Archive for category Failures and Frustrations
I am not sure if I owe any follow ups from prior posts, if I do, I apologize.
In my dealings with suppliers etc, I run into so many things major corporations do that are so dumb, I decided to start calling it “stupid company tricks,” when I write about it. Two examples of how poorly gigantic companies are run:
- UPS is a joke. We have become a rather large client for UPS. I pay them more than twice as much as I pay any of our employees including myself! Despite this, I have trouble getting a return call from our account rep. Essentially, UPS had been incorrectly billing us for months, we found the error and they acknowledged it. The total was about $1,000 (less then we spend in a week with them). This was over a year ago. I still do not have that money. What makes it worse is that my rep is terrible at communicating with me. On multiple occasions he has said the credit will be take care of “today.” What a Joke. FedEx, feel free to give me a call.
- For my second rant of the day I would like to point out the stupidity of US Bank. We work with several different Banks, but US bank is our day to day bank. A few days ago I went in to the same branch I always go into to deposit a corporate check. Done, no problem. I also happened to have a personal check for $5.00 I wanted to cash. I do not have my personal account at US Bank, but asked if they could cash my check for me. The teller’s know me, I am the only signer on the business accounts, and I had all kinds of ID’s with me. I was denied. They wouldn’t cash a $5.00 check for me. I almost closed all my accounts and took them somewhere else. What a Joke.
It continually amazes me how companies that have issues like these grow to be multi-billion dollar enterprises. Aside from that, we are still trying to hire an office manager, launching several new websites, and all kinds of other stuff to continue to grow the business.
Entrepreneurship and building a company has not gotten any easier. Some days it beats you down and you wonder why the hell you put yourself through the roller coaster ride that is entrepreneurship. I mention this because of a quote that really spoke to me from Steve Jobs that was in the most recent Fast Company that I will leave you with.
“Building a company is a marathon…There are times when you run a marathon and you wonder, Why am I doing this? Butt you take a drink of water, and around the next bend, you get your wind back, remember the finish line, and keep going….”
Today was not a fun day.
Woke up at about 6:00 AM to a fire alarm. Turns out a water pipe had burst in the lobby of the building I live in. Scrubadoo’s office is located in commercial space at the ground level of the same building.
Guess where the pipe bust was? Needless to say we were basically swimming in water this morning. It is extremely cold in MN right now (think -10ish) so the hot water that was pouring everywhere was throwing off an amazing amount of steam. The firefighters that responded to the alarm broke through the glass security door to the building and then proceeded to kick in the two doors to our office. I am actually ok with this (better than having someone stuck and in trouble).
But everything was a mess. Damages basically consisted of walls, scrubs, and a day of my life cleaning up. It got me thinking of the other low points of running scrubadoo.
- We played a part in messing up a large order this past Christmas. Total cost ~$1,000. We ate the total cost despite having about 50% of the responsibility.
- My honor being questioned by a supplier when we first started the company. Essentially we were promised certain terms by our account rep, he left the company and my new rep wouldn’t honor it. I took it all the way to their CEO when he basically called me a liar. I didn’t have it in writing – lesson learned.
- Writing a $6,000 dollar check to a company for web development – despite literally zero of our line items promised were completed.
There have been a lot of tough times for us. To this point we have pushed through and kept on growing. I am sure there will be more to come. Have I ever mentioned starting a company is tough?
About two years ago I wrote a post about major issues I was having with a supplier. I wish I could tell you a fun happy story about our relationship with the same supplier (who happen to specialize in collegiate scrubs) but two years later we are having almost all of the same issues.
TWO YEARS! that is a long long time.
They have had all kinds of internal inventory, staffing, and basically any other kind of issue you can think of. Or at least those are a lot of the reasons they have provided me for their two year long ineptitude.
I need to be clear hear and say that our current account rep is actually very responsive and I truly think he is doing his best, but he being provided very little reliable information and support. There really isn’t too much he can do. Like me, he is overwhelmed by the issues they are having.
