For those of you that missed my blog post last week, a collection of thoughts was spurred by a great song by Brad Paisley, called “Letter to Me.” In this song, he tells his 17 year old self what pitfalls and potholes to watch for in his future. Today, I am looking in the rear view mirror and reflecting on the three things I’d do differently in business- if I had the chance.
Last week I shared my disappointment that I took on too much debt, too early into my business career. This week my lesson to share is that of mission creep.
If you haven’t heard of this business term, Wikipedia defines mission creep as, “the expansion of a project or mission beyond its original goals, often after initial successes. Mission creep is usually considered undesirable due to the dangerous path of each success breeding more ambitious attempts, only stopping when a final, often catastrophic, failure occurs.”
When I started The Dandelion Patch in 2005, my simple goal was to fill my store with pretty paper and become part of life’s many milestones through custom invitations. And I did just that. And I met with success. In 2006, when we moved into our Church Street location in Vienna- I went from 1000 square feet to 2600 square feet. Of course I went to Atlanta Gift market to see what goodies I could find to fill my new location. For those of you that haven’t had the experience of a gift market, it’s the equivalent of a shopping sugar rush. I quickly began to spend money and bring tons of super cute stuff into our product mix. From Vera Bradley to collegiate platters- we were quickly bursting at the seems with gifts galore.
In 2007, when I was being wooed by the folks at Reston Town Center (RTC), the only space they had vacant was 3300 square feet. Of course, I’d met with success in adding gifts into our product mix in our Vienna store so I had no doubt that with the high foot traffic of RTC, I’d be able to sell through plenty of “unique gifts” as I called them at the time. After six years and 12 Atlanta Gift Markets, I looked up and we had products ranging from flip flops to food product; pajamas to tween décor. The pretty paper was getting pushed further and further back into the store.
I will admit that (for the most part), we moved a ton of merchandise. And the top line revenues continued to grow.
All sounds peachy, right? Well- as my husband shared with me in Atlanta a few years ago, “you might be able to sell hot dogs, but that doesn’t mean you should.” And no. We never sold hot dogs. He was making his point that Mission Creep had found its way into The Dandelion Patch.
Make no mistake; as an entrepreneur, we are taught and encouraged to take risks. To pivot and to fail fast. But there is a distinct difference between taking a detour on your business journey and taking the exit ramp to a completely different state.
I remember being so proud to have been featured in the Washingtonian as one of the top gift stores in the area. I was interviewed by a reporter and a photographer came out to professionally capture our store product mix. Really, I was on cloud nine! And then a few months later- imagine my delight when I got a call from Northern Virginia Magazine because they wanted to feature us as a top stationer in the area! I scheduled the call with the reporter to interview me and two minutes into the conversation, the freelance reporter said, “Wait a minute. Are you the same Heidi that I interviewed this winter about your extraordinary gift store?” Gasp. I found myself justifying to this stranger (and myself) all the reasons why we were great at both.
But were we?
1. In my case, mission creep caused my marketing efforts to be muddied and expensive. It was difficult to advertise and partner with all the fabulous event vendors AND all the great opportunities that are given to gift retailers.
2. In the retail world, staffing for weekends, holidays and evenings are a challenge. But our stationery clients do not typically shop at 9 pm on Memorial Day.
3. The capital cost of gifts decreased my opportunity to invest money in new stationery vendors.
4. Retail rent is extraordinarily expensive. At the peak, I was paying $21,000 per month for my RTC location. No joke.
5. It’s really difficult to keep up with all the trends and tips for any one industry. But when we had one foot in retail and the other in custom stationery, we were always keeping up with both silos. But if I were honest, we were never the market leader for either effort.
In 2013 I realized that we’d taken a path that had lead us to a place that I was no longer passionate about. The company had crept into locations and products that I was simply not excited about either. Since that revelation, I have taken every step possible to turn the titanic around and point us towards our original vision of being the market leader in the DMV area for custom invitations and stationery. I realize we’ve taken the long route, but I know we’ll make it to our final destination with much success, and without mission creep. And that is a promise.
Until next time here’s to big wishes and pixie dust.