The Year in Review: 2008
2008 felt like a huge success to us Tumbleweeders; we survived. When I first joined Tumbleweed in 2007, I did so because I loved the idea. I knew others loved it, too. But could it really be a business? In it is preceeding 5 years, it never made a profit. How would it survive? How long could Jay continue to work without being paid? How long could I do that?
It was October, 2007, when our sales fell off a cliff. The banking industry was starting to seize, and we began to worry. Most of our house buyers either refinanced or sold their homes before buying a Tumbleweed. With declining home values and banks getting jittery, we knew things were going to change. Recognizing that easy money would no longer be available, I bet that in 2008 we wouldn't sell any pre-made homes (which was the primary source of income). We correctly got ahead of the curve on this housing and banking crisis and decided to reshape our business. We knew we needed to survive without being dependent on selling a single house. It was the best decision we could have ever made. Maybe it was luck or maybe we were smart, but the bottom line was that we were right. We didn't sell a single house all year; and not only did we survive, we thrived!
But 2008 didn't start off with big smiles. The beginning of the year proved difficult. We had to cut back on staff hours, and all our employees quit. We couldn't afford to hire new people, and Jay and I decided we'd need to do it alone. Jay would work full-time for Tumbleweed and draw whatever extra money was available, and I would work part time in the evenings (for free) after working a regular paying job during the day. We were in downsize mode.
Recognizing that we couldn't count on the sale of houses to earn a living, we changed our focus in early 2008 from ready-made house sales to catering to the do-it-yourself builder. Jay had sold plans in the past, but never in the volume I had envisioned. He thought I was crazy, and fortunately Jay was crazy enough to go along, too. It would require that we change our paradigm. At the end of the year, we sold more plans in 2008 than in the past 6 years combined.
Many contributing factors proved successful. Jay's new designs garnered a lot of interest from our core audience. Those were released in our new portfolio. Additionally, Jay had greatly improved the detail of the plans, and we added pictures and videos of sample plans on our site.
We had experimented with our first workshop at the end of 2007. This was an emergency attempt to bring in revenue after sales dropped 70% in October and fell even more in November. The workshop didn't make any profits on its own, but I realized that it attracted the do-it-yourself crowd. And the plans purchased by the people who attended the workshop got me thinking about more workshops.
I set our goal for six workshops in different cities across America in 2008. We decided to do three in conjunction with Jay's Border-to-Border Tour in July. The Border-to-Border tour was conceived as a way to attract media attention and connect with passionate fans of ours who didn't live in our immediate area. The workshops were so successful that we added two more dates before the year end; and it was something that Jay really enjoyed doing.
The Border-to-Border tour had it is glitches, but proved a huge success. With the attention of the media, we landed a front page article on the New York Times, a CNN story, and a feature story on AOL's home page and Yahoo.com. In 2008, we also systemized our ability to handle press requests and deliver them the pictures they needed. All told, Jay managed approximately 100 interviews from media all around the world.
The new website didn't come without it is fair share of problems. Hillary was in charge of designing and building our new website, but she quit when we couldn't afford to pay her anymore. Can you blame her? After she quit, I basically locked myself in my tiny 40 square foot computer room each night for about 3-4 hours and programmed away. Two weeks later, we had a new website. The new site would not only look better, but would be easier to program. It was. For the next several months I tweaked the site this way and that way. One of our priorities was to improve the content so that we didn't spend so much time answering the same emails again and again. Slowly but surely, I fixed the site so that the quantity of emails declined 90%, and I could shift my time from answering emails to writing blog entries and adding more houses to the website. (Yes, this year almost all my time was spent on answering emails).
Looking back at the year as a whole, we achieved so many of our goals that we set out to conquer in 2007. Our new website was completed. Jay doubled the quantity of designs, incorporated downstairs bedrooms, and added a great deal of detail. We also made a taxable profit for the second year in a row - something that will prove to be very important for our plans for 2009 and beyond.
We're both proud and honored that in 2008 we had over 1,000,000 visits to our website. It is a number that's so large, I don't believe Jay or I can really even put our minds around it. If I had one word to describe Tumbleweed in 2008, it would be "transformation".