A weblog about theatrical drapery and stage curtains for Production Managers, Set Designers, Custom Drapery Resellers, and local/school/church Productions
About a month or so ago, Megan was contacted by folks over at Inc Magazine (you know, the terrific mag for business that sponsors the “Inc 500/5000” awards each year). They were partnering with Cox Business on an event series called Get Started. The first two events were held earlier in the year (Oklahoma City and Connecticut). The next would be here in Southern California (in Orange County, as it happens), and they asked Megan if she would participate.
In times past, Megan has been a speaker at a variety of events for Inc Magazine and other organizations, but this gig had a twist. ”Get Started O.C.” would take the form of a “pitch” session, in which representatives from five local small businesses would “pitch” their product / company to four judges, with an audience composed of local business people. After all the pitches, the judges would vote, and the winner would receive a $10,000 prize package from Cox Business. Megan agreed to be a judge, and she suggested that I might want to attend the event as well.
The event was this past Tuesday Oct 22, and it was both fun and inspiring. The venue for the event was the Marconi Automotive Museum. What a cool venue, and how great that it was created to fund a charitable foundation to help at-risk kids!
The four judges included Megan, Lindsay Blakely (Inc Magazine editor), Mari Smith (author and social media coach), and Dave Berkus (investment “angel”). Each person pitching was giving about 2 minutes to tell the judges (and audience) about themselves, their company, and their product. The judges then had 5 minutes to question that person for further clarification, before time was up and it was the next person’s turn.
Photo Courtesy Justin DeFreece, Inc. Magazine
It was quite interesting to hear each person’s pitch, but it was also fascinating to hear the questions and comments from the judges. Mari Smith focused on questions related to social media marketing, Dave Berkus asked the “hard hitting” financial questions, Megan’s questions tended to lead toward manufacturing logistics, and Lindsay asked more general business-related questions. Quite fascinating to hear the different perspectives.
Photo Courtesy Justin DeFreece, Inc. Magazine
Once all five candidates had “pitched,” the judges votes were tallied, and the winner was announced – Post Op Tops, a company that makes comfortable apparel for post-operative breast cancer survivors.
This really was a fun and informative event – a bit like television’s “Shark Tank,” but much more supportive in tone! If you are interested in attending a Get Started event and live in the Providence Rhode Island area, there is an one coming up there next week – Get Started R.I.
There are some people who have crossed our path at one time or another who genuinely helped form us – by either bringing a mad skill – or lending a helping hand, or even an ear, when it was most needed.
This is a short but sincere shout out to just a couple of specific people who might not realize just how much they meant!
Cynthia Ray – a coworker from many years ago. When I said one night after quitting my job that I was exhausted but had just sold a job to pleat up several hundred yards of special custom order borders for Stevie Nicks……….. She got in her car three nights in a row and drove from LA to Torrance to pleat and pin with me into the wee hours of the night. Without her help I would never have finished the project on time, and let’s face it – the show WILL go on – with or without the drapes. Thanks to a great friend who stepped in just when I needed it!
Isaac Waksul and Rosalie Zigman – Pre-Sew What, and long before I was capable of realizing what an amazing opportunity I had………for about 18 months I worked for Isaac along with his trusted Rosalie out of his surfside offices in Long Beach. Isaac planned events for the big technology players, and yet when it came time for research, he sent me off to the public library. Learning how to look, listen, extract, condense, and then read it again! At the time, I am certain I must have foolishly questioned – “why be soooo thorough?” – but in years that followed after the business was up and running, I realized that my skills in research meant that we were better decision makers, turning over every rock, sometimes twice, and in doing so making best practice decisions and new discoveries, too. Coming full circle, Rosalie now works with us here at Rent What? and as a testament to Isaac’s methods, she manages to do in 2 half days what would take most of us a full week. Rosalie is a gem – and I think of Isaac most every day when faced with questions. He certainly taught me how to find the answers, and beyond that how to communicate the answers. Great people.
