Friday, April 30, 2010

Accounting For Real

I've been laid up for a few days with a flu. Yuck! I should have seen it coming, though. There are a number of factors to reduce my immunity: stress, not enough rest, environment change, low quality food, and finally wet, cold weather.

The first day of flu was horrible - fever, aches, nausea, dizziness. The next two days were progressively better, but didn't find me feeling well enough to go sit in the cold wind to weave. I didn't really trust myself to make good decisions at the sewing machine, either. It seemed a better idea to tackle the elephant in the weaving studio: accounting. It's a monotonous task I can do while laying in bed high on DayQuil, and fix progressively if I get it wrong the first time.

When I borrowed money from friends to buy the loom I kept careful records in a paper envelope. Then I bought the loom and started weaving for Annie. Again, I kept other, careful records of our work with a piece of software called Billings. (This is an excellent program, by the way, with a nearly perfect iPhone app that syncs with it.) My expenses usually come at a low volume, so I've been using to categorize them as they occur, assuming that this would be useful.

A few weeks ago I sat down to do my taxes and realized that these separate sets of records made it impossible to reconcile them. I had to file for an extension. I knew all along that I should have been using QuickBooks, but never took the time to get it set up, pull all my records into it, and reconcile them.

Well, this illness gave me the chance I needed. I went online and pulled statements for all of my accounts from January 2009 to the present. It's kind of complicated because I have Paypal and Wells Fargo linked. Money is always flowing back and forth between them.

In the end, I got everything but petty cash reconciled with all accounts matching their statement balances TO THE PENNY at the end of every day from January 2009 to today. Yeah! Since I almost never spend cash, it will be easy to reconcile that when I get home to the receipts folder.

[Income and Expenses for a fragile baby business]

Here's one picture of the final result. It's easy to see that 2009 was a tough year. My income was higher than my expenses only 6 out of 12 months. December, the highest volume month for most sales-based businesses, was completely wasted because of a major planning error. 2010 looks better. If I can keep producing and selling like this, I may have finally made it. (Oh, yeah, and I need to get my software addiction under control. 8% is way too much to spend on computer stuff for this particular business.)

["Net Worth", not the same as Self Worth]

Here is another picture: a net worth graph. The red represents money I have yet to pay back from the "Friends' Loom Loan". The green represents mostly assets: equipment, materials, vehicle, etc.

You can see three big dips in my assets last year: quitting my day job to weave fulltime (and the lag before I got paid), visiting Wolf Creek in August, and moving there for real in December. You can also see that I got serious about high volume production in January, after realizing that "lazy" production and poor planning weren't building the business fast enough to be sustainable.

One thing this graph shows is that I'm on the right track! Even though there's still no cash in my pocket, the resources I have at my disposal are increasing. This increases opportunities and will one day (soon) turn into real money.

So, this week was almost a wash in terms of physical productivity, but has seriously enhanced my infrastructure and mental well-being. It's stressful to know that such a big part of your business is inadequately handled!

After finishing the Ren Faire I'll have to hire an accountant to set up a tax-appropriate chart of accounts for my business. Then, I'll recategorize expenses to it and file last year's taxes.

Does anybody know of a good accountant who's familiar with crafts business accounting?

Monday, April 26, 2010


What a weekend! With kids' day on Friday, my usual day off, this weekend was kind of brutal. Thank goodness I got my new boots last weekend or my feet might not have survived this one.

Today I did a good deal of resting and catching up on accounting. I made some mistakes in setting up the cash scenario for this weekend and made it tough to figure out how much cheap merchandise I actually sold. It took a few hours and lots of counting, but I finally got it all untangled.

Last week I realized that I might be able to find an app to help me tally up sales, split cash from credit cards, and calculate commissions. This needs to be done on Sunday night in order to write paychecks. That is also the time when I'm tired and feel the least able to do it.

