My wife and I are in the midst of some fairly signficant changes to our lifestyle and how we run our business. The increase in sales since mid-January has stretched our available manpower, inventory, warehouse space, and workspace to the limit. (For those thinking about ordering, yes, we still get orders out same day!) However, we realize if volume stays up, we’re going to have to move the operation to an office/warehouse, and potentially hire a warehouse person to help us keep pace with the growth. We are currently managing it, but only through the hours we are putting into it. We are somewhere around 13-14 hours a day, 7 days a week right now. And while we are glad to do that for a short, or even medium period of time, I am very aware those types of hours over the long haul will lead to burnout. So look for a future blog about us moving the business into new digs!
While I was picking up inventory at the warehouse for the 3rd time last week, I remembered something one of my most respected mentors told me when I started this business. I met Mark (name changed to protect the innocent) when I was working at Dollar General, in 2003 or so. He was a supplier to my department, and for many years, was the ‘go-to guy’ whenever DG made a ridiculous or impossible request (for example: Hi, I’m Mr. DG and it’s Friday at 5pm, can you please print me 100,000 brochures and have them in the mail on Monday morning?); most of the time, he delivered where many, many other vendors dropped the ball. His advice to me, (as a businessman who eventually sold out for enough for him and his family and their children and grandchildren to never work again, if they so choose) was ‘Work out of your basement for as long as you can.’
While my wife and I have taken that advice literally for just about 2 years (I can’t believe Advice and Beans/Discount Mylar Bags will be 2 in April!), that 11-word phrase encompasses so much more than just the literal, many of which we apply to our prepping and personal lives as well as our business life.
One of the most obvious meanings is ‘Pay cash.’ My wife and I have done that since 2005 (and I started it in about 2003), except for our mortgage, and we are doing our best to pay that off as well. (though it will likely be another 5 years or so at least) On one of the survival forums I frequent, there is a recurring thread which basically asks ‘Should I max out my credit cards or 401(k) to buy preps?’ I will always offer a vehement ‘Heck No’ in answer to that question. Prepping is a lifestyle akin to the one many of our grandparents lived: practically living within their means as a choice, because it was the smart thing to do. We run our business with the same principle in mind. I read of businesses (locally and nationally) that go out of business every day. Many that do fail do so not because they have a poor business model or bad product, but because they are over-leveraged with debt and their cash-flow can’t keep up. I hate to say it, but many of our business schools teach debt as a method of starting and running a business, and while I am probably less sophisticated than the average professor, on this we’ll just have to disagree. The most successful small businesses I’ve known personally have only grown as quickly as their cashflow allowed.
As I’ve thought about Mark’s statement, there are a lot of other meanings it can have that relate both to our business and to our lifestyle. When we had the conversation where he told me that, he specifically mentioned ‘Don’t pay for overhead if you don’t have to.’ Have you ever bought a power tool, cooking appliance, or other gadget that did nothing but sit and get used maybe once a year? Bought a bigger house than you needed or could afford? Bought a new car instead of a good used one? Many businesses do the same thing, and you can often find brand new or nearly new items at foreclosure auctions for pennies on the dollar. When we prep, the same criteria should be applied. Do I really need that new $200 backpack when my old Kelty is paid for and can do the same thing? Am I buying a $500 gardening apparatus because I think its cool, or because I will really utlize it? I am all for buying quality things if your budget allows and calls for it and you are going to use it. Our business needed to be more mobile, so we bought a decent enclosed trailer last year (in cash). We also needed a vacuum sealer better than the little hand-helds we were using, so I bought one I found at the packaging show for 30% off what I could find it for on the Net. Always do your research and take your time, and you will save a lot of money.
The statement ‘Work out of your basement as long as you can,’ also has an implied flipside that needs examining. That flipside is ‘When you need to grow, do it.’ And that is where we are at. It’s going to be difficult to offer our customers continued excellent service and more products if we don’t have some more space. And while the thought of the red tape and paperwork to hire someone scares me, without some help my blogging will go from an already meager once a month to every 3 years.=) Plus, I really want to devote some time to the ‘extras’ I keep talking about wanting to offer here. I also have a hobby fiction novel in the back of my head, but very little time to put word to page. As Dave Ramsey says, I need to go from ‘owning my job’ (a great thing in any world) to ‘owning a business’. The same goes for our preps and lives in general. If you are comfortable having a decent food storage in place, maybe its time for some gardening and canning. If you garden and can, maybe having some chickens or a goat would provide some additional peace of mind. My wife and I very much want to move to a more rural location someday, as she definitely wants some chickens!
Finally, while the growth we’ve experienced is a blessing, we also realize that anything can be temporary. I am going to look for a small enough warehouse space that if the business slowed back down, we wouldn’t go broke keeping it until the end of the lease. I own a little condo that my wife and I used to live in before we moved to our house; currently we rent it out. One of the main reasons I keep it is because it acts as a ‘just-in-case’ mechanism. What if my wife or I became disabled and couldn’t run the business? What if the market tanked and sales went to $0? Recognizing that things can change is why we advocate on living on less than you make, and saving for a rainy day, and paying cash…those things our grandparents used to do. Having a very cheap place to live to fall back on could be a potential lifesaver. Sure, it would be hard going from our house back to the little condo, but it would be a great step up from being homeless. My wife and I recognize every day how blessed we are, but also realize that all things can change.
Being adaptable and flexible is one of the core tenets of being prepared.