Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Secret's Out! We're Coming to the UWS!

It's been hard to keep it a secret for the last few months, but we're opening a second location in the Upper West Side.  Starting next month, you can find us at 87th and Columbus.

I'm really excited about this new store.  It's easy to believe that we could just do the same thing in the East Village in the Upper West Side, but that's not true at all.  Every neighborhood comes with its own personality.  The East Village has a really cool downtown vibe, great evening crowd, and a lot of tourists.  Simon and I suspect that we'll have a lot of people in the morning and during the day in the Upper West Side so that alone sets it apart.  I'm not sure about all the other differences yet, but we'll find out when we get there.

To accommodate all of those differences, we get to produce a modified menu for the different stores.  While we cater to the after dinner crew in our first store, we'll have something we've never done before - a morning crowd - at our new location.  We'll have breakfast pastries!!  That alone is super exciting!  Our sales team is thrilled to learn that we're getting a new espresso machine for the new store, too.  Starting next week, they're going off to Blue Bottle to train on an espresso machine and learn the Blue Bottle way of life. 

Our new store is quite a bit more expensive than the first place.  You would think that since we've already done this once before, we would have figured out a way to do it for less.  Here's the thing, we cut enough corners the first time around that we got the work done for the budget we had (this is also why we never got an espresso machine downtown).  Our new location is smaller, but our space didn't come with the same character as we have for our first store.  Our Saint Marks Place store has these beautiful brick walls and the original wooden beams are exposed on our ceilings.  The building is over 100 years old and you can feel all the history when you walk into the store.  The new store came as a blank empty canvas and while it was amazing to not have to repair termite damage in the ceilings or discover collapsed brick walls behind the drywall, it also meant that we had to build in the character.  We bought reclaimed wood for our ceilings.  We brought in tiles from the first store.  We looked for ways to add texture to the space while keeping it clean and ways to invoke the same feelings at the different locations.  Also since the space used to be the lobby for the building and was recently converted into a storefront, we had some challenges with bringing in plumbing and heating/AC (this part alone accounts for 2 months of headaches!!).  Each new space has its own quirks and trying to create consistency isn't cheap!  Even though we didn't have to build out a kitchen, we somehow ended up spending more on it than we had for our entire first store.  The last few elements are our display case and espresso machine.  Deposits are down on both so we're halfway there, but we're raising the rest of the funds through Kickstarter.

We set up a Kickstarter to help raise money for all the last minute things at our store.  We have the location, we're done with the majority of the build out, but we still need help.  It was a hard decision to ask for additional funding through Kickstarter when we already have one store open.  If we were going to do this, then we probably could have raised a lot more if we did this before our first store.  We chose not to then, because we weren't sure how we felt asking for funding we didn't necessarily desperately need.  Last time, we didn't pay ourselves for 6 months while we got the store off the ground, but we can't make those same sacrifices this time around because we have responsibilities to our employees and vendors. Now that we have actual employees, payroll, insurance, etc, and all these other constant running expenses while we're preparing to open, the way we value money is different.  As we reach our crunch time, we're feeling the effects the wacky weather had in slowing down our holiday sales.  We were fortunate enough to have beautiful weather the previous holiday seasons, but the holiday shopping season last year was a week shorter and the weather was much colder than we would have liked.  We're reaching out to you because we need your help.  We're 90% there, so we just need a little push to get us those last 10%.

I also feel better about being able to actually produce on our rewards.  In the months before we opened our first store, we were still working on developing our packaging and shipping methods for it.  We were unsure about the format of the classroom and it still took me several months to actually have my first class.  Our menu wasn't fully done yet.  There were so many variables up in the air that I would have been too nervous about putting up rewards on Kickstarter that we may not have been able to follow through on for several months.  Now that we have a store that's been open for over a year, I'm very confident on our ability to deliver!  I think our rewards are really reasonable in terms of price and value.  We hope you can participate in helping us get our espresso machine and get this new store open!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Open for over a year?!

We've been open for over a year now.  The past year just flew by and I can hardly believe that we're once again finished another holiday season.

So much has changed since last year and they're all good.  I can't believe I own a store.  I can't believe I own a store with my husband.  Most people can't believe we're still married to each other.  For us, marriage is easy.  Even owning a store isn't as bad for us as it seems to be for some other people

For the first 8 or so months that we were open, I was at the store from before opening to after closing.  Thankfully, I don't have to do that anymore.  We have such a good team in place that we don't have to be there all the time.  It happened just in time, too.  I think I finally reached the bottom of that endless well of adrenaline that I had when we first opened.  That's not necessarily a bad thing.  It just means that my body is saying, hey, take care of me!  Simon's well still seems full, but I know he's exhausted and sometimes all the things going on seem overwhelming.  We have so many things to worry about that it's easy to forget that we're just human.

