Time For Plan B (and C and D)

The Corona Virus (COVID-19) has cause markets to be cancelled, shelves to empty and total boredom with daytime TV. What are you going to do?

If you are like me, you’ve spent the past few days watching the chaos around the world unfold while feeling depressed, frustrated, worried, and just downright pissed off. Here in Southeast Texas, all the markets that we had scheduled have been cancelled. This effectively shuts off our income stream. In fact, I just learned that one of the largest antique and craft markets in this area just shut down after only opening for a few minutes today.

While we have held out hope for the past couple of weeks, we knew that our year was definitely changing when the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo was cancelled. We watched the news in tears as our vendor friends were packing out of the Rodeo with a full stock of inventory and little, if any, cash in their pockets. This will likely bankrupt many of them.

We must accept the fact that there is little that we can do in the wake of the confusion caused by this pandemic. You may feel that all these closures are timely and pertinent or you may feel that it is all an overblown reaction caused by the media.  Either way, your feelings are fair and honest, but be careful that they don’t get in your way because people are going to react regardless of how you feel about matters. Hopefully we will look back on this time in our lives as an overreaction and collectively we were wrong.

Personally, I have spent the past few days with busy work. I haven’t been getting much done but at least I looked like I was doing something. In reality, it is my coping mechanism for the massive amount of uncertainty that I feel about our business. I’m sure that you can relate.

However, I’ve come to realize that in the midst of all of this confusion I can find opportunities. While there are very few certainties in the current environment, I know a few things to be true:

First, I will be spending my foreseeable future practicing “social distancing”. I will be avoiding people and markets so that I am not a part of the transmission of this virus. While we may not be able to solve this particular problem, we definitely don’t want to be part of the problem. Staying away from people and crowds seems to be the right thing to do in this “environment of public opinion”. (Thanks to Mitch for this awesome phrase!)

Second, my shop is a total mess. If you picture the global chaos caused by the Corona Virus and project it into my shop, you get an idea of the mess.

Third, I’ve got a list of stuff that “I’ll get around to” when I have a chance. Guess what? That chance has been forced upon me.

Lastly, the vast majority of my customers are in the same boat I am. They won’t be going out and will be growing bored very soon. What do bored people do? They surf the Interwebs (yes, I know) to read blogs like this, watch videos, and shop. Hmmmmm.

So what am I going to do in the midst of all of this? I’ll give you a hint – if customers can’t come to you, then you need to go to your customers! I’m going to split my time between building our online presence and addressing the growing list of tasks that just needed some time to address.

Here is a list of opportunities that I have identified so far. I’m going to do my best to pursue them with all of the time that has suddenly appeared on my calendar. I bet a lot of this list mimics yours too. Most of these things don’t require a lot of money to be spent, but time, focus and effort.

Clean and Organize

I have boxes of crap stuffed in corners in the shop and in storage. When they get covered with sawdust, I forget they are even there. I’m going to get all of these boxes unpacked and organize so I can actually see what I have to work with.

Online Presence

We do have an online shop and it is marginally successful. It has not been maintained well for quite some time. This is something that not only will be addressed soon, but I am going to make a concerted effort to make it part of my daily or even weekly task list. Some of the things that need to do include:

  • Update product descriptions
  • Update pictures
  • Explore new 3rd party merchandisers such as Etsy or Amazon
  • Social media (Instagram and Pinterest)
  • Maybe learn Facebook since I still haven’t figured out the point of the whole thing.

Fix My Processes

There are a lot of steps in making the products that I sell. I’ve realized that I’ve not been as efficient as I could be. Along with the “Clean and Organize” above, I’m going to see what I can do to make my workspace more efficient and processes more streamlined.

One of the ways that I can do this is by having the materials that I use often in designated spaces close to where they are used. It saves time in hunting for things that I need. Another thing I know I can do is build jigs to make my life easier. This will make repeatable activities more consistent and faster.

New Products

Along with all of the above, there are new products or product derivatives that I want to explore. I want to work with new materials and technologies and integrate them into what I do. I bought a couple of cheap 3D printers and have been tinkering with them. I’ve found some opportunities to make better products when tinkering with these printers. I don’t know if it will work, but this is an opportunity to find out. In short, I have an opportunity to play with the new toys.

Pictures and Video

I will be taking a lot of pictures and video not only of our products but in the making of the products. People really respond to pictures and video of the products being made. It removes their doubt that we really make the products that we sell. I may not have an immediate need for the pictures and video, but Monica regularly scans my archive to find things to post on social media. It will be nice to have an archive of readily accessible media to draw upon in the future.

Booth Display

Our booth display is always in flux. There are lots of things that I would like to do to make it more appealing. I have an opportunity to work on things such as making display stands, signs and merchandising.

YouTube

I have a YouTube channel that people look at once in a while. This is an opportunity to make new videos and perhaps even create new channels that are more consistent with the topic. I know that The Vendor Life channel doesn’t really represent what I intended it to be.  I might just have time to fix that now.

My prediction for the future is that many, many more opportunities will present themselves. We just need to know where and how to look for them. For example, it has become quite apparent that the national dependency on foreign manufacturers is a huge weakness in our supply chain. This effects every one of us as well as all of our customers.

We are going to experience a national backlash against foreign manufacturing outsourcing. Even today I read that China is threatening to stop shipping pharmaceutical products to the United States. This is a huge future opportunity for those of us that can fill that gap and many others.

Midsize and large stores are going to spend more effort to source locally as well. We need to make sure that our products are better than our foreign competitors to get into these stores.

Even our customers recognize this as an issue. I think that when things calm down, people are going to go to small businesses first not only to buy quality products but to support their local economy first.

Don’t worry too much. Not all hope is lost. Look at this as a chance to address all of the things that you never had time to do. Look for different ways to sell your products and be of value to your customers. Use my list as a starting point for all of the opportunities that screaming at you right now.

So, what are you going to do? Are you going to sit around and watch daytime TV or are you going to reinforce your business to defend against other challenges that will come up in the future? Get your processes under control so that you can be ready for your customers with a smile when we get “back to normal” (whatever that will look like).

Since your kids are at home now too, get them involved and teach them your business. Maybe they will come up with something new and they will even start their own business.

Since I won’t be seeing you at market soon, stay safe and stay sane.

 

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