So, I found an app called simply "Spreadsheet". It is fantastic for a number of reasons:
1. It's in my pocket.
2. It's compatible with Excel.
3. I can email excel files directly from it.
4. If I needed to, I could design the spreadsheet in Excel and put it on the phone.

[Sales Sheet. Notice the magical column C that sorts things into the correct tally column...]

I set up a spreadsheet quite quickly with this app. This sheet has one magical column that determines how to handle the amount on that line: subtotal multiple items or complete the transaction and take a regular credit card, American Express, cash, or (if we know you personally) a check. Then the spreadsheet totals each payment type, figures sales commissions and per diem payments. At the end of the day it tells me how much cash should be in that day's bank deposit, and what the final credit card settlement should be. Having it laid out like this makes it faster and easier to find mistakes.

[Daily totals, some stuff redacted. I don't mind telling my secrets, but these numbers have to do with paying others.]

The Spreadsheet interface is extremely intuitive. I said earlier that one benefit is that the files can be set up in Excel and ported over, but I doubt that would ever be necessary. This particular sheet has many cells with complex formulae, but the full-featured cut/paste system made populating them simple. If you've used cut and paste in Excel, this works just the same.

Spreadsheet has implemented a huge subset of Excel's functions so there isn't much that it can't do.

My old dream of a full office in my pocket just keeps getting closer and closer!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Kids' Day, The Morning After

[First thing in the morning. Eeek!]

[One hour later. Thanks, Jane!]

I didn't realize just how much energy kids' day had taken until I went to put the booth back together after the show. I just couldn't raise the energy after interacting with excited teenage girls all day. I dragged everything into the tent, dropped the walls and called it good enough for the night.

In the morning, I got up an hour early to get it all composed before Jane arrived. I almost made it, too! She showed up in time to help me hang brooms, bring out the clothing, and get it all arranged. In an hour, the whole booth looked just as good as if I had never emptied it.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Kids' Day

What a day! Last weekend Annie asked if I wanted to do Kids' Day at the faire or if she should try to rent the booth space to someone else.

Kids' day is a special day at the faire. Schools from all around the area bring busloads of kids in for the day. These kids have a little money to spend, but usually not much.

Once I wrapped my head around it, I said that I'd do it. It would mean creating a whole new line of merchandise that costs less than $10, and producing lots of it in a hurry. This (four-day) week went toward optimizing the pattern and production technique for cell phone bags, and making my new inexpensive merchandise.

I decided on three items: pouches, belts, and friendship bracelets. The friendship bracelets were the clear winner. At 2 for a dollar, they brought in five times as much money as any other item.

It's easy to forget how much retail experience I have until I "magically" pull off something like this. The booth usually sells fairly expensive handmade clothing, brooms, and staves that kids can't afford at all.

I reconfigured the booth space just for today. First, I set up a "counter" from Annie's beautiful inventory boxes. The sales station, made from two of those same boxes, was in the middle. It turned the broom booth into a "window shopping" experience, with a narrow opening to allow invited guests to browse but keep the swarms of kids out. The main tent was closed entirely.

Then, I removed most of the brooms and hung up a few garments instead. These were for teachers and chaperones. There was a wall of brooms left visible as well.

I set up the demonstration loom with a good view of everything, including the sales station. When things got quiet throughout the day, it took about 30 seconds of weaving to attract a crowd and lead them to the merchandise.

I had gone to Pier 1 and bought some canvas-lined baskets. These went on the counters with signs telling of the cheap prices. The signs made it almost self-service. My job all day was mostly to make change and stuff money in a box. When kids saw that the bracelets were two for a dollar, they ran into the street to tell their friends, becoming barkers than I could ever be.

[Kids' Day setup]

I knew the pouches would be kind of a tough sell, so I made them move faster with two tricks. I went to Michael's and bought some pebbles and colored glass stones. With every pouch the kids got a free string to tie it (a bracelet), and a few pebbles to put in it. This gave them some free stuff and a reason to own a pouch. "Why, you can carry your free stones in it!" It's circular logic, but for a dollar each it worked.

