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November 21, 2011
Good Morning and Happy Wednesday! I hope this note finds you well and preparing for a terrific Thanksgiving holiday with family and friends.
As I reflect back on all that has transpired this year, I am overwhelmed with a deep feeling of gratitude for the many blessings I have received. I have been blessed with good health in my immediate and extended family. Our "Fabric.com family" here in Marietta has grown beyond my wildest dreams. Today, we are able to provide good and meaningful jobs to almost 200 people! Our larger extended family of customers has also expanded beyond anything I could have ever thought possible. Today, over 150,000 people from all over the world visit each and every week. How could we possibly say "Thank You" enough to all of you for your friendship and support! You are our reason for existing and I hope our commitment to serve you is evident in everything we do.
This Thanksgiving celebration will be particularly meaningful for our immediate family. Our oldest daughter, Alexandra, has gone off to college in Philadelphia, which feels a long, long way from Marietta. We will get to spend 4 days with her, and my wife's extended family, during our annual Thanksgiving visit to Joliet, IL. To say that we are excited to all be together is a huge understatement. It seems like only a year of two ago when I was sharing details with you about her early days as a swimmer in junior high school. The time passes so fast.
On behalf of everyone here at Fabric.com, please accept my warmest personal wishes to you and your entire family for a happy, meaningful, and safe Thanksgiving holiday!
All the best,
October 31, 2007
Hi and thanks for taking the time to read my recent blogs. A lot of you liked the funny stories about how our business started and the unexpected things that happened. I have had several people write to ask "how the story ends?" People want to know a little about where we are today as a company. Allow me to take a few moments and share that with you.
As of October 22, 2007, we have grown to 41 employees and we are in the process of adding at least 2 more in the coming weeks. We occupy a 25,000 square foot warehouse in Marietta, Ga., that we no longer fit into. We are actively looking to lease or purchase something in the 50,000-70,000 square foot range.
Probably the most exciting thing is the numbers of people that we are able to help with their sewing and crafting needs. Since we started, we have been fortunate to assist over 500,000 customers, of who about 50% currently are regular active customers. While 95% of our customers live in the United States, we are honored to serve customers throughout the world, including Canada, most of the European countries, numerous East Asian countries and several Middle Eastern Countries. I never cease to be amazed that fabrics we import in bulk from countries such as Japan and South Korea, get shipped back to individual consumers in those same nations.
Most people say we sell more fabric on the Internet than any other company. While I don't know if that is true, I do know that we are deeply grateful for the incredible support we get from our customers, whom we consider to be our friends. Growth on the Internet continues to amaze. We add about 200 new customers every single day, and that number continues to increase.
While growth is great, and we have big dreams about the future, we are committed to maintaining the same warm, family-oriented feeling that we built our business around. We never want to lose touch with who we are and who helped us achieve our success.
So what does the future hold for us and for fabric sales on the Internet? As most of you know, there is a fair amount of uncertainty about the direction that several of the national chains are going to take. Hancock Fabrics still sits in bankruptcy and has drastically reduced the number of stores that it operates. Wal-Mart appears to be closing a significant number of its fabric departments, although I don't think anyone outside that company knows their long-term intentions. Other players continue to look for a successful strategy. There is no question that Internet based sales are by far the fastest growing segment of the fabric industry. My personal belief is that, as long as we continue to provide our customers with a great product, at a terrific price, and never lose site of the basic values that got us here, the rest will take care of itself, regardless of what happens on the competitive landscape.
In the very near future, I will be announcing a new partnership that we have formed with one of the largest on-line companies in the world. They want to meet their customers' fabric needs and have asked us to help them accomplish that. It is very exciting!