We have literally had orders that until recently have been on back order since December 2010! We still have orders that are on backorder from APRIL! We are doing everything we can to keep these clients informed, have provided them with very very deep discounts on their order and are sending gift cards to all of them to help salvage their relationship with us (after some negotiations these gift cards have been subsidized by our supplier (theoretically). We have also refunded anyone who has asked and sent a gift card to them for future orders.
What makes these delays worse is that on over 15 occasions these clients have been told that their orders are about ready to ship out…..15 times! How are they still waiting? I would have demanded my money back a long time ago!
Some of their issues are so ridiculous that I literally went 3 months trying to pay them for orders they had fulfilled for us and I couldn’t get anyone int he finance area to call me back to take a payment!! It eventually had to fall to our already over-worked account rep to handle.
About 5 months ago I sent the CEO of the company (with whom my relationship got off to a rocky start with when he questioned my ethics in one of my very first interactions with his company….never question our my or our companies ethics!) a very long detailed email that was very cordial in the hopes of opening up a little more communication between our companies in the hopes that we could better serve our mutual end clients. I believe it was a 4 page email with the issues we had have, how I thought we could help them, and a few ideas of ways we could work together to move forward to improve our relationship and the client experience. I put a lot of time into this email with the intent of making us all stronger. I received a two sentence response from him that was very curt. Needless to say none of my ideas were implemented.
Lets fast forward to the current situation. Here are the facts (as far as I know anyway!)
- I am pretty sure we have grown to be the largest web based client they have.
- Sales of their products (collegiate scrubs) represent about 15% of our business.
- There is a substitute for about 10% of that business from another supplier that we already have a relationship with (so if we drop them completely we probably stand to lose about 5% of our business)
- Issues with their products represent 95% of our headaches.
- Our account rep is tired of my emails every day I would be to in his shoes, but I really don’t have any other options other than emailing and calling him).
- There is really no plan in place for these issues to be resolved.
Now I am faced with a choice. Do I drop their products off of our site completely? Do I do a partial drop? We are going to need to do something and I have done my best to manage my relationship with them to proactively improve the situation but this hasn’t seemed to work. Like I said. I wrote a post about the same company and many of the same issues two years ago!
One thing is sure. We will be making changes shortly.
We here at scrubadoo have really started to lay the ground work for a strong brand that is based on customer service. As a part of this we offer a great return policy. I do think that this policy has made a difference in our conversion rates, and I know that a lot of our customers appreciate it. The hope is that it is part of the entire package we offer, that provides enough of a “wow” factor to keep customers not only loyal to us, but also telling their friends about us. Needless to say our return policy on our scrubs, shoes, etc is not changing anytime soon.
All that being said we are starting to get to the point where we have people starting to take advantage of the policy. They will send items back with out tags on, or shoes that have been worn. While it is still a small percentage it is happening. What is also tough is dealing with the clients that continually buy products from us and continually send everything back. We have a few (very few) clients that have made 5-6 large purchases with us over the last several months and have literally sent everything back for a refund, every time. Now this wouldnt be a big deal if we carried inventory in all the scrubs we offer, but we don’t which makes it really hard to find a use for the returns. Right now the returned items go into storage boxes and pretty much sit in storage. I have yet to figure out a good use/way to sell the returned items. Right now it is just inventory that is eating up our cash flow.
The question then becomes do we fire these clients? If so how do we do it? Right now I am sticking with my guns and servicing the heck out of everyone in the hopes that it will pay off in the long run. But at some point it may not, how do I know when we have reached that point? Is there a good way to cut ties with a client? These are all questions I am thinking about as scrubadoo continues to grow.
Ah the joys of running a retail shop.
When we laid the original groundwork and design for scrubadoo.com we paid a whopping $1,500. That’s it. At the time it felt like a ton of money. As it turns out, I think we got an amazing deal. The general layout and design of the site has changed very little from the beginning.
