Looking Back

The first question I ask people when I get to know them is “What is your absolute most embarrassing moment?” I often get replies about unwelcome bodily functions at inopportune times, crushes, words that don’t come out right and a lot of falling over. I always make sure to share a story in return too. I do this because it instantly puts us on the same level. We voluntarily share our lowest moment, laugh about it and have something to talk about for a while. We become vulnerable with each other and often store up stories of our newest little “moments” for the next time we see each other. Ive found that it also lets us become real with each other in other aspects. Because I’m not carrying the image that I’m better than the new friend or the other way around, we aren’t afraid to be open with each other about our hurts, joy and fears. Just like with friends, I feel like I need to be vulnerable with our beloved Burst into Bloom supporters. I will get straight to it: the last half of this year was extremely tough. We had so many wonderful changes that we truly don’t deserve, but it was overshadowed by constant pressure and anxiety of meeting deadlines and expectations from a lot of different sources. Our story is below.

While Burst into Bloom is comprised of Cody and myself (Leah), I am going to be sharing this completely from my point of view.

Early this year, I said goodbye to my “day job” and embarked on the adventure of full-time business ownership. The timing was perfect as the company I worked for was going through some changes and we’d calculated my income via Burst into Bloom to be higher than my job. Before I quit my job, it was not abnormal to start sewing at an ungodly hour and only stop for a few minutes before I started work, then resume until I dropped into bed. I’ll never forget the time we overcommitted ourselves and had three huge custom orders to drop off in the same night. I had worked my tail off and even pulled some overnighters. No matter how hard I’d pushed, I still couldn’t get everything done on time. I had Cody drive to the first drop site while I, in a complete frenzy, trimmed threads and made sure all the linings were properly tucked. The next drop site wasn’t far off and I scurried to finish making the leather wrist straps for the wristlets. Cody had to park in a Wendy’s parking lot while I tried to pound rivets on a cardboard box. That didn’t work so poor Cody made his way out to the sidewalk in the pouring rain and pounded rivets for me while I attached tags and made sure everything was finished. It was obvious that we were at a point where I needed to choose to quit one or the other. The same night that I ended my last shift at my day job, we had our largest order load up to that point. I couldn’t stop smiling the next day and rejoiced over my new freedom. However, if anyone has ever done the same thing, I’m sure they’d know what I’m talking about when I say there was a lot of fear that if I wasn’t pushing myself constantly I would fail. I kept repeating the mantra “If I don’t do it now, nobody else will” and unfortunately still treat much in my life this way. This attitude was completely bred out of fear of falling short. As I am writing this, I still carry that fear closer to my heart than it should be.

Photo by Rachel Baker

When Cody quit his job to work with me full-time, we soon found out that we needed to amp up the production and business to make ends meet. This is how I ended up in contact with a larger online/catalog retailer. I will refer to them as “Big Guy” from this point on. A buyer from Big Guy gave me a call and I soon started signing contracts for 3 of our bags to be carried by them through the end of 2018. It wasn’t long before the first purchase order came in: 40 of each bag within three weeks. We had quite a few retail and other wholesale orders that had us on a tight timeframe already. Okay, it wasn’t the best timeframe, but we got that they were building up their inventory and were sure that future orders would be easier on us. I wont soon forget that first order getting shipped out. We’d pushed ourselves very hard to get everything ordered, installed, waxed and constructed while still managing an already heavy work load on the retail side. I completely underestimated how much thread I would need so I kept running across town to the fabric store to stock up. I was so exhausted by “shipping day”. In case you don’t have the pleasure of knowing her, Susan (Cody’s mom) is our resident encourager, worker bee, friend and tiramisu-lover. Susan came over to help us finish and pack up the order. We were all giggling and sweating as we struggled to make sure everything was trimmed, tagged and in those blasted poly bags with SKU stickers in the right spot before Final Pick Up at UPS. I think we got there within minutes of our deadline. We all laughed about how this was totally never ever going to happen again. Cody and I went on our merry way, had a celebratory dinner and returned home to fall asleep within minutes of settling in on the couch.

