The current situation at Wallypop

As of Monday, August 26, we’re back open and running as normal.

Our 1 year old, Teddy, was born with kidney failure. On July 18, 2013, he received a kidney transplant, and was discharged from the hospital 3 weeks later, on August 5. His recovery is going well, though there are a LOT of ups and downs. We visit the local hospital once a week for labs, and drive the 2 hours to his hospital once a week for an appointment with his nephrologist (which takes essentially the entire day).

I’ve learned from other moms of toddler kidney transplant recipients that we should expect at least one admission this first year, probably a few. Because of his high level of immunosuppression, he will be admitted for any fever this first year, as well as for any number of other things. I can’t predict these admissions, and we will continue to work under the caveat that I may have to close things down briefly with very little notice.

Please order with confidence! As always, I have contingency plans in place for sudden hospitalizations, and I’m not going to run off with your money. I try my best to stay in contact with customers whose orders end up in limbo, and I have friends who can come in and complete your orders if needed.

Teddy’s medical needs are still such that a considerable part of my day is spent doing things with him that “regular” toddlers just don’t need – on top of all the regular toddler stuff.  I’m still working reduced hours compared to my normal schedule, and keeping slightly lower inventory levels.

I process and mail orders once a week (usually over the weekend). I try to answer emails and phone calls two or three times a week.

Please do not ever feel bad about emailing, calling, asking me to make something for you, or placing a special order. That’s why I’m open! Wallypop supports my family and helps pay our mortgage. (It’s considerably less help these days than it used to be, with my reduction in hours, but it is still a help!) When you buy from Wallypop, you’re helping out our family – and we greatly appreciate it!

Testing…. 1, 2, 3 Part II

Alright, so we’ve covered WHY we might want to run a testing program, now let’s talk about HOW.

Ideally, your product development has gone something like this so far:

  1. Get a good idea
  2. Draft a few patterns, sew up some samples, try them out
  3. Change your pattern, sew up a sample, try it out
  4. Change your pattern, sew up a sample, try it out
  5. Settle on a pattern you like well enough, sew up several for yourself using the same materials you plan to use for your “for sale” products, use them for a little while. Abuse them. Wash them in the harshest conditions you can imagine. Drop them. Drag them on the ground. Whatever is appropriate (or, inappropriate) to your product.
  6. Evaluate.
  7. Make any necessary changes.
  8. Sew up a few more and give them to a few friends. Get feedback.
  9. Make any necessary changes.

At this point, you’ve got a product that you’re happy with, that has been satisfactory for you and for a few other people who know and like you. You’re using materials that have held up well to your use. You’re ready to market them!

Right?

WRONG!

This is when you implement your testing program.

Step One: Stop and Think

First, you need to decide who you want to market your product to and what you want to learn from your testing. This will tell you who you want to test your items, and what you need to ask them. It behooves you to take a bit of time and really think through exactly what you’re doing. A haphazard testing program just costs you money and doesn’t provide you with the feedback you need – what a waste!

Take some time to write out who your product is for, how you think you might market it, who you believe will be the main purchasers, how they will use the product, and under what conditions. Write out what you are hoping to learn from the testing. Are you concerned about quality of materials? Comparison to competitors? Fit? Looks? Care? Sizing?

Step Two: Find Testers

My first official “product” that I ever tested was pocket diapers. (I had been selling fitteds for a while before this.) I wanted to know about fit, sizing, materials, and design, but mostly I wanted to know if my diapers compared well to the (few, at the time) others available. Considering this, I wanted to solicit completely random cloth diaper users. I didn’t want someone new to cloth, because I didn’t want inexperience to color their evaluation. But I didn’t necessarily need to screen any more than that, because I wanted a good mix of families who had experience with other pocket diapers, and families who had never tried pockets before.   Some number of years ago, I tested out my Cycle Pads. Not thinking clearly enough, I didn’t screen my testers sufficiently the first go-round, and ended up with a lot of mamas who had never used cloth pads before. The feedback I received was mostly about the experience of using cloth pads, not about the pads themselves. (It was interesting and ended up being useful, as well – but it wasn’t what I was looking for.)