Since that time we have spent what currently seems like a ridiculous amount of money on back end development to automate and make the site more user friendly. My largest headache continues to be my inability to find a developer, or development team, that is reasonably priced and knocks things out in a reasonable time-frame. Since our initial development, my experience with programmers has been a series of short-lived free-lancers that work on the site for a month or two and then flake out. I recently upgraded to a larger, much more expensive, company with the hopes that our development needs would be taken care of by them into the foreseeable future. While we still are very much in bootstrapping mode I thought if we could establish a real partnership here it would be very valuable into the future, even if it was more expensive than other options I could have found.
Before I go any further let me say one thing:
1. I trust this new company fully. I truly believe they will do good work and are very honest. This was true before I hired them and holds true today.
While the work they have done actually works (which is more than I can say for some of the previous people I have worked with) I think they are used to working with companies much larger than us that are far less worried about budget. We signed on for two back-end projects which we were quoted at 35-40 hours for. Two weeks later we have 9/10′s of one project done and the other yet to be started and we have been billed for 37 hours of work (keep in mind these hours cost about twice as much as what I am used to paying). (On another note the work they have completed was an update of a system that cost me $500 to build originally…).
That really sucks.
Unfortunately we are not yet printing money here at scrubadoo (although I did take a $1,000 paycheck for the first time ever in January so I could afford to pay my student loans) so it is really difficult to deal with an overage of twice what I have paid myself in the entire first two years of scrubadoo’s existence.
Here are the decisions I need to make/think about:
1. Do I stay with this company and slow down my development process (due to capitol restraints) or do I continue to try the free-lance route.
2. Will we ever get out of the bootstrap mode? This was truly my first foray into what I would consider a solution for an established company. It is expensive. It saves me the headache of worrying about the job being done properly, however now I have a new headache of how am I going to pay them.
3. Should we ever get out of the bootstrap mode? Or is this state of mind something that will always be beneficial to the company.
Anyhow, I received the invoice for the first 37 hours of work at about 5:30 today….what a shitty start to the weekend.
There are many aspects of running a business that you just don’t think about prior to launch. One of these items is how customers or employees can take advantage of you as a company. As a consumer or even an employee, you tend to think of where you are shopping or the corporation you work for as a big faceless thing. There is lacking a true personal connection between the company and you.
This is what makes it easy to game the system and take advantage of these faceless corporations, maybe you “borrow” some printer paper to use in your home printer or you end up with a set of cups from the chain down the street. It is typically little things like this that as a consumer or an employee you tend not to think much about. However, once you own your own company, these little things have an entirely new light shed on them and while you do your best to understand, they can sometimes get on your nerves.
Let me tell a quick story, I would be very interested in hearing your feedback.
At scrubadoo.com we donate $10 gift cards to nursing schools & nursing student associations etc. We do this as a good will gesture and in the hopes that every card will reach 1 new person. We have run the numbers and over the long run have lost a little bit of money on the first order made with these cards. After thinking of the best way to set the cards up to prevent people from hoarding all of the what we send, we basically set the cards up so that every user can only use one of these promotional cards ever. It says this on the cards and we tell the groups that we give them to. Now I realize that people could register multiple times and us multiple gift cards but it seemed like a lot of work to game our system for a $5.01 savings (we charge $4.99 for shipping/order so if you register twice and use the card again you are paying shipping twice).
Anyhow, we get calls occasionally where the person on the end of the line asks “I have 15 of these gift cards, but the system is only letting me use one at a time, how do I use them all?” Yesterday I received one such call from a lady in Wisconsin who had acquired 3 of the cards at a nursing convention over the weekend. I went into my standard explanation, that we donate the cards to the the student associations as we feel it is a great group and they deserve our support, but we have to limit their usage to one per person otherwise we wouldn’t be able to afford to make these donations in the future. I then proceeded to tell her seh is more than welcome to use one and then suggested she gives the other two to friends.
We hang up and everyone seemed happy.
