DOs and DON'Ts
My first white-collar work was part-time figure clerk at Institutional Investor Magazine on Madison Avenue in NYC. I would never have gotten in the door except they needed someone to do a lot of cupcake arithmetic, none of the professional journalists wanted to do it, and a close friend (THANKS FRED!) talked them into giving me a chance. That was in 1977 when I was 22.
All of my previous work had been physical. It was a huge change for me to go to an office and I remember a lot of it very clearly. The magazine was edited by the late Peter Landau, a big name in financial journalism. On the wall in the hallway outside his office was a very marked-up stylesheet from the Associated Press. It was a list of "DOs and DON'Ts". And someone, probably Peter, had changed a lot of the DON'Ts to DOs and a lot of the DOs to DON'Ts. The AP stylesheet said DON'T describe a person's clothing or appearance or mood. And Peter wanted his writers to do just the opposite.
"II", as we called it, was a very successful magazine, and their deliberate contradiction of the previously prevailing wisdom was probably an important part of their mojo. In any case, I've always remembered they did things differently.
And I lately realized that WeatherWool has also been highly contrarian since the start:
- There isn't much clothing made in USA anymore. Maybe 3% of American clothing is made in USA. In the 1960s, it was 95%. So the smart people told me not to do things in the USA because we could save big-time with foreign labor. All WeatherWool construction happens in the USA. (And all our materials are also American.)
- A lot of people told us we should NOT make our own Fabric, and instead we should buy the fabric already available, and concentrate on making clothes. Most people who make clothing do not also make the Fabric, the manufacture of which is very complex, time-consuming and expensive. Other people explained that if we were so intent on making our own Fabric, we should at least make it from commercially available yarns. They also told us if we are so intent on making our own yarn, we should save a bunch of money and effort and buy the commercially available fiber instead of buying raw wool from Ranchers. Making our own Fabric, from raw wool sourced from Ranchers we know personally, is the heart of our company.
- We've been told quite a few times to be flexible in sourcing our components .. use imported zippers or buttons or thread. After all, we could still say MADE IN AMERICA as long as the garment is >50% American (or something like that). But we've never made any exceptions to our principle of 100% American components and 100% American labor. I don't want to make any exceptions and I also don't want to rely on legalisms
- Way back when we began doing this in 2009, people told us we could not make the Hardcore Luxury garments we envisioned. Woolens could either be soft and comfortable OR tough and weather-resistant, but not both. Fortunately for us, Advisor Bob Padula knew of fiber that would make it possible, and Advisor Rob Stuart was willing to give it a try
- Tailors told us jackets HAVE TO have a liner because jackets ALWAYS have a liner. And indeed, more than one sew shop put a liner into the first jacket they made for us because they couldn't really believe we meant NO LINER!
- We have frequently been told we need to set some exceptions to our policy of Free Shipping in USA and Canada. That we should set a minimum price for free shipping. And that we should except Alaska, Hawaii and parts of Canada. But I don't want to be a FINE PRINT company
- We've been told that we need to advertise, but we don't. As our production is finally ramping up again, tho, I might do some advertising. But I don't know where or how ...
- We've been told to hire marketing and sales people, but we haven't. As of November 2022, we have started to work with a pro who can help us present a clearer and more polished picture of our products. But he's a little bit of an asterisk because he's been wearing our wool for years
- We've also been told that Black Friday Sales and similar are important. But we don't run "sales"
- We've been told to do all kinds of things that would enable us to reduce our prices. But every one of those cost-saving steps would have reduced our quality or service, and we've never done anything but try to improve our quality and service. I learned from Gil Kaplan, the founder of Institutional Investor, that it's critical to be the best, and that naturally means you are going to be the most expensive. But actually, we are not the most expensive. We've been able to keep our costs down, relative to our costs of actual production, because we have extremely low overhead costs
- We've been told our website tells too much about how we do what we do. We want to be transparent
- We've been told our website, in general, has way too much information ... that the website should be very short and sweet. We think the more our customers know, the better
- Following on the previous item, we've been told to keep our product descriptions SHORT, like the great majority of other clothing companies. Supposedly, people don't want to be bogged down with a lot of detail. But we aren't selling Jackets for $19.99 ... People usually return to our website repeatedly before deciding to buy. I think (I hope!) they appreciate having more to read
- We've been told not to reveal the names of the companies we work with. But we want to give our Partners credit. And if our website brings them some business, that's great
- We've been told answering the phone 24/7/365 is foolishness. But our customers appreciate it and we will be there if people call. People are frequently shocked when I answer the phone. They expect a machine, even during normal business hours, let alone at night or on holidays. If eventually the calls are too much for me alone, Alex and Denali will help. Customer service is our business
- We've been told our business is too personal, and that customers want to buy from a company, not a family. WeatherWool IS US, and we take it very personally. And in almost all cases, our customers are individuals, NOT companies. People who want an impersonal experience can interact the website. But people who want a personal touch, or just want a quick answer to a question, can always call and almost always speak directly to me. And if we've been in touch before, I usually address them personally: "Hi Fred, it's Ralph. Thanks for calling. Has the Anorak met your expectations?" Some people have commented we must have a very sophisticated CRM (Customer Relationship Management) System. But actually it's just my phone. When people place orders, fill out the contact form, send me an email, I save their number in my phone. Pretty basic. KYC (Know Your Customer) is as fundamental as it gets. But this surprises people. Seems like it ought to be standard for any business
- Our website maybe has too much information, and people get lost. Well, maybe. But a lot of people tell us they like all the info
- Business websites are not normally first person. But I'm the face and voice of a family company. So, as long as that remains the case, first person it is!
- Business website pages usually will not be dated. But I want our website to stay as current as possible. So the great majority of pages on this site have a date of most recent update, and the name of the person (usually me) most responsible for that page
- Most clothing companies will charge for shipping and returns ... "restocking fees". We like for everything to be included in one price
- Our garments don't display a logo on the outside and even on the inside, our labels are placed inconspicuously. We don't use the typical placement at the back of the neck because, in a terrible situation, that's a bad place for something that is not our Fabric. Our labels and required-by-law tags are placed lower on the garment where potential adverse impact is minimized
- Looking at the websites of other clothing brands, I hardly see anyone smiling. Don't we want people to look like they are feeling good in our clothing (whatever brand)? We've been guilty here, too. I've made a point of nobody having a sour-face, which some brands evidently favor. And I even explain Alex's smile-frown when we've run a photo where he's got that crazy look. But our models don't usually look happy, and I've just (April Fool's Day of 2023!) decided we'll change that going forward. So, we'll be going against the current trend more and more.
- This one might be the most important of all ... we've been told we're too trusting, that we'll get burned. And we have gotten burned. But we'd rather be trusting than suspicious or guarded. In practice, people rarely betray trust and are highly likely to reciprocate
16 May 2023 --- Ralph