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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Fantasy Fulfillment

When my partner Karen and I had the opportunity to bid on a large automotive project that would involve fulfillment, we decided that if we were awarded the project, we'd set up our own fulfillment company.  We would stock the merchandise and then pick, pack and ship assembled kits to vehicle owners.

Karen was working with the customer and I was flying around visiting other rep firms who ran fulfillment companies so that we could learn from other's mistakes.  We did get the program, set up our fulfillment business and decided to call it Fulfillment Force.  Our attorney thought a better name for the company that two 30-something women were running would be Fantasy Fulfillment - he had no idea how prophetic that would be (and he never referred to that company by any other name...).

After the automotive program ended (I'll circle back to this in another post), Karen retired and I had 30,000 sq. ft. of warehouse space to fill.   At the time, we were doing national fulfillment for World Kitchen (Pyrex, Corningware and similar brands) and handled customer service in addition to shipping the product.

Our Operations Manager, bless his heart (isn't that what people say when efforts are just a little misguided?), was very ambitious and to his credit, always looking for new fulfillment projects.  One day he brought me a company that sold, um, recreational products for consenting adults (okay, sex toys).  Naturally, I was apprehensive - this was a little outside of the premium brands that we were currently carrying for corporate incentive program use.  The Ops Manager assured me that we would only be doing picking and shipping for their internet business - no customer service.  (I could not have the phone operators talking about Corningware on one line and features and benefits of dildos on the other....)

One of my picker/packers was a southern bible-carrying grandmother.  She pulled me aside one day in the warehouse and said in her Tennessee drawl, "Now Barb, you know I love my job but I just can't touch that stuff".  (She got a pass and we moved her to World Kitchen only).

As it turns out, this company had no marketing plan whatsoever and apparently believed that if you build it, they will come (I'm so very sorry for that one).  Eventually, orders trailed off and the company stopped paying their bill.  We were left with pallets full of sex toys that made for very interesting bachelor and bachelorette party gifts for many years.

This is a cautionary tale about letting desperation be the boss of you - it's better in the long run to pass on customers that aren't a good match for your business - even if you need the revenue at the time and it's tempting. Our sex toy experience taught us a valuable lesson about being true to our brand and also caused us to step back and define the types of clients that made sense for us:  those with marketing plans! (If there is no marketing, there are no sales and nothing to fulfill.)  I've made many more mistakes that I'll be sharing along the way, but none as fun as this one.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Lessons from my Mommy

It's Mother's Day this Sunday and the blogosphere is full of inspiring stories from prominent people telling how their Mothers encouraged them.  Evidently most high-achievers had Moms who told them they could be anything they wanted, gave them pearls of wisdom to guide them through relationships, handling money, negotiating corporate politics, raising children and much more.

Fortunately, my Mom is still with me; here are the messages I remember most over the years:

-If you don't have something nice to say...come sit next to me.

-If there are two of you in a situation and a resolution means that one of you has to be should be the other one.

-There is no such thing as a non-returnable item from a store.  (WAY back before accommodating warehouse clubs and Nordstrom customer service, my Mom was returning underwear, bathing suits, opened packages of anything and my personal favorite:  wigs).  Which leads into the family favorite:

-Exchanging in the bedroom.  (If my Mom is conflicted about a gift, she buys a small and a medium, in blue and in brown, wraps up one and when you open it, lets you know that you can exchange it in the bedroom.  Then she returns the other 3 to the store after the birthday).

Not really life-changing advice, yet my Mom has certainly changed lives.  When I was 19, she and my Dad divorced.  When I was 26, she remarried my step-Dad who has 6 kids.  I have a brother so that made 8 kids ranging from 26 to 15.  Some of us were in various stages of marriage, school or work; 5 remained at home.

My step-brothers and sisters lost their Mom right after the youngest child was born (breast cancer was discovered right after she became pregnant).  So all 6 kids were raised by a very busy Dad and a series of housekeepers and one step-Mom that only lasted a short time ( imagine the von Trapp children in a small ranch in Garden City). 

Not really known for her sports prowess, Mom joined a bowling league to spend more time with the girls, attended all of the high school sports activities, made cupcakes and cookies for school events, drove friends around, hosted parties and made a big deal out of birthdays and Christmas for kids who did not grow up with this, all while working full time.  I'm not telling tales out of school when I say that my step-Dad lacked the feminine touch with the girls.  The grade-school pictures reveal  identical crewcuts for the boys and lovely bowl haircuts for the girls, so  they did not quite know what to make of Mom's ratted hair, hair spray, make-up and shoulder pads (it was the 80's!).  One of Mom's biggest strengths is that she knows exactly who she is and makes no apologies.

She is an unabashed Red Hat lady and like everything she does, she goes big or she goes home.  We're talking big feathered hats, boas, long red gloves, flowing purple dresses.  She is a great friend and the ring-leader in arranging events (not usually running it - just telling the one who's running it what to do!)  She's generous to a fault and can't stand to see someone without a friend, without a present or without someone to spend a Holiday with.  She stops what she's doing and gives full attention when we are in the mood to talk; she is a grandma on steroids (or as she likes to say, on Demerol).  The grandkids have great memories of spending the night at Grandma and Grandpa's house, and going on the many adventures that involved all 10 of her grandkids.  She's in the process of spoiling the first great-grand.

My Mom grew up with a younger brother with Down's syndrome who no doubt got most of the attention and family resources.  She got married and had me when she was 19, and if she had big dreams of a different future, I don't know about them.  After my grandparents died, she worked tirelessly to find the best group home facility for my Uncle and then drove 4 hours every month to take him to a hotel for the weekend, which always included dinner out, and a movie or visit to the zoo or park.  She continues to struggle with severe rheumatoid arthritis for the past several years yet never complains or talks about the pain that is obviously with her every day.

Of course, she's not totally perfect.  The family has many stories of Mom finding the long way around a problem and her temper is legendary when she's arguing with a clerk at a store (probably trying to return that wig!) or with a referee (she doesn't get physical but she HAS been the source of a technical foul or two at the kids games).  And she MIGHT tend to dwell on an issue for longer than necessary.  There is a line from Secrets of the Ya-Ya- Sisterhood that Ellen Burstyn uses to describe her character that I think perfectly captures my Mom:  "I take a problem, chew on it until all the flavor is gone, and then I stick it in my hair".

My Mom doesn't quote platitudes or push us to excel or ask what we're doing to make the world a better place at the dinner table.  She just shows us every day by example what it is to be a caring Mom and friend and I can't imagine a better role model.  Happy Mother's Day to my non-famous yet very special life-changing Mom.