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.

37 thoughts on “No underwear on MY head…

  1. Dear Sean,

    technically, there is no need for despair: you have to rethink your business model (off-the-shelf offers which deliver the money, optional customizations which deliver the fame, the right pricing for each) and you should get back into (economically sustainable) business soon. The outdoor forums and personal recommendations will provide enough advertising, so you’ll not need expenses for PR campaigns.

    As you know, the outdoor business is booming right now. When I came back to Rome last week I saw 2 new stores advertising “premium outdoor garment”, and one of them was even near Piazza di Spagna, across Fendi and Gucci stores: I didn’t even dare to enter and ask what a simple rain jacket would have cost me.

    Since you’re still running a very small business, you’ll be able to adapt! There is a market, and you have to pin-point the right products for the right (sustainable) price.

    That was the technical point. As to depressions – well, they come and go. Life is like an avalanche, sometimes it goes uphill, sometimes downhill. The important thing — and the only thing you can do, anyway — is to keep your over-all direction while adapting to the circumstances.

    Hope to hear again from you soon!!

  2. Brilliant post Sean. I think there are a lot of people who wished you’d posted sooner. Knowing what you are going through puts a whole different perspective on things for people.

    Your quality of workmanship is second to none and people will pay for quality gear. Keep up the good work and stay strong :D

  3. Hand made, custom, specialized products with very good guality. I think there is room for higher prices.

  4. Brave post, Sean. Not enough people are prepared to talk publicly about issues such as depression and it helps others who suffer to know they are not alone. As for the business, well my Oooknest has just arrived. Not had time to put it up yet, let alone use it properly but it looks great. Very high quality. You should still be able to sell at higher prices, not least because of your unique prioducts and your reputation in the backpacking community.

  5. Thanks for your honesty, Sean. Lots of people are appreciative of the quality of your workmanship and I’m sure that there will be plenty of takers for your product at a price that makes sense for you and the customer. Best wishes.

  6. carry on sewing Sean

    You occupy a wholly unique position in the UK and long may it continue. Your products are top notch and you offer services beyond the norm.

    You have a lot of admirers and friends not just customers and so we all heartily hope that 2013 brings you even greater sucsess

    Oook!

  7. I once worked for a clothing company which sent folks down to M&S to find out what they should be charging for their own stuff. You could look at Hilleberg for guidance, but your quality is better than theirs. Also, look at MLD’s delivery times. They sell good stuff so we wait patiently.

    If the order book continues growing after you have made the necessary modifications to your work, might outsourcing the standard items be an option? Hell of a lot of work to set up in the first place, I realise.

    My own black dogs tend to be caused by events beyond my control. My only option then is to change my situation, which might not be the most helpful advice you’ve ever had. I guess your therapist has mentioned that smoking is notorious for causing anxiety and panic attacks so, if relevant, that would be a thing to avoid.

    If I win the lottery, I’ll fund a small factory for you. Best wishes.

  8. I have an OookStar. I’d pay more for a second if I had to. It is a really quality product. Great work. Take heart.

  9. No worries Sean.
    Running your own business can be hard work. Trust me, I know. Still going to be ordering that Cuben Groundsheet though.
    Will give you a call early next week. Have a good weekend.

  10. My word. Thank you, folks.
    Zed – 7 weeks on Monday, tobacco free. I’ve substituted it with Haribo Tangfastics. They’re good, but do make for a rather sticky roll-up.

  11. Sean – I know from personal experience that mental health issues are hard for non-sufferers to understand. Up to last spring, I had been on high level doses of various SSRIs and SNRIs for about 10 years (e.g. 300mg/day of sertraline). Just after last Christmas, I’d had enough. Enough of not caring about anything, of being incapable of dealing with everyday life, of the constant brain fog and fear – whilst I was still capable of working, some days would find me under my desk, rocking away. Not clever at all.

    I decided that the only option left was to ask my GP for elective ECT, which I wasn’t even hopeful of getting.

    However, and despite the (hopefully obvious) really dire situation I found myself in, it never actually came to that. Instead, about three months after that point I’d been able to give up the meds, and start living a pretty ordinary life.

    There’s obviously a lot of different causes of mental health issues, and a lot of folks on the internet claiming cures (most of which involve you spending money on something that they are selling – funny, that). I can’t tell you if what worked for me would help you at all. But it’s a zero cost option, and you’ll know within a couple of weeks.

