Final thoughts and lessons learned..
I have fielded several questions from family, friends and customers since taking over Andover Trask a year ago. Am I enjoying it? Have I had a good year? Do I like owning my own business? What have I learned, etc.. There is no way to answer those questions with a single word or even a single sentence. I also realized my answers varied according to my most recent revelation or experience. After further thought, I now realize why. What I have learned over the last year not only applies to business, but every day life as well. The reason I jumped at the opportunity to own Andover Trask was to learn and grow. I wanted to step out of my comfort zone, challenge myself and hopefully, have a little fun and success in the process. As I continue down this path, and as my ideas for Andover Trask and Porch & Hound continue to grow at an astounding pace, I take away the following from my first year. I am a little wiser, slightly more confident, have a few bruises but most importantly, I have a different mind set. Today, I see things in a completely different light and it is a crucial part of my growth and the growth of Andover Trask.
Let's start with shopping. It may surprise you, especially given what I do, that I am not a big shopper. It has always been such a daunting task - so many or few choices, a store not having exactly what I was looking for or simply, not being able to put an outfit together. My shopping trips usually end with spontaneous purchases that will either be returned, listed on ebay or given to a local shelter months or years down the road, tags still in place. After having my own retail business, shopping is a completely different experience. Now when I go into a major department store, I look at the designer bags, I see beauty and mass production and I usually walk away feeling inadequate and doubtful that I will ever be able to fulfill ‘my’ dream to grow Andover Trask to it’s fullest potential. It can be overwhelming...IF I allow it to be...
The beauty, I finally realized that what I found so intimidating is not what Andover Trask is about. While it is necessary to watch the competition, you don’t need to let the competition define you or what you represent. As the owner of my own business, I can decide what I want to design. I can set the tone for my products and more importantly, I, for the most part, deal directly with my customers. As a result, I receive emails, messages and comments on how much someone loves a bag, how they are using it or if I’m lucky, a picture of our products in action. That relationship with customers is invaluable and keeps me motivated to design and produce a quality product. The lesson: there will always be something bigger, fancier and possibly more successful but, it doesn’t have to define your own success. Success comes in many forms and loving what you do and who you are doing it for, is a key component to your success story.
Bumps and bruises. They come with growth. While I have had an amazing year with sales, I have also taken a few hits. Designs that didn’t sell, producing too many of a certain design or color, whatever the case may be, it comes with the territory. Is it the end of the world? No. It is part of the process. I can only learn by trial and error. Will everyone love the designs I create or colors I choose? No. But, I cannot let it affect my desire to keep trying. Lesson: Take risks. Take your losses gracefully, learn from your mistakes, and most importantly, do NOT let it kill your passion to follow your path or dream. You will never please everyone and creating something you believe in is sometimes more important and valuable than opinion. Go for it.
Finally, sales and our customers. We had our best year ever! If you had told me January 1, 2016 what our sales would have been at year end, I wouldn’t have believed it. I am humbled and ecstatic with our growth this year. I will continue to explore new avenues to develop and grow BUT, I will not jeopardize the quality of our products to improve a bottom line. Our products are and will continue to be American made. Because we are a small business, we cannot offer the huge discounts of larger companies. We do not produce overseas or order in large quantities. Our costs and what we invest are very personal and as a result, we design, choose and inspect every item before it ships to make sure the customer is getting the quality they paid for. And, if they are not satisfied, we will gladly fix it. Lesson: Producing a quality product and providing good customer service are not only crucial to growth but an easy and enjoyable part of owning your own business. Knowing you have made a customer happy whether with a thank you note, a discount or an easy exchange is a simple way to pay it forward. Will you get taken advantage of? Occasionally. But, you do not let it affect how you treat your customers as a whole.
Why am I sharing all of this? Because you are my biggest lesson and my inspiration. There is still a lot of growing left to do, but your support is what keeps me moving forward, what allows me to breathe when I feel overwhelmed and shines a light on what was once so intimidating. And as we reflect on 2016 and charge into 2017, I can only hope that what I’ve learned in the past year as a business owner, will somehow translate to others. Define your own success without comparing it to others. Take risks that will force you to grow. And finally, stay true to who you are and what you represent.
2016 exceeded my expectations. I expect nothing less in 2017.
Thank you so much for being a part of the Andover Trask family!