Monday, December 29, 2014

Celebrating A Year of Entrepreneurial-Ville: Part Two - Lessons & Highlights Along The Way.

January 2014
December 2014

What exactly has happened in this Great Year of Solopreneurhood?

Well here is a story of what I have learned.

First of all, I know why I waited.  I wanted to have the nest egg to take the leap.  You know, the Suze Orman Concept.  And the one thing I can say to anyone out there wanting to make the leap themselves…absolutely the Suze Orman Concept makes it easier…but ask yourself: how long will that take?

For me, no matter what job I took, part-time or full-time, assistant or manager, I never seemed to be able to do more than cover the month at hand.  I think this became a Catalyst in my Launching.  If working as diligently as I was, especially in New York where I didn't have the luxury of space or gorgeousness of Maui, well, if all I am going to do is barely survive then why not attempt to survive off of me?

I prayed long about this.  I kept waiting to hear God’s voice in my ideas.  And I did hear God.  Ever so subtly I felt a voice saying: “I keep telling you to trust Me…why won’t you trust Me?”

I am a Taurus as well as an Irish/Mexican.  So yes, I am, indeed, quite stubborn.  This can be a good thing and a curse as well.  I felt strong in my conviction…The Market NYC was the perfect place for me to Launch.  I didn't get completely positive feedback from others who were in the Market, even some who sold the same things as I was going to sell.  I finally got in and then got feedback that my prices were too high.  But they weren't.  After 2+ years working inside a hat shop in the city I knew my prices were competitive, if not a little lower as the setting was not an actual “shop”.

But I trusted that I knew how to sell hats.  I am actually quite great at selling handmade hats.  And yet there was truth in the feedback I had received.  Unfortunately the Market itself had numerous vendors underselling themselves.  I then joined that club.

**Note: this is a Key Lesson in what NOT to do.

But I did it.  I spent the winter hand-sewing roses out of felt, hand appliquéing wool cherry blossoms onto more wool for ear warmers and then hawking these time consuming items for $35 and under.  They weren't flying off the shelf like a hot cake.  But they did sell, however, they didn't help me at all.

I found myself selling high quality fur felt hats for $100…when the supplies themselves cost me $45!  I was getting depressed, scared, and so frustrated.  I was blocking hats at night at home after an 8 hour day and 2 hour commute, then sewing them in the morning before leaving, and then “cheaping” myself out along the way.

**Note: Key Lesson – TRUST YOUR VALUE!  If you don’t no one will.

Spring came and I put out my new collection and I priced them where they “should” be.  Crazy me in the so-called basement of the Market with hats at $225-$250 for Spring.  But guess what?  They sold and they sold well!  The people could see the quality, appreciated the whimsy, and bottom line…they were My Peeps!  When My Peeps showed up, it was never a question about price.  However, I was still downstairs, and as quaint as I had made my shop, I wasn't seeing all My Peeps.

I did however, at this point decide to bring the sewing machine to the shop.  Brilliant move!  Next came the steamer and within weeks I was doing ALL the production on site and my bedroom became a bedroom for the first time in many years.

Summer came and I was offered an Opportunity.  The front space of the Market at the Front Door! 

My "shop" on the left half...about the size of a twin bed. 

This was a teensy space but was the very first space seen to everyone who walked in.  Also it was a window into the Market giving me a NYC store front exposure.  This opportunity also came with a large price tag, larger than any tag I have ever paid for in a month.  But I leaped nevertheless.

This was a great decision in hindsight, though it was the most stressful thing I did all this year.  On the positive I streamlined everything.  I polished up everything I was doing.  I became uber organized and really did get an audience with anyone who loved hats.

I raised my prices.  They were still competitive with the prices of handmade millinery.    But I also lowered my value on a side line of hats and accessories to be competitive with the ever present $20 crowd at the market.  I “thought” that this was a good move, purchasing in bulk some hair accessories, changing them up into little party style hats and then putting them out for $20 and into a little box when then sold.

**Truly again one of the bigger lessons I learned.  What NOT to do!

It didn't matter that the “supplies” to make these were so low, or that I was doing them production style, the bottom line was I was doing these and my time and value are worth more.  Hats aren't hot cakes.  They aren’t.  They are a specific taste for a specific person.  They are not jewelry.  So these $20 items did sell but it was just as much effort to sell them as it was to sell a $200 hat.  Truly.  Because the person interested in the $20 item wasn’t really a hat person so I had to go through the entire list of where to wear a hat, how to wear it, and so on.  It was a lot of effort.  And how was I making any profit?  Offering a hat box that cost me about $2 was ridiculous.  And yet that was often the selling feature….again, because these were NOT hat peeps.


