YAY! FAILURE! Part One
I've recently read some newly released books dealing with the subject of Failure. Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better: Wise Advice for Leaning into the Unknown by Pema Chodron and Rising Strong by Bren Brown. Carl and I started YAY! more than five years ago. We have often talked about how, when reading articles about successful companies in magazines like Entrepreneur or Fast Company, that the articles seemed to always focus on the tips for success. No one was really talking about the shitty years that they thought they might go out of business. I cancelled our subscriptions to both of these magazines because I was so damn tired of reading success stories. They're especially hard to swallow when your business is hanging on by a thread. I felt like everyone was sugarcoating things by only telling the good parts of their story. Even if they did mention setbacks, they were not given the same attention. Expansion is celebrated, but it seemed like no one was talking about contraction. Contraction is a normal part of life and business you know ebb and flow. We felt like we must be doing something wrong if we were experiencing contraction. Personally, I felt a lot of shame, A LOT. So on top of the "failure" itself, there was another failure, “the failure to master the laws of the universe." Because if you just work with the Law of Attraction and stay positive, it's all good all the time. And not to mention the added pressure of running a business called YAY! LiFE! I felt like people expected us to be YAY! and when things weren't feeling very YAY! I felt doubly horrible. I felt like I was failing at life. There were times that I was so distraught I would be driving around town running errands in the YAY! car with tears streaming down my face. I thought if someone sees me, "what the hell are they going to think?" I mean, look at this car. It's pure joy. That car is a lot of pressure- just sayin._x000D_ I am excited about what it means to have books like the ones I've mentioned above becoming bestsellers. It's creating an opening for people to tell their real stories. About the highs and the lows. About their failures and their mistakes. And my hope is that by telling our story, it gives others the courage and permission to tell theirs. Business is hard sometimes. Life is hard sometimes. It's not all YAY! all the time. That's what I want to talk about. Because YAY! isn't always sunshine and rainbows. We've created a YAY! HOSPICE! for Denver Hospice. Our bestselling magnet, YAY! BACON!, was inspired by a touching story by a dear friend of mine. I am also scared because I've been meaning to share the journey of YAY! LiFE! for a while and reading these books was just the catalyst I needed to finally tell our story. It feels extremely vulnerable to tell the truth about what mistakes we've made and our lowest lows so far. YAY! LiFE! was born over a pumpkin pie in the winter of 2009. You can read more about that here. From the moment the idea came to us, we could feel the enormous potential of the brand. We made sketches of a giant tree with multiple branches of it's incarnations. From products to media, we felt deep in our hearts that YAY! had the potential to be a positive force in the world. After our first year of grassroots, things expanded exponentially. Our sales doubled, then doubled again. We were working with sales reps nationwide, attending trade shows, working with a PR firm which resulted in YAY! magnets being featured in O magazine in The World According to Gayle. YAY! LiFE! was featured in numerous other publications and featured on local TV stations and we did multiple radio interviews. It felt like we weren't running the company as much as running after it. We expanded into a 3rd party fulfillment warehouse, started working with Easter Seals of Colorado and had crew of 19 Easter Seals employees to do all of product labeling and assembly. Carl and I were able to take a step away from the business and allow others to take over many of our previous responsibilities. The only task we were still responsible on a daily basis was invoicing and billing, making sure the orders were being sent to the warehouse to be fulfilled and shipped. During this time we struggled to find a fit with independent sales rep groups. The typical pattern was an initial peak in sales followed by a plateau, then an abrupt decline. We had certain regions and sales reps not producing even one order in the entire time we worked with them, and sometimes a group would struggle with getting any traction at all.Â When we brought it up, we were met with the answer or excuse of the 80/20 rule which is defined as follows. The Pareto principle (also known as the 80/20 rule, the law of the vital few, and the principle of factor sparsity) states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. In this case, that twenty percent of the reps wrote eighty percent of the business. We tried multiple rep groups even though we were warned that we would get a reputation as a company that jumped around a lot and didn't have loyalty to the companies we worked with. For the record, let me state that we have worked with many absolutely lovely, wonderful and motivated people through independent sales rep groups. And we have them to thank for so many accounts and customers that we have fantastic relationships with. And the bottom line is, if stores wanted our product anybody would be able to sell it. So that's where we had to take responsibility. A lot of sales reps struggled to sell our product. We completely understand that an independent sales rep has no obligation to our company. For them to be successful they need to sell as much as possible and if that means pulling something other than a YAY! product out of their bag that is much more likely to be a yes, then that's what they are going to do. I would do the same exact thing. In January of 2014 we saw an extremely drastic nosedive in sales, which continued into the next few months. We started getting behind on our bills and obligations. It felt like we were sinking in quicksand. Every month, we wondered if we would be able to pay our bills. We'd sunk everything we had into YAY! and relied on it for our livelihood. It was extremely scary and stressful. Carl and I were feeling angry and frustrated most of the time because we were watching the business sink and felt powerless to stop it. By working with subcontractors, we had put ourselves in a position to have little or no control about not only how our products were being presented, but also how they were being handled throughout the entire distribution process through to the final recipient. We said yes to everything, adding new products, doing guaranteed sales, offering free shipping, lower minimums, whatever requests we received. Nothing worked to boost sales. And we lost ourselves and the value of YAY! in the process. If customers couldn't see the value in YAY! then that is our problem and no one else's and how could anyone see the value in something we weren't treating with care?We were selling ourselves and the company short because we were trying to please everyone.
You can't please everyone, and you can't make everyone like you.â€ - Katie Couric
To be continued . . . Stay tuned!