End of the Year

Preface

2018 begins tomorrow and I’m still wondering where this year went. In some ways, it felt like each month of 2017 was longer than the year itself. January started off very strong, February was lackluster, and March through May all had average growth of 38% for the company. By June, between caring for the new dog, helping with renovations, and preparing for moving, I was totally burned out; growth stalled to 11% from June through August. After the SOCOM contract mess in September, I was ready to write off this year as a so-so year for the business, but all of that changed last month with a single November phone call that has set me on a different course going into 2018.

Part 1

The Big Deal

In the wake of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, October was nothing but phone call after phone call, each varying between requests for donated goods to requests for fulfillment of FEMA contracts. The donated goods requests were easy to assist with, and I had about $3000 worth of goods available to donate to groups in Turks and Caicos, the British Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. Meanwhile the requests that were coming in regarding FEMA contracts were just so far out of my league, they were laughable. The first contracts from FEMA requested 1 million bed mosquito nets. Two weeks later, the contracts were split into 250,000 unit contracts. Two weeks later, 50,000 units. Even at 50,000 units, the capital required to fulfill the contracts would have been a minimum of $600,000, funding which I had no way of obtaining, and the contracts stipulated a 2-week turn-around time, which would be nearly impossible even with the funding.

Giving up on winning any contracts, I went about my merry way until mid-November, when I received a call from a catering company – no shit, a food catering company – which had won a contract for 5,000 bed nets but had no way of fulfilling the contract and only had 11 days to fulfill the contract. How a food catering company with no ability to produce mosquito netting could win a contract is a story I will never know, but alas, this was the request given to me. “Let me see what I can do and I will get back to you at 9am tomorrow,” I told the person on the other end of the line.

Here was the situation at hand:

Contracted units: 5,000

Contract Deadline: 11 days

Days required to clear wire transfer payment from U.S. to China: 1 day

Days required to airship from China to U.S. including customs procedures: 8 days

Days left in which to procure 5,000 units: 2 days

Essentially, I had 48 hours to find 5,000 ready-to-ship units and time was ticking. From 9pm that night to 3am the next morning, I was in contact with various Chinese manufacturers, looking for 2,000 units here or 500 units there, Skyping and emailing with them in intermediary English. At 9am, I called the contractee back and informed him that sourcing from China was not an option at this point. The next option was to send him all of the unfinished goods available in my own warehouse and then he would have to finish those goods to produce about 3,000 nets. The issue, however, was that this finishing process would take about 7 days, leaving me with only 3 days to ship two pallets of the unfinished goods from my warehouse in Arizona to his location in New York. I did not think this would be an issue, but I spent two hours on the phone with seven national express freight companies and not one could pull through for me. With only one national express freight company left to answer, I was running out of options and time. And then it hit me. “You idiot,” I thought.

In that moment, I realized that my primary U.S. manufacturer was located only 100 miles from my contractee. I knew that my manufacturer would also only have unfinished goods, but perhaps they would have enough unfinished goods for my contractee to produce the full 5,000 units, and maybe, given the volume of the contract, I could negotiate the pricing down. So I called the production manager and told her that I wanted EVERYTHING they had available in unfinished goods, that I did not care about the size, color, or style of the goods and that they could also clearance any ill-moving inventory to me.

After four days of continuous three-way communication and multiple rounds of phone-tag, I had sorted out all of the logistical challenges, including hiring a one-man furniture moving company off of Craigslist to overnight a pallet of goods from North Carolina to New York. With everything completed, my contractee sent a $26,000 wire transfer to my manufacturer and my manufacturer sent me an invoice for $15,500. So, with just a phone and without touching any physical product whatsoever, I made $10,500 on the contract. I suspect that the catering company cleared even more than that, but I’ll never know how much they made or who the nets even ended up going to in Puerto Rico, but everyone in this story came out ahead and happy.

