10 Lessons I've Learnt From Being in Business for 10 Years
This year, Sarah and I are celebrating 10 years of our little baby, Crushes. Of course, she wasn't called Crushes back then. She was called (the very era-appropriate-five-word-title) "The Bread and Butter Letter" (which was named after Sarahs tumblr(!!) )
We were just lil' baby ourselves. Sarah was working as a junior urban planner, and I was still in music school. We knew nothing about business, but saw our parents do it - could it be that hard?
We met through our boyfriends who were in Aucklands coolest indie folk band and bonded at a pool party over one very fateful vintage swimsuit. That night Sarah learnt that I had been flipping vintage on trademe all summer making a tidy profit, and I learnt that Sarah had been hoarding vintage clothing - of which she had rented out a whole other room at her flat to store it! What a match made in heaven.
Sarah lived over a small store (where Hero Sandwhiches was and where Kind Strangers is now). We literally scavenged for fixtures to turn her lounge in to a store; an old sewing table was given as a counter, foraged metal rods suspended from the ceiling acted as our rails, pieces of wood nailed on the wall with a few screws was apparently a good display, and we used baskets found in the inorganics. The total cost to make our first shop was $50.
The hero piece of that first store was a bright yellow couch, that was our invitation for people to sit and stay as long as they wanted. We would brew a tea, bring out a board game, and had a cookie jar. Because people has always been our main focus. We wanted to create a place for people to gather and feel comfortable. And we like to think that that hasn't changed at all!
Looking back now, we have certainly come so far and we've learnt so much! So I thought I'd share 10 things we've learnt after being in business for 10 years.
Adapt and Pivot!
If the last two years have taught us anything, is that when problems arise, there is always a way to pivot to adapt to your circumstances. That sort of flexibility can sometimes be pretty frustrating for these two virgos, but holding plans and designs loosely means that a better idea could be just around the corner.
There's Alway Another Avenue for Revenue
Business doesn't always have to be so straigth forward. When we first started, we had to hustle in so many different realms to bring in more revenue streams. That was creating our own in-house label, creating events and activations, being creative with payment schemes, renting out any space we weren't using, experimenting with growing our offerings delving in to different category types, etc.
I suppose business feels like a creative art. Perhaps the part in your brain that is artistic lights up in the same way when you're problem solving. And finding that solution to bring in revenue can be very creative. Hustling is an art.
What's Good For Others Is Good For You
When you see a movie about commerce, it's always about cutting the best deal, sometimes at the expense of another party. But we find in our line of work, making sure that our suppliers and makers are able to make the profit and margins that they need is what is in fact best practise for us. Because a business that can stay in business, is what we need for us to do our best business.
We have used our little platform as an excuse to teach a whole bunch of small new businesses what their mark up should be so they can grow and not just exist, how to approach other retailers, and working collaboratively in the product design phase to give their goods the best chance.
Likewise, what is good for our staff is good for us. If they are wanting to be more challenged, have more agency, more hours or better pay, this always has great return being able to keep our staff happier and consequently longer.
GST Registration Is A Gift To New Business
Every single new business we have met knows an accountant that says "you don't need to be GST registered cause you're not earning enough" but we always say WHY WOULDN'T YOU WANNA BE? You get an amazing opportunity to get all of your tax back on all of your expenses. That is 15% return from your; studio rent, craft supplies, packaging costs, petrol for work expenses. Yes, it is a bit of admin keeping your receipts, and inserting them in to the system, but we think it is worth keeping all of that hard earned dosh in the business.
Live In "Chaos Neutral"
It isn't grammatically correct, but we use the phrase "chaos neutral" to explain that very special feeling of being caught up in your TO DO list so when new problems, emails, goals, come your way you can get straight in to it. It is what each of our team strive for, as it makes life so much easier and manageable!
It's All About Systems
For a small business, there is so much to do and so much to manage that time is a resource! If you can find where you waste most time, you can then ask how can this be done more efficient. Do this to every system a long the way, and perhaps you won't be still doing emails as you hop in to bed tonight.
One of our newest hires said that starting at Crushes was so much easier than past retail because our systems are so obvious and well functioning. Well, have I ever heard a better compliment?!
Work With Everyone's Strengths
Instead of hiring somebody for a specific role, it has worked well for us to meet a whole bunch of candidates with various skills and worked out how we can best utilise their strengths and passions. It makes work for them so much more interesting, and we gain an expert in a field that we're not experienced in ourselves. We've had a 'shop manager' teach us about aperture and lighting, and a 'production manager' that has developed a line of ceramics, and a 'retail assistant' implement a logistic system that betters our operations. We lean in to these sorts of strengths whenever possible!
Keep Your Staff
You train your staffto learn how you specifically do things (see above: systems) and then they need to go back to uni, or leave the city, and all of your time inputing in to them is gone. We've started changing the way we hire, and look for people who are wanting to participate in our vision and can commit to our business. In exchange, we make sure our staff is stimulated giving them opportunities to learn and grow and progress as a career, to collaborate on our designs and decisions so they have better buy-in, and of course to pay them fairly!
Try To Understand Before You React
Sarah didn't need to practise this one, but this advice certainly made me become a much better manager and communicator, to slow down and simply say "can you explain what you mean when you said xyz?" instead of assuming anything. I've loved how this simple removal of ego has kept the peace in each unique situation, and shows a great respect for the other.
It's Not All About Money
This may seem corny, but honestly, Sarah and I don't think that money is what makes a successful business. Yes, we love when the bills have been all paid and there isn't stress about how we're going to pay the Next Big One, but we are genuinely happy that we have created a workplace and a lifestyle that brings us joy each day. Mondays aren't burdensome, and our team are our mates. THAT is a successful business!