    Stop eating wheat. That simple. No bread, no cakes, no pasta etc. I won’t link to anyone on the web explaining /why/ this might help your mental state, as I don’t wish to endorse anyone in particular. All I can say is that if I hadn’t gone down that route, I almost certainly wouldn’t be here typing this today. It might help you if you give it a go (and you’ll know within a fortnight at most), or it might not. But nothing ventured, eh? Oh, and with regards to the fags, I’m still a 30/day man, just no bread – seems a fair trade!

    I’ve never met you, but honestly wish you well and congratulate you on your bravery in making this post.

  12. Full order book and not making money? Definitely time for a price rise.

    All the best, have a great 2013!

    Michael

  13. Hi Sean, as others have said it is really good to read your post and that you’re determined to get past your recent difficulties. I’m sure that adjusting your pricing won’t adversely impact your business as you have a loyal and growing customer base. Hell I’m an avid advocate of Oook before my first order is completed and I’m positive I’ll be making future orders already. People who know their onions (bananas?) will happily pay for quality bespoke work and your reputation is second to none so keep up the good work!

  14. zed gives sound advice, Sean.
    Never sell on price; your service, product imagination and quality deserves a premium right up there with Hilleberg & Patagonia.
    You know already that the depression will eventually settle to near normal – but keep your friends close for when it rears its ugly head again. You have a wealth of friends out here who wish you well.
    When I get my arse finally into gear I shall be a customer.
    All the very best to you
    Alan

  15. Hey Sean, hang in there, I know where you are coming from. Been there, done that, got the T shirt. These things are painful,difficult to discuss with anyone. There is always fear of peoples reaction.” What are folk going to think if I admit to this? What are peoples reactions going to be? Are they going to think I am a raving looney?” Mental health issues are sensitive, touchy subjects. Peoples attitudes are slowly changing, but still have a ways to go. You are not alone Sean. There are folk out there who care. Darned difficult, I know, but you can come through this.

  16. Re: the landline. Have you thought of getting a Skype number. This gives you a geographic number for £35 per year. I have used mine via satellite broadband from Ireland. It’s slightly laggy, but acceptable.

  17. Really wish I had read this first before sending an email and a text checking on the staus of my order. I will stay relaxed and not hassle you, plus it is snowing outside, not exactly camping weather! Sorry if I was a pest and added to the stress…

  18. Good post mate, brave post.

    I’m in the process of upgrading my gear and when it comes time to buy an inner an Oooks is what I’ll get. I’m all about quality over price… Meanwhile your gear is hand made to spec and made in a first world country! Dammit man charge what you need, you deserve it! When the time comes (ahh tax time *blush*) I’ll shell out for it.

    Keep fighting.

  19. Take care bud, thoughts are with you.
    And as a self-employed chap myself, I agree with the price hike idea. People would rather pay the premium for a premium product than not have the product at all. Must do it myself….

  20. Sean,
    You have earned the respect of many folks by your quality, integrity, and now by your courage and honesty. Thank you for sharing so openly about the challenges you have faced this past year. My sincerest wishes for a more enjoyable and profitable 2013 for you.

    My wife started an online business about 15 years ago and went through some of the same trials and tribulations that you have experienced so I can empathize with you. Remember, your first obligation is to yourself and then to your customers, in that order!

    As others have stated, you need to raise your prices. You have proven yourself in the cottage marketplace. You have an excellent product and are entitled to the fruits of your labors in the form of a reasonable rate of return. If you have doubts concerning the prices you think you need to charge, contact some of your existing customers and ask them what they think about the proposed prices of the items they actually bought. They will respect your situation and will likely be completely honest in return. That should give you an idea of your price tipping point for those items. Based on that feedback, you should feel more confident about the future of your business model. I suspect you will be pleasantly surprised with your findings.

    Sean, remember to take even a little time each day for yourself. Pray, meditate, walk, do whatever it takes to find a little peace and joy in each and every day. Good luck and God bless!
    Gerry Brucia

  21. Hello Sean,

    Sorry for sending an email for checking my order status. Before i can use it i need to seal my trailstar and that doesn’t work in this cold temperature outside. I hope to use it for the first time in april. I will patiently wait for my order. Good luck!

    Kasper Geuns

  22. Hi Sean
    Been the myself. However bouts of depression are always self limiting and it will get better with time. The thing that sorted me was Cognitive therapy (so called talking therapies) combined with medication. Both much more easily available from GPs than in the past.
    With a view to the business there is always room for a quality niche product whatever the price. If it,s good ( and it is) people will pay for it.
    Happy to wait.

  23. Like others have already stated- mucho respect for your honesty. I wish I’d seen this blog before sending you the email yesterday mate- truly no rush bud- lots of people wish to part their hard-earned cash for your products and it will be worth waiting for no doubt.