Our booth is right at the beginning of the faire, so I went the day before and got a TON of change. I made so much $19 change in the first hour that I almost ran out. I hung up a sign asking for 1's. Well, that sign drove kids to buy stuff just so they could give me dollar bills. I didn't mind.

At the end of the day, the kids had spent themselves down to just about nothing. As they came back to the front gate, there was just one booth with stuff for less than a dollar, so they came in droves to give me their last dollar. I didn't mind that, either.

All-in-all, the whole day made just a few hundred dollars, less than I would have made if I spent the week weaving for Annie, but it was an incredible research experience. I sold a ton of cheap stuff and learned a lot about how kids' day works. Now I can use that knowledge in designing and selling stuff for people with a very limited budget. Next year I'll know about it in advance and be even better prepared.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Tracking Data To Set Fair Prices

Setting a price for the work is one of the most challenging parts of being a craftsperson. Creating within customers' price ranges is the other. I wrote a blog post last year showing an app called FMTouch. It lets me create and use an iPhone version of the Filemaker database I created to track time and calculate an hourly wage for my contract work. You can read that post HERE.

Recently, I had to extend that database because now I'm making my own cloth and products. I still use the original system for contract weaving and for weaving my own cloth, but I added another layer to handle the creation of finished products from that cloth.

I've modified the whole system to let data flow in both directions: from whole projects to individual timesheets, and back. This gives me lots of information about whichever piece of data I'm looking at, and the whole context in which it lives.

So, how do I set a price for my finished products? Let's start at the beginning. I wind a beam, then weave a bunch of cloth. All of that setup time gets divided between all of the pieces of material in the project - 4.14 hours in this case. "Piece 5.25" tells me that all of the timesheets for this piece of cloth added up to five and a quarter hours. I have decided that my current weaving skill level should be paying me about $25 an hour, so I nudge the dollars per yard around until that's about what I'm earning. This piece of cloth would wholesale for $36/yd to pay for the yarn and pay my wage to weave it. For 54" wide handwoven, that's not bad at all! The database breaks that into cost per square inch to make it easier to calculate the cost of individual products.

In all of these screenshots, you'll notice that numbers in black are the numbers I enter. Grey numbers are calculated automatically. For the most part. This *is* a homemade work-in-progress!

[Cloth cost for "Purple Cappuccino", including time pulled automatically from timecards]

Now comes the new part, and it's a little tricky. What I needed was a way to track product designs, batches of products made from specific pieces of cloth, and timesheets for those batches of products.

Products refer to a pattern. These are not specific pieces, but a place to store data about the design and collect statistics from pieces made with that design.

Product Pieces refer to a specific Material Piece and a Product. They are batches of real products made from real materials. They pull their costs from the records created when making those materials.

Product Timesheets capture time spent on different tasks to make Product Pieces.

So, let's look at the new design I sewed up today: 4" shoulder bags with flaps. After designing the product, I create a new Product entry for it, including how many square inches of cloth it uses. For now, just look at the top box. We'll come back to the Average Stats in a minute.

[Product page]

Then, for each batch of bags, I create a Product Piece entry, selecting a Material Piece and a Product from the pulldown menus.

[Product Piece page for "Purple Capuccino 4" Shoulder Bags With Flaps"]

[Selecting a Product]

And finally, the meat of the system comes in tracking my time, noting which tasks I'm doing as I do them and retaining links to the Product Piece I'm working on.

[Product Timecard]

At the end of the day today, I know that I'm about half done with each piece I started. I still need to make straps, sew them on, cut the bags apart, and pull threads from the side fringe. Let's look back at the Product statistics for today...

You can see that I made 57 bags, spending about 7 minutes each. They use $1.06 in cloth. Since I'm less experienced at production sewing, I'm only asking $15/hr, giving me $1.63 in wages for each bag so far. My goal is to sell these bags for $10 retail. That means $5 wholesale. At $2.69 spent so far, I've got $2.31 left. That's another 9 minutes each. I can certainly finish them in less than that!