**The Most Important Lesson I Learned This Year:  FIND YOUR PEEPS!  Then it is a breeze!

I know the difference between this lower end line and my actual line of hats, but I also know that if I have created something, the value needs to be there.  They were and are worth more than I was letting them be.  I raised everything up to $40.  I doubled their value.  And yes, they still don’t fly off the shelf, but they were never going to.  However, the effort involved in selling them to a non-hat person (I consider these often starter hats for non-hat people who really want to be hat people)…well it’s worth $20 extra dollars.  And the value of these are absolutely worth what I have priced them at.

Sure it would be great to have a $20 item in my shop as most vendors do have something in the price range, but I cannot make something for $20 and I do not want to carry something that has no purpose besides being $20.  It has to make sense for my business and my shop.

As well, paying an exorbitant amount of rent to be front and center was a lesson in itself. When I looked at the numbers, yes, I made more sales, BUT I paid out so much money to be there I made no profit and completely sunk.   For me, for my type of business, paying that much in rent makes sense “if” it is a brick and mortar shop where it is a controlled environment specifically for handmade millinery, where I can have my price points match  what I do.  Paying that much to be in a craft fair setting where most vendors are underselling their wares, I simply couldn’t compete.  I totally sunk.

But the market itself offered me a new space.  Back downstairs to a space that no one ever made money in.  Right at the bottom of the stairs.  Remember, I had spent over half a year downstairs and watched this space turn over and over and each time be a big fail for the occupant.  Why?  Well, being at the foot of the stairs, you may draw people down but they would immediately walk past and go to the vendors farther in.  At least that was what I had seen.

I had mass reservations about this move.  But it was either make this move or move out of The Market NYC completely, and where would I go?  I had to look at all the possibilities here.  The factor that made this seem “okay” was a storage area under the staircase that came along with this odd store space.  I say odd because it was one long narrow wall of shelves with no real area for the vendor to sit and be, let alone work in.  And for me, I had to work while there.

Aaaaah….but I am amazing at taking unused small spaces and turning them into penthouses!  I’ve made bedrooms out of closets, lived a year and a half on a 36 foot boat with my BFF and a cat, turned a former wood workshop into a home and studio…I see space and  make it work!  And wow, oh wow, I made this one work!

Bam!  Studio!  It also helped my inner self as well.  Here I was moving from the front door, prime spot (because I couldn’t make it there), going back down to the so-called basement… I so could have felt like a total failure surrounded by a sea of vendors watching me.  But instead I was gaining a studio!  And I was saving over a $1000 a month!  This would prove to be the wisest decision I made for the year!

And guess what?  My business has soared since I made the move.  I am now doing better than I have ever done, getting repeat customers, continual custom orders, my prices have matched the quality of work I am doing, my peeps are finding me, I can be seen from all levels of the market floors, I have a wonderful studio where I have space to work and create, I feel balanced, and when I did my numbers for the year…my sales hit well into the 5 figure club.  That was amazing!

I end this first year of Entrepreneurship more savvy than when I started.  I know my peeps, I know my market, I know what people want, I have trust in myself and my taste, I know how I can  improve, and I definitely am trusting God much more.

I got this.

Goals for the New Year:

. Consider a wholesale line and if so, do a trade show in May with my first collection being a Fall/Winter collection.
. Move into my own apartment sans housemates. 
. Come up with a great marketing plan to get my Peeps to know I am here.
. Really tap into the Horse Race Circuit because, Darling, THOSE ARE MY PEEPS!
. Take a trip to London and France… because those are my Peeps too!

Happy Brand New Year! 

To YOUR Dreams!!! 


Celebrating A Year of Entrepreneurial-Ville: Part One - What Took You So Long?

20+ years in the making it took me to take The Great Step.  I have taken many Leaps along the way, many attempts, and 3 years ago I took The Biggest Leap towards this goal, leaping off of my comfortable- large open space in the beautiful countryside neighborhood of Haiku, Maui, Hawaii to do precisely what I am  doing now in New York City.  (I might add now in a small, non-private setting in da Bronx and Greenwich Village…but I’ll get to that part later).

The journey is Life-Long.  The story is volumes in the making and I want this tale to be more pared down to the “juice” of 2014.  But it is all important.  Each step I have taken, each choice I have made along the way…that is what makes up The Story of My Life just as each step and choice you have made makes up Your Story.

Recently I had a fellow Milliner ask me “why” it took me so long to take “The Step” (so to speak).  At the time, walking in cold weather with a large group, I couldn’t really give an answer.  But it got me thinking…”Why?”

But as I reflected, I realized that as many Leaps as I take, and as much as friends and family might think I am flighty, definitely a free-spirit, a “struggling” artist (I often hear), and so on…I am only one of those things.  Proudly a Free Spirit and I am ever thoughtful in each and every step I have taken.

Why has it taken so long?  Well, I guess I would say, at this point...

      1. It’s been a skill gathering journey and I now possess the skills I needed to reach the goal.
      2. There has been some deep inner fear, so deep that I couldn’t quite see The Path to follow.  NYC is a BIG place and as much as I wanted to be here...could I survive or more importantly...thrive!  It scared me deeply.

