The game starts: We're the new contestants in the game called "Make your business survive COVID-19. 85% of our revenue that we were banking on vanishes and we're forced to start something from scratch to stay alive. We are the contestants starting a brand new game.
Develop a viable concept and launch it in 24 hours: You realize that what you normally do isn't going to help you be the winning contestant so you need to figure out what will. We knew people like t-shirts but didn't need them, hence for the first time ever our sales fall off completely. What did they need? Masks! We developed a ***Singular*** mask prototype, took **3** photos, launched it online within 2 hours and had no idea what truly would come from it. That night we had hundreds of mask sales. That week we approached thousands. It only kept climbing and we had to figure it out.
Your concept works! But if you give up, the next contestant is going to out-win you so how do you keep going? Okay so we had a prototype that people liked enough to dish their maybe not so abundant money out for. But now we had to deliver. We aren't seamstresses by trade! Hardly by hobby even! But people bought these and people need these-like these could be the difference between life and death for some. We were faced with thousands of orders-we knew this was our ticket to being saved, but we had to be careful about how we would get there. Time is not on our side but somehow we have to still perform in a way that we do in the normal business that we have spent 10 years building.
Figure out how to scale it. It's not just about making one-now you need to meet the demand. But like, say Beyonce-we all have the same amount of hours in a day so how do 2 individuals accommodate to thousands of masks sold without much of any sewing experience?! We stepped back, recruited through our network-found sewers that were out of work desperately fighting to keep all they have worked for as well. We maximized our strengths, put the grunt work in ourselves and recruited people who are better than us to help us with our concept. All in a matter of two freaking days.
Well it can't all be smooth sailing! Here's an added twist! You need to dodge a virus-if you aren't cautious you could literally die. If you work near people, you could get infected, not be able to run your business and die. We were faced with the decision to operate under the most unusual circumstances where we are mandated by the government to shelter in place at your home. We are not allowed by law to open but all of our bills are still due as if we were operating as normal but that's the furthest from the truth. But now we are faced with more demand in a short period of time but the only way we can operate is if we run our business from our home, away from help. It's all up to Tanner & I.
Another added twist! You know like on survivor how they will suddenly switch up the teams to make it interesting? Well it kind of felt like that when our landlords raised our rent on us in the middle of a worldwide pandemic as we break our backs sewing masks for 15 hours a day to fund their construction projects-with our money-that we now have to pay more for because they feel as though the new amenities are something they can charge us for (I'm not kidding). And yes, they have the power to raise our common area maintenance fees whenever they choose, no we do not think it's remotely okay and yes it makes us question parts of humanity. But we must keep going.
You don't have time to think about the barriers attempting to deter you, you must move forward. Even though we are pissed and hurt and saddened by someone kicking us while we're down, we have no choice but to keep moving forward. So we do. We have to keep moving forward and keep our eye on the prize-financial stability regardless of what it takes to get there. It's survival and we need to make that work.
Then you get hit again, little daggers through the entire game. But you must move forward. You must stop and spend 2 hours of every day responding to customer inquiries because you aren't moving fast enough. When you want to fall over and crash, you can't-you still have 800 unfulfilled masks in your que and 45 unread customer emails wondering why their order is taking so long. You haven't eaten much because there is no time to enjoy or put the effort in to eating or even grocery shopping.
You get a win! The city of Denver gives us an official letter stating that we can operate without the fear of getting fined. We can get people back in our shop safely to help us. We get that added boost of confidence and motivation to keep on moving forward.
But you aren't there just yet. We have received many wins, but many daggers. But now we're getting tired. We're on survivor and we have run out of the rice we were supplied with but still have various challenges and games ahead of us before that steak dinner. We want to stop and stand still for a second, but if we do-the other contestants (or our bills that are still due with no relief) will out run us and we won't make it until the end.
You know your'e getting close to the end but you aren't there yet. This is where we are right now. We feel proud of our accomplishments but are still on guard with all of the potential plot twists around the corner. We can't get that steak dinner just yet but we feel close. We feel proud of the financial accomplishments that have given us the stability to at least sleep at night but we aren't out of the woods just yet. We haven't received many breaks or really any relief at all so our fate remains in our hands. We must keep going despite the exhaustion and mental turmoil because our entire livelihood is on the line if we don't
The end reward. We wish we were at this part of the game and that, like Survivor we would be receiving our million dollar check for successfully completing the challenge. That's unfortunately not the reality here-but we've got our own level of rewards. And shit, we'll take it. Hopefully next series can focus on this.
This past month has made us feel like we're contestants on a game show. It's just not nearly as fun.
In the time since I wrote about how we came about launching our face masks a lot and a whole lot of nothing has changed around HQ at the same time.
We're now 2 months in navigating significant change through COVID-19 and it truly feels like we're living through a not so ideal dream. My life as a business owner has always been a pretty wild roller coaster but nothing truly compares to this time. I mean every day is full of immense ups and downs. One moment we're happy and excited, the next we feel exhaustion, then defeat, then sadness, then thankfulness and truly everything in between.
