Sunday, 21 April 2013

The year that was 2012.... The Coffee Apple


One mum's crazy journey of bringing a small business to life. 
Sharing the ups & the downs.



2012 started off slowly.... in January I made my very first quilt.  
Sadly I think it was one of the last times I actually sat down at my sewing machine.



Like many mums, I decided that 6am in the morning was a good time to tackle bootcamp... army style.  This was the first of many sessions in the rain.... lets just say that while I was good for 6 months and I felt like wonder women..... I crashed and burned at Easter.

I'm a little annoyed at myself... while creating this email and looking back over the year that was 2012... this is the last time I can actually remember myself doing something just for me.... hmmmm I'm going to have to look at that.


 
In Christmas 2011 we had a stall at a local primary school
and we were lucky enough that a passing customer took one of our cards.

This awesome customer went on to invite us to have a tent in the 2 day KNOX FESTIVAL... which attracts thousands and thousands of people each year... this little painting is the start of planning this huge event.
and aprons, everything I could think of to make us standout.
I handmade the curtains, purchased displays, polka dot table cloths,

 
WOW... so we were going to the KNOX FESTIVAL.
I was sooo excited and then it dawned on me ........ 
I MUST HAVE BUSINESS CARDS.
Yes we had been open for a year and this was the first time
I was getting actual business cards. 
VERY PROUD BUSINESS MUMMY MOMENT.


 
The Knox Festival had arrived...... it had taken us 3 hours to pack the shop into the 4WD and trailer to get all the products to the festival.  Another 3+ hours to unload.... the night before we made FRIENDS with the festival security guard and held our breath....

Lets get this right... I was panicking... the storm was hitting,
the sides of the tent were sucking in and out and the wind was incredible.... question was would it still be there in the morning?

Yes of course it was.... BUT THE RAIN, now that is a totally different matter.... no one in sight except for a lonely bee and pouring rain and MUD, lots and lots of mud...but as a mum I was prepared... our little tent had CARPET SQUARES!!!

 
Then it all changed THE SUN CAME OUT.... and the second day 
was beautiful.  We got to meet sooooo many lovely people and
I gave out LOTS AND LOTS AND LOTS OF CARDS :-D

Two of our awesome suppliers came and did demonstrations for those passing by.
One supplier was pure GOLD..... Rebecca was there for me 2 days straight, unwavering and I must say she was my rock.  
She helped me pack up the shop, it was her 4WD and trailer that got us there and she helped me set up with Cath from Leaf... I'm so very lucky to have such wonderful suppliers.



Yes..... I'm a mum with a little boy... he was two years old at this time and yes we are stocking the shop after the Knox Festival.... one display or should I say three displays and a tub of products at a time.

Now it must be said that the Knox Festival took a lot out of me,
within hours of restocking the shop my body fought back.... I had taken too much on and the body let me know, I was then sick for a week.


 
OMG it was around this time that my little boy did it.....
he said the name of our little shop..... THE COFFEE APPLE
without any prompting and then he said it again for the video...
SOOOO PROUD OF HIM.... click on William to hear it yourself.



After the craziness of the Knox Festival I decided that it was time that I opened our first online shop.

Now the online shop was initially limited to 25 products and it had Word Press front page which.... lets be frank ... was terrible and I was embarrassed to promote it. I was so frustrated that I didn’t have these computer skills.... YET.



Not long after the Knox Festival we headed to our very first Huckleberry Market.  It was wonderful to meet awesome new suppliers here for the first time and to get to know more wonderful and amazingly supportive customers.  

It must be said that I nearly ran out of petrol getting there (thanks hubby) and encountered a huge HUNTSMAN spider in the petrol tank.   It then took 7 trolley loads to get the stock from the car to the stall and 40 minutes to display all the stock.... I was seriously sweating when the doors opened and by the end of the day I was exhausted....and just like clock work after restocking the shop I was sick :-(

 
In June we tried something a bit different and took part in our very first POP UP SHOP in Emerald with a collection of other small businesses working under the name of The Passing Collective....

It was a breath of fresh air to be having sales in WINTER.  
It lasted a week and again we got to meet more wonderful mums in business and lots of lovely new customers.

 
HARDEST TIME IN THE HISTORY of The Coffee Apple... whilst much of our stock was in the Pop Up Shop in Emerald our landlord arranged in winter, to have the roof of his shop replaced... as you can see the workmanship was terrible... it was not made secure over the weekend.

