Lessons when you don’t breakeven

This post is a sequel to Old Fashion Viral post.

If that post is too long, here’s a 1-line summary: Our collective group organised a day event to sell our designs and spread the word about our group.

Now the market day flew by and it was a — failure. There’s no need to beat around the bush, when you don’t break even, then you just lost money.
But if profitability is the only success measure, then unfortunately the group must be a sad basket case. Thank god, we’re more than that.

So it’s time to lick our wounds and throw down a few hard lessons learned.

Location is everything

Newtown here in Sydney is a nice melting pot of bohemian, alternative, avant-garde, young ‘seemingly’ well to do professionals and young ‘seemingly’ struggling professionals. It’s the Camden of the UK and Greenwich Village of New York (you get the picture).

Crowd is passing through rather than stopping

Crowd is passing through rather than stopping

Although a lot of these progressive types have a lot of time for dogs (and animals in general), not a lot of these locals actually stop by the local Saturday markets, which is seen more of a passthrough market more than it is a market you would conscientiously stop by on a Saturday.

We knew it going in, but we really felt it during the day.

So what are we going to do about it? We’ll have to know our market more and pick a better location next time that’s more contained, that people actually go to (rather than pass through). A good indication is to look at pictures online of the market and see if people are sitting down inside the market (like they do here).

In our area this translates to GlebeMarrickville and other markets where the crowds are larger and foot traffic is kinder.

Seasonality matters

Winter is a bitch. It’s not even that cold according to a member (an ex-Londoner that says “this is like our Summer”).

When the seasons hurt your crowd, the smaller numbers hurt the number of potential paying customers. That’s a kick in the groin any way you look at it.

Don’t be fooled by these happy faces — we were kinda cold on the day :)

Don’t be fooled by these happy faces — we were kinda cold on the day :)

So what are we going to do about it? Well we can’t really pick or wait that long for change in seasons — but if anything, we’ll try to avoid a cold day outdoors again (particularly if it’s pass through market).

Equally, we’ll select a market that’s indoors (hopefully with good heating).

Events matter

Our event coincided with the elections. Now how could we have missed this? Our bad.

What we also need to do is a little bit of targeted marketing and put a pop-up shop during specific events e.g. present our dog designs on a dog show.

So what are we going to do about it? Check the calendar and make sure it does not coincide with a crowd sucker.

But it also means hitting events like the Dog Lovers Show specifically for our dog tee initiative (as I’ve alluded to).

Have business cards

I refused to believe it when a partner suggested that we should have business cards. I said “Come on man. Let’s just direct them to our site and it’ll be right.

Here’s what I saw: People pass by the stall next door and ask for cards (and she was ready). People came to us and we redirected them to our site. Thinking about it, if passersby don’t remember it in their head then that’s a potential lost customer. Until technology can provide a frictionless way to give someone a business card (hmm..) then business cards still matter.

So what are we going to do about it? Design one, hand it out to CN crew, distribute it in events or to anyone that enquiries.

The chosen platform of choice is Moo. It’s now time to create a design and run it with the team.

Important items upfront

In practice

In practice

We had top sellers (based on online sales) and signup forms for passers by to write their interest (we had other products not on display) behind other items. It’s easy to think about it in hindsight, but not an obvious thing in the moment.

So what are we going to do about it? We need to put top sellers and important items upfront, put it above the fold as they say. For us that translates to the You had me at woof designs at the front of the shop with our business cards for easy access.

To extend this lesson, we could have in theory walked around with our signup form and business cards and had a chat to people about what we do (the next lesson below).

Engage them

The engaging Matias makes a sale

The engaging Matias makes a sale

When a passer by seems to be interested in a product, engage them. There’s a lot of judgment that comes to engaging: when is the right time? When they linger for 5 seconds or more? When they seem to be fixated on an item?

How do you engage without making it feel like you’re being pushy?

These are very difficult questions to answer but one does get better over time.

So what are we going to do about it? Get the sales people ready, get that timing right and get our charm on. That’s easy to say but it’s one of things that practice and time solves.

Listen to experts

Listening to other business owners is always a good idea, particularly if others have been through the same thing in the past.

We were positioned with another business owner who had a similar products and she shared her experiences with us.

The crew with ‘Plantfaced’ clothing

The crew with ‘Plantfaced’ clothing

So what are we going to do about it? Follow her tips. She did tell us about Glebe and Marrickville markets, and she also mentioned that The Commune is worth checking out.

And now it’s time for us to make some enquiries.

Social Media

Writing about it through social media before, during and after the event is a must do activity for any startup. We’ve seen an increase in activity in each platform when we share information on events like this which is obviously a good a thing.

We’re admittedly slack in some big platforms like Facebook and Twitter though, which is something we need to correct.

So what are we going to do about it? We need to increase our presence in Facebook and Twitter.

Execution is always the key and what we really need to do is to divide the tasks and share the load equally e.g. play to our strengths and get people that are more active on Facebook to share the info on the platform. The olddivide and conquer rule applies.

We might even have to extend this lesson and find an expert in the domain.

Final notes

In all honesty, breaking even was a stretch given that the main items were for a non-profit (RSPCA).

But outside the dramatic ‘profitability matters’ opener, we do at least want more enquiry form signups during the day.

These things take time and effort — but we’re up to the task.

Big thank you to these cool cats for making it happen

The Collective Network over the weekend

The Collective Network over the weekend

Come down and connect with us. We’re a fun bunch :)


Our creative group is as diverse as our backgrounds. We design, do photography and create software in our humble group.

Check out our ‘Collections’ for more details.