After over 20 years successful and enjoyable years in HR management, I finally gave in to my ever growing entrepreneurial drive and creative urges and left the security of a large multinational company environment and set up Original Organics. In true Del boy style, I was confident that next year I’d be a millionaire ….and 20 some years on, I still am! Indeed next year’s business plan is always confident about increasing sales and holding or reducing our costs; those very sales and savings we didn’t quite manage last year or this year.
Now, running your own business offers several benefits along with a multitude of problems (sorry opportunities?) difficulties (sorry challenges) and surprises (the good and the less so!).
Come with me now and forget the last two months of rain and blustery winds and more rain. Cast your mind back to late February and March when it was dry and sun was threatened and there was much publicity and concern about pending water shortages and up and coming hose pipe bans in several regions across the country.
At this time we experienced a growing demand for water butts, with the Great British public galvanised into action to win through the forecast difficulties of parched lawns, dirty cars and unwashed windows. In all the gloom and doom there were warnings of a near waterless future for other than essential needs. Oh what a difference a month makes!
So the threatened worsening water shortage rapidly led to a very speedy and major increase in demand for water butts. As one of the largest water butt suppliers on the internet and with an offering we believe to be the widest range available at one site in the country we were well set to receive, process and benefit from a veritable boom in demand. Over a mere ten days, demand increased from normal to three times normal to nearly twenty times normal and it stayed there. This was quite unprecedented and took us well into uncharted territory. Nevertheless, our stocks were good, our supply lines strong and our relations with several key suppliers little short of excellent. In the rather small pool of domestic water butts we are a fairly large fish.
Things were looking so good that even our accountant Mike had a smile on his face and you can take it from me that this is less than a normal occurrence.
Two weeks into this little sales bonanza and all was going well. All the team were working long hours and we had recruited additional help to man the phones and help us produce, wrap, pack and despatch. Week three broadly followed the pattern, but we heard from a key supplier that one of their Water Butt moulds had to be taken out of production for essential maintenance and this was at the height of an all-time peak on demand for their particular product.
Well as you can probably appreciate, this sort of setback is all in a day’s work for a small flexible business with the determination to win through and look after all its’ customers. Demand was strong and we had several other decent supply lines. Our immediate reaction was to contact another major long established supplier (part of the Fiskars group – six letters starts with S and ends in y) and see if we could increase our orders to them to meet this exceptional demand. “No problem” was their delighted reaction and we placed and paid for £50k worth of product at bulk discount prices, over several orders and several weeks. Now, £50k may be but petty cash to a Google or an Apple, but it’s a rather large investment, financed by overdraft for us.
Having secured this compensatory supply line and based upon clear promises received we kept three key products on our website marked up as available within a week – ay and there’s the rub as the great Bard might have said. As days passed, stock levels rapidly dwindled and we were pushing hard for delivery dates. Well to cut to the quick we had all orders with this supplier (some as old as 5 weeks) cancelled without notice or reason. It subsequently appears that a large multinational DIY chain (no names, but ‘you can do it when…’!) had bulldozed us and presumably others out of the way and exclusively bought up the last and next few months of production.
Furious, appalled, bemused and upset are words which don’t get close to describing my feelings at this news. I am reminded of the words of an old music hall song by Billy Bennett entitled She was poor but she was honest (or something similar). The chorus of which goes something like:-
It’s the same the whole world over,
It’s the poor what gets the blame,
It’s the rich what gets the pleasure,
Ain’t it all a bloomin shame?
There we were suddenly and unexpectedly ousted from a long established trading relationship in our most critical hour of both opportunity and need by a, ‘Jonny come lately’ (to water butts at least!) DIY chain (maybe we should start selling plasterboard and nails in retaliation). So we were left floundering like a fish out of water, promises we had made in good faith now became unfulfilled and I fear that our honest explanations sounded rather like hollow excuses to some of our patient customers.
We emailed all waiting customers we could with an apology and explanation and offered immediate refunds to anyone who didn’t want to wait for their Water Butt to be back in stock. More pleasingly I received scores of replies expressing understanding of the situation and thanks for being kept informed.
However and quite understandably you can’t cover all the doors or please all the people all of the time and the result was a perhaps understandable (if in reality rather tough) – hard hitting and hurting campaigns against us on twitter and Facebook. Despite our best endeavours and best intents we had effectively and quite unintentionally broken the golden rule of customer service i.e. service delivered must match or better better the service advertised.
With the loss of this key supplier deal we rapidly sourced water butts from several new suppliers in the UK and overseas. In our determination to meet customer demand we placed orders at over 12 times our normal requirements and within a few (rather long) weeks we had restored the balance and caught up with 98% of the backlog.
Then, almost as soon as it had started, the ‘drought’ ended and heavily cometh the rains and winds and even more rains from Lands’ end to Lerwick and from Castlederg to Great Yarmouth the nation had a good wetting north, south, east and west and the threat of drought receded rather swiftly.
By now virtually (but not quite) all customers had received their order or a full refund as they preferred and we had sold a huge number of butts but had a huge number left in stock.
This all brings me to the reason behind our first ever summertime Water Butt sale. We quite simply have too much stock in the yard and too little cash in the bank, so are discounting many Water Butt lines and offering it out at reduced prices to help our customers and ourselves. You can have a look at our sale now on our dedicated Water Butt website, WaterButtsDirect
HR management in a large conglomerate seems quite attractive at times!