Back To Basics: The Future of Wooly Doodle
When asked what advice I would give to other business owners or those hoping to start a business, the answer has always been the same – you have to love it. I've put my heart and soul into this business for the past five years. I've built a brand, a community, a team and a physical presence in the place I call home. It's been some of the best years of my life and some of the most challenging. We've seen exponential growth and also navigated a multi-year pandemic. Running a business is not for the faint of heart. It requires grit and tenacity. You must be willing to fail and fall down over and over, only to pick yourself back and continue. For five years, I've been able to do this by drawing on my love for this business. But what happens when the love fades, and the passion feels like a distant memory? That's the question I've been trying to answer for the past six months.
2021 was an excellent year for the business. On paper, it was our best year yet, both from a revenue and profit perspective. The team and I worked extremely hard on examining all aspects of the business, working on continuous improvement and process efficiencies. We did this while balancing the additional demands the pandemic placed on us as mothers of small school-aged children. Every action we took lined the business up for an incredible 2022, but if I'm being honest, my heart was already starting to check out.
Then, like the flip of a switch, 2022 hit, and the industry shifted massively and rapidly. Our fabric costs began to skyrocket as the demand for raw materials increased exponentially and freight costs went through the roof. Our production costs increased by five percent as our manufacturers had to offset the steep increases they had to incur. Simultaneously, the world became even more unstable, gas prices started hitting record highs, and grocery bills began doubling. Very early on, we found ourselves in an impossible paradox of needing to raise our prices while knowing many of our customers were feeling the financial pinch and looking for sales and lower price points. Along with many of our peers, we saw a significant drop in sales at the start of 2022, and we scrambled to understand why. We launched a customer survey, and the results told us what we needed to know.
One of the most telling questions was when we asked customers to rank what was most important to them. Not only did respondents have a hard time picking one thing over the other, but the result also became clear – we were all chasing something that doesn't exist.
Based on the survey results, the most important thing for our customers is quality, which is no surprise. However, quality, price and being made in Canada all ranked consistently and equally high as the second most important thing to our customers, putting us in an almost impossible situation. High-quality, Canadian-made products cannot be offered at a low price. Period. If you see this happening, I can assure you the business is not making any money (I speak from experience). The only way to run a profitable business while selling inexpensive clothing is to cut corners somewhere, which usually comes at the cost of the environment, human rights and fair wages.
When we ran a similar survey in 2021, the overall theme was that bright colours were very polarizing and that many people wanted more muted neutrals. Many people shared that they consistently missed out on products that sold out in the more hyped-up releases, and some even said they stopped shopping with us because the launches were too stressful. Many people also shared the sentiment that they were willing to pay more for products made in Canada and loved shopping small.
While we still received a lot of supportive and positive feedback, the 2022 results told a different story than the previous year. People missed the excitement of the launches, the limited edition, and consistently changing colours and feeling like their purchases were more exclusive. We also saw a growing theme of wanting more sales and clearance availability. Some customers openly shared that because of the price increases elsewhere in their lives, they're unable to shop small this year.
My intent in sharing this is to show that despite putting our customers and their needs first, we had the objective of trying to please everyone, which we now know is impossible. So, where does this leave us?
The sudden changes in the industry have forced me to pause and think about what I love about this business. Every option has been on the table in the discussions I've had over the past couple of months. We've tiptoed on the line of closing down entirely, despite knowing we have a great brand and great customers. While this has been extremely stressful, I feel excited again for the first time in a while.
Wooly Doodle is going back to basics, and we are going to focus on doing what we love doing. In the past few years, I've been so caught up in growth, market share, and production volume that I've lost touch with what is important to me, YOU (our customers), and my team. Over the coming months, we will make massive business changes. If you are a newer customer, the Wooly Doodle you've known will no longer exist. If you're a longer-term customer, prepare to feel a little bit nostalgic.
What's in store (no pun intended)
The following are the changes we are making to the business. I realize this is a complete shift and understand that, as a result, our new model may not be for everyone. I cannot stress this enough – if supporting our brand is not in the cards for you right now, that is ok.
- We will be closing our brick-and-mortar showroom and aim to downsize from our current location. While we have loved being in this spot and have enjoyed interacting with our local customer base, we need to lean out our business operations. This will provide us with more flexibility and work-life balance.
- You can expect to see an EPIC moving sale in-person and online as we plan to reduce our inventory and equipment and fixtures (more details to come soon).
- While we remain at our current location, we will be shifting to summer hours which will be Monday to Wednesday from 9:30 to 4:00.
- We will be moving to a primarily pre-order production model. Every four to six weeks, we will be doing capsule drops for the colours and styles YOU most want. This will allow us to bring back excitement and exclusivity while also engaging you in the process. While we will still stock a small amount of ready-to-ship products, the best way to control our costs and offer you the best pricing is to make what you want, when you want it.
- We will be saying goodbye to our clearance section and significant sales and discounts.
- We will be hosting a giant moving sale and, at that time, will offer the lowest prices to reduce our stock. Following the sale, any regular-priced items will be made available in the ready-to-ship section of our site, and any leftover clearance will be donated to charity.
If you're still with me, your jaw might be on the floor, and you probably have a million questions. We are right there with you and are working away at answering a lot of questions ourselves. Because of how important your feedback and involvement are to us, I will be hosting a Q&A session live on Instagram on Tuesday, June 28 at 10:00 am EDT.
The connections, support and encouragement we have received from you has been incredible and has kept us going through even the most difficult situations. I'll close by saying a huge thank you to the customers who have supported us on this journey thus far. This is a huge change for you and for us, and while we hope you're all as excited as we are for these changes, we realize this new model may not resonate with many of you. That's ok. However, if after reading this you're feeling jazzed for the future, then mark your calendars for our first pre-order capsule happening on July 6, 2022 at 8 pm EDT and be sure to complete our survey to tell us what you most want to see!