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 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
- 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 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
- 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
- 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
5 June 2022 --- Ralph