The day we anxiously launched our Desert Collection, about a week after this storm truly hit, I was approached by a friend of ours who owns Great Escape Media about a really cool project her and local Denver videographer, Sean O'Neil were scheming up. They set a goal and worked so many pro bono hours to create a video highlighting what it's truly been like running a business through COVID-19. I was truly honored to tell our story (P.S. the production quality is so great, they crushed it and I hope you will watch it). The first, and what I thought only interview was the day of our Desert Launch. The week leading up to it was one of the toughest I've faced since we started. If they had asked me to speak about this a few days prior, I don't think I could've pulled it together. Luckily, through the strength of the support of our Desert Collection, I was feeling hopeful and was ready to do the interview.
They spent about a month interviewing local Denver business owners of all sorts. You can see the inner turmoil and defeat but you can also appreciate the moments of hope and light at the end of this because our community is tough as nails.
There was one thing that really stuck out to me that I have been referencing often that one of the business owners said in the video. I won't take credit for it but I do want to speak about how it relates to us.
The owner of Denver based T/aco states: "It's like we're all on a game show-come up with a brand new concept that must be launched in 24 hours."
At first I kind of laughed but then I was like-holy wow this truly does feel like that.
First, to give you context, we have been teaching ourselves and learning from those around us for 10 years to be able to run the business we do as smoothly as we have. A well run business with quality products takes time. Like lots of time and patience. We have always been adamant about creating systems, refining those systems and then training others to help run those systems.
We have spent 10 years perfecting the art of screen printing so that now we can whip up quality products at a fast pace.
Have you ever heard someone say that it can't all happen overnight? Whether it's your business, your career, your whatever-It just doesn't happen overnight, it's just not how it works. Practice makes perfect.
But somehow we launched, built and scaled what feels like an entirely new business manufacturing face masks overnight.
We went against everything we believe in and have trained ourselves to do. And that shit worked.
Here's our gameshow:
The difference between our experience and a game show?
Most game shows have an end goal in sight and a prize at the end. You hit the end of your 30 days on survivor or whatever and then it's over. You get to enjoy your steak and go back to your normal. We don't have that here. Will we be making masks for another week? 6 months? 1 year? And when does our normal business that we spent 10 years building come back? Will it ever? We suppose our prize at the end is the opportunity to stay busy and keep generating revenue to stay alive.
We just don't know.
All we can do is roll with the punches and hope it all works out okay.
What we normally do VS. what we have done on our game show:
Normal: Spend years developing systems so that when demand hits, we've got this shit on lock
Game show: Make improvised prototype, post a pic online, get thousands of orders and figure out how to make it under the tightest deadline we've ever had.
Normal: Spend a decade perfecting our craft of printing slowly but surely
Game show: Launch the highest demand product we've ever had that can only be made by sewing (an industry we know NOTHING about)
Normal: Slow and steady wins
Game show: Slow and steady misses the freaking boat
Normal: Hire slow, fire fast
Game show: You own a sewing machine? You have the job!
Normal: Remove ourselves from production to prevent burnout so we can work on the business not in it
Game show: Work double days-15 hour shifts to get masks made as fast as possible. Bodies in pain.
Normal: Top notch personalized customer service
Game show: Auto reply because of volume-Sorry your order that should've got to you in 1 day is sitting in Omaha Nebraska, you'll get it eventually
Normal: 1 Day turnaround
Game show: 7 day turnaround with a million apologies.
Normal: Underpromise and over deliver
Game show: Overpromise and under deliver-The volume was so much more than we ever anticipated. We kept up on our 3 day turnaround for a while. But once we realized it wasn't realistic to sustain that speed, we had to honestly go back on our delivery time.
Normal: Build a thoughtful schedule at the beginning of the week. Build in time for immediate and long term plans, cook a nourishing meal and have a sit down dinner, go for a walk.
Game show: We need to take it hour by hour or we will just get too overwhelmed. Frozen burritos every day it is. Sew, eat a bite, sew, eat a bite, repeat.
Our new normal:
Our new "normal" feels like we are in some weird dream that we are waiting to be woken up from.
Our new normal is pure chaos and endless work and back up after back up in orders.
Our normal working days are a minimum of 12 hours and many days go up to 15 hours. Every evening after the exhaustion truly hits, Tanner and I look at one another and say-what the actual hell are we living through right now?
Our new normal is experiencing a deep sense of pure gratitude for things we once took for granted.
Our new normal consists of constant body aches because we aren't used to working this extreme amount of hours hunched over at sewing machines.
Our new normal is long days full of pure uncertainty of what will happen next.
It's a weird one and we're not sure when or if we will get back to our old normal but time will tell.
We are grateful for where we're at and we're grateful for humanity that has lifted us up. One day our marketing partners randomly sent pizzas to our door because we didn't have time to cook, then we had customers take the time to deliver fresh baked bread to our door, and every few days there is a delivery from my sister at my doorstep-from flowers to wine to a brand new sewing machine because mine broke. Then we were able to speed everything along because countless people stopped and said-what the heck can I do to help? And now we've got an army, safely and happily helping us get to the end of our game show.
We're grateful for the chaos and look forward to the day that we can go back to the beach with a margarita in hand and without a worry in the world. One day that will come, but until then we will keep living through our new normal.