Saturday, February 21, 2015

Welcome to My Week from Hell

Here I sit in my hotel room in Richfield, OH watching a snowplow working in the parking lot.  It is Saturday morning and this may be the best day of the week.  Patricia is downstairs teaching a Template Design class; Devlin is in South Beloit, IL at a class on how to make Damascus steel.

Let me tell you about my week.  First and foremost, we are on the last half of winter and normally the weather is much warmer.  For those of you who do not live in the upper Midwest 30 degrees is much warmer.  This week we have had lows in the negative single digits and wind chills as low as negative 27.  My problem is I am no longer thinking winter, I have moved on to spring.  Last week when it was 20 degrees, I was winter sowing seeds for my garden.  If you don’t know about winter sewing, it is starting seeds outside in the snow in covered containers like milk jugs.  I am thinking about Foxglove, Columbine, Shasta Daisies, Lupine and other really great flowers, it is not supposed to be so cold. 

So the stage is set for the week as we prepared to leave for a quilt retreat sponsored by Memory Lane Quilting and then on to Virginia.

Monday we started work on a custom mat order for a really great customer.  We had ordered new screens and frames, flood bars and squeegees.   What could go wrong?  Almost everything!  Devlin set up the screen, put in a the new flood bar and squeegee, poured in the ink.  Turned on the machine and two strokes later a $500 screen was ripped and useless.  I was devastated.  I was sure we had missed a burr on the new flood bar.  So pull everything out, clean up, find the burr buff it out and start on the next order.  Problem, we never did find a burr.  What we did determine is the rounded end of the flood bar was not the same as all the rest of our flood bars.  Get out a grinder and made it the same.  Put in the next new screen and everything worked fine.

Things are back to normal.  We have to put new silk on the frame and have the image put on it again.  Because of the size of the screen we have it done outside our facility.  First we have to clean all the glue and silk off the frame, transport it 89 miles and come home.  More on this subject later in the week…

On Tuesday, my wife is using our Suburban to do some shopping because I have my pickup taking the frame to be fixed. It is 4:45 in the evening, she is driving home and tries to stop and the brake pedal gets all soft and sinks to the floor.  Are you starting to get the sinking picture of how the week is going?  So she calls the shop where we have all our mechanical work done.  They close in 15 minutes, but they will stay open until she gets there.  Now tomorrow is Wednesday and we had planned to load the Suburban and trailer so we could leave early on Thursday.  Plans are just that and subject to change.  Are you getting the picture of how confused our week is becoming?

Wednesday is spent trying to determine if the truck can be fixed by the time we need it, notifying Memory Lane Quilting we are experiencing a few difficulties.   It turns out that we have several ruptured brake lines that have to be replaced; which is not surprising since the truck has 411,000 miles on the odometer.  Having this happen at home is better than on the road.  But everything is corroded and salt covered and there are a few problems bleeding the new lines.  To shorten this up a bit, we normally load out about 2 in the afternoon.  At 2pm we don’t even know if we will get the Suburban back today.  So we clear out part of the warehouse and push the trailer in to load it.  Now hope for the best.  At 6:30pm we finally get the word the truck is ready to pick up.  We are so lucky Wednesday is the one day of the week the shop works until 8pm.   So back to the plant, load the suburban, hook up the trailer, pull it home, and we are back on track.  I guess I should mention that my wife knows I was having a really bad day so she has fixed one of my favorite winter comfort meals.  We got to eat dinner 2 ½ hours after it was ready.  Eloise is really special because she did not say a thing!

Thursday morning 4am I am up waiting for Patricia, who hates morning before 9am.  She shows up on time at 5am.  I have had enough coffee and we load the suitcases and clothes.  The hats are already in the trailer.  Some of you may not understand the hat reference, but you don’t know Patricia and for you it is not important.  We start off and start naming all the things we need and have packed.  Forgot the safe, so we head for Patricia’s to pick it up.  By the time we get there we have gotten to coats and mine is still in my pickup.  Remember it is below zero so back to my house to get my coat.  So we are now an hour behind.  Ok we will change our route through Chicago because we need to avoid rush hour.  That will add 30 minutes to the trip.  We will arrive in Richfield, OH about 4pm instead of 2:30pm.  I am still a happy camper.