If you’re working on a major improvement or change to a current product, maybe you want to ask current users of that product. If you’re working on a new design of a baby carrier, you might want only families who currently wear their babies in a similar carrier. Alternatively, maybe you want to market your product to families who are not initially attracted to the idea of babywearing, so you want to solicit more mainstream parents. If you’re working on a preemie size diaper, that will obviously affect who you will want to ask.

Now that you know who you want to test your products, you need to find those people. Fortunately, the internet makes this REALLY easy. Unless you’re going to work from your current customer database, you can simply find an acceptable parent-based message board, define what sort of people you’re looking for, and take your pick of the volunteers.

Try to clearly define for your testers – BEFORE you send the product – what you will want from them. Are you going to ask that they use it a certain number of times, for a certain length of time, under certain conditions, etc.? Will they have a survey to fill out, or do you just want freeform feedback? Do they need to pay for the product?

Step Three: Decide Your Policy

Are you going to have your testers pay for their products? The first time I tested a product, I did not have testers pay for the item. 50% of my testers took the free diaper and ran. Yep. Now I have people pay, but a drastically reduced fee – typically enough to cover shipping and at least partially cover the expense of the materials used in the item, so that if they don’t uphold their end of the bargain and provide the feedback they promised, I at least am not entirely out the money that it cost me to get them the product.

I know of some companies who refund the testers’ money after receiving sufficient feedback. And I know of many WAHMs who charge full price for tester diapers, as well.

Step Four: Mail, Wait

Obviously, at this point, you send them the product, then give them a chance to use it. A perfect time to work on…

Step Five: The Survey

What do you want to know? Personally, I always like to provide space to first tell me anything they want to tell me about the product. I always ask for age, gender, and weight of the child, and age, gender, and size of the parent if relevant. Then start on the specifics. What did you think of the fit? Did you like the fasteners? Were there enough options? How does this product compare with others you’ve tried? What brand/type do you usually use? If you could change 3 things, what would you change? What were your 3 favorite things about this? How did it hold up in the laundry? (and how did you wash?) What did you think of the absorbency? If you could choose between the item you tested and a similar item that was purple and made of fairy dust, which would you prefer?

You don’t want to overwhelm your testers, so pick the questions that are most important to you. Keep it to 2 pages with space to write.

I prefer to email surveys out about 2 weeks after the products were mailed out, but I have also printed off the surveys in hard form and included with the products. Some people use the free online survey programs.

Step Six: Evaluate

Hopefully, your testers were painfully honest with you.

Even so, there is usually some reading between the lines. “We had leaking both times we used it overnight, but I really loved it!!”  Focus on “we had leaking” and not so much on “loved it.” They’re telling you there is a problem.

“Never used anything like this before, but it seemed ok.” They’re telling you that they have no basis for comparison, and so they’re not really sure what they think. (think: if you’d never had a vacation before, and then someone took you to… I don’t know… a 3 day BINGO tournament for a vacation, would you think this was pretty OK?)

There are also, of course, outliers. (no, not somebody lying. Look it up.) If most testers said it held up well in the laundry, but one person said it fell apart… it’s probably something unique to that person’s experience. It bears looking into, but doesn’t spell doom for your product. And if one person said they loved the fit, but 20 people said it had big gaps at the legs… probably that one person was the exception, not the rule.

So, bearing those things in mind, read the feedback and take an honest look – do you need to make changes to your product?

Step Seven: Adjust

If you’ve made major changes as a result of your feedback, go back and start this process all over. If not, then proceed to selling your product. Ask your testers if you may use their comments in your marketing, and brag up how awesome your item is!

Testing…. 1, 2, 3…

I am right now testing out a few new products, and will have a few more to test in the coming year (hopefully). It’s been a while since I’ve tested new products, so as I was getting things all ready to go out to the testers, I did a quick internet search to see how the kids are running their testing programs these days.I was surprised (and somewhat appalled) to find that most of the links that Google brought up were to discussions of fellow WAHMs talking about how they don’t bother with testing. “Oh, I sent a diaper to my sister to use and she liked it, and I like it, so it must be OK.”   “I already know my diapers are great, so why would I go to the trouble or expense of testing?” “Testing? What?”  Oy.

