FILED IN: Behind-the-Scenes, Education, M&G Happenings
Posted By: Jamie Kutchman, Founder
Sometimes you grow a business to a certain point and realize you need help to scale your operations to the next level. We happen to be a curated gift box business but what I'm about to say really applies to any type of business. You’ve bootstrapped enough, trial and error’d enough, and relied on intuition enough to get you where you are today. And while that’s a noble pursuit, it’s time to swallow the pride and call in the experts. But calling in the experts can be scarier than figuring things out on your own. You have to show them all the ugly things, all the things you’re not proud of, all the things making you work harder and not smarter, and allow them to privately speak to employees in complete confidence to get the real deal. It’s embarrassing, uncomfortable, and anxiety-inducing. But pride never gets you anywhere and complacency can be the kiss of death for any business. So over the last few months, we've welcomed consultants in to completely reinvent our internal operations.
Why did we do this? Simply put, while I always realized there was room for operational improvement (especially each holiday season when we are pushed to our limits), it actually took COVID for me to take action and embrace this level of operational change. When COVID hit, our bulk gifting projects for in-person events came to a screeching halt. At the same time, our e-commerce business (gifts ordered one-at-a-time for all of life's occasions, including client gifting) literally shot through the roof. From what I could tell from reading all of the personal notecard messages submitted with these gift orders, it was because people weren't able to interact in-person and they desperately needed a way to remain connected. They wanted to remain connected during occasions like birthdays and wedding engagements but also to show one another support during stressful times caused by the pandemic, most notably self-care gifts for healthcare heroes and gifting for cancelled weddings. So essentially, our already-busy e-commerce business experienced exponential growth literally overnight. At the same time, we were forced to work on a skeleton crew in order to keep everyone safe and abide by our state's COVID mandates. So, at a time when we had more orders than ever, we had far fewer people to execute.
Then, things got even crazier. Mother's Day hit. Orders continued to rush in, faster than ever before, at rates far higher than even our holiday rush. This combination of Mother's Day, quarantine gifting, and a limited on-site staff was a perfect storm and put our team to the absolute test. It quickly became obvious that we lacked the internal processes to sustain such massive growth. It was so glaringly obvious that I just simply couldn't allow us to go on like that any longer as we were. If I wanted to keep growing the business, which I did and do, I knew things had to change. I also knew I had to make a serious financial investment to bring these changes to life. At time like COVID when the in-person events portion of our business was non-existent, it was financially scarier than ever. But I called the consulting firm, had an initial call with the team, and retained them shortly thereafter. I was 100% sure this was the right move.
First things first, they came in to do a widespread operations audit which involved videotaping and analyzing our daily team zoom meetings, setting up GoPros and watching our every move, conducting lengthy one-on-one employee interviews, poking around every square inch of our warehouse, accessing all of our data, and essentially exposing all of our "warts." This was all done while practicing social distancing, some of the meetings occurring via phone or Zoom. Once the initial audit was complete, the firm reported back to us with a slide deck 188 pages deep of “opportunities to improve,” which immediately felt a lot like a lengthy list of everything we were doing wrong.
As a business owner, your business is your baby and so receiving criticism, constructive as it may be, is flat-out difficult. But I quickly snapped out of this fight-or-flight mindset and realized that the first step in fixing anything is to identify the issues and set a path to face them head-on. I can be proud of what I've built along with my team and still recognize that much is needed to scale to the next level. It’s possible to have my ego slightly bruised while still putting pride aside so it doesn’t slow us down. It doesn't have to be one or the other. Whatever is best for the business, which is best for our team, which is best for our clients, is what has to be done.
Our 6,000 square ft. footprint has since been rearranged. Our current assembly tables have transitioned to heavy-duty workbenches on wheels. The consultants built us new shipping stations, each specifically designated for either e-commerce shipments or bulk custom shipments instead of using the same stations for different types of gift shipments. We’re about ready to go live with our brand new inventory system complete with shelving locations and barcoding and all the things you’d find in a “real warehouse.” Computer monitors have been added throughout the studio to display instructional videos for every piece of the business (i.e. easier training for new and seasonal team members!) as well as making it easier to view orders and print labels from virtually anywhere in the warehouse. Standard Operating Procedures (i.e. SOPs) are being established for every aspect of the business. Key Performance Indicators (i.e. KPIs) too. Our existing roles are becoming much more clearly defined with less fluidity. We’ll even soon be expanding our team in some key management roles, which is the most exciting part of all.
There is nothing wrong with growing brick-by-brick. We did it. But sometimes when you grow brick-by-brick you resist widespread sweeping change; the kind of change that could ultimately elevate your business. When you grow brick-by-brick, it can be hard to recognize how far you've come, which can slow the realization that you're ready for the next level.
Over the last few months, our warehouse footprint and operations have been turned completely upside down. While these changes to aspects of the business such as how we receive inventory, how we build gifts, how we quality check our inventory, how we ship gifts, and even how we store inventory are scary, they are absolutely necessary for us to continue our growth. Seeing all of this change start to come alive makes us realize that we should have made these changes a long time ago. Even still, I will continue to be a brick-by-brick business owner because that's who I am at my core. However, when new opportunities present themselves, I have a feeling I'll be much more likely to woman-up and go big.
Stay tuned as we fine-tune and finalize all of the operational changes that we've been undergoing. With any big investment, it’s always a risk, and for people like me who are intensely risk-averse, it’s terrifying. But if you admit you can’t stay in the present because you need that push to help scale your business even further, the only path is forward. It's been a crazy last year or so with our building fire and flood followed immediately by COVID. We're excited to keep you in the loop as we become a new and improved Marigold & Grey!