See? All this database stuff is really worth the setup cost. It took about a day to get it working, but now it earns its keep. It takes about 10 seconds to enter a timesheet whenever I start a task and 2 seconds to close it. Then, when it's time to set prices or analyze any other aspect of my work, I've got a complete set of data to help me make good decisions.

And once the data is in there, it's stored forever. I think it'll be more interesting to me than a diary in years to come. "Aaaaw, I used to spend 10 minutes a piece on cell phone bags. Isn't that funny!"

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Rainy and Cold

[Portable sewing studio]

Boy am I glad that I set up the sewing studio inside the van! It's been wet with a mid-day high of about 50 degrees two days in a row. The same is expected tomorrow. If this doesn't seem cold, notice that the only source of heat in the van is the lightbulb I've hung over the sewing table. Brrr! (Thank goodness for the steam room and spa here at the resort. I go a couple of times a day to warm my bones up.)

Thanks to my beautiful workhorse of a sewing machine, I finished 120 tiny pouches yesterday and expect to get the sewing done on 60 cell phone bags before bed. Tomorrow I'll make tons of cordage: bag straps, bracelets, and belts.

[Cell phone bags half done. Just need to make and attach straps before cutting them apart.]

Friday is a short, strange day at the faire: Kid's Day. Local schools will bus in about 6500 kids to see the show. I changed gears from my regular merchandise just to get ready for it. I'll be selling friendship bracelets, pouches, cell phone bags, and belts with just a few pieces of regular merchandise displayed up high for the chaperones. Everything I'm making will be between $1 and $10. The main tent will be closed because I'm manning the booth alone - demonstrating, selling, and watching thousands of fast little hands.

Alright! Off to the sauna before my last 1 1/2 hour stint at the sewing machine.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Ren Faire Boots

The faire this weekend was great! I am finally getting the hang of this sales thing. It's mostly doing what I like to do anyhow - sharing an excitement and appreciation for handwoven textiles, and then asking for a credit card.

I've been wearing borrowed garb, including hard-soled moccasins. They look great, but standing on the hard ground all day was taking a toll on my feet, and therefore my whole mood and energy level. (I also realized that if I wear them out, I'll have to pay for them, but not own them. Eeek.) By Saturday night my feet were so sore that I went to bed without supper. I laid in bed, put my feet up to rest them and didn't wake up until morning, determined to get some new shoes before next week. Maybe Payless would have something that looked "good enough"...

For years, I've wanted to go to Ren Faire, partly to find those beautiful boots that all my renny friends have. They are super expensive, so there's no way I could get them at my first faire. Knowing how particular my sense of style is, I would almost certainly have to pay extra for a custom order. At this point I still have very little money, too, so they were definitely out for this year. It's safe to go and look then, right?

Well... I walked in the booth and saw hundreds of pairs of boots that all looked boring to me. One pair stood out from all the rest - the only ones of interest to me at all. They were dark brown with a simple cinnamon brown and forest green trim. The buttons were silver with Celtic knotwork, perfect for my weaving-focused lifestyle. They weren't quite right, though. The sales girl told me that I need size 11 and these were hanging on the 10 rack. Whew! But they were hanging in the wrong place. They were my size after all.

"Let's just try one on to make sure," the very friendly sales girl said. It was work getting my foot wedged in, so I was sure they were too small. "That's perfect! You want them to stretch and fit like a glove. They'll be tight the first few days, but then they'll be molded perfectly to your foot and feel like you're not wearing anything at all."

Well, I still couldn't afford to get them today. Maybe lay-a-way? "If you're working the faire, we'll give you a discount. If you can put a little bit down on them, you can walk away wearing them right now."

And so I did. I have until the end of faire to pay them off. Look how beautiful they are!