15 minutes later we receive two orders back to back. They are shipping to the exact same address, one is for a women’s scrub top and the other is for a matching scrub bottom. Both of the orders use a $10 gift card and the name on one of the orders is shipping to the woman whom I had just spoken with. The other was to a second person with a different email address but the same last name.
Now I am not so naive that I do not expect people to not game the system, it has happened before, and heck, I myself have gamed a system or two. However, I would like to think that if I had just had a conversation with someone about the situation and there were similar circumstances to these, I would just take my $10 off and be happy to share the other gift cards with 2 of my friends.
So, I sent her an email. I very politely told her “Hi Jane Doe , I think we spoke on the phone about 15 minutes ago about your gift cards. Would you mind if we shipped your two orders out in the same box?”
I sent the email for three reasons: 1. I was a little mad at the situation (again, I realize people will game the system) 2. It would save us about $13 to ship the items together and 3. I wanted her to know that I knew.
She responded by asking me to cancel her order.
So I recently told you how difficult it was to sign with manufacturers so I would actually have product to sell.
Despite this I am almost to the point where I am going to discontinue our relationship with one of our manufacturers. This company has been nothing but difficult to deal with since day 1.
When we first started I wanted to sign them up as our lead supplier for our “scrubraisers” brand. However we needed a price point that was lower than their standard wholesale pricing. I figured since we would be buying in bulk we may be able to get preferential pricing. I knew for their involvement to be feasible we needed to get our pant cost to $9.00 a pair, which was roughly a 25% discount to what they currently offered me. I spoke on the phone with our account rep and he said he had to check with the higher ups. He gave me a call back and said as long as we were hitting certain minimum order sizes they would work with us.
A few weeks later I emailed in our first order and I received an email back from a name I didn’t recognize stating that my rep had left the company. They then told me that they didn’t offer pricing as low as what I had mentioned in my email. I called in to explain the deal we had agreed to between our companies. At this point I started looking for an email chain, which I didn’t have….in fact I didn’t have anything in writing (lesson learned there). Eventually after many phone conversations, it became my word about a conversation I had on the phone with an account rep that was no longer with the company which didn’t end up being enough (mind you Mer, my partner, had actually visited this company personally, met our account rep, and the CEO). After going back and forth I actually got on the phone with the CEO about all of this and he basically questioned my integrity. Which really pissed me off.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t afford to drop them as a supplier as they were pretty much my only option at the time. They also have a fairly unique product that we have since done fairly well selling.
The problems didn’t stop there. The supplier specializes in “collegiate logo” scrub apparel, has 16 base colors and really only 4 cuts that they sell. Which is VERY minimal compared to the large companies. When adding their scrubs to our site we needed some info from them, such as what colors come in what sizes and what schools do they offer. Turns out that no one in the company has an exhaustive list of either of these things. I asked for this list over 6 months ago and still haven’t received anything that is even close to what we need (I have been promised it many times, most recently I have been told we will get it in February….we will see). It has turned selling these products into a trial and error game.
Unfortunately it doesn’t end there.
A few weeks ago we sold a set of “Army, Black Knights” scrubs and when I sent the order in I was told they had just terminated carrying that product (we weren’t told).
One of our first customers from OCTOBER, just recently reached out to me and said they never received the Stanford scrubs they ordered. I contacted my new account rep and sure enough the package had been returned to them because it was lacking an Apt #….It was returned over 4 Months ago and they failed to contact me so I could alleviate the problem and reach out to my customer to let them know about the issue.
Two weeks ago we had a client order a UGa scrubs and wanted the rush delivered. I called my rep and asked if we could do it (we paid the rush shipping charges etc) he said no problem. 5 Days later I get a call from the client and they have yet to arrive. I called my rep and he found the scrubs sitting in a “ready to ship” pile that they had been in for 5 days. They promised to rush them out that day. 4 days later I get another call from the client, and the scrubs he received didn’t have the logo on them, they were just blank scrubs.
The list goes on. I would guess that 1/2 of the orders I have taken for this company have been mis-managed in some way. This makes us look really bad.