So, why do we test new products and what makes a good testing program?

Part I of this series will focus on why we test new products.

New product testing is important for a number of reasons.

1. Maybe you’re the only one who likes your item. Ever thought about that? I have several things I’ve made for our family that work for us and that we like, but other people look at and are mostly puzzled. Sending out your item to a variety of people can at least serve as a screening process before you invest more time and money in your product.

2. Your products get stronger with more feedback. Sure, YOU like your diaper (or whatever). You’ve (hopefully) worked diligently on a pattern that suits you perfectly and used materials you like and you’ve (again, hopefully) enjoyed a few months of successful use. But you are one person, and you are using your diaper on, usually, just one or two kids. Even if you hand diapers out to a few friends, that’s still a REALLY small group – and one that is likely to be of a similar mindset. You want a wide variety of people trying out your items.

3. Verification of size ranges. Let’s face it – most of us WAHMs are just guessing about size ranges on our diapers. (gasp) Testing helps firm up those guesses.

4. Learn of potential major issues before they become a really big deal. The absorbent pad in your all in ones turns into a damp ball in the dryer. Your diaper works great on your skinny kids, but cuts off circulation to the legs in chubbier kids. The straps on your MT start to wear after only 2 times thru the washer. The stitching is uneven, and though you didn’t think it would be a big deal… everyone else notices it.  You only get one time to make a good impression with most customers – testing will help make sure you don’t blow it.

Pitfalls you can avoid through adequate testing:

– Finding out through customer feedback that your PUL delaminates after about 5 washes. Yikes. I know a WAHM who had this happen, and she ended up having to contact everyone who’d purchased from her and refund their money. That is NOT a situation you want to have happen, and it could have been prevented with good testing.

– Deciding, based on customer feedback, that you need to make adjustments to your pattern just a few months after you start selling your item. Yes, all WAHMs seem to be in a near-constant state of product improvement, and that is a GOOD thing. But realizing that you need to change your pattern so soon is a problem. Ideally, you want to be changing your patterns because you thought of something even better… not because you’re getting negative feedback about fit.

– Learning that your diaper just doesn’t measure up to the other products already available.

– so, so many more

The next post in this series will talk about how to design an effective testing program.

Balancing Family and Home Business

Though I’ve written about this in the not too distant past, I had the opportunity to speak with a local MOPS group about working from home earlier this week, and wanted to take a minute to talk about how we make it work at our house.

Wallypop currently takes about 30 hours a week total. This includes order processing time, sewing, inventory management, paperwork, regulatory requirements, cursing the government re: regulatory requirements, accounting, email, etc. Generally, this does not include blogging or Facebook time – I tend to do that stuff during odd moments during the day.

That’s a lot of time, but it doesn’t really seem like it most weeks.

Mornings are breakfast then homeschooling. Genna plays or reads or draws or sits on my lap during this time, and I do things like wash the dishes (by hand, we do not have a dishwasher) and clean in that week’s designated “zone” (a la Flylady) during his work-alone times. We pick up as we go, so we don’t end up with a lot of just “stuff” scattered about.

Whenever we finish school, we make a snack for the afternoon and fix lunch and start dinner (if it’s Tuesday or Thursday, which are my days for dinner). And then we head downstairs, usually by 1. I work until 4 or 5. I take breaks as needed. I emphasize to the kids that they need to get along. They play, usually nicely. Sometimes not so nicely. Sometimes one or both stays upstairs. Wally takes pretty good care of his sister, most of the time. Sometimes, nobody gets along and both kids actually try to annoy each other on purpose and those days are super fun.

Evenings are for family time. Weekends are for family time. With my two exceptions: a half day each weekend is for working, and Thursday night is for working.

We also try to do some sort of activity each week (like the zoo or the science center or something fun at home) and we generally spend one afternoon and evening a week with friends.