We got to the south side of Chicago, and turned east on Interstate 80.  I am thinking maybe if we don’t stop for lunch we can make up an hour.  Remember it is really cold out and did I mention the wind is blowing out of the Northwest?  Just about the time we get on the turnpike and go through the first toll we are in a really bad Lake Effect snow storm.  For the next 70 miles we average a little over 25 miles an hour.  Sit for an hour on the world longest parking lot, pass through several multiple truck car accidents and continue to fall further and further behind.  Back home, Eloise is headed to pick up the screen that is ready.  She calls me because she is having trouble with her truck, it will not develop enough power to shift into drive.  She is going back to the house to get my truck and drop her truck at the shop.  It turns out her truck will need a couple of new injectors.  The only good news we will get today is that we have the screen back that we ruined on Monday.  We did arrive late for the dinner but we were there for the teacher meet and greet.  Got the trailer unloaded about 9pm and finished helping set up a couple of long arms about 10:30pm.

Friday morning came, Patricia will be teaching and Devlin will set up to screen the mat order from Monday.  Everything is back to normal until the phone rings and I am told that the image on the screen is the wrong image!

It is still snowing you can’t tell that a snowplow was in the parking lot a couple of hours ago.  I have to load the trailer this afternoon.  I really love my job!

Tomorrow is Sunday, a new week starts we plan to drive part way to the Mid-Atlantic Quilt Festival in Hampton, VA.   We will see….

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Some thoughts about Road to California

On our last road trip we were at Road to California.  Road was celebrating its twentieth year.  Like all shows it is affected by the increase in the number of shows that exist around the country.  Fortunately, Road comes early in the year and many have not attended a show for several months.  Caroline does an outstanding job of advertising the show and the result is Road is well attended.  The weather in Southern California in late January is mild.  There were high winds one day that caused a bit of concern in the Pavilion (tent in any other language) But the Santa Anna winds blow every year in the winter time.  It is after all sunny Southern California.

Like every business Road is seeking ways to grow their business.  They have chosen several avenues.  Last two years they added the Pavilion.  This allowed them to give some vendors more space; Quilter’s Rule picked up 5 feet which has aided us in our presentation.  Road was able to add some vendors.  Their business grew.

This year Road added the Marketplace!  So what is the Marketplace? Most importantly to the other vendors, it was comprised of vendors one would normally only see if you attended Quilt Market in Houston and they were not selling product out of their booth.  Revenue grew for Road but not competition between vendors for dollars.

So I stopped in and talked with a few Marketplace vendors to find out what they were thinking about when they decided to come to Road.  I also observed what was happening in the interaction between customers and Marketplace vendors.  And I have thought about a lot of possibilities for the future.  But that is for the future after more careful thought.

Our industry is supposed to work by many manufacturers selling to a few distributors and those distributors selling to many stores and stores selling to the consumers.   For simplicity I will not address the myriad of variations on that obsolete theme.  Product education is supposed to happen at all levels.  But we have all played the game where you whisper a comment to the person next to you and it goes around a circle and comes back to you.  Education for the consumer at the store level is after a lot of whispers.  What I saw was manufacturers educating the consumer directly.  The consumer was seeing and hearing things they might not otherwise see or hear.  This is great because for manufacturers, sometimes the information gets lost in the whispers between manufactures and consumers. At Road this year some of the whispers were first hand facts.

When I talked with the Marketplace vendors, each of them said the same thing; they were there to educate the public.  Yes they were sending the consumer to stores that were selling the product they were demonstrating.  Most importantly they were showing people things they had not previously seen.

Do I see problems?  You bet your life.  But not one of them is a problem that will hurt the industry.  I see the possibility of improvement for everyone.  I hope the Marketplace vendors will return next year and that there will be more of them. 

Great job Caroline.