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The Blog of Emily McDowell Studio


2014 Recap: Q2

I realized I forgot to show you guys a picture of the ambulance I didn’t buy! Here it is. We would have painted it. It was awesome. The whole inside was wood paneling with built-in shelves.

Coming off my near-miss ambulance purchase, at the end of March, I made a last-minute decision to spend the first week of April doing yoga with 20 strangers in Costa Rica. I hadn’t done yoga for a year, and normally, going on vacation with a ton of people I don’t know sounds HORRIBLE. (In fact, I had a small freakout about it the day before I left, and I turned to my boyfriend for comfort and he was like, “Dude, I have no idea why you’re doing that, it’s basically my nightmare.” )

Despite all of those things, I’d booked the trip because my intuition was really calling me to do it. Like screaming in my face and jumping up and down, not like a quiet whisper breeze in a tree or something. And it turned out to be one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself. I met awesome people I never would have otherwise met, and did a bunch of things that scare me/I suck at, which I don’t do enough of in life. The trip leader, yoga teacher/writer Jennifer Pastiloff, is now a dear friend, and I recommend her retreats one million billion percent. (She also wrote the “I Have Done Love” quote I turned into a print!)

After a week of no internet in the Costa Rican jungle (which was terrifying, btw – the no internet part, not the jungle part), I came home to an email that our (different) airbnb host had cancelled on us AGAIN for our lodging at the National Stationery Show in May. That’s it. Fuck airbnb.

I spent the rest of April designing for our May release: 12 more cards, the new catalog, and another new category: gift tags. The initial idea with the gift tags was that we’d print them locally and assemble them in our studio. This didn’t quite work – we soon discovered that the labor involved was going to make a proper wholesale margin unachievable. (A common theme of 2014.) So we decided we’d assemble what we’d had printed, then shift production to Hong Kong later in the year. We also officially hired the fabulous Katherine in April (I think?), after she’d been with us on a “temporary” basis for about five months. It turns out that knowing how and when to add more employees is a really tough thing to figure out!

In May, we figured out how to get a crate’s worth of furniture from LA to New York, and exhibited at the National Stationery Show. We won five Louie Awards, which was pretty freaking awesome. We learned a lot of lessons that week, like there is no glue on earth that will stick to fireproofed foam walls (including super glue), renting a 4th floor walkup is a bad idea during a trade show, and when you win a Louie, you’re supposed to put it in your booth. But unlike the winter NYNOW show, we had a great NSS experience in New York. I also got to meet and hang out in person with some awesome people I’d become social media friends with, like Arley and Morgan from Ladyfingers Letterpress and Olga from I Swear (formerly Offensive + Delightful). 2014 was a banner year for friend-making — I think I made more new pals in 2014 than in any other year of my adult life.

At the show, we launched our new notepads, stickers, and gift tags, and took a ton of orders for our new totes and towels, which were supposed to arrive from India in late June. (Spoiler alert: this did not happen.) We also took on 6 more US sales reps, and distributors in Canada and New Zealand.

The week after the show, I went to Salt Lake City to speak at Alt Summit about bringing a product to market – my first large-scale teaching presentation. I ended up having to write the presentation on the plane to Utah, we’d been so busy – but it all worked out. Here I am dropping some sophisticated business wisdom:

I had a ton of fun, did NOT get to meet Martha Stewart, but did get to hang out with some great friends like Sarah Deragon of Portraits to the People (she took my head shots!) and Lisa Anderson Shaffer of Zelma Rose.

By early June, it was becoming really obvious that we needed an inventory management system like NOW – our highly sophisticated existing system of Post-Its was no longer effective, and we needed something that could track inventory from three sales channels: Etsy, Shopify, and our wholesale invoices. Upon doing some research, we found out that WooCommerce, the e-commerce platform my site had been built on the year before, was incompatible with any inventory management software that also worked with Etsy and QuickBooks. We were going to have to redo our website to run on Shopify, which would be expensive and time-consuming, in order to make inventory management work. But there was no way around it. So we found a Shopify developer and got to work on that project.

At the same time, our 2,000 square foot space was starting to feel smaller and smaller as inventory piled up. Our growth was meaning larger production runs, and each new product category was taking up a lot of room. And renting in Los Angeles isn’t cheap, especially when you’re just renting space to store inventory. I started talking with people in the industry about the possibility of shifting our wholesale shipping and inventory storage to a fulfillment house, which seemed at the time like something we would want to do in late Q1 of 2015, after Valentine’s Day, when it was slower.

Late June came and went, and for various reasons, we found out that the shipment of our totes and towels was going to be delayed a month. We let all the stores know. Nobody was psyched. Somewhere in here, we hit our 1,000th store, which was a major milestone, and we started thinking about hiring another employee to help manage our wholesale accounts and sales reps. This was the first position at the company that I actually wrote a description for, took resumes and applications, and interviewed candidates. So we started that process, which was kind of a trip.

Q3 is where shit hits the fan, guys. Coming next week!

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