Moving into 2018, I now have this $10,500 credit with my manufacturer, so as long as the manufacturer doesn’t go bankrupt in the next month (fingers-crossed!), my next round of inventory will essentially be free to my warehouse door. I have a lot of plans for that inventory in 2018, but I’ll be addressing those plans and my other goals for 2018 in my mid-January post, so for now, here’s to the new year! *clink*

Part 2

Good Cries

Empathetic crying is an experience I really cherish because it means that I have connected with another’s story to such a degree that I begin to feel their sorrow, pain, anger, or joy. The experience is relatively rare for me, so when it does happen, it’s incredibly powerful. These are the stories that brought good cries in 2017…

Featured Song

Speed Trap Town – Jason Isbell, 2015

A wrenching Americana folk narrative about a son letting go of his dying father and turning his back on his father’s shitty legacy, a legacy which has torn apart his family and made him the disdain of strangers in a town so small that it can only be sustained by ticketing out-of-towners. The song is predominantly about loss, but hopeful for a future unmarred by the past. First heard this song in the credits of This American Life episode #629: Expect Delays.

Listen to Speed Trap Town here on YouTube

Available on Spotify

Also, for anyone who is like me and hasn’t really always understood country music/American folk or its culture, I recommend Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast, King of Tears.

Featured Podcasts

The New Norm – Invisibilia Podcast – 17 June 2016

“But the accident that haunts him the most, it wasn’t even a death:”

“There was a bug blower, like a big airplane fan, and an oil rig guy was up there, throwing some chain around and somebody asked him a question, I think he went to point somewhere and it went POW, just like that. The blade cut off his fingers and I remember him standing, looking at his bloody palm and I remember him saying ‘What am I gonna do now?’ That’s what he said. ‘What am I gonna do now?’ And when I saw that, it made me sick. All I did was just went on. I let it sink in a little bit, and then just went on.” – Mark, former oil rig worker on the Ursa platform

Notable for being the first podcast to make me cry, the first segment in this episode deals with the gradual changing of a hyper-masculine oil rig culture that dissuaded communication and led to extremely-dangerous-and-often-deadly working conditions. As a guy, it was really moving to hear “tough guys” open up about their children dying of terminal illnesses and about being distant from their families,  both physically and emotionally. Nonetheless, also inspiring for me to hear how discussing emotions, especially with other men, can be a really therapeutic exercise. Highly recommend this one.

Listen to The New Norm from Invisibilia here (35 minutes)

The segment begins at the 5 minute mark and ends at the 40 minute mark.

One Last Thing  Before I Go – This American Life Podcast – 23 September 2016

This was one of the hardest things I’ve ever listened to on the radio. Really messed me up for a whole day.

In 2010, a Japanese man, grieving the loss of his cousin, bought an old English phone booth with a black rotary phone and installed it in his backyard. From the hill on which the phone booth sat, the man could gaze across the entirety of the Pacific Ocean, and though the phone was connected to nowhere, the man could spend hours talking to his cousin. A year later, a massive wave came from that same ocean, killing 15,894  people, and tearing families apart. In the years since, people have come from all across Japan to speak to their lost loved ones and express their pain behind the window panes of the small white phone booth. Some of the visitors let a Japanese film crew record their messages to the deceased, including this man whose father, a truck driver, was driving along the coastal highway when the tsunami hit and was swept away in the waters:

“Dad?

The four of us are doing fine.

We’re hanging in there. You don’t need to worry about us.

Dad, are you doing ok?

I do have one question I want to ask you…

Why did you die? Why did it have to be you, Dad?

Why just me?

I’ve always wondered–

Why am I am the only one who is different from everyone else?

Anyways, please be found quickly.

Where are you now, Dad?

They never found anything of you.

I wanted to talk with you again.

The man sobs. I cry. More visitors enter the booth, more stories are told to loved ones, more questions are asked, more tears fall down my face and I give up trying to do any work as I listen in silence.

Listen to One Last Thing Before I go from This American Life here (22 minutes)

Japanese phone booth
The White Phone Booth