Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Road Trip For New Looms

(Scroll down for pictures. There's lots of story first...)

Starting a business is tough. Starting a business without adequate financial backing is even tougher. Starting a business without financial backing in the midst of global financial crisis is really, REALLY tough. But I'm doing it anyhow, and it's working for the most part.

I have an exciting story to tell, but I want to frame the context first... This past Summer, I hosted a Kickstarter project and raised about $5,000. Over the last few months, I've been able to trickle out the rewards to many of the people who supported me. Many others are still waiting for their rewards to arrive. I've never explained myself because I expected that I would have them all out by now. There is one major thing that's slowing down the shipment of rewards: inventory flow.

In order to have my shows be successful, I need to make sure that I have enough inventory on the racks. And for a while, I was out at shows every weekend and didn't have the time to make as much stuff as I wanted. It was totally out of balance, in favor of capitalizing on the shows that I had already committed to. When I started the season, I didn't really understand that there would be a narrow window when the shows were happening and the weather was right for my stuff. This meant that I had no choice but to deplete my inventory to get stuff out to customers at the right time.

Another factor in this has been "production bottleneck". I have only one loom. That loom takes 100 hours to set up for weaving. During this time, no cloth is being produced. This greatly contributed to the depletion of my inventory. Others in the collective can weave the cloth and sew the garments, but nobody but me can make the design decisions and set up the loom. I'm also the only one who can go out and sell, so the production really suffered for a while.

And then there's cash flow. When I earn money at shows, I need to look at how to spend that money to solve the most pressing problems in the business. This is the crux of my work as a business owner.

So, this season I made a few hard decisions with my eyes on the long term...

  1. upgraded the van to be a dependable mode of transport

  2. stocked up on yarn

  3. moved the studio into the basement of our house to cut rent in half

  4. bought two new looms

And this brings me to the exciting meat of this post - a grueling transportation adventure to bring two production looms home.

This part of the story actually started a while ago. I posted in various weaving forums that I was looking for a second 60" production dobby loom. Well, I found one in North Carolina. The price was right. Even if I spent $1,000 to get it out here, it would cost less than buying one reconditioned from AVL. Awesome, right?

It took a few months for it all to come together. I had settled on a plan: take Greyhound out there, rent a UHaul to bring the loom back to Greyhound and pay to ship the loom home again using Greyhound Package Express. The total bill was $1,000 plus 7 days of my time. The money I expected, but the time away from the studio was tough to allocate. I did it, though, and then something happened with Greyhound. They gave me a confirmation, but never charged me and my ticket never appeared in their system. The time came for my trip and I couldn't go without paying an extra $600 for a rush ticket. No way!

And then, I got a response to an ad I had put on Craigslist. A man with mechanical expertise was driving out here from there. He was willing to break down the loom, wrap it in palette plastic and bring it to Northern California if I paid for his gas. Yes!

In the meantime, another loom appeared. A friend emailed to tell me that a 48" AVL production loom had appeared on Craigslist for REAL CHEAP and that she would loan me the money if I didn't have it. And it's true, I didn't have it.

I decided to get this loom, even though it's incompatible with my others for one good reason. It wasn't long ago that I was an apprentice and I remember one frustrating reality: that I was unable to exert any creative control. Well, we're a collective here, and that dynamic feels even worse. This new loom is on permanent loan to Wispr. He'll be able to play to his heart's content and develop his own style and his own line of products if he so desires. We'll work out the finances of it, but this looks like a great way to help him to get financially and creatively independent from me and my weaving.

And finally, after much planning and financial sorcery, the whole plan came together. I sent gas money to the man who was driving my loom out here. While he was driving, I made my travel arrangements. I would rendezvous with him in Yuba City, put one loom in my van, and go to sleep at a friend's house for the night. Then I'd leave early in the morning and drive to Santa Rosa, break down and pack the second loom, and drive over the mountains and home again. It would be a 36 hour trip and cost another few hundred dollars in gas.

And, that's just what happened! The only unexpected part was that I picked up some travellers on the way down and helped to support the occupy movement in the bay area. It was nice to have company and lively conversation for the drive down. I didn't take pictures of the two snowstorms, the traffic, or any of the beautiful scenery, but I enjoyed them nonetheless.

What's next?

Well, I've got to get the blue/purple cloth ready to weave. And then, while Wispr and I take turns weaving on it, I'll be using the second loom to warp and thread the sandstone cloth. So this time, instead of 2-3 weeks of downtime between beams, the next batch will be ready to weave as soon as the first one is done. And that's how it'll be from now on. The increased efficiency will ensure that I don't run short on inventory again any time soon. And, it'll let me use the money from the next show to pay for the small loom and ship out the rest of the Kickstarter rewards before Christmas.

And, as has been the case since I started this venture, I don't have two pennies to rub together, but I have invested the money that I did have to create greater opportunity for the flow of abundance in the near future.

1 comment:

Tien said...

Glad to hear you finally managed to pick up the 48" AVL! Good luck with it.