[Handmade, comfortable boots that will last forever]

So now I feel like a kid who can run faster and jump higher in brand new shoes. Except that my new super power is the ability to stand and talk to customers for hours at a time.

So today, to help break them in and take advantage of the desert flower show brought on by last week's rain, I went on a hike in the hills above the resort. It's gorgeous!

[Sunset from the hillside]

Pictures don't even do it justice. The place is filled with the sounds of birds and the smells of greenery and flowers. I was surprised at how many of the plants are new to me. I could, of course, make a meal, put you into an altered state of consciousness or send to your grave with the plants out here that I *do* know, but it's the new ones that interest me most.

...I came back to edit this post this morning because I realized that there are many people reading my blog who don't know me. Compared to nearly everyone I know, I'm the tea-totaler. I don't smoke, don't drink, and maintain the clean-and-sober space on the sanctuary. Any survivalist knows these things about plants because it might be useful to identify brand new plants in an unfamiliar environment. You need to know which plant families are always edible, which ones are always dangerous, and how to identify them. Within the family and even within a single plant, some parts are food, some parts will impair your judgment, and some will kill you. The nightshades are a perfect example. They provide tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, okra, every kind of pepper, AND drugs like nicotine, scopolamine (the "truth serum" that the eye doctor uses to dilate your pupils), and atropine (a deadly poison that can resuscitate someone with an unmeasurably low heart rate). It just sounds so dramatic to say "I can pick roadside plants to make a salad, bend your mind or kill you," doesn't it? Anyhow... Here are the plants that I haven't yet identified. They're pretty, but new to me...

[A super-fragrant shrub]

[An unexpected color in the desert, looking kind of scrophulariaceous]

Soooo, after a day and a half of wear, I can feel how comfortable these boots are going to be. Right now, it's like walking on a cloud that pinches a bit in the toes. By next weekend, though, my foot woes should be a thing of the past.

Friday, April 16, 2010

A whole, real, honest-to-goodness day off!

I wove like crazy this week so Annie could make shawls and ruanas for the faire. She stopped by to pick up this week's 30 yards yesterday afternoon.

Annie has recommended that we take Fridays off so we have lots of energy to be on our feet interacting with customers all weekend. That's today! I almost don't know what to do with myself.

So here's what I did... Slept in until 9:00. Took my coffee and notebook up to the poolside pavilion to catch up on bookkeeping. (I borrowed money to cover yarn, new glasses, travel expenses, and resort rent. Now I know exactly how much I have left to earn before it's paid off.) I also took a little time updating my budgets with all the expenses of my new lifestyle: gas, insurance, maintenance, resort rent, etc. It's tough to keep from panicking when I see how much money is flowing out before I go home.

The birds here are beautiful! I spent a good amount of time watching the hooded orioles and tanagers playing springtime games. I think the hooded oriole is probably my favorite bird to watch. That gold color is just breathtaking.

Then lunch, housekeeping, laundry, shaving, showering, and soaking in the spa for a while. Now I'm laying in bed for a few minutes before heading down to the rec hall for socializing, hamburgers and another soak. Early to bed and then up and at 'em for my second weekend of faire.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Renaissance Faire, Day 2

[The whole booth, and nothing but the booth]

The second day was very different from the first. The weather was cold, which is usually good for cloak and shawl sales. I think that the threat of rain kept people away from the faire, though. Traffic was light.

In the end, the cloaks and shawls did OK, but my bags did not. We'll be trying out ways to bring them more to people's attention as I work to make them even more attractive and affordable.

The light traffic did let me spend a little more time away from the booth. I made it all the way around the first bend this time, just in time to see a procession of the queen. I snuck out the "forbidden device" for a moment and caught a snapshot of her entourage.

