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Thursday, September 12, 2013

Adjusting to seasonality......... #inthelineofduty

When you are in school, you hear terms, learn their definitions and apply them in projects and exams without really putting these terms in perspective. I imagine if I was just going in for my MBA, the experience would be completely different. No wonder the facilitators kept rubbing it in that the executive MBA classes were richer and more vibrant. You really don't know until you know.

When I set out to build a business around gift solutions and services, I heard a lot of questions from well meaning and concerned individuals. Top of the list was, "isn't it a seasonal business, when valentine and Christmas and maybe Easter are over, what do you do?"I hated this question so much at the time, getting upset as to why people just didn't understand how the business was an all year round business. What about birthdays! *Rolling eyes* Awon Olodo! hehe.

Recently however, it hit me. Seasonality is not a bad thing. It doesn't mean you have business during a particular period only and then a period of standstill (you get close sometimes though! to be honest). It only refers to the up and down movement in the level of activity the business. During the peak periods, you experience heightened activity so much so that you may need additional resources. Outside of these peak periods however, business activities return to the normal level it was at before this season. Managing seasonality in business requires certain adjustments which can include, casual/contract staffing, increased inventory and loads of planning.

I learnt and accepted this fact, the hard way. I haven't perfected the art of managing this seasonality, but I am getting better as the years go by. #inthelineofduty today will be about my first busy valentine experience...... see pressure!!

Valentine 2012......

I had just started really getting a grip of my life outside the corporate world, after going through the stages of excitement, depression, frustration, excitement again and again. My son was weaned and I was ready to pick up from where I left off. I resumed activity on my facebook page and started shouting, we're here, we're here - you do know I don't mean this literally I hope! Just checking. Lol

The noise paid off, I got maybe not a myriad of orders, but a lot more than I usually get. I wasn't prepared for this at all and boy was it one hell of a mess! Trust that lots of tears came during and after the running helter skelter of the day.

As much as you make noise and harass people to place orders for their gifts, you would still have those last minute people that would rather call you a few days before the d-day or even worse on the road as you do your delivery rounds! As a small growing business, you don't want to turn anybody away, so you keep taking the orders, thinking you can manage it! Manage fire!

I'll try to share all the nasty experiences tagging each one as a scandal, so I don't go off on a tangent;

Scandal #1 - Logistics miscalculation, Mayday Mayday!!

I have a few clients who would place their orders and conclude weeks before the day and of course it would be horribly terrible to disappoint those ones or even any customer for that matter, but these ones especially. Anyway, I had his order settled and sorted and was good to go. I had my logistics plan and it all looked like everything would go smoothly.

I got ready that morning and Kike, my ever faithful supporter as well as my long time staff, Happiness and another support staff had resumed at my house early enough. I looked up the list I made and tried to check Google maps for this customers delivery address (I know, I should have checked long before, thing is, I glanced at it earlier and was so sure the address was somewhere in Yaba), ALASSS!!!! The location was Ikorodu - see sweat! Ikorodu! Where was I going to start? I had to do a total re-routing of my plan. Yeepa.

Scandal #2 - Distressed Cakes 

I can write a book on the cake mishaps I have had in the course of this business, off peak season and even more during the peak season. You can never imagine how bad the scramble is for specialty cakes or any cake at all, during valentine! I can't even begin to explain. I was feeling cool with myself because I had booked all my chocolate cakes from this certain cake company ahead of time, like two weeks before in fact. Problem however was that, they were already fully booked for valentine's day and as such explained to me that there would be no storage space on valentine's day itself. We agreed that I would have to pick up the cakes the day before and store them myself. Yea, yea, whatever. Of course, the last few days leading up to valentine's day were crazy, so I totally forgot (I am only human, we forget sometimes, that's why you need reminders) to pick up the cakes the day before.

I get there the next morning feeling happy with myself, only to find my cakes out on the table! Chocolate cakes fa! Why evils!!! They had my number, they could have called me, but they didn't. The girl at the reception wasn't even sorry, she was like she tried to reach me but couldn't and there was no space. My cakes were already looking distressed..... Oh lawd! It goes without saying though, those guys have been struck off my cake vendors list. Hen! Never again.

Scandal #3 - Balloon Bouquet Disaster

By the time I was done re-routing, raking for the cake company and picking my cakes, I was already running behind schedule and my phone was now ringing off the hook. I was going crazy. Kike, has experience with customer service and if not for her, I would have gone mad that day. Meanwhile, I varied the options between fresh flowers and helium balloons. I was trying to add a different touch to the whole valentine gifting thing. Imagine seeing your package from afar off with floating helium balloons saying "I love you" awwww. Okay, Back to reality. Did you know though, you need skills to handle those things. I had no clue.

I got to the first client that was meant to get the balloons, hurriedly reached for the balloons that had been floating in the back seat of my car only to find they were badly entangled. No be small tangling o! I kid you not, it took Kike, myself and one of my clients, Guard (he was picking up and had agreed to meet me halfway) almost an hour to untangle the balloons, plus we lost one in the process - it went up, up and away! Now that I think about it, I can laugh because it must have been a really funny sight. It wasn't funny at all at the time, at all. Three grown ups, standing on the side of Falomo road, trying to untangle red helium balloons. hahaha!! Gosh. Mind you, my phone was still ringing off the hook, with texts of where are you? How far?

There were some uneventful deliveries that day, but of course, the ones that you never forget are the ones where you had to be apologizing profusely for at the end of the day.

Just in case any of my clients from that day is reading;

For the cake that made it in a mangled state to you(it didn't survive the heat), for the balloon that didn't make it to its recipient, for the flowers that only made it after your wife had given up on you,

  ACCEPT MY SINCERE APOLOGY!! Straight from my heart.

While searching for a picture close enough to my experience, I found this and it was titled, "How not to transport a bunch of balloons"!! hahaha. Apparently, I am not alone in this nasty experience.

A recipe for Balloon Bouquet Disaster…
  • Fill 5 pink balloons with helium.
  • Tie 5 helium-filled pink balloons to little metal doo-hickey on minivan backseat headrest.
  • Drive with windows down…. because it is a nice day.
Yield: 5 tangled helium-filled balloons forever married to the little metal doo-hickey on minivan backseat headrest, and no usable balloon bouquet for event.

Entrepreneur Tips
  • Accept seasonality in business and learn to manage it. In the peak periods, hire extra hands if you need to, stock up on essential items as well. Retain full time staff for regular business and use contract staff or volunteers for peak periods.
  • Managing Demand is not just a term for the books, you need it. Set cut off dates for taking orders for instance. My friend Ikenna told me this when we sat down to review my scandalous valentine experience.
  • Logistics planning is critical
  • Delegate, delegate, delegate!!!
  • Keep a diary/planner, it could be on your phone or smart device. Set reminders too. 


Life Lessons Learnt

Never ever transport helium filled balloons in the back seat of your car unattended! Hehe