on a few of the dipes and several of the carriers, they are all ready for testing with the general public, but I probably won’t do it now.

    Yes, improving the wholesale process SHOULD be a priority. But it takes time, which is something I have not had for the last year. (Long story, but I had to take care of my mother nearly full time while stupidly choosing to also keep my store open and taking care of a small child. Lacking time to do much more than process orders, I was not able to keep inventory restocked, leading to doing most orders custom, throughout my rather difficult pregnancy. This kept me so busy I again lacked time for much else. It was a dark period in Wallypop history. The last year and a half has been all about survival, and if something wasn’t on fire, it didn’t get attention.

    I’ve been pondering whether putting family first and business on hold/on autopilot when needed is indicative of not being professional, but if it is, well, I’m happy to be unprofessional.

    The last several months I’ve been able to restock, I have my website and retail end all shipshape again, and had been planning to turn my attention to wholesale stuff after the first of the year – either stopping wholesaling altogether, or whipping it into shape – but now with this CPSIA stuff, there’s no point if I’m going to just close in August.

    I know that sounds like just a list of excuses, but it’s really more like reasons. This last year and a half has NOT been normal in my life.

  5. I used to drive a taxi. I made a lot of money doing it. I learned very early on to never drive someone to their destination if it was a route they drove themselves, say to their home from the airport, or from their home to work or vice versa. Everyone truly believes they drive the shortest route but they rarely do. Often people develop a route that is based on need -say going by the day care, or avoiding an intersection where they once had an accident or to avoid driving by an ex’s house- but as they become habituated to it, they fail to reorganize their strategy when their needs change. When I first started driving a cab, I drove the shortest route (ALWAYS, I’m ethical) but people would accuse me of the opposite because it wasn’t the way they drove. So, I learned to go their way and make more money. Any long time cab driver will always ask how to get to your destination for precisely this reason, they’ll make more money and they won’t be accused of ripping you off.

    What I’m going to say is going to sound like a whole lot of goobley-gook. A product review should be a fresh perspective on ways you’ve become habituated to working. Sometimes without realizing it, you’ve elevated a temporary workaround you needed to solve a problem into a standard operating procedure. People don’t realize they do this.

    A product review is a structured analysis according to established criteria from an uninterested third party with no axe to grind. Ideally, these are conducted by someone or a team of people who embody various perspectives. Such would include usability, durability (value), materials engineering, manufacturability, allocation (waste reduction) and industrial engineering (elimination of process waste). Like I said, people who are *most experienced* with their own product (the cab example) are often blinded by their own process.

    Product reviews are big business, many consultants charge thousands of dollars and the ones I’ve seen in apparel amount to a huge waste of money because few of these guys even know how to turn on a machine. You don’t have my book so you can’t read the example I wrote of in “The Big Dirty Secret” in which one consultant recommended solutions costing over ten million dollars. The solution I recommended didn’t cost them a penny and saved them 20% of their sewing costs on every unit they put together and the final result looked better and was higher quality.

    THIS IS THE THING THAT NO ONE UNDERSTANDS: a good product review will save you money. It should not cost you anything in equipment upgrades or whatever. A well targeted review will be pegged AT YOUR LEVEL, to get you to a higher level without incurring more costs. Of course suggestions should be provided as to how to invest those cost savings for future productivity increases. If someone is saying you need to spend X to get to Z, they are not truly appreciating the constraints of where you are, to get to where you need to be and more likely, have partnered with whatever business they’re recommending you spend money on to get their commission.

  6. That wasn’t gobbeldy gook at all, Kathleen, it makes perfect sense. I was thinking of the term “product reivew” in a much less in depth sense. And I would without reservation say that nearly everything I do here could use some looking at by someone disinterested and uninvolved! I am sure there’s LOTS of room for improvement.

    I’m probaby going to, at the very least, interlibrary loan your book. I didn’t know it existed until very recently and I always try to have one business-related book going at all times.

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