[Just a glimpse of the Queen]

I love the faire! My recordings of Renaissance music are nothing like hearing it live. All day, from every corner of the distance I hear psalteries, hurdy gurdies, crumhorns and singing voices. It's fantastic! And to see people take such care and pride in their appearance is a refreshing change from the sweatpants, blue jeans and t-shirts from the rest of the year. I'll need to acquire some regular cloth and make garb of my own before the next faire.

And last night it poured rain. Even though I was absolutely exhausted from two days on my feet, I hauled out the 20' tarp and covered the big AVL loom. I even picked it up and tucked the tarp under the corners and it's a good thing I did! I heard the rain start around midnight. No drizzling, just full-force torrent. When I woke up this morning the tarp had caught about 5 gallons of water, hovering precariously over the warp beam. Only the weight of the loom on the tarp kept it from spilling. I grabbed my trusty steel pail and started bailing! Soon all was well and dry. I'm going to buy clamps to keep that from happening again.

Today I have two tasks: weave shawls if the rain stays away or scurry into the van/sewing studio and make more bags. (And, right on cue, there's the rain! Sewing it is, then.)

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Successful First Day

I don't have any pictures because it's important that participants in the faire maintain the renaissance facade. Phones and cameras just don't have that 1500's kind of look. Tomorrow I'll snap a few shots before the gates open to the public.

It was an amazing day. I think I did a pretty good job of jumping into the role that's required. The sales numbers were right in line with expectations.

More important than that, though, is the fact that I *like* it. This has been a background concern since Annie and I began discussions around having me work toward taking over the booth. I've been acquiring materials, weaving cloth and developing merchandise for this first show as a step in the direction of becoming a ren faire crafter. But there was no way to be sure that I'd like it until I tried.

This day was a blast! I saw all kinds of beautiful people and got to meet quite a number of them. The booth is about 95% full of cloth that I wove. It is such a joy to show people my work and show them how it's done. (We have a demonstration loom set up.) And people love it! I am very proud of the craftsmanship I've learned in the last year. Sharing it with people who appreciate it just happens to be most of what's required to do well at selling it. I saw many people wearing items from past years with an obvious pleasure and pride in them.

People are giving me great feedback on my bags, too.
#1: They want a closure - a button or a toggle.
#2: They would like a "messenger bag" style with a big flap.
#3: I need to speed up production to make them cheaper.

Tomorrow's another day at the faire, this week sees me weaving with just a little time for prototyping before next weekend. The following week, though, I'll have 4 days of customer feedback to utilize for the next full round of prototyping and production.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Venturing into the "Real World"

["The Mall"]

Today is my "day off". I just have one task, to replace my broken glasses in time for the opening of the show tomorrow. Well, that meant driving to the faire site to borrow from my paycheck and then finding the Lenscrafters.

Remember my promise from yesterday to never travel without seeing a map first? Well, I did look up the exact location and figure out just how to get here. Once I got to the street address, though, finding the place was another matter. Everything down here looks the same: a sea of beige-painted "instant construction" plazas plastered with the logos of chain stores. I don't know the difference between the stores big enough to stand on their own and the stores that group together into malls. I can't tell the difference between the back side of a plaza and a (capital m) Mall, either. And then there's the habit down here of naming everything after the location. Ontario Mills Outlet, Ontario Center, Ontario Mills Mall - which is which? And, more importantly, which one has the Lenscrafters? (Answer: it's Ontario Mills Mall, which is just labelled "Ontario Mills" because apparently everyone down here knows it's a mall.)

After driving around in my hooptie of a van and asking for directions multiple times, I finally found it. And after paying for an eye exam and new glasses, I really hope that the monetary potential of this show becomes reality for me. I know it'll all be fine, but at this point it's seeming like I fell off the edge of the earth into a world where money is more free-flowing than water.

So, one task, one traffic jam, $20 in gas, and 6 hours later, I'm waiting to pick up my glasses and head home to enjoy my day off.

...and later, back at the ranch... Well, it really was worth it. I got my new glasses and the world is even clearer than it was with my old ones. My prescription strength dropped a quarter of a point, just like it had last time. Yeah!