I have never been so ANGRY and bitterly disappointed as I was that Monday afternoon.  To get to my shop without so much as a phone to call to tell me what had happened.  

Displays and products destroyed.... even now 6 months on it still makes my blood boil..... after hours of cleaning the shop I got out to the car to find a parking ticket..... 

I NEARLY CLOSED THE SHOP that week for good.

 
As many of your know I'm passionate about my local community.

So when the local council started a process of creating a roadmap for the development of our area... you can guess who was more than happy to add a couple of suggestions.

All the little photos with the typing underneath (basically all but the post it notes) are my little collection of ideas and this was just the first sheet of paper :-P

 
With our ideas, council began the process of redeveloping and putting a plan in place for Ringwood East... one which will include a community area as part of the Knaith Road Reserve. 

It really is very exciting and something I look forward to tackling again this year... fingers and toes crossed.



I know that when building an online business it's important not to have all my eggs in one basket and so began my attempt at creating a newsletter with a difference, I didn't want it all to be about sales.

To my surprise most people opened it and many read it a couple of times... even now I get quite a few emails asking for the next addition.

PROUD BUSINESS MUMMY MOMENT..... one annoying factor is that I should have been patient enough to have someone proof read it... sigh.



Then of course after the newsletters the next step is to tackle our very first BLOG ..... and yes I know I have to do lots more of them.
I have ALOT of learning to do when it comes to learning how to use blogger.


As many of us with facebook pages know.... FB changed the goal posts in a very big way.  The introduction of algorithms hit with devastating effect, really no surprise as Facebook is now on the stock market and needs to make money... and what better way than getting page owners to pay for posts to be viewed.  

This was an image I created to try and let likers know how to still see our posts.... IT WAS SHARED BY OTHER BUSINESSES 64 times and FB refused to let me promote it... I guess no surprise there.



Another PROUD MUMMY MOMENT.... I'm outside our shop window while William is inside helping me create one of our wooden toy displays.... he is not so secretly LOVING THIS JOB.

Every single day he amazes me, he remembers so much and is learning so very quickly, I'm scared he is going to leave me in the dust one of these days.



Gembrook Market.....yes I have done markets before... but nothing like this.  

It took two cars loads to get all the stock to market, an hour to set up and well it took everything out of me.... again I fell sick as soon as the stock was back in the shop.

It was seriously awesome however to have the Puffing Billy train pull up behind me.   The response to our products by the locals was really lovely with more than a couple now following our FB page.



We were contacted by the girls who organised the Emerald Pop Up Shop to come on board and be part of OUR FIRST EVER ONLINE SHOPPING GUIDE with the potential for huge exposure to our business.

There was just one tiny little problem... I HATED MY WEBSITE WITH A PASSION... and in less that two weeks it would be shown to thousands in all its glory and it would be out there for everyone to see.... BUT I couldn't miss this opportunity.

OMG it was a very LONG 2 weeks of learning how to write parts of a back end and fully re photograph many many many photos for our brand new website.

I was going to make something that I could be PROUD OF :-D and I did. Just in the nick of time, there is of course, sooo much more that I would love to do I'm getting there.



October arrives, I pack up the shop once more and this time we are off to the local EACH Childcare centre Friday night market.  7 tubs later and half hour to set up, the market runs for about 2.5 hours and after a long day I'm more than a little tired knowing that facing me in the morning was the set up of the  together with a full day of work at Harcourts (my part time job which helped me keep the shop open)

However the best thing is that this is my second year at this market and this time many many many of the mums now know me and our little shop.

This is a pretty exciting just the change just one a year.


It started with a phone call and an email..... yes I was BEYOND EXCITED when I was contacted by The Weekly Review wanting to do a review on our business for their magazine... she said that staff members had mentioned our little business and that they had members of the public also write in about us, I was stunned.  

This was extremely difficult at the same time.... it was at this stage that I was trying to decide if we should CLOSE OUR DOORS on our bricks and mortar shop.



NOVEMBER... what an amazing and awesome month.  
We hit 3,000 likers and I could have just flown around the house I was so excited.
It seemed like just the other day when the first person liked our page that I didn’t know.