I hope this note answers most of the questions that I have received. Allow me to end this note as I do most, by thanking you for the support and friendship you have shown us over the years. Without you, none of this would have happened. Until next time, Stephen
September 14, 2007
Let me share a few cute stories with you from our "early days". Starting with my next entry, I am going to do something a little bit different. We see vendors very regularly. I am going to photograph some of our buying session so you can both see our crew "in action" and also see some of the fabulous new products we are buying currently and which you will see in the coming months. Now back to my cute stories.
Story #1 - Laurie Comes to Work - As I shared with you in my last entry, we reached a point fairly early on when we knew we were not simply trying to liquidate an old business and go out of business, but we were going to get into the on-line fabric retail business. That's a great decision to make in the abstract, but how do you impliment it when you have virtually no staff. The first major cog in our new machine turned out to be.... Laurie.
A friend of mine owned a company that had a staffing agency as a component. He was looking for some part time help for me. At the time, we occuppied what we thought was a large space with about 15 offices, although all of them except mine were empty. One morning a hear the front door chime go off and a women's voice calls out, "Hello. Is anyone here?" So I yell back, "just follow that telephone cord down the hallway and it will lead you to my office." In walks an attractive young lady who introduces herself as Laurie. She tells me she has just left her full-time job and isn't really looking to work full-time right now, but would be happy to pick up a few hours as a temp. I tell her that is great because we are just trying to start this new business and I am not sure I have the money to pay her for more than a few hours a week anyway. I tell her to pick out one of the empty offices and we'll get started. From that day forward, I don't think she has ever worked less than a 40+ hour week. She came in and immediately started creating systems for running our business (She is very good at creating systems). Over the years, she went from helping in credit card charging and fulfillment (we all cut fabric back then), to creating and managing our Customer Service Department to her position today as our Marketing Director. In truth, she is much more than our Marketing DIrector. She is a visionary who has helped shape the direction and face of our company. I will never forget the day she followed the telephone cord down the hall to my office.
Story #2 - Sausage in the Box and Frozen Fabric- In the early days (Years 1 & 2) we bought "clearance boxes" from a box distributor. These were brand new boxes that some company never used and which we could buy very inexpensively. They always had something printed on the outside like "Bathroom Tissue" or "Jimmy Dean Sausage". One day we get a call from an irrate customer. She just received her fabric and it "reaks of the smell of sausage." Not only that, her "entire kitchen smells of sausage" & "How dare we send fabric out in a used sausage box." So I explained to her that we did NOT ship the fabric in a used sausage box, but that we bought brand new boxes that had various company's names printed on them. At first she did not believe me. Then I asked her, "you say your entire kitchen smells like sausage? Is it possible you cooked sausage for breakfast this morning?" Well, you know how that story ends. I think she is a good customer today.
The next "box" story starts with an irrate call from a customer telling me that we had charged her credit card, but never sent her fabric. She thought we were scam artists. So I tracked her package with UPS and it showed that her husband had signed for the package several days earlier. I asked her to check with her husband when he came home that night. The next day she called to say, with some embarrasment, that she had found the box of fabric. Printed on the outside of the box were the words "Perishable - Keep Frozen". Turns out that after her husband signed for the fabric, he put the box in the freezer as he thought he was supposed to do.
Needless to say, now that we have our own FABRIC.COM printed boxes, we do not have those humorous episodes any more.
ENTRY #3 - Goodbye to Kristl and Hello to Karen - One of the people you have heard me speak about repeatedly over the years is Kristl Pelz. For 6 years she has been our Senior Merchant and Buyer. She started with us when we had a limited vision of the types of inventory we should carry, and she single-handedly expanded my view of what you, our customers, wanted us to offer. Without Kristl, we would not have grown to be the company we are today. About a month ago, she came to tell me she was leaving. She wanted to start her own business selling the craft items that she has such a passion for making. While that was both sad and scary, she helped us find her replacement and is helping us through the transition. We have hired a terrific individual by the name of Karen Howard. She joins us with an incredible background both in internet technology and fabric. She is dynamic, enthusiastic, and will do a terrific job! Please join me in welcoming Karen to the Fabric.com family.
