Everybody's Got a Back Story. Mine involves Stationery, Gifts, and Lots of Color and Pattern!
If there is anything I have learned from starting, running and growing a business is that YOU MUST STICK TO YOUR CONVICTIONS. What do I mean by that?
Well, I talked to a lot of people before I went and reserved my spot at the Atlanta Gift Show. It is no small investment, so I wanted to make sure I was making a calculated, well-informed decision. I talked to other friends who had creative companies at the time. I talked to family. I talked to those who worked for family that had been attending trade shows for years. And what were the results? It varied. Some said you have to get into the best showroom; it's the only way to do it. Others said forget getting in a showroom. Your brand gets diluted because you are in with hundreds of other lines.
This revelation came through a phone call that I was so excited to take, and then, it turned out vastly different than what I had played out in my mind. After to speaking to all of "the people," I thought I had decided I needed to apply to the primo showroom. That would give me street creds and make everyone know I was legit. Sounded good at the time, and that is what I did. I applied to the top three. I sent in my samples, line sheets, pricing, and a letter of introduction. I heard back from 2 of the three which I was super excited about. Given that I really didn't have any retail customers or significant sales to show them, I thought, "wow, they are really giving me a shot!" I was so green, as they say.
So, Showroom #1 that I heard from gave me a list of things to do and said they would get back to me. Long story short--they didn't. Simultaneously, Showroom #2 said they want to schedule a conference to call to talk to me and to learn more about my product. I thought, "YES!!! This is it!"
The phone rang, I felt like I was going to be sick. This was my company's big moment right?
"Hello, this is the owner of Showroom #2," she said in a super raspy voice. (Obviously, she said her name and who she was with but I'd prefer not to give out this information here. You understand, right?)
"Oh, yes! I'm so glad you called."
"Well, we love your line, but there are some things that need to change."
"O....kay. Like what?"
"For starters, there are too many in a pack; I don't like the ribbon; they need to be in a box." (This was strike 1)
"Well, I can understand changing the quantity, but the reason I used the ribbon is the perceived value. It is meant to be a quick pick up gift, packaged and ready to use as a gift."
"That's fine, honey, (yes, she said, honey..in a NY accent) but I don't think that's gonna sell."
"Maybe, you could send over your paperwork, and I could begin working on it? Do you have a contract for exhibiting companies?"
"Oh, honey....no. no. no. We don't have a contract. We, women, have to stick together. We don't need a contract." (MAJOR strike #2)
So the count was full. She had one more shot,and honestly, after being on the phone with her I wasn't feeling super confident that she could hit it out of the park. The next thing I heard changed it all...
"And by the way, you need to get rid of ALL your Christian designs, those people never pay their bills." (It was if I could hear in my head my Dad in his umpire yell, "YOU'RE OUT!!!" That was 3 strikes).
"Oh, really. I haven't ever heard that before. That hasn't been..."
"OH HONEY, you have no idea; they say one thing with all that religion and then pay NOTHING! Besides that stuff doesn't sell."
"Okay, well thank you so much for your time." I was trying to give her the wrap up and was actually stunned, too, that what I had looked forward to went so severely sideways. "Let me think over everything you've told me."
"Fine, honey. We'll talk soon. Bye"
At that very moment, my husband walked through the door form work, and I told him emphatically, "There's no way I'm doing a showroom right away!"
He was surprised, but it only took 5 minutes for me to quickly recount the 3 strikes, and he said, "I think that's God allowing you to see, you can do this a different way."
So what are the 3 things I learned? Overall, it's about being true to what you believe--about your self, about your business, and about your purpose.
1. Take Creative Feedback Under Advisement
Some of the feedback we receive as creatives is really good. Some is terrible. As a business owner, you have to be able to discern; you have to be able to separate the wheat from the chaff. The Showroom 2 owner was right; I did need to package my products in different quantities. However, she was dead wrong about the packaging. In fact, that packaging was the trademark of our brand. It is what set us apart from all the others. Then slowly but surely, the longer we were in business, we started seeing others using more and more ribbon to package.
2. Always Get the Details in Writing
This really goes without saying, but if someone is not willing or is that unorganized that they can't commit the terms you work out to an agreement, then you may want to rethink working with them. No, you don't want to work with them. The agreement doesn't have to be an international treaty; it can be really simple. I hear there are sites that attorney drafted contract templates for creatives (wink wink), so there really no excuse!
3. NEVER ever Compromise Your Core Beliefs
I don't if it ever occurred to the Showroom Owner that the reason I had Christian products to sell is that I felt strongly about sharing my faith in a creative way. So, her comments were not just inaccurate about others; they were hurtful to me. What's more important is that it was such a red flag that I would have had to go against literally everything I believe to have been a part of that showroom. I just wasn't willing to compromise on that point. So that actually made my decision a little easier.
Of course, there is so much more to this story! Next week I'll talk a bit about advantages of going it on your own and how that affects branding. Stay tuned for more tales of how I got from there to here along with #wit and #wisdom for #creatives.