What it Means to be Small
Yesterday I decided to write this blog post, which is meant to be about shopping small, owning a business, owning a business while being a woman (or women, in this case!) and what it all means. I started out trying to Google statistics on small businesses, but my Google moment ended quickly. I was bored after the second search and I realized that all the facts on earth have nothing to do with what I have to say. What percentage of businesses are owned by women, what percentage of businesses are small (ie., fewer than a certain number of employees . . . although the one fact that did stick in my mind is that a whole lot of small businesses owned by women . . . like in the 80th percentile . . . just employ themselves), all those facts mean everything and nothing all at once. I think many of them are already in my head. And one thing I can tell you without having to look it up (okay, I tried, but unless I did some really deep web hunting I wasn’t going to easily find this answer) is that there are not a whole lot of manufacturing businesses owned by women. I can also tell you that whenever I am asked to tell someone what I do for a living (the new person cleaning my teeth, the person sitting next to me on the plane) I always get the same nonplussed reaction. The expected answer is not: “I run a company with my daughter that manufacturers weaving looms. She’s in Washington, I’m in New Hampshire and manufacturing is smack in the middle in Wisconsin.”
As for small businesses and facts, I do have it somewhere in my head that only about a third of small businesses survive ten years. Mirrix is now almost 20 years old so I imagine we are not going to fail any time soon.
Do you want to know why I think we haven’t failed? Besides having a spectacular product (and that really is important), we’ve always run Mirrix on a kind of shoe string budget. No company car, no expensive offices (yes, we still operate that two coastal “offices” out of our homes although manufacturing has moved way up in the world since joining with Sunshine House and exists in a proper manufacturing space. Yup, by year three we had moved out of the garage.)
Those two things (great product, conservative with the cash flow) are very important but I think the thing that makes a small business magical is the smallness. When you contact customer service by email, you get Elena. When you call you get Claudia (me). And what is so cool about that is: we don’t have to talk to our “manager” before fixing your problem. We can just fix it. I think sometimes people are upset even before they contact us. They are expecting to be kept on hold for two hours and then having their problem not resolved in the manner they wanted/expected. Not so with us because we are you! We know exactly what we want to hear and want to happen. If we have a problem we want it fixed as quickly and painlessly as possible. Now granted, in many cases there isn’t even a problem. And the solution is just information. And we’ve got that too.
So what does it mean to us to own a small manufacturing business? It means we care. A lot. Sometimes too much. We take everything personally. It’s hard not to. Someone contacts us to tell us the thing that holds the spring on the top of her loom is slightly crooked and Elena and I go into frantic mode. Oh no is this the only one? Are there others? How did this happen. Oh no, oh no, oh no. and then it turns out it was just one and we can breath again, for now.
I wonder if other small business owners (and especially small manufacturing business owners) feel the same way. I hear about big companies having epic failures and I have to remind myself that no one is going to die because the top tray on one loom is slightly askew.
Manufacturing! It’s kind of a pain sometimes. You think you are being so ahead of yourself ordering that thousand pounds of aluminum tubing at least a month ahead of schedule. Pat myself on the back. And then something goes wrong and that one month ahead becomes one month behind and you’ve just run out of aluminum.
Oh so many lessons have been learned. One of them is: never assume that suppliers care about your deadlines. They care about theirs. And when you are the little guy, they care even less. Last year at exactly this time we ran out of aluminum because everything that could go wrong on the supplier side did. And when it arrived late (and we scrambled to get together all those Cyber Monday orders) 25 percent of it was damaged because the shipper neglected to tie it down in the huge semi and it flew at break neck speeds into the back door, destroying the crate. So the big lesson: Never assume anything will go as planned. It won’t unless you nudge it along.
That sounded like a huge amount of complaining. But let me tell you what it is like to wake up in the morning, sip on the cup of coffee my husband has just brought me, whip open my cute little MacBook and go to work. Eventually, I stumble through the kitchen to my office sometimes even wearing a fancy pair of jeans and a t-shirt (heavy sweater this time of year) having actually ditched my pj bottoms and sleeping t-shirt and grab cup of coffee number two. I marvel at my commute, the fact that my hair-do took three seconds to achieve and that any make-up I own is some dried up stuff in a plastic tube lost in some drawer in my bathroom. Since I like to dive into work quickly I use “lunchtime” as bath time. Then I will do my daily visit to the post office. And a couple of days a week, my “gym” time is riding my horse time. (Elena’s gym time is more elaborate: walking the dog time, yoga time and horseback riding time . . . I need to catch up with her!).
And for the above paragraph I am so grateful. And for everything else this small business has given me, has given us and has given the world.