Well, if it isn’t the dog days of Summer coming back to Printville! And it’s only just beginning. Yesterday hit 90-degrees F and it felt bad. I’ve got three heaters blasting during a print run, and though there’s a bit of a breeze flowing through in the East LA shop, much of it is hot, thick air. Imagine when it gets into triple digits. Needless to say I need a lot of breaks. And water. But it’s the kind of heat where even water doesn’t feel like enough. You’re hoping it will hit a little different, but it’s not quite the magic bullet you want it to be. There’s nothing I can do in these times, but slow down production. Frequent pause. Stepping outside. Anything to just walk away from those heat sources long enough to catch a breath of fresh air. Then hoping to return to some kind of rhythm where I can knock out a lot in a little amount of time.
You think this is bad? I reminisce back to the original Kinky shop in South LA. Tucked deep in the middle of a grungy, dark, aging industrial building. Dust falling on my head from the rotting ceiling whenever somebody so much as moved a chair upstairs. Zero ventilation. All the same heat. But in a box with no windows, one door, and a long walk to the outside. Kind of had its charms, I guess. I mean, we were isolated for real and you really felt like you were working on an island. Or rather, in a container on an island. On the rare occasion someone would walk by or into the shop, it was startling. I’d really get into the last man on earth mindset, and to see another human was straight up weird! I would forget how to even talk using words. Forget English. I couldn’t speak human in those cases.
There’s a little of that in the East LA shop, but having the storefront at least breaks up the rhythm when someone comes in to grab a t-shirt or a Yoohoo. I can be in my zone to the point where the loss of language thing does occur, and I have to remember how to talk again fast. But I’m not a complete loner. I mean, I am, but I’m not without human contact like I was in South Central.
I’ve been listening to a lot of screen printing podcasts (some better than others) and business books, dispersed with some episodes of Office Hours Live with Tim Heidecker and the gang when I want to have fun and I want to laugh with people who make me laugh. If I feel like shaking my tail, I put on the eclectic playlist of jams and dance like nobody’s watching. It’s possible nobody’s watching, but every now and then I turn around and see somebody in their car waiting for the light to change staring in. I’m a showman, so there you go, lookie loo. Free entertainment. That’s about all the entertaining I’m doing these days. Too tired for bands right now.
The recurring theme of these podcasts is sales. I’ve got to improve sales. I’ve got to get a salesman or be a better one myself. I mean, crap. I know this. The big buggaboo of this year that I’ve aired out publicly is that I’m not getting enough sales to cover expenses. I’ve had multiple eviction threats. My power has been turned off and took several days to restore. I haven’t paid rent at home for months. I’m lucky to have enough in the fridge to make a meal. Folks, this is what you call entrepreneurial poverty.
There are days I get despondent and have no idea what I’m doing with my life. But most days I’m trying to fix it. Because that’s what you are as an independent business owner. You’re a fixer. This year has really tested my desire to continue fixing things. I’ve thought about closing in the past, but the stubborn never say die part of me kicked in and I flat out refused to fail. This year hit different. I don’t know. Having my landlord tell me in plain language that he was bringing down movers to remove me from the premises really felt like the last straw. Like, yeah, if that happens I’m done. No mas. No desire to hit restart. No more stubborn jackass mentality. Just done. Walk into the sea, and never see me again.
But then it didn’t happen. Friends, strangers, countrymen came from out of nowhere to help me out. They bought things from my store (and yes, I still have to ship those things out, sorry guys!!). They sent donations. Sometimes more than once. (Kiss you.) They sent me food. They sent their friends who needed merch. They made small merch orders themselves. And somehow I squeaked by the moving men by the skin of my teeth. Got the landlord temporarily off my back. Had a talk with him on a human level and said no more bullshit. Enough mental abuse. Talk to me like a human. Keep it plain. We don’t have to get personal. And there it was. An extra life. An extra Super Mario to run through the abusive maze. An extra pump on the life support system.
I’m not fixed. I’m not healthy, physically or businesswise. Dude, there’s literally a bald patch on the side of my head that happened overnight during all this, and I have no idea what the fuck that is. I am still asking myself what I’m doing with life on the daily. But it’s having that teeny tiny sliver of light up ahead that makes me feel like I can pull through this. It gives me that introspection. Can I do this? What can I tweak? How can I avoid this in the future? What are the things that stress me out the most about this experience and how can I damper those things down the road? Well you know what? I don’t have the answers! I’ve never ever had the answers. But what I’ve had is the stupidity to keep trying.
