“the [plan] is more what you’d call “guidelines” than actual rules.” – Barbossa, Pirates of Caribbean
When starting out, entrepreneurs set a plan. Their mistake is thinking things will go according to the plan. More often than not, a plan will be a merely a general direction to which details will be adjusted, adversities will arise and patience will be tested. This is very different from portfolio managements in which plans should be rigid. In business, the best plan is the most malleable one.
When I started Search & Destroy, the plan was simple:
- Find factories overseas to produce quality clothing
- Import such clothing
- Create an online funnel to sell the clothes.
Finding the factory was easy. We talked to about three dozen factories in 8 different continents, then importing the sample fabric from the ones we thought were the best. Samples came in, we decided on one for the clothing and another one for accessories.
Since the operation didn’t need much initial capital, finding an investor was easy. Production started soon afterwards. The drop date was set on Christmas day (25/12). We figured that would give us enough time to deal with shipping forwarders and customs. Boy, were we wrong.
Wave after wave of problems
Accessories left the factory on November 23rd arriving here on the 30th. Brazilian Customs retained them and continue to do so to the day I am writing this article (24/12), one month after leaving the factory. That means it wasn’t included in the photo shoot, and we can’t ship yet and god knows for how long.
Now, the clothing could be its own novel. The sample we got was of very high quality, for the ones familiar with the technical aspect, it was around 200-210 gsm. For reference, a regular polo would have 160-180 gsm. Since their sample was better than the rest, we went forward and paid for the production of 300 t-shirts. In the middle of production, factory warned us they had produced an extra 119 t-shirts without our approval. I did the math and we could bring them and increase our revenue, so we paid for them. At the end, there were 4 boxes filled with t-shirts, all waiting to be sent out. That’s when the factory tells us it has sent out the package and gives us the tracking. I schedule our photoshoot for the following week. The t-shirts get here, but not all them, 2 out of the 4 boxes. Now, this is a big problem. I have already scheduled photo shoot and one of the t-shirt model isn’t here, but there is even a bigger problem.
Remember how we ordered samples and they had the best quality? Well, the final product didn’t have the same quality. Although one t-shirt model was within the range contracted, it was much lower than expected and much much lower than the sample sent. Another model was completely unsellable. It was even lower than the sample contract. I immediately contact the factory, filled with rage.
They claim one model is indeed under the quality contracted but the other one is okay. I explain to them that this is unacceptable, that I cannot sell one of the model and must get a refund.
I have been importing for 4 years and never had such problems. I have imported over 50 shipments and have had some things mixed up, but never a fuck up of this size. To explain why I am even more mad:
- There is no way to return this as shipping costs a fortune.
- There is no time to produce a new batch
- I had already paid shipping (which is a steal)
- I had already paid taxes, which were wrong and ended up increasing the cost of my product by 20%, due to the factory fucking up the invoice.
So, to recap, at 10 days before the drop date:
- One of the t-shirt model is not here.
- The photoshoot is scheduled, but how can we do it without one of the t-shirt model.
- The accessories are retained by customs.
- T-shirt quality is not the same as ordered.
- I have around 100 t-shirts which I can’t sell.
- I paid more taxes than i should have
Sounds like an entrepreneur’s dream.
Things I should’ve done
Now, I probably fucked up too. Things I should’ve done:
- Hired a quality control company to inspect the final product
- Made sure the invoice the factory sent was correct so I wouldn’t have to pay more in taxes.
- Leaving a bigger margin of days to deal with potential problems.
To be honest, I was expecting hiccups, but not so many. I was not prepared like I should’ve been, I guess that’s part of becoming a business person.
Now, these are all problems, and here is what we have decided to do:
- All t-shirts that are below the quality contracted will be donated to charity.
- For the photoshoot, we had an emergency t-shirt model produced here in Brazil.
- In the next drop, production shall be done in Brazil, this will allow us to send the designer to follow progress and make sure quality is upheld. This will also allow us to not deal with Customs and be at their mercy, nor pay ridiculous high shipping fees which double our cost.
- In the next drop, accessories will be produced overseas, but they will be imported two to three months before the drop date as to guarantee they are here in enough time to do the photo shoot.
It is hard to deal with problems, it is even harder when you are not in control of them. My thinking going forward is to rely less on other people to get the job done, and where we do rely on other people, to carefully monitor them, sometimes even in person, to make sure everything is in order.
In any case, this won’t bury me. This was a learning experience. I am now more prepared for the next step in this business and all other businesses.