Wakaba Tada – being a new business is hard enough as it is – and then you need money. The banks won’t lend to you unless you have 3 years of books to look at – so what to do? We were always blessed to organically self-fund, where consistent profitability allowed us to keep investing (no matter how small) back into the business. But keeping the books by hand more or less, I went by the little local banking office every day – where I was assigned a lovely woman my age from Japan. Wakaba walked us through our banking needs, guided our decisions and saw us through to the day when the bank extended an official “line of credit” – pretty much unheard of for such a young business at the time. Years later we became friends outside of the business and bank – eventually taking aerobics classes together at the local YMCA, and in later years when she married she invited our son William to be her ring bearer! Wakaba now lives in Japan with her husband and has specialized in investment banking.
DAD – yes – Boot-Scooting-Billy to some – and Papa to others. But Dad has been here holding hands, drying tears, vaccuming up pins and keeping the team dancing for 17 years now. So, thanks Dad – from all of us – because you made a difference and continue to – in fact we’re all looking forward to your next visit in October……..
Dad (aka Bill Rowe)
With Thanks – and to so many others …. unmentioned but not forgotten.
Question – Can I remember each and every year since we started this here thing?
Answer – Nope. I cannot even remember what I had for breakfast!
Here are the high points!
1996 – Quit my day job and plunge headfirst into business in Warehouse # 1.
Hire and expand. Get burgled. Hire and expand
2000 – Move to Warehouse # 2. Hire and expand and have way too many workers comp claims.
Hire a marketing company ……….and expand
2005 – Take out a whopping commercial loan and buy / move into Warehouse # 3. Hire and expand – hire and expand
2006 – Win the Dell Small Business Excellence Award and meet Michael Dell.
Hire and expand – hire and expand…
Sounds rather like a broken record, doesn’t it! Well, I do well recall several significant moments………………
Such as bumping into Craig Waldman in the hallway while working at Merv Griffin back in early 1996, when he said to me “You have a strange look like you are going to give notice or something”…. OH MY – and a mind reader too? Well, I had been meaning to tell them exactly that. Indeed – I had the look of one foot out the door, I suppose.
So from there the small hobby business that Adam and I had been grooming in the garage, of all places, was about to be birthed – into its own warehouse. All the bills, all the risks and none of the health insurance or 401k’s that we’d grown to love. Thankfully Adam had a stable position, so it was just my income we were putting on the line – but it was enough to motivate us to work day, and night – and day, and night…….. until …… well – feels like we still do.
That is a fact – that in small business every day in business is a gift – and every new client is an opportunity to share the word. When the words are good, then it is all fun and games – but that wasn’t always the case – and there were laughs and tears alike. Still are, come to think of it.
The first warehouse was in Torrance at the airport – managed by KAY properties – they took a gamble on us, and how sweet they were as landlords. So, in 800 sq ft of roller-doored garage space, we were “up n’ running”. Mini fridge, check. Coffee maker, check. Obligatory cheap Palm in mini-lobby, check. Hand me down computer from Isaac Waksul… you got it. Old kitchen table to sit at, and we were OPEN for business.
Small problem – no work. no carpet, no cutting table, one sewing machine and the phone not ringing yet. Let the adventure begin!
Getting the phone ringing proved to be less of a challenge, and heck, we were able to connect the phone to ring through to my “pager” so we were able to be found at any moment! Technology talking – lol – and that was hi-tech. I wore a corded headset plugged into the portable phone while I was at the machine sewing and would have to yell over the “brrrrrr, brrrrrr, grrrrr” of the machine every time I took a pass under the needle. “Huh? What?” the callers would ask….. Well at least they knew it was made by hand in America.
We got carpet thanks to Joe Gallagher’s dad – he was a carpet layer. We bought a cutting table from All Access, and slowly, one at a time, began to build clients and employees. Maria Martinez being our longest employee – indeed she was a first hire and we quite literally grew up together. We stitched our way through all sorts of celebrations and losses, there was thread and drapes for the good days and the bad.