In the end what scared me more was staying in precisely the same place “sort-of” living my passion as a side kick.  That ended up scaring me so greatly that I HAD to Leap.  I had to give myself the chance to fail, frankly.

When I moved to NY I had just been offered unemployment for the first time ever in my working life (working since 15yrs. old).  

The last (non-millinery) job I had was as a manager of a family run country store.  There I was ordering and selling gasoline, beer, cigarettes, veggies, Levis, feed, and canned goods, dealing with scheduling of the employees, hiring, being expected to solve all the issues… that was God fully at work in my life preparing me for My Destiny.

The environment was perfect.  In my neighborhood, working with friends and people I had known for what seemed like forever, working for the best boss I ever had (besides myself of course) and what I realized from this experience is that I was being trained” for the back-end of the Business World.  Skills that seemed so far away from my Dreams were actually going to be of such superb value soon enough.

When the business sold and I found myself on unemployment I knew I had to take the chance and GO NOW to NYC or never, ever go.  And so I did.

There was still more skill learning to take on.  And once again I found myself working for someone else but at least this time…in my desired field.  I found myself blessed within 3 days of arriving working for an established Milliner in the East Village.  All the missing skills became clear.  I had 20+ years of experience creating hats under my belt but this final Master Course was truly my Doctorate in preparing me for my current life. 

And as any course or school, it came at great expense to my spirit.  Incredibly humbling and often frustrating, I found myself working harder than ever and STILL struggling.  But that “struggle” became my greatest Ally.  It pushed me to realize that I can take this chance…because every Leap is just that…A Chance.

I had 20+ years of preparation…I had the Skills I needed, learned from every side job I had along the way.  I had been a maître d’ from 15 yrs. old at 4 star restaurants, I had been dealing with high end clientele since the very beginning.  I had allowed myself the gift of Free-Spirited-Ness as I found my Artist and, more importantly, my confidence as I painted and sold my wares in swap meets, craft fairs, and eventually the Venice boardwalk. 

back in the day!

I became a commercial set painter where I learned to work long hours and became very skilled at being precise and fast.  I had worked as a faux painter and muralist where I learned the language that put people’s trust in me to create artwork permanently in their homes and businesses.  I had worked at a winery where I learned how to sell without any pressure, just being me (one of the Best Skills I have ever learned).  Learned the back-end of business as a manager for that beloved little Haiku country store.  And finally learned the technical hat making skills and how a hat shop functioned and ran.

My tool belt was loaded!

But what really was the “nudge” off the edge of The Great Cliff was my Father’s end of his journey.  This was 2 years ago now.  It affected me greatly and in the most positive way.  I had no issue leaving my job at the hat shop to go to the aid of my family as my Dad dealt with finding out he had stage 4 untreatable cancer.  It wasn’t even a decision that I had to make.  It was as natural as breathing.  My Dad going into hospice meant I was going to be with him, period.  No position is more important than spending the last months of my Father’s life with him, partnering up with my Mother so she didn’t have to do this journey alone.  And certainly I was struggling anyways financially as I worked for someone else in my “field of choice”.  I was, however, ever grateful that my boss understood that I needed to go.  I was gone for about 3 months.

When my Dad passed and I knew my Mom was settled, I headed back.  I still, gratefully, had a job but my hours and income were basically cut in half.  Businesses had to run nevertheless, and I understood.   Again another Ally in my Journey.  Because I was now with less hours and less monthly money it all became clear.

Whatever am I staying here for?  I don’t want to grow someone else’s business.  I don’t want to work for someone else.  I don’t want to be under someone’s ideas of what they are willing to let me do or not.  And what of Life anyhow?  Once it is over, it is over.   What am I waiting for?

Honestly, Katherine, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?

I did two things.  Two things I had ALWAYS wanted to do and was “afraid” that I couldn’t do.

First, I took my tax refund and went to Paris!  Ten days, by myself, in a foreign country, in a studio apt I found, where I didn’t speak the language and I had…the most amazing, marvelous time.  And I went knowing that when I came back…oh…it was ON!

And once I returned, I gave a healthy notice to my job.  If I am going to fail then let me fail.  I will at least know I gave it my best.

And with (I think) about $300 and (I thought) 3 holiday fairs lined up (turned out only 2)…I launched.  Because I had misread the fine print regarding the fair I thought I had booked, I started off already going under.  I knew where I wanted to set up my 1st shop.  A venue called The Market NYC.  

It would only take $180 to get started but missing that extra fair meant I had to wait…and wait…well, really I only had to wait about 3 weeks longer than I had wanted, but that is 21 days in NYC without a job, hoping to sell enough to actually take that step.

But I got there.  I stepped in.

And that is where the story now brings me.

My next post tells the tale of  

What exactly has happened in this Great Year of Solopreneurhood?