I don’t know where my breaking point is with them, but I think I am close. It is a lot of trouble to sign a manufacturer and then get their scrubs available for sale on scrubadoo.com. Which makes it very difficult for me to cut the ties.
I haven’t done anything yet, but we may be close.
We have been live for about three weeks now and these three weeks have been the most agonizing weeks I have experienced thus far in my quest to start a successful company.
Up until this point every second I worked had a very definitive result and pushed us closer to our goal of launching. All my work was directed towards getting the website live, getting us to the point where we could finally start bringing in revenue. In the very early stages I could see, track, and measure my effectiveness and progress. The last three weeks, not so much. It has become incredibly difficult to see what, if any, progress I am making with my sales and marketing strategy. Things are no longer just in my hands. People need to start buying from you. They now have the power.
When you get to the point we are at now, you can work your butt off and see minimal results. Then you start questioning everything you have done. Why aren’t clicks converting to sales? Why aren’t we driving more traffic to the site? We are asking for feedback, if people aren’t happy why don’t they tell us? All of these thoughts will inevitably go through your head at some point. It becomes difficult to motivate and persevere.
What is the saying…Rome wasn’t built in a day? As much as you want to say “forget that” you need to keep perspective. These questions your asking yourself aren’t a bad thing (I think you should be constantly evolving) but you need to stay confident. Entrepreneurship is the most difficult undertaking I have ever experienced. It is surprisingly lonely, everyone is constantly questioning you, your decisions, and your company. If you don’t have thick skin and a natural confidence you can easily be flattened by the pressure and criticism.
You just have to keep pushing on, lean on those few people who support you or who have been through it before. You are doing something that A) very few people will ever have the balls to do, and B) Something that you should be passionate about.
I recently read a great article. Check it out here:
I realize that this statement may seem extremely obvious but I have already made this mistake at least once. I thought I had been pretty good about making sure I have at the very least an email trail for everything I do. This included contracts with suppliers, the outsourcing we have done for web development, or agreements with employees.
The Story goes like this:
We planned on using one primary supplier for our scrubraisers campaign. I set up our account with the company for scrubadoo.com and was assigned an account manager, Andy. I was able to negotiate a bulk deal for their products that would allow us to use them as the primary supplier for scrubraisers. I wrote about all of this in a blog a few weeks ago here: http://www.scrubadoo.com/blog/?p=137.
Well I did all of those negotiations in phone conversations with Andy and I did not realize that he had not sent an email or any follow up paper trail. Two weeks ago I sent him a message to try to negotiate similar bulk discounts for some of the other products that they offer. I did not receive a response for several days. When I did it was from a new sales rep. Andy had left the company.
There was no record of the deal that Andy and I had agreed upon. My new contact’s first offer was a a deal that is not going to work for our scrubraisers projects. I pushed back and I am still waiting on them to come back to me with something that will work for both of us. Needless to say it is no fun being in limbo on this, nor do I want to set up a new supplier for scrubraisers.
Hopefully this will all work out for everyone and we can continue to move forward with this supplier. I have certainly learned a lesson here that I hopefully won’t have to learn again. You never know what is gong on with your suppliers so it is always better to be safe than sorry.
Even the title of this blog is confusing. So, what I’ve realized in this digital age is that nobody speaks the same language anymore. As a marketer, I care about what the customer wants and speak in terms of the customer’s wants, needs and experience. But in order to give them the experience they’re looking for, I need to pull together several different technical capabilities to make that happen. For example, we want our returns process to be seamless, so we’re working with UPS and X-cart (our shopping cart software) to make that happen. The trouble is, everything is automated or over email nowadays, so getting the technical people to talk to each other is next to impossible! And although I was a Computer Science major in college, I’m not exactly the right person to be passing highly technical messages between UPS and X-cart’s technical teams. I think the solution is to get them on the phone together, which some way I will figure out how to do. However, companies offering technical solutions need to work on their ability to integrate with other technology providers in a way that works for THEIR customers, ME!