So many memories – one employee we hired who insisted on coming in each day wearing her Sunday best – jewels and heels and skirts and all. Another who took buses all the way from East Los Angeles every day, in and out of Torrance (no small feat I tell you), as they were so committed to the job. Recalling the time we were broken into, and discovered that the insurance we had bought had an “alarm clause,” and as I did not have an alarm in place we weren’t covered for any of the stolen equipment. Horrid. Now THAT was a bad day.
And this only brings us a year or two into it – I suppose that there would be chapters to write to tell all the tales……….
I must say – that if we knew then when we know now, we probably would never have done it. Really! Good thing that ignorance is bliss. Let’s face it – we were without the internet to “scare” us off with “TMI” about our 80% likelihood of failure. And so we thought, like the little red engine, that we could. So we did. With every breath, we lived and breathed the business. Those were long days, late nights and endless weeks that bled into months. But in looking back, I don’t suppose I would have wanted it any other way. We are thankful to staff, family, friends and clients who have supported and guided us all the way.
The chapters of a business’ timeline are like the chapters of a recipe book. The ingredients vary, the prep time is never the same, over cook it and you are screwed, and the final outcome is always “the sum of ALL parts” – just having the sugar doesn’t make cotton candy……………. Indeed it was our dedicated staff and willing clientele that made this pavlova rise.
Thankful beyond words,
Megan sleeping at the warehouse on the cutting table, with some furry friends, Romeo and Sweetie, in the early days
Recently, Megan was featured, along with three other woman entrepreneurs, in an article in the July/August edition of More Magazine, a nationally-distributed consumer magazine whose mission is to “celebrate women of style and substance with articles on style, health, work, spirituality and relationships.” It was exciting to pick up a copy of the magazine, read the article, and see the full page photo of Megan.
The story isn’t available online yet, but stop by a newsstand and pick up a copy of the magazine – I think you will enjoy it.
Interestingly enough, after the issue came out, Megan received an email from Cindy Urash of rls art limited in Warsaw, Indiana. After reading the article in More Magazine, Cindy wanted to reach out to Megan to share her own entrepreneurial story. Below is a portion of her email to Megan:
I just finished reading the article about you and your company in the July/August issue of More Magazine and was quite impressed with your tenacity. What you have accomplished over the years has inspired me to push forward with my little company, rls art limited. My father [Russel L. Snyder] was a well-known artist in Pittsburgh during the 1960’s and 1970’s….In 2000, I formed the small company with my mother and we began selling high-quality prints of his original artwork….My mother recently died, I have retired, and I have such a passion for the artwork, so I am planning to start once again to get the products out to a wider audience. . A couple of years ago I licensed two of the art images to a clothing shop in Greensboro, NC, and they created a limited edition line (50 garments) and sold out almost immediately. I had the fabric printed by a company in Rancho Cucamonga, CA [which has since closed]…. I am now in contact with a new fabric printing company, and they are creating the fabrics from recycled plastic water/pop bottles. Everything is eco-friendly and made in the USA….
It is certainly gratifying for Megan and all of us here to know that her story of starting and growing Sew What? Inc. over the years can serve as inspiration to Cindy and other budding entrepreneurs out there.
It is interesting – as we have now had our blog running for several years, and several hundred posts. Lynda Vaughn, our General Manager, has embraced the task of managing and maintaining the content, and has been the majority contributor/author since its inception. In looking back thru the posts, there are lots of great subjects to read about and with every new month there has been news about the company, to include both the people and the company dog.
So, in assessing the content and it’s value to others, it is interesting to watch as the different reader and search engine trends are applied to what we have been doing. A recent look at a three year history shows that most of the interest tends to come into the blog thru searches that are “reference” in nature. As in – what will create this look? – how can I do that? – “tell-me-more” type queries about theatre and stage concert setups. Stop, learn and leave seems to be the nature with such white paper entries. We are thrilled to be a part of the learning curve – and it’s great to know that some spend lengthy amounts of time on these posts and then move across to our website to relevant informational pages.
