January is my favorite month. Each new year, I always set aside a very healthy amount of time to focus on my goals and plan for the 11 months ahead. And 2020 was no exception. In fact, 2020 is the year I planned to make some really big changes, but then again, so did nature (ya know, pandemic & all…).
So in early January I was dedicating hours and hours of my free time to write a whole new business plan for cinder + salt. You see, our current lease expires on December 1 of this year and I had to decide to renew or not to renew… and I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do. But I started writing this new business plan to help me very clearly see the path I wanted to take the company on, and I just couldn’t get enough of it.
I spent several hours every week meeting with fellow business owners, community leaders and mentors, and I was asking everyone for feedback, advice, and to share some of their wisdom with me. I had some of the most enlightening and exciting conversations about business that I’ve ever had. I was loving it.
I realized in early February that I was going to make some big moves. I love our flagship store on Main Street but aspects of that location haven’t really been serving us well. Although, there have been so many benefits as well. It’s tough to figure things out but I knew that if I was going to pull off what I’ve always wanted, I have to shake things up and make some tough choices.
We do a wholesale tradeshow every March and the weekend of the event had crept up just as news of covid-19 reaching the states was hitting the fan. I kept checking my email to see if the show would still go on. Moments before I began packing my car I got word that the event was cancelled. I was admittedly pretty bummed. We rely on that show to kickstart much of our wholesale business and not having that face time with customers, I knew it would hurt us.
Over the course of the next 3 days it became very evident that we needed to close. On Monday I called my team members and laid them off over the phone. I asked them to apply for unemployment asap (which they did and they were both speedily approved). That very same day I began making a list of funding resources in case things went south. (You learn stuff over the years, and being first in line is step one to success.)
The next day I worked alone and finished up every job we had in-house. I started cleaning (Very rare! I abhor cleaning), preparing to be closed for weeks or months with no business. I was on my hands and knees scrubbing spray adhesive off the floor (which is really not fun, in case you were curious) and it hit me! “I need to shore up this company and move into the family building. The universe is giving me this time to make the move without effecting normal operations.”
I got married last fall to the greatest guy ever, and it just so happens that his dad & aunts own an industrial building (where his company is located) that has plenty of room for more tenants. I went home and while I prepared dinner I asked if I could move into “the shop.” Adam said “Yeah!” with so much excitement. He called his dad and he said, “Of course. She’s family.” It was settled. This wasn’t the move I expected or intended to make, but it was happening.
So, the whole reason we have our print shop on Main Street is because I’m obsessed with efficiency. There’s nothing more convenient than making your products on site. Plus, it’s cool to have everything in one place because our team can multitask in a big way. BUT the biggest issue with having production space on Main Street is that we’re paying Main Street retail rent prices for a very industrial side of the business. In January I had been looking at industrial spaces (I was already tinkering with the idea) and I knew the rent would save me 50-80% per square foot over what we pay now. That’s no chump change!
But money isn’t the only reason we’re moving… although it does sort of factor into all the other reasons.
First, layoffs are the worst. They suck for the employee and the suck for the employer. I mean honestly, it’s the literal worst telling someone you can’t pay them anymore. And… I knew we could go a little while during lockdown but I was afraid business would dry up entirely and I didn’t want them to not be able to get unemployment if things went south. Turns out, it was the right call to do it early because my staff didn’t have to wait weeks or months to get compensation.
The other side of that coin is that as an environmentalist, I know this is just the beginning. There is no doubt in my mind that we will see another pandemic in the future and it will most likely be worse. And if I only have X number of dollars and I have to choose between paying main street retail rent, or paying my employees, I 100% choose my employees. I LOVE being on Main Street and being super efficient, but I also love having my team around and really, they are the beating heart of the brand.
Secondly, the printshop is our most valuable asset. Without our equipment we would have nothing. I want to make sure that those assets are safe and secure, and there’s nothing more safe than holing up in the family building. In a commercial building, the wants and needs of the landlord can change and we would always be on a lease with a beginning & an end. I really like the idea of occupying a space that has a fluid lease term and not having to worry about if my landlord will want to replace my shop with a restaurant or medical offices. It just adds an extra layer of emotional and mental security. The family building was built in 1942 and they’ve owned it for that long (I think); it’s really not going anywhere.
So, it’s happening. In fact, here’s a photo we took last weekend of me in our soon-to-be-new home. It doesn't look like much yet but it'll get there! Adam and I have been working every weekend since March to empty this space; and now the cleaners, painters and builders are slated to come in. Yay!
Alright so, what does this mean for our flagship store and for our customers?! The truth is that I have no idea. 2020 has proven, so far, to be a year of extreme uncertainty. While I am in talks with my landlord about downsizing our space to be retail only, nothing is set in stone yet. I know that we want to keep our presence in Middletown but I think it’ll look a little different. I’m not sure if we will have to move to a new building altogether or if we can repurpose part of our current space, after it is subdivided into multiple retail storefronts. I’m not sure if covid-19 will have a debilitating effect on our retail shop in general! We might also have to temporarily close for renovations and reopen in 2021. One thing for certain is that we will have a smaller retail space and that means we will be selling off some of our store fixtures, discounting a lot of products right before the holidays (fun!) and unloading a bunch of art supplies in our new creative reuse section of the store.
If you haven’t been to cinder + salt yet, or it’s been a while since your last visit, please consider stopping by this summer. We don’t have too much time left in our current iteration of the space and we’ve worked really hard on it. We want to share it with as many of you as we can before it undergoes a major transformation.
I have no idea what’s going to happen and oddly enough I’m really kind of fine with that.
Right now I’m focused on renovations and moving. Our team is back on full time and we’re excited for everything to come. We’ll share more photos as things are completed. As always we thank you so much for your patronage, support & positive vibes. I love being on this artist-and-entrepreneurial journey; there’s nothing more I’d rather do. See you soon!