While I was at the mall I decided to look for a book store to buy a Southern California Atlas. The directory of stores was huge, but had a convenient section labelled "Books, Cards, Gifts". Notice that every store has a number to help you find it on the map and a phone number so you can call them from your cell phone from inside the mall. This is sure a different culture than I'm used to!

[The Mall Directory]

[The closest thing to a book store is Sanrio, aka the "Hello Kitty" store]

So, another day without a map...

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Booth Stocked

[The bag display]

It's up! Everything is displayed and looks like real stuff that people would buy at a show. I know that sounds strange, and that's how it feels. Everyone knows what it feels like to go to an art show and see the beautiful things on display, but I wonder how many people think about how it got there. At this show, there are dozens, if not hundreds of artists who spend most of their time in studios making things that they then box up, drive to Southern California, display, and sell. There are others who just sell, shipping their merchandise from show to show all over the country.

After setting up the displays, I decided to see if I could get lenses for my glasses. My real glasses broke just before I left so I've been driving with my prescription sunglasses. Someone told me that Walmart could grind lenses in an hour. Nope. They have to send them out, and it takes over a week. The lady at Walmart gave me directions to Lenscrafters. Since the freeway was bumper-to-bumper, I thought I'd try to find it based on her directions while I waited for traffic to die down.

I am never driving down here again without seeing a detailed map first. Everytime I do, I end up lost in some beautiful neighborhood where people have apparently never seen a vehicle as rundown as mine. (I can completely understand The Beverly Hillbillies. That's me!)

Oh, yeah, and to buy a map I'd need to find a bookstore. I don't know if they have them down here. I've seen a dozen Target megastores, but not even one Borders, say nothing of an independent book shop.

It's my version of hell: in a car-based city, stuck in traffic, with nothing but fast food and chain stores in every direction. I knew I was out of my element when I finally got back to the freeway and felt relieved.

So now I'm back home in my van, ready to trundle up the hill and connect to wifi and send this post. Then it's bedtime.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Set Up Camp

I'm all settled in at the nudist resort. It took a little convincing to get a spot with a concrete pad, but they did give me one. I spent the rest of the day building the loom by myself. It takes a little work to do it alone, but I'm getting it down to a science.

This spot has much less wind than the first one they had me in, too. I'll still need to sew a cover for the loom so it's not getting filled with dust when I'm not weaving. The wind here is relentless!

They tell me it's supposed to rain next week. I'll be picking up cinder blocks, plastic sheeting and rope tomorrow. If it looks like rain, I'll put the loom up on blocks and cover it with plastic.

If it does rain, I'll be glad for the sewing studio inside the van. Even if it doesn't, it's nice to have protection from the wind when I'm piecing together fiddly little cloth things.

I almost can't believe that everything fits in the van in such a way that I can sleep and work without rearranging boxes every day.

[Morning: all sprawled]

[Evening: built and tidy]

[My new home and sewing studio]

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Scene Change!

[Carrying cloth]

It's been a very strange and tiring day. It started with packing and hand carrying the entire weaving and sewing studio through 250 feet of mud and squeezing it all into the van. (Thanks to Harlan for helping with the most difficult item: the 150-yard peacock warp beam.) Then came 16 hours of driving with 4 hours of sleep in the middle. Gone is yesterday's world of rain, snow, mud and cold. Today I live in the hot, dry and very windy world of Southern California.

I only made one wrong turn and ended up in Pasadena for a harrowing little while. It's beautiful city with a lot of old and impressive architecture, but not my destination. There's this one little spot where the main freeway narrows to one lane and goes down into a tunnel while the big, multilane aboveground part becomes an exit, dropping you in a part of Pasadena with no readily apparent ramp back to the freeway. Oops.

Thankfully, I'm not in Los Angeles itself. I don't even have to drive through it. I'm living in San Bernardino with a beautiful view of the mountains and working weekends in a big park in Irwindale. It's an exciting new world, and I can't wait to get into it. Right now, though, it's time to overcome the caffeine and take a little nap.

