People are always curious to know how long the shop has been open, and for weeks I've been repeating, "It'll be four years at the end of this month!" "This" month being October. And then suddenly it was November, and I caught myself saying the same thing and realized I had entirely blown by the four year anniversary of this little shop's existence. Well, happy belated birthday to us! (Adorable card by Mr. Boddington's Studio.)
There's a related question I get asked a lot, too, often with a tone of cautious concern: "How's it... going?"I have come to realize that this is the polite, midwestern way to ask if this is a solvent enterprise. And I get it! Stationery shops have closed in droves over the past decade. I've opened one in a small town. The business model is objectively questionable.
What I tell people, which is true, is that it's not a great idea to have a baby a year into business ownership. I dug myself into a fairly big hole pretty fresh out of the gate by hiring an employee before I was ready, because necessity.
But I'm happy to report that I have since dug myself out of that hole and have achieved a consistent enough level of sales that I felt comfortable hiring a part-time employee. So: progress!
Another positive bit of news is that because I opened the shop on a shoestring with a very modest (possibly to the point of being laughable) amount of inventory, I don't carry a loan. Every penny that has come into the shop I've been able to turn around and reinvest, so that the shop now has about three times the amount of inventory that it started with. And since more inventory means a greater diversity and variety of products, that equates (up to a point, I imagine) to stronger sales. Also encouraging progress.
I'm still within that precarious five year window that entrepreneurs have to ride out to have a hope of sticking around for the long haul, but the trajectory is encouraging. This year -- year four -- has been the best yet, and kind of by a long shot. It feels like I'm finally starting to reach that synergetic hum where my own grasp of what I'm doing plus a growing customer base interested in the shop plus ample energy and investment in and around Ashland have equaled a surprisingly heartening year.
And the cherry on top is that Liz's presence here has not only thrown our website into high gear but has also given me space to hatch new plans that will hopefully just keep building on the good things already in motion.
But -- doesn't there always have to be a but? Let's say you get tired of all of this semi-anecdotal positivity, forget your midwestern manners, and ask point blank, "Are you paying yourself?" I could clutch my pearls (if I had them) and feign offense at your rudeness, but I'm a poor Nebraskan in two main ways: a) I don't care a lick about football, and b) I actually find it really helpful to talk about money candidly. What is normal? What is realistic? What is possible? It's hard to gauge without people willing to say. So here's the news from my front: the frustrating fact is no, I'm not yet paying myself. On one hand, I am insanely fortunate to be able to forgo taking a wage; it is not remotely lost upon me that getting to reinvest everything into the business is a wonderful privilege, and even though my growth feels slow as molasses, it would be painfully slower were I paying myself out of necessity.
While I deeply appreciate and value that economic flexibility, I also can't and won't hang out here indefinitely. I adore the shop! But I'm not interested in running a hobby business. Personal goals and dreams above and beyond the shop will require an actual income, so that is what I'm wishing for as I blow out these four candles. Fingers crossed that when next year's anniversary rolls around, I'll have good news to share in that respect.
But all things considered, this experiment in inventing my own job is maybe possibly perchance starting to look like a going concern. So infinite thanks to Josh and Liz and Rebecca and Chris and my patient children and my supportive parents and to each and every one of YOU who are cheering this adventure on. Let's see what year five has in store, shall we?