Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Behind the Scenes: Dealing with Vendors

Part four of our Behind the Scenes series examines dealing with vendors, and how sometimes things get a little crazy when you are a small business.

As a fairly new business, we have been trying out a variety of different vendors to purchase our product blanks from (we do the printing/creating of the designs on the shirts, but not the shirts themselves).

We have been judging the vendors on a variety of different aspects, including price, shipping price (for some reason, some of the vendors charge a ridiculous amount for shipping), speed of delivery, professionalism, ease of use for ordering, etc. While price can be important, it's not always as important as finding a reliable, friendly vendor willing to be professional whether we are ordering 5 shirts or 500 shirts.

Recently, we needed to order in a special order that contained a 4XL shirt. After searching through some vendors, we finally found one that had that size, and we placed the order. During the order process, we provided the sizes and colors that we needed. After waiting 11 business days and still not receiving any product, I sent a followup email to check on the status of my order. 2 days later I got a reply stating that the company "had emailed several times" asking me the sizes and colors, because for some reason it didn't show up on the order.

Needless to say, I was a bit disappointed and upset by this news. I check both my inbox and my junk mail two to four times daily, and NEVER received anything from them. But regardless, they also had my phone number on the order, and could have easily called me at any point and I would have been able to clarify for them.

I was put off, but decided it was just a little glitch, and sent them an email reply clarifying what they asked for.

Two more days passed before I got another email, this time containing a bit of a rude tone, telling me that I still hadn't responded to their request. Of course, this made me less than happy and so I got a little short with them. I emailed them TWICE from my email, and ONCE through the contact form on their website, with the answer they needed.

For some reason, though they had never received my original request and had been taking their time getting to me on my order, now they received my emails quickly and felt the need to respond very rudely. They ridiculed me, telling me that my order didn't matter to them and that I was incompetent if I had filled out their order form incorrectly, and that this was all my fault and not theirs.

Boy, did I wish they had a phone number I could call at that moment!! Of course, this particular merchant didn't list a phone number on any of his merchant sites... I wonder if it was because he was a little shady? But I took a deep breath, emailed again stating I had moved my business elsewhere and to please refund my purchase (even though they had never bothered to fill my order, they took my money the very same day I ordered), and then filed a BBB report.

I waited... and waited... and began sending daily emails reminding them that I wanted a refund. They were only two sentences, very politely asking for a refund. I did this for two weeks before finally sending a note through their contact form on their website that I was filing a PayPal dispute and would like their cooperation to get me my refund. They were quick to respond to the PayPal dispute, doing more namecalling, ridiculing, and mudslinging about how I was "on a rampage" and a "smear campaign" and how their BBB agent had called them and "laughed me off as a joke" since it was over a measly 5 shirts.

I couldn't believe how incredibly rude, uncaring, and unprofessional this vendor was being! However, enough was enough. I sent ONE response to his rudeness. It simply stated that once I received my refund he wouldn't hear from me again, and that I hoped God would bless his business in the future regardless of his treatment of my "tiny" order.

I received my refund within two hours of that. Finally.

I'm not putting the vendor name here, because I really wasn't on a "smear campaign." I just believe that if you are running a business, you don't send hate emails to your customers, filled with grammatical and spelling errors and a tone of rudeness. I also think any customer, whether ordering 5 shirts or 500 shirts, deserves respect.

I can guarantee we will not do business with him again, and that I won't recommend him to any of my colleagues. In the meantime, we have found a few key vendors that treat us like we want to be treated, and we give them all of our business.

Perhaps it's like dating in that respect - sometimes, you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince. ;)

Jess Buike is the owner of Java Jess Publishing. To find out more about her business, check out her store here.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Behind the Scenes: Choices

Part three of our Behind the Scenes series discusses the importance of making the right decisions in your business.

As with life, business is full of choices. Not all are easy, but they all impact how you do business.

One of our most easy choices in doing this business was the choice to attend the Buy the Big O Show. We knew we could network, meet other businesses, scope the local competition, and even learn something by attending the free workshops. We were also hoping to find a local t-shirt wholesaler, but unfortunately that didn't happen. Overall, we were very happy with our day at the show!

Recently, I had developed a line of t-shirts that were a little... I can't really come up with a fitting term, so I'll say questionable. Though they were very humorous, they also came close to offensive and didn't really fit with our mission to focus on raising money for nonprofits and other organizations. They also didn't fit with our personal beliefs. Really, they were just a funny joke that we used to try to make money.

While money is VERY important to business, we decided that it wasn't as important as sticking with our morals and mission. So, we decided to remove them from our offerings.

Was that a good idea? While it may lose us money, we are feeling a lot more focused on our original intent and feel much more at peace. It wasn't an easy decision, but now that it is done I think we are both feeling a lot better.

Have you had to make an important business decision lately that might cost the business money but made you a better person? Share your comments here! :)

Jess Buike is the owner of Java Jess Publishing. To find out more about her business, check out her store here.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Behind the Scenes: October Goals

Part two of our Behind the Scenes series takes a look at what kinds of goals we have set for our first month in business.

One of the most important parts of owning any business is setting clear goals. Some goals are long term, while others are more immediate.

While I won't bore you with all of the many goals we have set, I will give you a firsthand look at our goals for this month of October. I don't like to set too many, as that can be overwhelming, or too few, as that is "underwhelming" and not motivating.