    Take care Sean.

  24. Hey sean,

    I am honest, i look forward to get my 2Oookworks trailstar innertent.
    But I certainly do not want that you have stress or something. I will be patience and then when my inner tent is delivered i will be surprised. Your work looks supreme. And online i find only very positive comments.

    One question is the inner tent always delivered with a groundsheet protector or can i order this separately? In a previous post they were talking about this groundsheet.
    http://oookworks.com/OookBlog/?p=183

    Good luck Sean

  25. Hang in there old boy. The product range is excellent and I much prefer buying from a business like yours than one of the major chains. Increased prices for 2013 and delays in delivery won’t put me off ordering this year. Good luck with it all.

  26. Damn! For months now, I’ve been wondering how you were doing but never got around to dropping you a line to ask. I just thought, “Nah. He’s fine”. Fuck’s sake :(
    Sorry to hear you’ve been having a shit time of it, pal. Seriously.

    As the original Oookworks fanboy, I’d say put your prices up. Definitely. Your stuff’s of the highest standard and you deserve to make a living from it. People will pay a premium for it, I’ve no doubt. (I know I would).

    Keep your pecker up.

    • Cheers, Kev. It’s all your fault ;-)
      I’m a very long way from fine, but I know which direction it’s in.

  27. Hi Sean, Hang in there is all I can say. I threw in the towel at Christmas and uttered the mental word for the first time. Its been a long time coming but I am now, for the first time in my life, accepting help and its been a revelation. Its a bumpy old road but I think you will be surprised how many are on the same route.

    As for the pricing/business model. If your customers are so price sensitive they would just go down to Millets or Go Outdoors and pick up the latest special offer. You are transparent in your pricing and model – your customers may have to save a little longer to buy one, but I bet you see no real drop off in volume of sales and even if you do see a few fall away, that will help take the pressure off and you will still make the same money. Cash Flow is vanity, profit is reality.

  28. Thanks for all the lovely comments, folks. And to all the folk who have emailed their good wishes, too. Can’t express how much I appreciate it.
    I’m plugging away, working pretty well.
    I’m also talking to a few people with a view to outsourcing some of the simpler processes, which will really help, and hopefully allow me to offer a few items (groundsheets etc) from stock with no waiting time. Wouldn’t that be nice :-)

  29. Glad to hear you’re getting stuck into stuff and finding some possible solutions on the work front Sean. I’m sure you’ll make sense of it all in time and meantime just remember you’ve a loyal band of supporters all rooting for you. :) onwards and upwards!

  30. Great post Sir. You do great work Sean. Good luck with advancing your business. you deserve it. Looking forward to owning one of your creations one day.

  31. Funny where this internet lark leads you, innit? I’ll remain glad to have passed here though, as what I’ve seen is a good thing 8) It’s proving rather an inspiration too, I must say… Food for the thoughts. Sean, remember that an honest man will always have respect and SELF-respect, and that good man will always find those who would support him – maybe he’ll have no money at times, but hey, money is mostly simple mathematics to sort out. Other stuff can be much harder and one thing or one person shouldn’t deny another the chance to work out. The figures you suggest are greatly in your favour and probably just require someone with a bit of number-crunching nouse to jiggle them the right way for you. You cannot do it all yourself, so seek the support needed with pride in mind and not shame to have got where you are – there are many who would envy you for what you can and already have achieved. Don’t try to do the impossible (the word needs a reason to exist!), nor struggle alone. No humane person would expect you to satisfy them no matter what it costs you and you should lose any “customer” who would – their enjoyment of life cannot come at the cost of your own. Life without respect or support is hard and the rich are often simply miserable in “better” surroundings (and perhaps miserable BECAUSE of all the same…). Without occasional support we’d all be b*******d at some stage, irrespective of money I reckon. Remain calm, do whatever is needed to maintain focus and viability, and go forwards. One step at a time can take us all to the nice places if we can retain some proper sense of pace and direction, right? Many of your customers will know that. Enjoy the goals you’ve reached that have helped others do the same. If you want to, carry on. Be happy (that’s important). Cheers

  32. Hi Sean…I can only reiterate what others have said…I received your bignest for the SL3 and its excellent…I’m now about to order a nest for the duomid…Don’t worry about the delivery time.. your products are well worth the wait….

  33. Hi Sean,
    I hope you’re getting better! Spring time is coming here in Italy and I’d wish you could stay with us and enjoy some views from our mountain tops. I’m patiently waiting for the Trail star inner tent which I’d like to test in our coming excursions.
    Best wishes!