At 10 years old, here are 10 things we used to do in the past as we were establishing the business, which we’re so happy that we don’t have to do now. They are quite revealing as it indicates some of the things which new entrants to the online industry may be experiencing themselves.
So instead of a Top 10 Things To Do, which can contain many obvious solutions, here’s our Top 10 Of Things We Used To Do, but are so glad we no longer have to.
1) Excessive Clothing
We would wear several pairs of socks and multiple extra layers of clothing since we had no heat in our office during the winter. Reason: We didn’t know if our business would still be around in a year’s time, so investing in heating, was a luxury, not a necessity. It was worse for the office staff who had to sit at their desks. In the warehouse although colder it was made more comfortable by the fact you could keep moving. Operating between the 2 was the most difficult, and that’s the job reserved for company directors.
2) Heavy Travel
Travel hundreds of miles across the country delivering gift baskets when special occasions fell on a weekend or when the couriers stopped for Christmas. Invariably this meant whole weekends and Christmas Eve and Christmas Day spent delivering gift baskets. Reason: We were trying to establish a service superior to anything else on the market. That meant exceeding the customer’s expectations on every level we could humanly manage.
3) Dual Personalities
Adopt multiple names. We each had to perform multiple tasks; taking and processing orders, packing and assembly, helping customers with orders, financially report those orders and handle all the logistics of dealing with customers as well as improving our website. So in order to get everything done we each adopted a second name. We had Mark in the marketing department, Rita the receptionist, Sally the accountant and David in the warehouse. To this day Mr Mark Etting still exists in our marketing dept. and the callers still don’t seem to get the irony!
The reason for what is probably considered madness, was to save us from going mad! We were a 2 person team with multiple jobs to do, in very little time, which was pretty overwhelming. Fabricating a person in our “marketing dept. “ helped us dodge the dozens of marketing calls we would receive every day and free up our one phone line for the most important call – sales! Secondly it gave the impression of a much bigger company. We didn’t have the confidence in ourselves back then to believe that customers would buy from us if they knew how small we were, but we know know this wouldn’t actually have been the case.
4) Inefficient Operating
Load up our car and drive across town to meet the couriers at the business park at 4.45pm. When you are very little and the volume of parcels you are shipping is not very big, the courier companies will want to collect from you earlier in the day. We had a 2.30pm pick up, which was much too early, so every day we would have to drive across town with parcels to meet the driver at a big warehouse in the industrial estate. Ironically we now operate from next door. Reason for this was logistics and once again a desire to offer our service to as many customers as possible.
5) Reactional Logistics
Build and work out of temporary and inadequate storage in the winter time. In the past we’ve erected marquis and rented outhouses in the country in order to keep the storage costs down for our bulk products such as our boxes of wicker or our outer boxing. We couldn’t afford to spend money on space so had to make maximum use of that which we had.
6) Inefficiencies of Operation
Spend hours taping up boxes. Do you know that in order to tape 25 assorted boxes prior to use, it takes 1 hour non stop and that the finishing of those 25 boxes after the product has been inserted takes another 1 hour? Nowadays the boxes are die cut and fold together easily reducing the time by approximately 50%.
7) Customised Design
Offering a free custom designed gift basket service where customers could fill in a form on our website and request any items they wished in their gift basket. Requests ranged from particular brands of cat food and bottles of perfume, to fresh bags of dulse seaweed and daffodils. This service also included a photograph of the finished basket – all of this before the customer even decided if they would like to pay for it or not. Loads of time and effort was invested in each creation, and it was always a gamble as to whether the customer would actually go and ahead and place the order. I’m delighted to say that out of the 100 or so baskets created this way, only 1 person didn’t confirm the order. Although it was hard work, it was also great fun and could be very rewarding because you would get to hear the story behind the gift. My most memorable was the basket I designed for a little girl who was very ill in hospital in London and her Grandmother in Arizona couldn’t be with her so she used us to reach across the miles and send her granddaughter a personalised basket filled with treats and a special doll her grandmother knew she had on her Christmas List.
8) Build Our Own Website
We built our first website by ourselves, using knowledge we had picked up from IT classes in school, and from the help of a student friend. The result was a website built on a manual Dreamweaver platform which was an absolute nightmare to operate and maintain. The result was hours of laborious repetition and coding. E.g. if a minor change needed to be made, such as a price change, it needed to be applied in at least half a dozen different places and uploaded and downloaded. Back in 2003 there was no such thing as broadband and this meant that sitting in front of the computer into the early hours every night. Nowadays everything can be handled automatically thanks to sophisticated and low cost back end content management systems.
9) Admin Galore!
Hours of administrative work, as our self build websites had no content management system. The result was a lot of handwriting as we had to write out order and receipt books, delivery address paperwork, courier manifest paperwork, gift card messages, as well as email every individual customer with receipts, individual tracking codes and to let them know when their package had been delivered. Customers really appreciated the individual, personalised attention, and as a result we have maintained their business 10 years on and counting.
10) No Salary
Work Part-Time in bars and on shopping tills at night time and weekends to ensure that there was no salary taken out of the business, which would jeopardise the growth of the company. We stopped doing this only when weekends and evenings were taken up with the business and we didn’t have the time to work. We would replace what we would have earned by drawings.