I was stunned, couldn't believe it .... well to tell you the truth I'm still amazed at the number of people following our little business and not to mention just how amazingly helpful and encouraging everyone has been. I think if someone were to tell me it at the start that it would be like this, I would have booked a padded room for them.  :-D


It's November and Christmas has arrived in the ONLINE SHOP... every night there are orders upon orders hitting the email...
and to tell you the truth IT WAS FREAKING ME OUT
I had never sold so much in my life.....soooo exciting.


As the online sales grow so does the number of packages heading to the post office.... as a little joke to hubby (he calls himself a mule at this stage) I printed him off this little suggestion.  It doesn't go down particularly well :-P



SAD MOMENT.... it's December and we have just come back from a play date.  

My girlfriends house is beautifully decorated for Christmas.... and well so far I have managed to get the tree out of the garage... its sat on our sofa for a couple of days while I have concentrated on getting the online orders into the post.

William brings home a little gift from childcare, which it turns out to be a little ball with his name in glitter on it... he asks... "Where does it go mummy?", distracted I say, "Honey it goes on our Christmas tree".

That evening, after putting him to bed, I walk past the tree
and I spot his carefully placed little decoration that he has popped onto the tree.   Even now I'm so disappointed and mad at myself. 

I have taken my eye off the prize which is being at home with my little boy. I know that there are going to be sacrifices in this journey.  But this will certainly not be one of them next year.  I'm tempted to print out the photo for my wall, as a reminder to keep the balance.


I'm learning (sometimes the hard way) that small business really is all about trying to keep the balance.

I am extremely lucky and so very grateful that I have the most wonderful friends, when they spot me running into trouble they are able to just lift me off the ground, dust me off and refocus me.

This little table is a high tea party at William's best friend's place
together with teddies of course.

It was so very special that I was totally lost for words.



As part of the Traders in Ringwood East we had a stand at the
Ringwood East Xmas Festival.  

I pulled out nearly all the stock out of the shop and dragged it up the road and held my breath.... I was looking for a sign perhaps.... but we were on the wrong side of the street.  

So many people walking along the car boot sale market and not making it over to the trader's tables on the other side of the street.  Don't get me wrong we got to chat to many many supportive customers... it was, however, one of the hardest days as this was the day that I started telling my local customers that I was closing our doors.  

I also managed to get burnt like a lobster and settle a very upset toddler and daddy during pack up... lots of fun there.



My VERY LAST WINDOW was my Christmas Window.  
I cried after I had done it, it was so pretty and so very painful at the same time.

I guess I did not want to go quietly into the night, I wanted to create something that I could look back on and be proud of.  

I have learnt so very very much about window dressing, my very first window.... (which will feature in a future blog) was a trestle table and then a block ikea shelf against the window, I was so green with no experience whatsoever. 


We were into our second day of high temperatures with William.  
My mum came down to watch after him and in between administrating panadol I went to the shop to pack up..... in just a couple of hours it was all GONE with only the displays left.

Empty really is the best and only way I can describe how I was feeling afterwards.  I went home to my mum and William. Some how mums are able to just know what you need. This time it was a group hug from her and William.  

The pack up had taken everything out of me and I still faced a night of sorting and preparing for the Pop Up Shop which was to take place in Phillip Island after Christmas.


The conversion of our garage into OUR NEW ONLINE SHOP....
yes, like our bricks and mortar shop we will continue to hold the products we sell and will be able to offer the customers the advantage of COMBINED POSTAGE across a variety of handmade brands with awesome quality... can I let you in on a little secret?... I actually don't buy online myself, always worried about the quality.

Its takes two days for my husband and two amazing brothers to convert it to this stage.... there is still windows, doors, ceiling, painting and flooring to go but.... its certainly getting there.

Where on earth would I be without my family?



At the same time as the online catalogue I learnt about google analytics.

OMG what an amazingly helpful FREE website this is.  This is the growth... and the decline after I stopped promoting the shop as the products were in Phillip Island.  One of the best bits is you can see what pages customers are going into REAL TIME,
it's very very exciting when you actually see someone buying :-D 

 
Here is just a tiny tiny tiny bit of the products at the Pop Up Shop in Phillip Island.  
Closing the shop and preparing for the Pop Up Shop the next day was well..... insane and certainly not one that I would recommend attempting again with a sick child.

BUT I DID IT... thankfully the awesome girls arranging the pop up shop picked up the products and the displays otherwise I would have been cactus.