But, for those who come frequently and read more for the love of our people or projects, there is interest in the inner workings of the company – what we have been doing – where we have been – our recent custom stage draperies – not to mention what Crispin the office dog is up to.
So, as we aren’t in the business of being a “totally-marketing-minded-to–the-exclusion-of-the-reader” company, we won’t change what we are doing to target one group of readers over another. Rather we will continue to present a blend of stories about drapes – and those of us that live and breathe them – as we have done – and are really delighted to learn that there is something for everyone on our blog. Even Dell Computers recognized us some months ago for having the mix down to something that is both search engine AND reader friendly. Yes – happy to be the 7/11 of blogs. Stop in for what you need when you need it…
With quality at top of mind – I think you will always feel our passion for each other and what we do in all of our posts – projects, anniversaries and friends and family. Here’s to our rapidly approaching 17th year………..
Recently our President Megan Duckett and General Manager Lynda Vaughn had the distinct honor of being invited to attend the Dell Small Business Think Tank here in Southern California. It was an interactive dialogue on how local small businesses and entrepreneurs plan to grow and succeed this coming year, and what they need most from the organizations that support them so that they aren’t always being overshadowed by national issues. It was a fascinating workshop for those who attended in person and live online (via twitter and Storify), and I was able to get a first-hand account of the experience from Megan herself which I know our readers will also find very interesting. Thanks for sharing your day with us, Megan!
What kind of companies were represented, and how many attended? Were there any familiar faces/companies/vendors in attendance?
This was a really targeted group of local small businesses, with an attendance of around 35 people. Everyone was from the Los Angeles area and were mostly long-time established family owned and operated businesses. What made this group of particular interest to me was that there were actually other local manufacturers in attendance. Local manufacturing seems to be at an all-time low – with so much going off shore for production. Worse yet in a small business environment the owners usually are involved in running the day to day – making it hard to get away and attend this type of event. It was great to see such a good turnout. A local canvas boat cover manufacturer who is right down the road from us in Long Beach was there – it was great to meet and share “best practice” stories with one another, especially since our fields are very similar.
What did you end discussing at this meeting?
The style of the meeting was a “think tank” conversation – where there is a moderator and then the group all participates actively. It’s a really great way to get everyone involved. It only works well when the group is small and targeted – and the subject has to strike a chord with everyone on the panel. It was great – we were all there because we had something to bring AND something to learn!
What were everyone’s biggest concerns/issues with being a successful small business owner?
Some of the biggest concerns that continue to haunt small businesses despite a “vision of a better economy on the horizon,” included HR tasks and tactics. How to hire, how to retain good talent, how to position your business so that it is attractive to new employees — those are all of utmost concern to everyone nowadays. What makes a place “great” to work at, and how to structure pay scales and pay raises in uncertain economic times, is also of great concern and consideration for all business owners in today’s economy.
Any other points of interest that you would like to mention?
Dell Computers did a great job of bringing an all-around open discussion to the group – it was particularly great as they had plenty of technology advice available to us as needed – but it was not specifically about technology. In small business our needs are so much rounder than just IT. Let’s face it – the IT is no good if you don’t have the resources to purchase or implement it. Let alone keep it up to date and running! I’m really looking forward to the next event that they present locally here in LA. I am also a member of DWEN (Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network) and a supporter of their Entrepreneur In Residence Program, which are both really wonderful organizations to belong to, encouraging business owners – especially women business owners — to be as successful as they possibly can be!
From behalf of all of us at Sew What? / Rent What?, I would like to wish all of you a happy, healthy and prosperous 2013.
We celebrated this year our 16th anniversary in business as Sew What? From those early days back in the garage, cutting fabric on the oak floorboards and shuffling the dinner off the table to make room for the sewing machine – indeed we have come a very long way. With us are so many familiar faces – employees from the onset and clients and vendors alike. For that fact alone we are indebted to those around us who have helped us grow and supported us through our many stages. Madison Street in a cozy 800 sq ft space, Vermont Avenue in a functional 6000 sq ft, and here on Gladwick Street in our very own luxurious and practical 15,000 sq ft. To those who have moved with us through the years…. thank you!