As far as emotional balance… some weeks, it’s harder than others. Some weeks I feel like I’m failing at everything, and some weeks it seems like I’m super awesome at everything. Some times, I worry that all my kids are going to remember from their childhood is mommy sewing, or mommy on her computer. (But I know plenty of parents who do not work from home who could say the same thing!) Some weeks, I am more patient than others. Some weeks, I can

Also? Someone asked at the MOPS meeting if the kids help. I am afraid my answer sounded less than charitable, so now I feel the need to explain. No, my kids don’t help with Wallypop. Wally does do most of the chores for Boulevard Farm, and he asks on occasion to help with Wallypop stuff, but he’s just not quite old enough at this point. I honestly can’t come up with a way for him to help in any meaningful way that wouldn’t result in my needing to go back and double check.

He’s 7. I can send him to go brush his teeth and get dressed, and it’s a 50/50 shot whether he comes back dressed and with clean teeth. So, packing orders? Not so much. He’s not great at cutting. I have no confidence that he’d put the shipping labels on straight. He just needs another year or two. (And he is learning to sew, but obviously he won’t be helping in that sense for a LONG time.)

Genna wants to help mama at the sewing machine. And I try to discourage this. Not only because it’s uncomfortable for me (particularly with this big belly!), but because it becomes a safety issue. She wants to help hold the fabric as I sew, and she wants to push the buttons on the machine (I have a button for needle down, and I have a button for Cut Thread). MOST of the time, she’s really good about keeping her hands away from the needle. But her little hands are so fast and she doesn’t realize the danger involved. I just don’t want to see her get her little finger caught. (Also, there’s the fact that her help at this point just slows me down. I am happy to have the kids helping/slowing things down with just about anything else – cooking, cleaning, folding laundry, whatever – but I’d really rather get the working finished up so that we can move on to activities that they will actually enjoy more.)

So that’s how we do it. Working at home looks different for each family, and working at home has looked different for our family over the years. I’m sure this whole plan here will change once this new baby comes, but I”m confident we’ll figure it out and settle into yet another new normal.

Somebody Asked: About Discounts

“I’m buying for twins, what kind of a discount can you give me?”  “I’d like to buy several of the same thing, but I want to know what the price will be first.”

I hear these questions a lot. While I’ve considered changing my policy on discounts like this from time to time, I currently still do not offer package discounts for most situations, beyond the Packages offered on the website.

Here’s why:  I work hard to keep my retail prices low so that they are affordable to all families. (more on that here) I know many resale shops and major manufacturers offer discounts on buying packages of 6-12 of the same diapers, or discounts to those buying diapers for twins, but those shops and manufacturers, by and large, are working with a much higher markup than I am. For some major brands of diapers, the retail markup is double. The diaper the retail store sells you for $20 cost the them just over $10, and cost the manufacturer just $5 or less. They have some margin there to work with.

My margin is much, much smaller. For one, though I buy my supplies wholesale, I don’t buy them in nearly the same quantities as, say, bumGenius. For two, all of my items are made by hand from start to finish. I don’t have a cutting machine. I don’t have an army of workers. I don’t have a factory, overseas or domestically.

If I wanted to open up the possibility of offering discounts for purchases of 10-12 diapers at a time, I’d actually need to raise my regular retail prices, in order to offer the less expensive price to only a few select customers. (So the discount price of our regular instock fitteds would be $9.99, but the regular retail price would have to go up to $13.99 or so, in order to make this “discount” happen. That’s not much of a discount, is it?)

Instead, I opt to offer the lowest price I can to ALL of my customers. I think you will agree that, particularly for their high quality, Wallypop diapers are already at the low end of the cost spectrum. Compare our $12.99 MTO hemp fitted to a Happy Hempy at around $18, for example.

It’s rare that, after I explain this to someone who’s just asked for a discount, that they go ahead and make a purchase. People don’t like being told no. But I cannot, in good conscience, raise my prices for everyone else in order to offer a special discount to just a few customers.