In 2011 our sales were $20,845.94 and 2012 this year our sales were a WHOPPING $32,792.94.... I know that to many this doesn’t sound much but when I first started I thought just over $360 in sales was great.

THAT'S over a 50% increase in sales in a year :-D



Let me introduce you to my WASHING LINE...
I know it's crazy, but as a mum I have spent many many hours out here, hanging out the washing.  It's one place where I nearly always find myself thinking of my business.

The little doggie T Shirt is William's (I have one also) and is a constant reminder that I'm not always successful in promoting my supplier's products.  This woman was so amazing, she stayed with me for so long, even when I wasn't able to get the numbers of sales that she dearly deserved and was soooo very supportive and encouraging. 

It's a place where I have felt frustrated, lost, depressed at times, lonely and totally overwhelmed and while this may sound terrible its also the time when I get to reflect, be true to myself as to what is not working and a place where I can just let it .... well let it ALL HANG OUT for want of better wording.

I tell myself, that if I can make the right changes and for it continue to grow and if it becomes a success then I will be able to look back and know that it wasn't a miracle, it certainly didn't fall into my lap... 
BUT THAT I WILL HAVE WORKED MY BUTT OFF TO MAKE IT HAPPEN.



When I started this business my little boy was a little over 1 and not yet walking....
NOW HE IS RUNNING....

I can't imagine what it's going to be like not having to go down to the shop every day.  It has been 2 years of our life and now we are moving in a different direction and my boys are leading the way .....I just have to keep up.

As most of you know this a certainly a family business and as our Facebook page and email is all about honesty in small business there are certainly times when The Coffee Apple has made life very difficult.  

My husband, whilst very proud of my achievements, has, like many other husbands, certainly let me know that it's not all fun and games.  Yes there are many parts of my business that can rub one up the wrong way.  From the cost, to the time spent on the computer every night.  It has certainly changed our life completely and not always for the best...

BUT I'm changing, learning and growing and it will get better.  
Converting to the online shop will reduce the huge expense it has taken on our family accounts, it will save me time running backwards and forwards from the shop to post products.  The next step will be learning MYOB and getting an accounts structure in place to help with disbursements and of course learning how to market this business ONLINE.... and with our fingers and toes crossed we will get there.



HOOT HOOT HOOT.... WELL DONE.... you have gotten to the end of our huge newsletter.  THANK YOU SOOO MUCH for following us and reading about our journey and the year that was 2012.

You might be thinking.... SO WHAT CAN I DO TO HELP?..... Well I'm glad that you asked :-P  

I WOULD LOVE YOU TO SHARE AND SHOP and tell your friends about our journey and our little shop and fingers and toes crossed, if I do it right we will continue to grow.

AS USUAL..... keep tuned in as there will certainly be more surprises in store for 2013.






Sunday, 20 January 2013

Goodbye Little One


Saturday 19th January 2013

It’s the middle of the night and I can’t sleep, sometimes I think yup I'm ok and other times, it’s the little things that remind me that it will take time.  I was at work today, opened my computer and in the search section of browser of the internet was my last search before I left work on Tuesday... 9 weeks pregnant blood.  It overwhelmed me, how much my life had changed in just a couple of days…. deep breath, I walk away from the computer there must be something else I can do.

Initially when I lost our little baby the cramps came in the form of sharp stabbing pains, three days on and it’s a hard reminder as the cramps continue. They are a lot lighter now and every now and then they are not painful, I forget and catch myself thinking first movement... memory is very swift to return.

This is impossible to describe unless you have experienced a miscarriage.  Somewhere inside of me I knew that I wanted to have the chance to say a proper goodbye.  I didn’t know what would happen next, how it would happen or how hard the next step would be.  But somehow I wanted to save our little one, the hardest part was the unknown what each cramp would bring with it. There really is nothing that can prepare a mum for this heartbreaking decision, to save or let slip away, it took everything I had.

Tomorrow (or should I say today) we bury our little one but for now I need to prepare for its journey.

It was this preparation in the middle of the night that would nearly be my undoing. Miscarriage of a child is one of the hardest of lifes journeys that some mummies and daddies take....

20th January 2013

It’s morning and I’m finding it hard to get moving my head is pounding and I can’t think straight.

