It’s been a while since I wrote a quarterly report – I haven’t for two quarters in fact. You can see my last quarterly report from June 4th, 2o14 here. While it isn’t the end of this quarter (which ends February 28th) I’ve been feeling the need to think reflectively about Thread Theory and, for me, there is no better way to reflect than to write about what I’m thinking!
(All photos in this post are from our Instagram account. Follow us on Instagram to see behind the scenes updates like these!)
What we’ve done:
The last few months of working on Thread Theory have basically gone like this (with lots of exceptions but for most part this routine is what we do): Any weekday you can find me checking updates within the online sewing community with my morning coffee and breakfast. On Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, Matt and I both work on Thread Theory from home. We launch into responding to customer service emails for the morning and pack orders. We walk the orders to the mail box to exercise our dog, Luki – usually in the mid morning or early afternoon. In recent months, Nicole, our Thread Theory Extrovert (i.e. customer service representative), comes over once or twice a week to help respond to emails and to assemble Bag Making Supplies Kits, Comox Trunk Kits and Jeans & Pants Essential Notions packages. She helps assemble patterns when she has time at home.
In the afternoons, Matt usually ends up working on more computer related Thread Theory business which varies greatly – you might find him responding to potential stockists, updating our website, troubleshooting shipping problems, or splitting upcoming PDF patterns into pages. Meanwhile, I usually spend my afternoons working on patterns and samples or working on the blog and our other avenues of communicating with you guys (such as Facebook, Mailchimp newsletters, Instagram and Twitter).
While a theme from our early quarterly reports was long work hours and trouble tearing ourselves away from the act of constantly refreshing our email program in the evening, we have managed to strike a far better balance with this. I still find myself sewing Thread Theory samples in the evening quite often and if we are doing something that involves sitting still you will invariably find me assembling pattern envelopes – all the same though, we have a very clear ‘end’ to our workday and it feels great!
Matt works at the Comox Fire Hall two days a week – Thursday and Friday. On those days, I work with a more flexible schedule. If I simply can’t bear the thought of answering one more email, I sometimes close myself up in the sewing room for the morning and listen to podcasts while I enjoy the more creative tasks involved in running the business – be it sample sewing or drawing instruction diagrams. Sometimes I spend the whole day planning for the future. This might seem a little unproductive since there are almost always emails waiting to be answered and orders waiting to be packed, but I find, when the mood strikes me to brainstorm I should go with it. It’s pretty easy to start feeling uninspired and worn down if I don’t give myself time to brainstorm (I guess that’s the point I’m at right now…hence this blog post!).
When Matt and I feel extra busy or we’ve taken Luki for some luxuriously long lunch time walks throughout the week (which is such a nice thing to do since it’s so dark and cold in the evenings), we often pick up the slack a bit on weekends. We tend to spend a couple hours emailing and packing orders on Saturday morning if this is the case – we’ve been trying to avoid this as much as possible though because I find if we let ourselves stretch our work hours into evenings and weekends even moderately, it becomes an avalanche and we are quickly deeply immersed in our ‘all work and no play’ schedule!
This basic routine that we’ve worked out for ourselves has been quite successful since my last quarterly report. We’ve released three patterns – the Finlayson Sweater, the Jutland Pants and, most recently, the women’s Camas Blouse. We’ve run two sew-alongs – the Finlayson Sew-Along (complete with a contest) and the Jutland Pants Sew-Along. We’ve held a couple of sales, including our overwhelmingly successful New Years Sale that just ended on Jan. 7th. The blog has been pretty consistently updated…though I’ve been struggling with a bit of writer’s block lately so I’m not sure how inspiring or varied my posts have been over the last two or three months.
Of course, the above list featured the largest events our company has experience recently. To achieve these, it was necessary to have long term goals and to ‘chug away’ through the dull bits in order to get to the satisfying parts (launching a pattern! Enjoying your feedback on our sew alongs! Seeing your lovingly sewn Thread Theory garments!). I’ve enjoyed punctuating these larger goals with some smaller projects recently for a change of pace and some instant gratification – for example, I hugely enjoyed writing a magazine article this winter that I will tell you more about once it has been published. I’ve also really found our recent practice of carrying sewing supplies and tools in our Thread Theory store to be a great way to boost my excitement over Thread Theory. Sometimes, I hate to admit, the daily admin tasks involved in owning Thread Theory start to feel like an endless race that resets itself at the beginning each morning – for example, we struggle (valiantly!) to empty the email inbox each day and wake up each morning to find it more full than before. Or, I photograph, write, edit photos, and compile a Friday blog post one week and, of course, the next week I am back at ground zero needing to do the same thing once again (I’m sure all of you bloggers can relate to the perseverance necessary to maintain an interesting blog). But, just to be clear, I don’t want to sound negative about this…I would rather do these things than almost anything else in the world!!! All the same, it is important to recognize when things start to feel like a chore. That is when I give myself a little time to research inspiring sewing products and daydream about what I would like to add to my sewing studio. When I’ve found those things, we purchase them, package them, and place them in our store to share with you!