So here they are:

1) Put Together a Grand Opening (DONE!)
2) Attend the Buy the Big O Show (will be completed Wednesday)
3) Sell 20 Tshirts (14 to go)
4) Sell 20 Totes (18 to go)

We have a little whiteboard in our office where we are "keeping score" of what we have accomplished, how much more towards our goals, etc. Of course, you can always help out by purchasing one or more of our fun items! Just today I added two more Halloween shirt designs that would appeal to many people.

Jess Buike is the owner of Java Jess Publishing. To find out more about her business, check out her store here.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Behind the Scenes: How We Came Up with the Name

This is the first post in our "Behind the Scenes" series where we take a closer look at what it's like to operate our t-shirt printing business.

One question we have heard frequently upon opening up shop is, "how did you come up with the name?" Oftentimes it is from people we know, who happen to know full well that I am allergic to caffeine and would have no interest in coffee. ;) So "Java Jess" sounds like an oxymoron.

This story starts back in October of 2007, when I was laid off from a temporary position at a brokerage firm. I was terribly upset - when I had first been hired by the agency to go to the firm, they stated that I would be "rolled over" and become a full time employee after 3 months. 3 months came and went very quickly, but no such luck. I was outperforming most of my team by then, and had even been given additional responsibilities, but nothing was done to make me a permanent part of the firm. I continued to wait, as patiently as I could, but by month 6 had figured out they really had no intention of making me an employee. I tried applying for a position in another department, but did not get it. At that time, our team (which had been leaderless since I hit month 2) got a brand new team leader. I approached him to ask about becoming full time. A week later, myself and several other temps were laid off. It would have been fine if it were just a case that they didn't need us, but truthfully they did. And it would have been ok if it was because we were not good at our jobs, but we were GREAT. They just didn't want to pay us what we were worth, and would rather keep a stream of temps coming in and then being fired rather than paying people what they are worth. Not only that, but they made up stories about us, saying we were "poor workers".

I was shocked, needless to say, and infuriated. I stewed for several days in a deep depression, because this was not something that I was used to. And during that depression, I made up my mind that my dream of becoming a small business owner someday had to become my priority if I ever wanted to be treated like a decent person.

So, I looked into franchises, thinking that was my "safest" bet. I looked at so many business opportunities, and only found a choice few that I truly could see myself doing. One of those was a business called Coffee News. Some of you may have them in your hometown. They are a free newsletter with positive news, and the owners make money from the advertising. I began the process of trying to set up a territory, writing out the business plan, even taking some classes at the local SCORE office. My husband and I had been tossing around what I should register my business name as, since we wanted it to tie into my name and the coffee theme. We came up with "Java Jess Publishing." We registered the name, and were close to getting things set up when we were told that we would not be eligible for the loan we needed to pay for the territory. See, they charge you a pretty hefty fee per territory, and since we lived in a metro area that is a bit spread out, just to buy two territories we needed around $15k. Not bad for a business startup fee, unless of course you are like my husband and I who are working class Americans who don't come from a background of wealth.

We had to give up that dream, but since I had already paid for the name, I still had a registered business under "Java Jess Publishing."

I let it stay just a name for a year while I increased my role at the part time job I had picked up at a local small business called Arts & Minds. I had started there part time to "supplement" the income I'd be making as a Coffee News owner, but it ended up being the best job I have held to date in my life! I was able to start from the ground up there - they had me start working before the store was opened, helping to set up shelves and unpack merchandise. I got to see what it really takes to set up a retail store, and gained lots of valuable insight. I moved up to full time, then shift supervisor, within a matter of months. I got to dabble in all areas of the business, from advertising to customer service to staffing. I don't think I would have ever left had it not been for several factors that began to work against me.

Namely, my health and the economy. See, a small business can't really afford to pay a manager's salary, so I was working as a manager at only a couple of dollars above minimum wage. And the store was a 35 mile round trip drive daily, 30-60 minutes each way depending on traffic and weather. So when gas started hitting outrageous highs, my "true" earnings were somewhere around $3-4/hr with the rest going to gas, maintenance, and insurance. In the meantime, I had been battling a joint condition for almost 2 years at that point. While doctors had said it "should" heal, it was becoming worse and worse every day, and for some reason had begun to spread to other areas of my body. The pain I was feeling every day was so intense that I knew I couldn't stay there, working on a hard surface floor and spending so much time unpacking and stocking merchandise.

I took another couple of jobs after that, but my health issues became so interruptive that I finally found myself facing the choice to get fired due to health absences, or find a new way to earn money without working a set schedule. I knew it was finally time to start a business, even if I didn't have money for startup costs.

Since I still had the business name, I began using it on Etsy, which is an online place where crafters can sell their wares. In the meantime, I began to start intensely focusing on what I wanted to do with my life, and what I was good at, etc. I also looked around at various things that I thought I might like to do. I even began making up a business plan for a wonderful home for sale in our neighborhood, which I knew would make a great bed and breakfast! But then it came down to money again, and I also decided that with the pain I felt it may not be a great idea to have to tackle flights of stairs several times a day. ;)

When I stumbled upon the tshirt making industry, I knew I had found something right! It allowed me to express my creativity, and gave me an outlet to raise money for charities, which is close to my heart. When the economy sours, charities seem to suffer the most because they have increased demand for services but fewer donations to meet those needs. And my business name could still work! It would also give me a chance to continue writing my many started-but-not-finished novels during my "off" times.

There you have it! I think I may have made the story unnecessarily long, but I wanted to make sure you were really getting a close look at what all goes into getting a business named and started. Sometimes, you end up taking several detours before you find the right path.

Jess Buike is the owner of Java Jess Publishing. To find out more about her business, check out her store here.