William has found me crying, there is worry in his eyes and I debate what to tell him.  I decide it’s best to tell him the truth about what is happening today, that we are going to the forest to say goodbye to baby.  My wonderful little boy eyes fill with tears as he whispers that he really wants a sister.  It’s so hard to loose a child and to hold a child in pain for something that you cannot make better.  I hold him tight, I can’t help it, we cry together on the floor and tell him that we love him and everything will be ok. 

We are on our way to mums, little one is carefully placed at my feet as we pull into a petrol station.  As hubby gets out of the car we realise that the driver filling the car in front of us is very very pregnant.  Hubby looks back and whispers that he will be very quick. 

I want to look away but I can’t, my baby at my feet and her little one tucked safe inside.  I want to tell her she looks amazing, I stop myself that would most certainly really put me in the creepy stranger category.  Hubby returns quickly and we realise that we are going no where fast, there is car behind us and two to our right and the mummy in front is still filling her car.  Hubby holds my hand and asks if I’m ok I can only nod, I will not cry.  A million years later we drive out of the petrol station, my jaw hurts, I have been clenching my teeth.  Tears spill out and roll down my cheeks I whisper “I’m ok just keep driving”.

We get to mums, I don’t think any of us are hungry we pick at our food.  As mum and Adam talk outside William and I are playing with lego.  We are making space ships and rockets and I find myself flooded with childhood memories, all too soon its time to go.

In the car William asks where we are off to, my mum replies “We are going for a walk in the forest” without hesitation William replies “We are going to say goodbye to baby”.  At that moment I realise that I made the right decision and suddenly my little boy is wise beyond his years.

The forest truly is amazing; my mum has found a perfect little place for our little one. Along the way she stops and point out the ferns, ancient trees and birds.  I walk behind, I’m struggling to contain my impatience, I bite my lip and say nothing.

The place my mum has found is beautiful.  Its nestled between two huge trees, sunlight dancers across the ground, I can hear kookaburras laughing in the trees and everywhere I look there is life is all its many stages.  I'm glad mum stopped along the way, it's given me the change to take a breath and actually see the forest.

My mum had already begun our little ones resting place, working together Daddy and William finish pulling out the earth.  Its quite deep to keep our little one safe, the paper box looks so small.  Suddenly all four of us are on our knees moving the earth with our hands until the little box has gone from my eyes.  A log is placed on top, my mum has made a wreath of gum leaves and gum nuts and we each place a flower…. I’m sure its taken longer but it feels like this moment has come in the blink of an eye.

In the background I can hear my mum saying a prayer, my heart is thundering, I can’t think, I don’t want to let go, hurts knowing you are not with me.  I don’t remember what mum said but I can hear the birds, the wind in the trees, my head is clearing, calmness, a sense of peace I guess is the best way to describe it, it feels quite strange, and I'm taking photos I never want to forget.

My mum is talking to William and Daddy about plants she has planted here and they are giving one of the plants a drink.  It’s the height of summer, it’s so dry and there are no wild flowers. The sunlight is dancing on the petals of our flowers they are so pretty, a splash of colour in the dark undergrowth.

We make our way down the hill and I glance back and whisper goodbye to my little one. I can see the flowers peaking out from behind the huge trees one last time, my legs keep moving.

William wants to explore the forest and we head deeper in until we find a little bridge to sit on.  We sit there looking down the little gully looking for birds in the trees, mum is talking about the plants and wombats and the kookaburras are laughing again.  Time seems stands still here, our little one has a new home in this magical place and someday soon we will return to say hello and listen to the birds and watch the sun dance.

We are home now, dinner is finished and it’s my turn for a shower.  I find myself sitting on the floor of the shower and as I watch the water run down the glass I realise that for the first time in days I’m not crying in the shower.  I sit there in the water and for once my head is not pounding I close my eyes. 

The cramps have now subsided and as I take one day at a time I hope that this little window into my hardest days does in someway help those experiencing the lost of a child.  If this experience has taught me anything its that we are certainly not alone and if you can, talk about it or perhaps write about it.

For family and friends of those that have lost a little one this might be just a chance to understand a little of what a friend might be going through.... if you meet me I will most likely say "yes I'm doing ok and smile" for me this response seems to be hardwired into me.... writing helps keep me honest to myself and has helped me tremendously and has reminded me its ok to cry.  

"I loved you from the moment 
I knew you were there, 
and you will be loved 
until the day I die".

Zoe Clark-Coates