I'm really proud about what we accomplished this past year.  I worried that we would sacrifice quality in order to produce quantity.  We're producing more weekly than we ever had and for a second, we slipped on quality.  Some macarons that normally wouldn't pass my test somehow slipped through the cracks.  We never changed ingredients, but the product didn't look as good as I wanted it to look.  It made me realize how easy it is for a company to cut corners.  I don't want us to make money off of something that I wouldn't want to pay for.  While our team has grown, I've had to reassure each of our employees that I think it's more acceptable to throw away a bad macaron than to try to sell it (or if you're lucky, bad macarons that make it as far as the display case are given away).  I'm proud to say that our store has been open for a year and while I'm sometimes a little sad about how many macarons we had to get rid of, I still care a lot about the quality.  It means a lot to me and I hope that we are able to maintain this level of quality throughout the years.

I also cared a lot about being more than a macaron shop.  I wanted us to be a place people could go to daily, even if it's just to say hi.  I wanted us to have a menu that we could be proud of and I believe we accomplished that.  I'm proud to say that we're a friendly neighborhood bakery now.  A lot of it has to do with our staff.  Being a boss terrified me.  I wasn't sure if I would be able to manage a team.  We started by hiring really well and we have an amazing kitchen team that I look forward to working with every day.  Our sales staff include some of the nicest and funniest people.  I'll stay at the shop later to hang out with them when I'm not too busy.  There's still a handful of things that I'm having a hard time handing over, but they and I are getting there.

As we work on trying to figure out what the next steps are, our team is growing.  I had worried a lot about how we would find good staff.  In my mind, I was afraid that we would have difficulty finding people who wanted to work at a small bakery.  I didn't have to be scared because we found such a nice team of people.  The people in our kitchen work really hard and I believe we do really enjoy working together.  We gossip while filling macarons, or talk politics while piping them.  We talk about cats while scooping cookies and show off the latest new meme during lunch time.  Simon is amazed at how well we all get along and how the team has grown.  When we have a lot of work to do, no one complains and we all just put our heads down to get things done.  For me, it's always been important to show them that I'm not just hiring people to pass work off to, I want to work beside them and with them and I think they can see that.

Meanwhile, our sales staff hangs out in our store when they're not even scheduled to work.  We can't figure it out, but they seem to just wander in on their days off to just hang out, do homework, or wait for their friend to get off work before heading out.  Simon and I joke about how they volunteer to show up without us paying them, but really, it's a huge compliment.  They hang out with each other outside of work, text us pictures of things that remind them of us, and write us notes about funny things that happened after we left the store that day.  How could I not be happy with them?  One of our team members told us that she's never worked at a place before where no one had any real complaints.  Sure, there's a few things that could be better (ok, a lot of things), but at least we know we have a team that will be with us to get there.

During the holidays last year, we were working 14-16 hours a day in order to keep up with production.  We were panicked about our packaging being stuck in a warehouse and we had actually run out of boxes for our macarons while playing phone tag to coordinate delivery.  Simon had to work the counter for the majority of the day because we didn't have enough staff.  We were half as stressed this year even though we're doing two markets, our menu is twice the size as it was last year and we took on a huge wholesale account.  That's how I know we're doing well - we're handling growing with less stress.

Since last summer, Simon and I somehow became cat ladies, but it's made a really big difference in our lives.  We went from treating going home like it's just a part of our day to being excited about going home because three little faces will greet us when we opened the door.  I never pictured myself as a cat person, but it's been really good for both Simon and me - for our relationship and our sanity.  I didn't think about how important it would be to be motivated about balancing work and our personal life.  I think anyone who opens a business needs to remember to find something that they like doing outside of work.  If I didn't have a reason to go home, I would probably continue to spend a ridiculous number of hours at work.  When Simon and I found Mr. Socks outside of our apartment building, we started working faster, cleaner, and more efficiently at work so that we could get everything done and then run home to play with the cat.  Motivation is a big deal.

It gets easier with time.  Simon's family comes from a place where they don't understand how we could let other people open or close the store when we aren't there.  My father is the only keyholder to my parents' store and if he's not there, then the store is closed.  To us, we couldn't be a good business or good bosses if we didn't put a little faith in others.  People step up to responsibility if you show them that they're important to you.  So far, everything has been great and I know that the future holds more exciting things.