So here we are again. After listening to some of the price analysis podcast episodes, I realized I had some major holes in my business. I noticed I wasn’t charging for labor for a very labor intensive offering THE ENTIRE TIME I’VE BEEN IN BUSINESS! Basically giving stuff away every time I had an assistant run production. I realized on certain things I was charging break even rates, which isn’t sustainable. At one point this year I rock bottomed my pricing as an experiment to see if I couldn’t pick up extra business and make up for it with volume. (Short answer: nope! I made things much much worse!)
It’s still a work in progress. Some things naturally are going up to adjust for real world costs that have been steadily increasing on me while I stayed at the same or lower pricing. In some cases, surprisingly, some pricing has actually gone down, when I plugged into actual cost analysis and realized I could lower my margin, still make some money, but give a better value to my customers. The difference here is that for the first time I actually know what things cost! Or some close approximation of that cost. And how adjusting that or offering a discount to that will truly affect my bottom line. It’s been eye opening.
I know I know, number one rule of business. Know your costs. But if you listen to screen printers talk, it makes sense why a lot of us are in the dark as to where our pricing should be. There are “experts” with successful businesses on some of these episodes literally saying, “yeah, I have no idea.” There are SO MANY factors that go into the printing of a shirt, that even getting things analyzed down to the drop of ink is nearly impossible. There’s a ton of time analysis and x factors. Let’s face it, there are areas where you are 99% blind and will never know. There are a lot of us out here just pressing and guessing, hoping that we’re charging enough to cover expenses and that we’re not charging too much to where we won’t have any customers.
One of the podcasters I can relate to, Gavin StGeorges, founder of Seps.io remote art department, said it best. And I like him because he talks like me. He doesn’t speak like a business book. He’s not a tool, like so many of these dudes I hear. He talks like you and me. When he said this, it really hit home. You just have to pick a number and run with it. Stay consistent. See if it works. Revisit it down the line and adjust. It’s super simple, but I think that’s it. It’s so true. Yes, know what goes into your costs, but also yes, there are gonna be things you can’t account for or forget to account for, and even with a buffer, you might be off. But get close, pick a number, and stick with it. I love it. I’m doing it. When I get in the studio, I’ll do it.
It’s a conundrum that nearly made me want to sell my press this year and get out of this business. But finding out some of these answers has brought back that old fool in me. Here we go again. The juice. The drive. Hey, what if we tweak here. Systematize this. Get rid of this. Add this. Start offering this. And the mind of the entrepreneur starts dancing again. Goddammit. Curse that mind! Make it stop!
But what can I say? It’s instilled in me. I come from a family of independent business owners. My dad and uncle have a business they’ve run for over 50 years. I grew up as a kid working at the flea market with my grandpa, helping him sell baskets imported from the Phils and southeast Asia. For fun I did this as a pre-teen! Before I was even in junior high I ran lemonade stands using lemons that fell off the neighbor’s tree into our yard. I sold my toys and comics at garage sales with my sister. Hacked up my dad’s rose garden (much to his chagrin) and sold flowers on the street in front of our house. I sold t-shirts I bought 3 for $5 at the swap meet in the back classified sections of the heavy metal magazines I used to read. Made online stores before that was an actual thing.
I’m just a born businessman, and whether or not I’m a good one, I can’t stop doing it. So every time I try to quit once and for all, that little urge comes back. That little tickle. That pull. And next thing you know, not only have I not quit, I’ve somehow EXPANDED! I think I’m going to die crazy. Because that’s what all of this is. Madness. And as a neurodivergent sometimes that comes with extra challenges because I can’t speak in acronyms or relate to A-Type business jocks. I don’t do things like normal people do. I just can’t. I’m impulsive. I’m helplessly ADHD. I’m hypercreative to the point sometimes people don’t know what language I’m speaking. I’m also a punk. I do it my way. I do it anyway. But the point is, I do it. And I do it myself. And I can’t stop. Even if it kills me. If this doesn’t, the next heatwave might. So pray for me. But I know you are because when I cried out for help, you responded. And that was extremely moving.
You know who’s the boss? Not me. You. Thank you for being a friend, boss.