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The highs and lows of the holiday season

Hey all, hope you are doing well. As the holiday season really starts to come into full swing (I consider “Thanksgiving-Christmas” the full season, but Costco had Christmas trees up the day after Halloween...), I think it is important to reflect on and digest all that has happened since the last log - September 21ish… Technically there was the additional “Aft Cabin” article, but that was really more of a general product guide than an update on the business. I’m trying to get back into the swing of things with writing more regularly, but with so much going on sometimes it gets pushed behind other priorities. I hope you understand.  

So to put it simply, I have been working on Dunsel’s full time since the end of September. Full, “full time” maybe even more so. We essentially work the traditional 9-5 or 10-6 or 8-4 depending on the day. Sometimes the work is completely on the computer; managing email campaigns, creating content for the various outlets of social media, updating and cleaning up our website, online store, planning product launches and so, so much more. And then other days we are in the shop grinding to make as many bags as we possibly can. We’ve been fortunate enough to have made it through our first full year in business so far. I think we officially started in October-ish last year. Since then we have been getting in front of people by going to different markets and growing our audiences online.  Across the board we are seeing significantly more traffic compared to where we were last year. Now this has been seriously fun for us as budding entrepreneurs with an arguably proven brand and product, but it has exposed some of the problems in our not-so-proven manufacturing and supply processes.

Of all the problems, not being able to meet demand is certainly a good one to have, but more traffic, more interest and more sales means a whole lot more bags need to be made. Pair that with in-person holiday markets, traveling home for the holidays, and running around like a chicken with no head, because we are our bosses so there is little to no instruction on which step to take next. Things can and have gotten overwhelming quickly. Being that we are only one year into the business, we don’t really have the ability to rely on historical sales data to forecast and predict what this year’s numbers might look like. So we are more or less using a series of educated guesses when purchasing materials and forecasting our inventory needs. It has gotten to the point where we can’t even accurately keep track of our inventory because it moves in and out of our hands so quickly that it’s easier to just make sure we don’t run out. That’s a lot of manual updating, counting, recounting, and editing. I can go on and on, and I’m not trying to sound like I’m complaining, that certainly isn’t the case, but rather putting it into words is sort of therapeutic. I am thrilled with where we are at the moment, and I can hardly contain my excitement for the coming year, but I’m trying to stay focused through the end of the year. We have had a great past few weeks, which is natural during the holiday season, but we are working day in and day out to make sure that this success is maintained and properly handled so that we can keep laying out the proper foundation for long term success. 

By now I’m sure you’re aware that we introduced some new bags, the totes with Rising Tide Art Studio prints on them. Those were certainly a hit, and we have the final batch of this year coming out this week (keep an eye on your inbox!). We also released our incredibly popular duffel bags. Also a hit. However the duffel bags do take a significantly longer amount of time to make compared to our other bags. However, these higher tier bags also help us move the needle much closer to financial sustainability and legitimacy. They will be a serious component of our future successes I’m sure. This needle progression was evidenced by 3 back to back to back in person market events where we did record sales in a single day. We love the new duffels, and we plan to continue improving our manufacturing efficiencies and design moving forward.

We attended a handful of events over the course of Tallahassee Startup Week which was a wonderful way to connect with a diverse and exciting group of entrepreneurs, students, and community stakeholders interested in the development and future of Tallahassee. It was inspiring to be among so many like minded creators, makers, and business owners and the collaboration juices runneth over throughout the week. A serious thank you to Domi StationThe Jim Moran College, and the City of Tallahassee for putting these events together and making it happen. It was really exciting for me to connect with so many people that I really only ever met virtually. A refreshing taste of what life and business is and should be. 

Now all of this is well and good. We are situated to continue breaking our own records through the end of the year, but before we get too excited, we need to reflect and understand the situation we are in. We should be doing really well. This time of year is the “high season” for so many brands, companies, and retailers around the world. We should be taking into account that our sales right now are absolutely not indicative of the months to come. January is slow, and so is February, March and even April. Will is graduating with his masters in product development in August, and we have a ways to go before our parents believe that the business, the way it is, can support us in a year's time (or less). This reality has us thinking of the many ways to plan for this ultimate end of our “business as usual”.

We have toyed with some different ideas, but the one that at least is sticking out a little more so than the others comes from our experience working with marine canvas, and cut and sew shops over the past few months. What we’ve found is that these businesses are typically overwhelmed with work, understaffed to meet that work, and the staff that is on hand is only a few steps away from retirement. So being the entrepreneurs that we are, we took note of the apparent opportunity here. These businesses require much of the same equipment, materials, space, and machinery that we require. Albeit at a larger scale, but since that’s the direction we might be heading, then that aligns with our trajectory anyway, just with a different product. Let me keep painting this picture… What if the brand, Dunsel’s, needs more time to mature and grow than we can really afford? Well, we can get our feet wet making boat covers for example. This is something that is in high and consistent demand, and we think with the right strategy we could at least take some slice out of any local market we find ourselves in. This could help keep money coming through the door, without really shifting our gears too much. We could scale up our manufacturing capability with potentially more hands on deck, more machines running, and a proper space to operate out of. But wait, there’s more. We can use this new business stream to keep the doors open at Dunsel’s. We can continue to grow and scale the brand at it’s natural place while filling in the gaps with other, similar work. Of course, this is all purely speculative, and of course there would be other challenges associated with trying to grow this way, but at least it is a conceivable option right now. 

The past few weeks of working at 110 mph in the shop trying to keep up with the flow of demand had us realize that this is not the way we continue. We have worked with manufacturers before to make some bags, but we were never completely satisfied with the quality of the work that we encountered. That’s not to say that we won’t ever find the right manufacturer, just that we haven’t found them yet. We are looking to team up with much smaller scale contractors in the future that can help us make our products at the level of quality that we would, but there’s still a good bit of time before we can even start down that road. The rest of this year looks like we will continue this ultra high intensity life in and out of the shop until the pause and sweet relief of the new year gives us the time to reassess and reposition ourselves. 

Enough talk though, we’ve still got plenty of time to work through the logistics and plans for our next steps. All plans are just potentials, and how we approach the next steps is subject to change pretty much on a weekly basis. This is our reality thus far at least. We do have some shorter term goals and plans that maybe some of you reading might be able to work with us on…

We are ready, and looking to start making bulk orders of bags for all sorts of organizations. Whether you are a member of a sailing or yacht club that needs new gear, a sports team that needs new gym bags, planning a wedding for a sustainably minded crew that needs some seriously unique gifts, or even a retailer that is committed to preservation, and protection of the marine environment. We want to start the conversation. If this sounds like someone you know, consider sharing our mission and our story with them. We would really appreciate and benefit from any suggestions, connections, and leads no matter how seemingly small or unrelated they may seem. You can always reach us at dunsel.us@gmail.com.


Thanks for tuning in. Stay safe, be well, and happy holidays,

Jon

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