I could go on forever with stories, but I think this is a good dose for today. Look for my upcoming blog posts as we meet with our vendors and review new products.
August 20, 2007
I am new to the blog concept, so please bear with me as I learn the ropes.
As you might have guessed, I am not a sewer, although I do think I have a very good eye for color and design. So I can't share my sewing tips and tricks with you.
I thought you might find it interesting to hear how we got to where we are today. It is a pretty classic American entrepreneurial story. In early 1993, I started a company called Phoenix Textiles. We were what is referred to as a "fabric jobber". We bought season-end closeouts from some of the largest clothing manufacturers in the US, brought them into our warehouse, and then tried to resell them to small apparel manufacturers around the US. For a while it was a pretty good business. We had 6-8 employess and did a couple of million in sales. By the mid-late 90s, I could see we were going to be in trouble. Most of our customers, the small apparel manufacturers were either going out of business or moving their production off-shore. Virtually all of our suppliers were moving their production off-shore. It was not a pretty picture and things started to go from bad to worse.
By 1998, I could tell that Phoenix Textiles was no longer a viable business, so I decided to go out of business. I let go all of our emplyees except for our warehouse manager, one warehouse worker and myself, all of whom would be needed to liquidate the business. The problem was, we had a big warehouse full of fabric and no customers to buy it. It became impossible to go out of business because we could not get rid of the fabric. It was a very dark and depressing time. Out of pure desparation, I came up with the idea of trying to liquidate the fabric on the internet to the public (even though we had never sold to the public before). I built a VERY rudimentary web site one Friday afternoon. I priced all of the fabric at $1.00 a yard, even though in almost all cases we had paid much more than that for it. I went home for the weekend, thinking this was a really bad idea.
When we came in on Monday, we discovered that about 50 people from all around the country had placed orders. While that was exciting at first, we quickly realized, we had no cutting tables, no shipping labels, no boxes to ship in, and we had no clue what we were doing. Nonetheless, we set out to try to fill the orders. Greg, our warehouse manager, and I cut and folded fabric all day and at the end of that day, we had successfully shipped 8 orders. I knew then that we were in trouble. I called a temp agency and the next day we had a couple of helpers, some scissors I bought at JoAnn, and some overstock boxes we found at a dealer in downtown Atlanta. The challenge was that, during the prior day and evening, another 50 or so orders were placed. I won't bore you with every painful detail, but this comedy of errors kept up for several days while we ran around trying to increase our capacity to fill orders. Don't forget, even though we were getting orders, everything was $1.00 yard, which didn't really cover the cost of the temporary labor, much less the fabric, the rent, etc. But we were committed to going out of business and this seemed like the only way we could get rid of the inventory.
We kept things going like I described for about 3-4 weeks. Then my parents came into town to visit and they were fascinated by what we were doing. I explained to them that, while it was fascinating, at $1.00 yard, there was no way to make money. My dad said, "why not try to sell some items for $1.99 and see what happens." So we did that and orders continued to roll in (now we were up to 70-80 orders a day). A few weeks later, we added some items at $2.99 yard, and still the orders kept coming. (Remember, we were still just selling our apparel fabric closeouts; no cotton prints, no home dec). This kept up for about 6 more weeks, when finally I told our staff (still mostly temps) that we were not going out of business at all, we were going into the retail fabric business on the Internet.
There is a lot more to the story, but I think I will save that for future editions. In coming chats (or maybe I should call them blogs) I will talk about:
1) hiring Laurie Hill (now Laurie Eady)
2) trying unsuccessfully to raise venture capital
3) unintentionally inventing the email broadcast approach to marketing
4) Kristl coming on board and changing the face of our entire merchandising strategy
5) Some of the funny (and not so funny) stories that have happened to us along the way
6) Some of values I have learned along the way.
That's all for now. Best regards, Stephen