No underwear on MY head…

This is going to be a difficult post to write, not only because my knuckle hair tends to obscure the keys, but also because of it’s personal nature. The few folk that know me will tell you that even when on an even keel I’m a private person (read – curmudgeonly antisocial git), and pretty much dismissive of any form of self publicity and public whining.

I don’t want sympathy as my recent situation is more than a little of my own making, and I don’t want advice. I just want to tell it like it is, giving enough information to explain things while not divulging too much about things which are nobody’s business but my own.

For the benefit of those with better things to do, and I hope that’s most of you, here is a summary of the relevant points of this post…

1. Still very much in business and looking forward to a busy 2013
2. Still working as fast I can to catch up with the backlog. I don’t work any faster when I’m stressed, anxious and unhappy, so your continued patience is much appreciated.
3. If you haven’t got your order, it’s because I’m working on one for someone who has been waiting longer than you have.
3. Prices are going up.
4. My phone signal is dire. Bollocks to you, Kevin Bacon, and your connected, mobile life. I can send and receive texts, but phone calls? Forget it. If you want to talk, let me know in advance, arrange a time, and I’ll head off down the road to accept your call. Why not get a landline, you say? Can’t afford at present, I’m afraid. My satellite broadband is expensive and for now it’s one or the other.

And now for the benefit of those with not much going on tonight, here’s a longer version…

As I said, this sort of thing isn’t really me, but my hand has been somewhat forced by a couple of things. If I had a normal job I wouldn’t need to do this, but although my product is very niche, my market is lively and talkative and very active online.
Just before Christmas I let down a couple of customers who I’d specifically promised nests to in time for planned trips. Not a major deal breaker – they weren’t round the world trips – but nevertheless it was something that I really didn’t want to happen. It’s also taking longer than expected to clear the backlog and I don’t want folk thinking I don’t care and am taking my own sweet time.

In the main I’m feeling much better. Working very hard, even designing new products, and seeing a therapist once a week to finally work through the long history that led to the events of the past few months. All in all I’m feeling very optimistic about 2013, but I am still extremely fragile mentally and get extremely anxious and panicky when I feel under too much pressure which makes my work rate suffer.
I realise that folk aren’t meaning to hassle, and once again I can’t express how grateful I am to have such wonderful customers, but the new year has understandably brought a rush of eager emails and I’ve been feeling somewhat under seige. I’ve been finding communication exhausting – not just work stuff but socially, too. I haven’t been near Twitter and have had little interest in even talking to friends and the handful of folk who know something of what’s been going on. It’s difficult to explain and for folk who have no direct experience of mental health issues, probably even harder to understand.

Eeek! I said the ‘mental’ word. I can assure you that I’m not sitting here wearing my underwear on my head (I always have a pencil up my nose; that’s normal, it helps me concentrate) but I have suffered severe bouts of depression for over 20 years. The latest, and worst, also included a breakdown for good measure and culminated in the situation I found myself in last August.

My problems are no worse than those suffered by many, and nothing compared to those of many more, but my situation is probably less usual than most. Self employed with a fledgling business and a full order book, I found myself technically homeless with no money. And by no money, I don’t mean ‘might not be able to change the car this year’ I mean no money.
What I did have was a passion for making stuff, a shit load of fabric, a good reputation and a loyal and growing customer base who were relying on me, so I really had no other choice but to carry on, doing as much as I could. 3 months on the sick to recuperate was simply not an option (again – my problem, not yours)

My business is extremely unusual. I design, I manufacture, I retail. I do everything. It’s just me. If I was solely a retailer, buying in and shipping out, or even if I had staff or outsourced like most other ‘cottages’, then disruption would probably have been minimal. As it is, the nests take a me a long time and a lot of mental effort to produce.

So that’s it really. I’m not going to share the back history that brought me here as I have a ghost writer working on my blockbuster autobiography which will be available shortly, languishing in discount bins in service stations up and down the country.

Now for the bad news. Prices are going up. Quite considerably. I feel this needs some explanation.

Basically, I’m not making any money. As things stand now, a job stacking shelves in a supermarket would represent a major pay rise. Admittedly I wouldn’t find it pleasurable or satisfying, but worrying about the rent each month doesn’t float my boat either, and at least I’d get to take home out-of-date pasties.

I’ve known since the start that the nests were too cheap, but I wasn’t confident enough in the quality of my work to charge more. I am my own worst critic and only in the past 6 months have I arrived at a standard of finish that I’m happy with. Not that I ever had a complaint even with the earliest ones, but that’s meaningless to a perfectionist.
I have done what I can to reduce costs. I buy most of my materials in bulk from the US these days, but with import duties etc., it’s still very expensive. Combine that with the time that goes into producing them and it becomes obvious that things need to change.

The standard nests are too cheap, but the flagship ones – 2OookStars using cuben and chikara for example… well, I might as well give them away. I realise you can buy a full shelter for £100, but not a one-off custom one, tweaked to your exact specifications. The nests I make are also considerably more expensive to produce than the shelters they go inside, so it stands to reason they should cost more. To put it into perspective, the most expensive nest I currently offer costs considerably less than many mass produced waterproof jackets.

So there we have it. If folk are put off I’ll just have to rethink the products and perhaps just offer simple off-the-shelf bug protection, or I’ll have to go in another direction entirely. North-West, to be precise. To Tesco, with my application form. And I think that would be an oooking shame.