Big Business For Brainstorm (and Beyond)
It's time to share a little story about going big. For the past 9 months we've been working on one of the most overwhelming things we've done as Brainstorm to date.
In September of 2014 we got a very simple, straightforward email from a wall decor buyer at Bed Bath & Beyond. What!? Yes, BBB. They were inquiring about carrying our American Atlas Map prints. Seeing them online, they thought the maps would be a good fit for their wall decor collections. We mulled over it for a while, contemplating what working with such a big retailer would do to our "brand". Are Brainstorm prints suited for a big box store? Are we that type of company? What could working with them do (or un-do) for us? We had worked with Urban Outfitters before with great success and we decided that this could be another positive growing step. We could have a "corporate branch" and not lose our soul. If we could give BBB something different than our brick and mortar stores carry (just like we did with UO), we would feel better about the whole relationship. Our maps in a custom colorway was the answer. The BBB buyer loved it because they would get an exclusive product. We want everyone to be happy and have something relatively unique. So, we went for it.
All of this planning and emailing was happening In September of 2014 while we were on our month long road trip across the country. It was pretty amazing to see how we could run the business and work this type of deal from the road. Towards the end of our road trip we did a craft show in Washington DC, and on the way back to New Hampshire we took a meeting with the buyer in their corporate headquarters in New Jersey. We got the ball rolling with samples of the prints and retail packaging and hashed out the details of their first order. For us, it would be the largest single order we've ever fulfilled. For them it was seemingly teeny weeny. A small test order with hopefully bigger ones to come. But we played it cool, because that's what you do when you play the big business game. You be cool.
They had good plans for our prints and knew our market very well. Our map prints would be perfect for the 'back to college' crowd. College kids need posters. If they happen to be screen printed by us in our little NH studio...even better, right?! BBB says they're the biggest back-to-school retailer in the nation and we're inclined to believe them. We went there as college kids. Where else can you find twin extra long sheets for those silly dorm beds?
After saying yes to it all was when the real "fun" began. We got back to our studio and started working out the details. Our usual wholesale system operation goes something like this: "Hey! I want to carry (or re-order) some prints, see my attached purchase order." "Hey! Thanks for the PO, here's an invoice." "Hey! I paid your invoice!" "Hey! Your order shipped!" Simple. Done. When you're given a 50+ page vendor guide within the first few emails you know immediately that you're about to get in the ring with Mike Tyson without ever learning how to fight. It took close to 4 months just to get set up as a vendor. We needed to step it up big time to learn the BBB systems and operations. We had to make financial investments, learn all sorts of lingo and acronyms, learn what the hell EDI compliance is and then become EDI compliant, read and re-read the vendor guide and routing guide to make sure we didn't miss a beat or risk chargebacks...all while continuing to run regular, day to day Brainstorm.
It took months to get everything in place and see the first purchase order. Once it came through the crazy system we had to set up, we began production, (we didn't want to start making prints before we were SURE that order was coming in). If they backed out we didn't want to be sitting on thousands of custom prints, and we had never outsourced our printing at that point yet. So to keep it safe, we brought in an assistant to help print and we printed all day every day for almost a week straight (which may sound crazy, but print production was fairly easy compared to the paperwork and the business set up). Even still, we had to scale up. Way, way up. Inks were mixed in gallon buckets. Paper, backing board, and bags were delivered freight and weighed 790 lbs! The freight delivery driver asked what all this was for since this is the first time he delivered to our unit and the order was so big. When I said a project for BBB he stared at the pallet, smiled, and said, "Don't fuck it up!". Laying on the pressure. As if we weren't freaking out enough.
When your products are being sold at this level, you need custom barcodes to identify everything in the global system. You also need specific UPC stickers to put on each piece, and those need to be affixed one at a time (we called in help for that part too). BBB has a preferred vendor for these in China but coincidentally just as we needed to order them it was the Chinese New Year and everything got pushed backed by almost a month. Ah!
There was utter confusion at all times, stumbling through the process and hoping we were doing things correctly and saying the right things at the right times. We learned to be flexible and asked for help when we needed it. We learned what it means to be a part of the "global marketplace". It was an absolutely wild winter, but we did it. And as far as we know to date, without major error.
Everything was individually packaged and labeled and our order shipped on March 31st. They're finally for sale on the BBB website. We did not send posters to any stores, we're only on the website to start. We're hoping to be in stores late summer 2015 for a back to college market, remember? We're on page thirty-something in the wall art category, so no big exclusive exposure. We were the top listed pieces in the 'New Releases' category for a while but they're slowly getting pushed down. If the prints sell well, they have the potential to go to retail stores. That's what we are hoping for. We do not want to have gained EDI compliance in vain!
Bottom line, big projects like this will not change who we are. We've grown our small list of retailers from the ground up and respect every brick and mortar for hustling our work. We love knowing everyone on a first name basis and doing simple ordering and invoicing via email, that's totally our speed and hope to do it that way forever. But when a corporation comes to you asking for something handmade in the USA and gives you a respectable price and the opportunity to learn and grow as a business, you take the chance and dive in. Which is what we did. So please head to the BBB website and check out our prints and buy one if you can! We realize the volume they probably need to push to actually reorder is huge, but it can't hurt to ask right?
Here's a few more pictures from the last few months working on the project. Print Mania!
You're still here? It's over. Go buy a print and help us out!