[All packed up!]

[A shocking sight, coming straight from the forest]

[The view from my bed for the next two months]

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Inventory Management

How fast things get out of control! My little business doesn't seem that complicated, but once I started looking at it I realized that I needed help tracking my inventory. Excel wouldn't be good enough for very long.

Here's what makes it so complicated...
There are four types of inventory - yarn, cloth, supplies, and finished merchandise. When I weave cloth, yarn is consumed. When I sew merchandise, cloth and other supplies like lining and notions are consumed. This makes for a tangle of tracking and a lot of number crunching if I want to stay on top of it.

Then, there's the complication of tracking finished merchandise. This week I'll be putting a lot of stuff in Annie's Ren Faire booth. I'll be making more merchandise while I'm down there and putting it in the booth, too. At the end of the show, much of my stuff will be staying with Annie to sell in other shows. When I return home, I'll be putting things on Etsy, Artfire, and my personal website. Each of them will have a separate storage container in my physical inventory to keep me from accidentally selling the same item twice. I'll also have a little retail area in my studio so visitors can buy the things they're watching me produce.

So far I'm up to forty products: four styles of bag in ten colors. Tracking them as they move through two inventory locations and five sales channels is no small task. There's a whole class of software specifically developed to handle these things. It's called MRP, which stands for Manufacturing Requirement Planning or Material Resource Planning. Every commercial system that is powerful enough for my needs is very expensive, so I turned to open source. There's a system called "Open For Business", ofbiz for short. I've used it in the past when I needed to manage inventory for a small essential oil business.

Before I describe it, I need to warn you that it is not like most other software. It's web-based, running its own java server code and requiring its own back-end database engine. It comes with a java database called Derby. It's too slow and undependable for a production environment, so I switched to MySQL, which is also free. If you're comfortable editing configuration files and poring over pages of source code when an error strikes, this might be the system for you!

Once I got ofbiz installed and configured, here's what it lets me do:
- Enter orders for inventory items, tracking the arrival of each order into inventory and allowing for partial shipments and damaged items.
- Define my own beam configurations, and tell it how many pounds of each color of yarn go onto the beam for each warp design. When I wind a beam, it updates the inventory to add a beam and remove the yarn that got consumed.
- Define cloth styles, which use part of a beam and some amount of weft thread per yard. When I weave the cloth, it consumes part of a beam and some weft thread, keeping the inventory up to date.
- Define merchandise, each style using a particular cloth. Some items also require lining material as well. When I make the items, it consumes the right amount of cloth, lining, and notions from the inventory.
- Transfer inventory to other locations like Annie's booth, or into containers for various online sales channels.
- Reconcile the projected and actual inventory, noting the specifics of any variance - date, reason, etc.
- Sell things from specific inventory locations, removing them entirely. That *is* the point of all this!

And that's all I need for now. At any time I can tell how much yarn, cloth, supplies, and merchandise I have in any of several inventory locations. If I've initiated a stock transfer, but haven't packed it up yet, it tells me that some of the "quantity on hand" is not "available to promise", making it even more dependable than a visual scan at determining how much I really have to sell.

I'm glad that I got this all set up before I gave myself a chance to lose stuff in the chaos of my first production crunch and my first big show. It's one less source of uncertainty and stress. It took many hours to set up, requires 15 minutes of data entry every day that I make lots of different products, and is completely worth it for the peace of mind that it brings.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

First Weekend's Merchandise

My friends are calling to find out if I'm OK. I'm fine, just completely holed up sewing like mad for the first weekend of Southern Faire.

[The sewing corner of the studio]

Here's a quick peek at the items that made it through the prototyping and testing. Notice the matching straps and cords - I make them all myself. Yay, handmade!

[Market Tote]

[Large Bag]

[Medium Bag]

[Small Bag]