This scenario started to happen much more frequently. Three days after we shipped our first order for Big Guy we got another purchase order, this time for over 100 of the bigger bag. A few days later, we got another order, even larger. This was great news! We had some solid income and obviously our product was going over well with them. The buyer gave me a call a month in and shared with me that their women’s accessory section had never done so well and she attributed it to our bags. I was so excited that others saw our product and decided to buy into our story and love for handmade. We were-and are-incredibly grateful for the support to allow us to continue doing what we love. It soon came to the point where an order of 200 or more bags was normal. If we figure that each bag takes us between 45 minutes and 1 hour to make, I am sure it’s easy to see how much time we were putting in to make sure the orders were out within a couple weeks, sometimes two of their orders in production and due within days of each other.

This brings us to our dilemma. We were exhausted, burned out and dreading the incoming orders. Let me rephrase. We were so overwhelmed that the growth of our business was terrifying and unwelcome. We constantly ran out of zippers and canvas and I believe I single-handedly wiped out the population of YKK number 5s with brass teeth. I couldn’t fulfill the orders for the smaller businesses that supported us so faithfully. They are the very reason we exist: my first order ever was a wholesale order for a dear little shop in Louisville. We allowed our fear of saying no to Big Guy control the quality of service we provided to the businesses we love with all our heart across the US. I couldn’t stop sewing long enough to check my email on a regular basis, and when I would stop it was to cook, clean or sleep. We worked every single day with very few days off for about 5 months straight. Both Cody and I were sick often. I had a nasty cough come and go for so long that I actually miss it now. I named it Fred Young who Lives in My Lung. I felt shame and guilt when I took a few hours off to do something I enjoyed so I allowed myself to constantly think of the business during my time off. I felt that it somehow made it fair. If I wasn’t working hard, at least I was thinking of it. As I’m writing this, I am in the middle of one of these orders-in fact probably the biggest of them. I am on my way to see my family in Wisconsin for Christmas and have been fighting guilt that I am not working instead. I always tease Cody for being guilt-driven, but I’ve allowed my whole world to be one driven by guilt and fear.

Photo by Rachel Baker

In the middle of a blur of loud motors, glinting needles, a few tears and so many thread bobbins, clarity came to me. We weren’t walking away from our values and quality of customer care: We drop-kicked them to the other side of the world. One of the most important, special, beautiful parts of Burst into Bloom in my eyes is relationships. These are built over a string of emails, social media comments, at shows when we give away a bag to a customer we want to share the love with and over sweet conversations with people who share our vision. There is no way that we can grow the way we want to if we keep working in a blind frenzy. I started talking with Cody about the heart of the problems and what we would like Burst into Bloom to look like next year. We are taking a few weeks off of accepting orders in January to focus on growth. This means that we are refreshing our brand. We have some amazing models lined up for product photos and styled shoots, a junior photographer named Lauren will even second shoot with me and share her unique view. We are refreshing our prints and will have new prints every quarter. One of my biggest passions is very carefully curating each print that I use. There’s nothing better than hearing feedback from a customer about how a print or pattern resonated with them. It’s our pleasure to be able to provide fresh prints more often. This means more eye candy for you and it also means I’m not going to have the “if I have to look at this pattern one more time...” conversation in my head. The best part of this change, though, is that we will be 100% ready to ship. We have built a strategy for creating plenty of stock and will be on a regular schedule of refreshing our products. Our hope is that when someone places an order on Monday, their handmade bag will be in their hands by Friday. This would be the same for our wholesale side, which is a huge deal for me.

We hope these new actions help us to build a business that focuses on relationship first, a business that cares for the people before the numbers. I firmly believe that when we buy from a small business, we buy into who they are. When we share that item with friends, we are combining our story and theirs. I hope that, as a business, our story continues to change and become part of many more.