We're b-a-c-k! A short synopsis of TKB's business growth

Posted on June 05, 2007 by Kaila Westerman, TKB Trading, LLC | 0 comments

TKB Trading has been in business for long enough to go through different cycles of growth and change.

I started in 1994 in my basement with a couple of old back-to-the-land articles from dusty magazines from the 1970's (I was trying to learn soapmaking) and permission from my family to start a business of my own.

Up through 2001, my company experienced amazing growth. This growth was directly tied to the internet revolution (dot-com explosion). We eventually took on about 4,000 square feet of space and I had several people working for me.

Because the internet was still somewhat in its infancy, my customers tended to call on the phone a lot. We commonly received 100 phone calls a day, and we were shipping like crazy. On the face of it, my business could have been written up in one of those entrepreneur magazines because our sales growth was mind-blowing and we were doing lots of creative and interesting things (books, tv shows, trade shows, etc).

But there was a problem: I wasn't making any money! I really didn't know the first thing about running a business and my growth was so crazy I barely had time to figure it out what I was doing wrong or right!

I was working 12-15 hours a day, seven days a week and I was exhausted, my family was neglected and -- did I mention? -- I was not even making any money!

December, 2001, I sat down at the end of another long day and suddenly realized that the business model I had created was unsustainable. Since I didn't know how to fix the model, I dismantled it instead. I peeled off the retail side of my business (about half our sales) and gave it to a key employee at the same time I terminated her employment. It was her 'golden parachute'. I also terminated all but one other employee.

I leased back half my space and discontinued selling quite a number of our products. At the time, we sold all kinds of soapmaking supplies such as oils, and waxes, molds, perfumes and colors. I decided that I would focus on just colors.

Then I sat down with a beer and a cigarette (quitting smoking came about three months later), and I talked to my business like I was talking to a grown up child. I said: "I birthed you, I fed you, I raised you . . . and I'm tired." I told my business that it would have to take care of me until I had fixed all that I had broken. And if it couldn't do that, I was going to let it die.

I was actually surprised to discover that my business could take care of me without much effort. For the next four years, I had a nice, simple life where I could yawn up at 9 am, get a hour in at the gym, work, catch the tail end of Oprah, cook dinner, go for a walk on the beach, enjoy hobbies, snug my family. In other words, have a life. Thanks to the foundation I had laid earlier, the power of the internet and the loyalty of my customers, my business maintained a nice, even pace all those years.

But a "nice, even pace" never lasts forever. More importantly, it doesn't serve the real needs of our customers. Most of our customers are entrepreneurs. Even if they haven't started a business yet, they want to. And TKB's primary purpose is the be an affordable, dependable resource for those dreams.

Since 2005, I have begun rebuilding my business and structuring TKB for long term, sustainable and energetic growth. My biggest mental hurdle was always a fear of hiring staff to help with the increase in sales. So much of my mistakes in the early years revolved around staffing decisions that I had become fearful of acting and could not bring myself to hire the help which we so sorely needed.

2007 is shaping up to be a great year to overcome old fears such as these and move forward into a new, revitalized incarnation of TKB. I am really looking forward to having more time to serve the unique needs of my customers -- sourcing interesting new products, developing new recipes and communicating on a personal level with you about the nuts and bolts of growing a business.

I am really refreshed, really renewed and really excited to be a part of your adventure.

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