Where we’re going:
Now that I’ve summed up what Thread Theory has looked like in the very recent past, I’ll show you how we plan for Thread Theory to grow and change in the future (of course, plans change so these aren’t promises, they are just loose goals!).
We currently have three more patterns in the works. One will be coming out quite soon and the rest will be launched in the spring or further into the future. Our next pattern, as I have hinted quite often, is a women’s pattern (did you notice the pants that were featured in our Camas Blouse photo shoot? Many of you have emailed us about them!). The Camas Blouse and our upcoming Lazo Pants are a temporary step away from our company’s original niche – menswear sewing. These two patterns were created for the fashion line I was required to make while in design school. When I showed them to blog readers back in June 2013 many of you begged for them to be made into patterns. I just couldn’t resist the temptation to comply! Some of you menswear enthusiasts might be worried that we will forget to focus on menswear in the next year – please don’t worry! Menswear will remain a very prominent aspect of Thread Theory. In fact, two of the three upcoming patterns are some really awesome (in my opinion) menswear staples!
Although we are firm on the point that one of our company’s main focuses will always be menswear, we were in awe of your enthusiastic response when we released our first women’s pattern. With this in mind (plus the factor that I love the excuse to sew something for myself when ‘working’) we have begun research on adding niche women’s patterns to our business over the next year. We have a certain theme in mind that we feel doesn’t compete directly with any of our favorite existing indie companies. So many of these companies have generously given us advice and encouragement as we developed our menswear patterns and so I don’t feel right about directly competing with any of them by creating women’s garments featuring similar styles to those already existing…this might be a little silly on my part as the indie sewing community can, in no way, be described as competitive!
While it is tempting to speed up the pace of pattern releases so we can get all these ideas rolling, I plan to avoid this temptation because I have been learning that things actually slow down for a while when I try to speed things up. That sounds like a bit of a riddle but it actually makes sense…let me explain: For instance, in order to speed up pattern production, I need to spend more of my time working with our patterns and less time working on admin. This means hiring someone to help with customer service (such as Nicole). Hiring someone means spending many hours training, setting up new systems, and re-learning our business. Each time I teach Nicole something, I see errors or weak points in the processes we’ve created since I am suddenly seeing them from her perspective. Next thing I know, Matt is required to spend a whole week working on the technical aspects of the improvements I desire and I have to be trained in the new, improved system before I can teach it to Nicole!
Aside from keeping a consistent pattern release schedule, I would like to continue stocking sewing supplies that compliment upcoming patterns. I’ve got some really exciting ideas for a new menswear and corresponding kits!
Matt and I also plan to streamline our wholesale system and our shipping system (both to individual customers and to retailers). Selling to sewing stores has been a big learning curve for us and I’m pretty sure we’ve made every mistake possible (though, now that I’ve said that, I am also sure we’ll make many more mistakes in the future!). I would love to find some sort of training or manual on how to set up a wholesale approach (for a small online business). Any ideas? I really don’t want our stockists to feel confused by our system any longer and Matt and I NEED to find a way to stop our website’s shipping app from constantly breaking down if we would like to maintain our sanity.
Over the next year I dream of hiring someone to create sew-alongs for all of our patterns and I would also like to employ a very precise and knowledgeable sample sewer. We plan to expand to a larger studio as soon as we are able to as we are currently bursting at the seams in this little house! Aside from all of this, we have a million tiny little goals and details that we will be working towards in the next few months. I won’t bore you with the mundane details of these financial, customer service, and admin specifics but keep in mind that if we are quiet on the blog or website, these things are probably what we are devoting all of our attention to!
If you made it through this reflective post filled with all of my dreams, I heartily congratulate you! If you have any advice from a small business perspective or any goals you would like to add to our list, we are always happy to hear from you in the comments or by email (I know I complain about answering endless lists of emails but really I love receiving each individual message! Having connections with sewists around the world is, of course, what running this business is all about!).