There has been great energy amongst the newly renamed “Whatter’s?, as this July 1st brought with it a change of ownership for Rent What? as it transitioned from a standalone corporation to one that is more integrated within the Sew What? family. With change always comes first the challenge of learning to fly, and then the excitement of watching the new arrangement find its wings and “take flight”. We are thrilled to have had such a strong and smooth transition, and look forward to continuing to service you with extreme service and quality softgood rentals.
Here’s to a great 2013!
I have to share just how great I think it is that there is an “underground network” of super cool production vendors who all seem to have one another’s backs when it comes to missing gear. It goes without saying that once in a while gear will get misplaced, lost or (sadly) stolen. But nothing makes for a better Monday than getting a call or an email from a supplier who wants to let us know “Hey – we got some of your gear in one of our returns…..”
We do it all the time, too – those pesky edison cables that belong to the lighting company – or the stage skirting (which looks like our drapes) that should have gone back to the staging supplier but rather, ended up in our hamper.
I think it is really great to look at what we do and who we are in terms of the “very big picture”. It isn’t just one supplier to one client – nor is it one product to one user type. We are part of a huge network – and like a fine swiss watch it takes cogs and coils and springs of all shapes and sizes to make the hands turn. If we look at the concert industry as the time teller – then we’re all incredibly important parts to the successful delivery of the hour. So it makes total sense that we support the other part of the machine – let’s all stay healthy and profitable. Looking out for one another is SUPER important. We are really proud to be a part of a very caring and actively involved local and national network of suppliers.
Thanks to all of you – production managers and fellow suppliers alike – for always keeping an eye out for our gear! No more milk cartons needed – we got friends
Recently, Megan was interviewed by Dana Wilde for The Mind Aware Show, regarding Megan’s experiences as a successful entreprenuer. Some of the topics discussed included the tools used to facilitate business growth, how Megan managed that growth, and much more.
Megan’s interview will be broadcast this coming Saturday, December 1st – if you’d like to tune in, you can do so on the following radio stations:
Business 1570 – Minneapolis, Saturday, 12:00 pm CT - http://www.business1570.com/schedule/saturdays
KKHT – Houston, Saturday, 9:00 am CT - http://www.kkht.com/ProgramGuide
Not in the Minneapolis or Houston area? That’s OK – you can also tune in to both stations using the smartphone app: http://tunein.com/mobile
The Mind Aware show is a fresh look at mindset and success for entrepreneurs and business owners. For more information on The Mind Aware Show, please head over to http://themindaware.net/the-mind-aware-show.html.
It should be an informative and entertaining program – hope you get a chance to listen!
Hey there fans and friends of Sew What? and Rent What?!
Just an update to remind you that our very own Megan Duckett will again be rockin’ some Prog Rock Classics with the band WITHOUT WARNING this holiday season exclusively at St. Rocke in Hermosa Beach!
This Friday, November 30th, catch her and the band at 9:00PM performing with Bonfire (AC/DC tribute), Metal 101, and Jay Stevens. PS – For those that are local, mention “WW Rocks” at the door for discount tickets. Come early and enjoy some great happy hour treats or a delicious meal in this fine rock n’ roll palace!
But wait, there’s more!
Sunday, December 9th, the band will be starting especially early at 7:00PM with a special “unplugged” acoustic set of prog-rock standards, opening for none other than Don Dokken, and The Bullet Boys!! This will prove to be a one-of-a-kind evening you don’t want to miss!
But wait, there’s more!
Just kidding. That’s it for rock and roll this month folks – as there has got to be plenty of time for softgoods and drapes amongst the musical merriment!
If you have some time check out the band’s footage on their website or visit their Facebook page and give them some support! Those of you who know Bob Hughes of ALL ACCESS STAGING will love to learn that he is indeed Without Warning’s drummer pounding out those Dream Theatre beats. “We love YOU Bob Hughes”!
Rock Harder people.
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