Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Business Integrity

In my post yesterday, I encouraged the Disney maker community to spread a little more faith, trust and pixie dust.  Today, I'm going to talk a little bit about integrity.

I was raised by parents who ran, and still successfully run, their own business.  My Mom and Dad are accountants.  They have about 600 clients, including businesses, fishermen and corporations.  Each tax season, they do 600 tax returns- in that Daddy does all of the taxes, and then my Mom double checks all 600, copies them and prepares them for clients.  And that's only scratching the surface.  They're amazing and they've been in business for themselves for 30 years now.

In addition to that, both sets of my grandparents also ran their own businesses.  Nana and Papa, my Mom's parents, ran an electrical company for years.  Grammie and Grampie, Dad's parents, ran a store in downtown Bar Harbor, which my great grandparents originally opened many years ago.

I was raised with a very strong work ethic.  From a young age I learned to "work hard so you can play harder" as they say.  I've always wanted to run my own business.  It was never a question in my mind.  In fact, when we were younger, both my brother Jeremy and I dreamt of what our dream stores would be like.  Eventually becoming my own boss and running my business as my "real" job has always been my endgame.

In today's world, it's really easy to start a business.  Actual storefronts have been replaced by large virtual marketplaces.  It's now much easier to get a widespread audience and to sell merchandise all over the world.  But just because it's easy to do, doesn't mean that everyone should be doing it.

Running a business is hard work.  Running a successful business is even harder.  I don't profess to be a know it all on the subject.  However, there is one thing that I think every business owner should have, and that's integrity.  I touched upon it a little bit in yesterday's post, but I'm going to elaborate on this subject a little more today.

Recently, I've had a few experiences that weren't the most magical.  In an effort to support the Disney handmade community, I've started to purchase more items from Etsy sellers and Instagram.  I've had so many wonderful experiences!  The products I've received are all beautiful, well made and I can tell so much love was put into making each and every item.

However, I've had a few less than stellar experiences with some of the sellers themselves.  And I know I'm not alone.  I've seen others post on Instagram about their experiences and their grievances.  In some rare cases, they've had to file with PayPal to get their money back.  I haven't had to go that far, and I hope I never do.

Back this winter/spring when I originally started thinking about this, I had just started purchasing ears from other makers.  I make ear headbands and I'm perfectly capable of making myself ears like any of the ones I've seen online.  However, in an effort to be supportive of my fellow small shops, I decided to start buying some from others.

I placed an order in January that was on a ready to ship item.  I waited a few weeks and then I messaged the seller.  I was afraid they'd somehow gotten lost in the mail with move to the new house and our address change.  I got a reply from the shop owner pretty quickly, but then I received no follow up.  Mid-February, I checked the website again and the ears were listed as "2-3 weeks".  It had already been six weeks that I had been waiting, so I contacted the shop again.  I got a reply saying she'd look into it, and then I never heard back from her.

Fast forward 11 weeks after I placed the order, still no ears.  It had been a month after my last request for an update.  Eliot thought I should file a PayPal claim.  I contacted the shop one last time, and she told me she needed my mailing address again because every time she tried to print the label, it didn't work.  She said she'd been trying "so hard" to find an email she could contact for over two months.  Um... I emailed you twice already and you never got back to me- you've had my email address.

Thankfully, after that, I got my ears about a week later.  That was one experience.  At the moment, I'm also in the middle of another one.  Long story short, I ordered two sets of ears from a shop at the beginning of May.  She took over 100 orders and she knew then she would be no where near her quote of 4 weeks.  At the time, I wasn't too worried since my trip was 4 months from then.

It's now September and I still don't have the ears.  I didn't give her my trip date since at the time she was planning to re-open in August or September.  Well, now I'm kicking myself in the butt for that.  I contacted her mid-August and she said there were a few orders before mine and that it would probably be "next week or the week after."

I messaged the shop owner again a few days ago.  It's been three and a half weeks since I first messaged her so I wanted to check the status of my ears.  She still hasn't replied yet.  That was just shy of a week ago.  I told her that I was going to Disney in September.  She didn't even ask me when I needed them by.  At this point, I'm not expecting to get them before I leave for my trip.  Oh well, there's always next time.

Both of these situations have been incredibly frustrating for me, especially when both times, I could have just made the ears for myself.  If this was me, I'd be offering free ears, refunding money, giving discount codes for future purchases and whatever I could to rectify the situation with my customer.  Honestly, it just floors me.

But, this isn't me.  And it won't ever be me.  I've had times when a customer contacted me because it was getting close to our deadline.  So far, I've never missed one.  I've had people order ears last minute and they've still gotten them on time.  I've mailed ears to my customer's resorts.  I've dropped everything to make sure they've gotten done on time.  I've never intentionally ignored a customer's message.  I respond to my customer as soon as I'm able to and I follow up with people if I tell them I will.

I won't lie, I'm really frustrated.  In both situations, I discovered these ladies' shops on Instagram.  I keep my Instagram accounts separate, and it's something more people should do.  While I've been waiting on both of these orders, I've watched as these girls have gone to Disney, multiple times.  They've gone on vacations.  They've posted new designs for their shops.  And one of them even posts videos of herself unboxing things that have nothing to do with her shop.  It's totally unprofessional and it shows a definite lack of integrity.

To be blunt, I don't want to see you playing around at Disney when you keep avoiding my emails and never get back to me.  I don't care what you're purchasing for yourself, or to know that you'd rather be checking out your new stuff while I'm waiting for you to get back to my messages that you appear to be ignoring.

This might be harsh, but it's the truth.  If you're going to run a business, you need to hold yourself accountable- especially when people pay for your products and then they wait weeks (ahem, months) to receive them.  Posting pictures of your vacation and new merchandise on your business platform is probably not the wisest decision.  Now don't get me wrong, I don't fault them for having lives!  I'm so glad they're able to go to Disney to enjoy the parks and have fun.  But your business page isn't really the place to share a lot of those photos when your customers are waiting patiently.

Trust me, I know from experience that some orders take time.  Life also happens and that's ok too.  I ordered ears from another shop in January and didn't received them until March.  The difference is, I knew when I ordered that they were going to take that long.  I was ok with it.  I was notified up front and received an email when the package was being shipped.  What I have a problem with is when you set up false expectations, and then blow someone off when they're trying to contact you numerous times.

I guess what I'm trying to say, is that my number one business value is integrity.  I've promised to always treat my customers with the honesty, compassion and integrity that I'd want to be treated with.  As frustrated as these situations have made me, I am very proud of myself, how I conduct my business and my business ethics.  I might not be the most successful shop, but I'm very proud of everything my shop stands for.  °o°

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