In July of 2012, I published a post entitled Reflections on one (and a half) years post-Procter. It is now June of 2015, or four and a half years after I left the corporate mother ship, or three years after the last post.
It’s fun to look back and see how things shook out, and maybe try to connect the dots looking backward. Here are some thoughts after reading my previous post again:
- I still have no regrets leaving P&G
- PowerPro Bathroom Cleaner is now “The Bucko Soap Scum and Grime Cleaner” (nothing changed except the name and a slight adjustment to the scent)
- I launched “The Bucko Ironing Spray“
- I’m a little more productive with my time, but I still don’t work long hours on my business every day. I’m starting to come to grips with that. (More on this in the next post)
- “My savings and retirement fund provide a cushion should the proverbial rainy day happen. If the stock market would turn around, I’d be in even better shape.” Well, in 2012 the market was up 16%, 2013 up 32%, and in 2014 it was up 13%, so I’m definitely in better shape there.
In September of 2014, I took another big step into the entrepreneurial world when I left my 24 hour a week role as a product development consultant to became an entrepreneur full time. I cut ties with my steady paycheck and dove into the financial uncertainty of my own business full time. As part of that step, I moved back to my hometown of Milwaukee, WI to be near my family. I moved back in to the house I grew up in (although I’m in the guest room now and my old bedroom is now my office), and my parents have graciously allowed me to have free rent and warehouse space in the garage and basement for my product inventory. I gave myself 12 months to work on the business, and then would re-evaluate my situation after that to see what I would do next.
Much like after leaving the full time job in February of 2011, I didn’t have a specific plan or path to getting my business profitable to the point of me being self-sufficient. The first few months were quite an adjustment period, going from living on my own for 18 years back to my childhood home. I hit bottom in October. The Bucko online sales had gone quiet. I cold called 3-4 local Ace Hardware stores, and all of them rejected me. I also was working on my second product, The Bucko Ironing Spray, and wanted to get some feedback from quilters who had used a similar product in the past. I posted on a quilting website, and got a nasty note back: “I think you have a lot of nerve contacting me in a private message about your spray. Please don’t contact me in any way.” I packed it in after that and decided to take a couple days off.
Later I received a tip from a customer that the soap scum cleaner worked well on commercial washers and dryers, so I tried a few local laundromats. I tried advertising in cleaningtalk.com, a great forum for people starting cleaning businesses, but it hasn’t paid out like I hoped. I redesigned the website and kept working on the ironing spray. Sales were trickling in, but nothing that would indicate a thriving, successful business.
I’ve learned that in starting your own business, there are a lot of “if onlys.” If you can get yourself down to one “if only” you have a chance. For The Bucko, the product was good, but it was so heavy to ship that I wasn’t making any money on smaller bottles, only the larger gallons. If only there was an efficient way to ship smaller amounts so I can bring costs down. The gold standard would be a large retailer of course, where I could ship pallets of product to their distribution centers and go from there. But selling to a Wal Mart or Target is virtually impossible. Instead I tried Ace Hardware stores, which were locally owned and operated. Four stores took a chance on me, and took The Bucko in. I’m very grateful for those store owners for taking a chance on a small business like me. I sold to them at break even, with the hopes that it would grow in popularity and I can start shipping pallets to their main distribution center.
Later, one of my entrepreneur friends gave me the tip to check on Amazon FBA (Fulfillment By Amazon). With FBA I would send my product into their warehouse, and they would do all the packing and shipping. This appeared to be a potential breakthrough; this could be the answer to my “if only.” The FBA fees were so much lower than my shipping fees, to the point of making my 32 oz bottles profitable (they were sold at break-even to hopefully drive people to buy gallons). On top of that, it allowed me to be in their Prime program, so people who were Prime members could get free 2 day shipping. After sending my stuff into the FBA program, sales picked up. If sales could consistently stay at the peak selling rate, I would be able to make enough profit to make an impact on my life – i.e. feed and shelter myself. However, something that I would label as a “good problem to have” happened… I quickly ran out of inventory.
And here is where I sit. I’ve placed an order for more inventory, and am just waiting for it to arrive. I’m feeling a mixture of anticipation and frustration, as I feel like I’m so close to potentially being able to declare success for my first entrepreneurial milestone: being on track to supporting myself (profit > personal expenses). I’m also excited because FBA opens up a whole new world of opportunities for new products I can launch. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel, and a linear path towards achieving my lifelong dream. But I can’t prove it out until I get my inventory! Stay tuned…