Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Thank You for 8 Awesome Years!

This is the post that no business owner ever wants to write. After a year-long struggle to keep Sew L.A. going, I have decided to close the classroom & shop at the end of October 2015. Our classes are scheduled through October 31, and all of our teachers are staying to see this through. We are all hoping to go out with a bang and a party!

Before getting into the details, let’s talk gift certificates. We have taken them off the site so they are no longer available, but if you have one please use it before the end of October. If you have one and don’t plan to use it, consider donating it back to the shop (so we can track it) - this will help keep our sales up so we can exit gracefully. Reducing our liability will be a great way to do this, and you can also help by attending our Very Loud Auction after our last classes.

At our teacher meeting this past Sunday, I went over some of the key reasons for closing, both business related and personal. On the business side, our market has definitely changed and we found that out a little too late to maneuver the shift effectively. When Sew L.A. started, we were the only classroom on this side of the city that offered quality classes, and this synced up with the market willing to pay for information from professionals. Now, anything you want to search for is available on the internet (regardless of quality) and there are several online learning websites that offer a high quality experience for a fraction of what we charge for in-person classes. I started Sew L.A. in 2007 for a few reasons - one being I believe that in-person is the best way to learn, but I cannot deny that online reaches a huge audience and AS ALWAYS the market follows the demand.

There are a few other reasons I started Sew L.A. - I had been making corsets in my studio for years, and was looking for more of a community instead of working solo every day. I had discovered a love for teaching that needed to be shared. And ultimately, I was looking for work that would allow me to someday afford a family. When I was pregnant for Lux in 2012, all of that seemed possible - the shop was doing well and we were able to cover the costs of moving to our current location, along with stocking it and staffing it.

We had great years in 2012 and 2013. I had a rough time finding care for Lux that we could afford until he was 11 months old - he was my first, and I had NO IDEA what a problem quality care would turn out to be (I’ll save the Saga of the Wait Lists for another time). The shift in the market started at the end of 2013 for us, when I had one day a week of care for Lux and actually needed to be back at the shop full time. The cost of replacing myself had just gone up and no one realized it at the time.

We had to close our retail shop this past April because a fabric inventory is one of the most difficult to support in retail. Our venders know this, and even give us 60 days to pay invoices because the majority of the stock moves SO SLOWLY. I had a large sum of money tied up in the shop that was needed to pay teachers. Our classes have always done well, and our retail shop has never quite paid for itself - so the decision seemed perfect. In reality, the loss of visibility and the lack of funds for re-working the website just hastened the decision to close altogether.

The current truth is that I personally cannot devote the attention to Sew L.A. that I once could because I have a wonderful 2 1/2 year old that I’m taking care of. My passion is teaching, and because of the daycare available to me and my husband’s schedule I cannot teach evenings and weekends - which is when we have our classes. Therefore, I’m still paying people to replace me in my business even now when I have four days a week to be here and working.

This leads directly to what running Sew L.A. has cost me personally. I take great pride in being a person who does what they say they will do, and I certainly don’t use the word ‘humbled’ lightly - these past two years have humbled me on several levels. Learning that sometimes I cannot fix it, no matter how hard I work - learning that sometimes the appearance of expertise is more valued than actual expertise - not being able to honor financial commitments - juggling creditors - feeling envy and jealousy instead of happiness at the success of others - the list goes on. I was becoming a person I did not want to be.

Sew L.A. was started with a loan from the VEDC, and I took out and paid off three other loans during the course of our existence, but since I had no other source of income, much of the shop’s expenses were put on two business credit cards and this is what I’ll be carrying with me after closing (not a small amount). I could file for bankruptcy, but in that event my wonderful staff and amazing landlord (my actual priorities) would be pretty low on the list. So even after the doors close and everyone has been paid I’ll still be in debt, with a toddler, with no degree and outdated bookkeeping skills. Unfortunately, this is a very common situation for people who close businesses to be in - I am far from alone. That doesn’t make it any easier, and it doesn’t make it right. I haven't paid myself in two years, and now I need to take care of my family.

I once made the mistake of telling a friend, while childless, that owning a small business was just like having a kid (I have since apologized profusely). But I can say for sure that it is like having a kid in that no one can tell you what it’s like beforehand, and no on who hasn’t gone through it can really comment on the perks and difficulties. And even then the experience is different for everyone!

I prefer to end on a high note and think about all the lives we have touched, all the people and kids we have inspired, and all the fantastic sewing there is in the world because of our classes. It has been my privilege to work with AMAZING, TALENTED and CREATIVE people over the past 8 years, and if you’d like to continue working with these people after October here is some contact info:

Rebecca Prange, Teacher: rebeccaprange@mac.com

For my own self, I will continue to promote quality learning however I can. I’m all for mad creativity and winging it, but I really do feel that having a solid base of skills can only help you be madly creative and wing it. That’s how we have operated for our whole run, and I don’t intend to stop now. One student recently asked in one of Rebecca’s lessons “How come I learn SO much in my classes here?” and the answer is we know that learning well takes time and we have always tried to give you that time in classes and lessons to absorb the ‘why’ as well as the ‘how’. Which is actually rare in this world that gives results more weight than process.

I will be continuing the Sew L.A. website with our patterns and kits and this here blog, and even though I’ll miss all my peeps and the pretty fabric (oh, the fabric…) I am trying to be ready for the Next Thing.