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.

Advertisement

Customer Service Challenges

I’ve had this post bouncing around in my head for a bit. I wasn’t sure if I should post it or not. But I think I will.

From time to time, a customer will contact me with a concern, challenge they’re facing, problem with a product or an order, etc. Some of these are cut-and-dried. Did I send the wrong thing? OK, I’ll send you the right thing. Is there some flaw with your product? Send it back and I’ll replace it and refund you shipping to me. Easy, right?

And some people are clearly just asking for suggestions. These types of emails usually start out with “Can you help me with this” or “I have a question” or “we’re having trouble with our prefolds” or whatever. I do the best I can to help out long-distance, suggesting nearly everything that comes to mind or asking more questions to try to determine what’s going on, etc.

But here’s the trouble spot. There’s a vast gray area in there. Emails where it seems evident from the language used that the customer is seeking reassurance, help, or suggestions, but what they really wanted was something else, like a refund or to return their item. Here’s where you, the customer, can really be helpful. If that’s what you want…say so! I cannot always do what you want, but when everyone communicates clearly, we can usually arrive at a compromise that satisfies everyone.

What prompted this was finding two different complaints about me online. It’s not that the complaints were not legitimate or truthful – both incidents happened exactly as described by the complainers. (One of them was from three years ago, one about a year ago.) But what got my blood pressure going was that I had no idea that either customer was dissatisfied with my responses to their inquiries. Both customers contacted me asking questions about their product, which I answered to the best of my ability. One was having fit problems, the other useage problems. Turns out, both had really wanted me to do something for them, but what it was they wanted remains a mystery – neither responded to my return emails.

So, please, if you want something from me that you’re not getting, it will only help things for you to come out and say what it is that you want. (This holds true for ALL complaints to businesses. If you’re dissatisfied with your hotel stay and decide to write to the manager, you’re much more likely to get resolution to your problem if you state clearly what you expect. Do you want an apology, or do you want your stay refunded? Pizza Hut delivers the wrong pizza and you call them – do you want them to drive you out a new pizza asap, or do you want a coupon for a free pizza in the future? Tell them, and you’re much more likely to get what you want. This is a basic of effective complaint-making.)

That doesn’t mean I’ll be able to give it to you, but at least we’ll both be able to discuss it fully without either of us having to guess at what might really be going on!

Craft Saturday Review – what I learned from my first craft show

 

 

I had fun getting ready for Craft Saturday. I made a bazillion things to take (too many), made myself a coat tree with about $8 worth of materials, made myself a nifty sign, priced and packed up all my stuff. The show was fun, despite the cold (outside and inside – I just couldn’t get warm), the small crowds, and the incredibly dark and dreary surroundings. It was very well-organized – kudos and thanks to Danelle and Joe, who do all the work to put it on. I’ll definitely be back.

I did also learn a lot from my first craft show experience.  I share that here, in the hopes that it helps someone else.

  • Do a trial run. I taped off a booth in my dining room, set up my table, did some arranging and rearranging. But I did forget that I’d have a lamp, and I also had already packed away some of my items, so when I arrived to set up at my actual location on Saturday, things were a bit different. I mean, it wasn’t a tragedy, but I wish I’d done a full-scale trial run.
  • Bring a buddy. I didn’t have a buddy for this event. I mean, Randy has to stay home with Wally. My mom can’t be out in the snow. My friends all have small children and are understandably reluctant to leave their families on a weekend. So I was all on my own for the afternoon. Got a little boring. I couldn’t really get up.
  • Bring a project. Not only was I able to knit to pass the time in between visitors (it was really really slow at times), but many visitors commented favorably on the knitting. I also found that people were likely to stay and browse longer if I merely looked up, said hi, made a comment about whatever they happened to be looking at, and then went back to my knitting. I was available if they needed me, but not staring at them. This also meshes well with how I like to shop. If the booth owner ignores me, I’m more likely to stay and browse than if they’re just staring at me while I check out their stuff.
  • Less is more. I had waaay too much stuff. I was actually just being optimistic. I left many things packed away, but I wanted to bring them in case I sold through the stuff I set out originally. ha ha. But still. way. too. much.
  • Labels and signs are important. The things I had labeled (I made little tent signs with a short description and the price of similar items that were grouped together) were the things that got looked at. The things that didn’t have signs did not get looked at.
  • Provide a logical progression through the booth. I lacked that, but many other booths had a good logical progression. I’ll have to fine-tune my set-up for the next time.
  • If you bring a mannequin, be sure to bring some clothes for her. I have never forgotten a shirt for Miss Inflatable, but I did this time, and she looked a little inappropriate. I was embarassed for her.

I did make money. I made back my booth fee as well as the cost of the materials for the coat tree, plus some. I think it was a success. I’ve taken note of what sold and what didn’t and am already planning some changes for next time.

Those of you who came out – thanks for braving the weather and the bad forecast! Those of you who didn’t – maybe we’ll see you in March??