Year in Review: 2009
I thought it would be fun to have an annual journal of the tiny house business. I've chosen to write about the business side because that is my focus at Tumbleweed. Our little company has 2 employees: Jay the founder and designer, and myself, Steve, the business and tech guy. At the onset of 2009 my plan was to focus the majority of my attention on Tumbleweed. Ever since turning 30, I’ve been a serial entrepreneur. Before joining Tumbleweed, I was a restaurateur and real estate investor.
Sometimes life has other plans for us, and 2009 was just that. Unfortunately for me, I had a perfect storm of problems in 2009 which thwarted my plans to develop Tumbleweed in the way I wanted to. I found myself embroiled in four different lawsuits that stemmed from my father's passing. It was stressful, costly, and wreaked havoc on my life. My restaurant business took a tremendous amount of my time in the down economy as well.
Needless to say, my plans for Tumbleweed did not come to fruition in 2009. The first half of the year we focused on our new book, a re-write of Jay's older book under the same title, "The Small House Book." Jay did an amazing job on his new book, and the final result was a beautiful book that was 196 pages. It was completed on the 11th hour, and we printed 1,000 copies.
This was our first foray into serious book publishing. In the past, we had done runs of 1,000 books at a time, but our older books were much smaller, simpler, and far less expensive. When the books were completed, about 40 copies went out, and we immediately got complaints that the pages were falling out. Our printer apologized for using the wrong type of glue on some of the books and promised to fix the problem in just a few days. They also agreed to ship any books we sold during that time for free. A few days quickly became weeks, and they stopped shipping our orders without telling us. They also continued to ship the bad books without fixing the binding. It was such a mess, that it took six months to finally settle the bill.
Our first run sold out very quickly, and we have since found a new vendor. The second run went okay, but it too had its share of problems.
The website stayed pretty static, and none of my plans to reorganize the site found the time. Our website had become "bloated" and difficult to navigate. It is something I really wanted to fix in 2009, but will have to fix in 2010.
Early in 2009, I read a book called "Landing Page Optimization". If anyone is really serious about running a web based business, then you must learn the importance of conversion testing. For years we've been able to grow our website traffic, but I never much considered the effectiveness of the words and pictures on a page - until I read that book. I spent what little free time I had on that subject, and the few areas I did focus on showed tremendous results. Most tests I did had practically no effect, but about 1 in 10 changes made a HUGE impact. I'm an avid reader of business books, and all told I probably read about 10 books on web based businesses this year. The net result was that I made a few minor changes that had dramatic results.
Building the Fencl
This year we decided to build our first mobile home, and it would be the Fencl. The Fencl design came about because it was clear we had a large number of customers interested in a small house that combined the Weebee and the Tarleton. Our plan was to build the house, take it on tour across the country, and sell it on the East Coast.We choose the East Coast as our final destination because many people had expressed interest in buying the house on the East Coast.
In the past, when we built houses, we hired a contractor and agreed on a fixed price. This time, we decided to hire the crew ourselves and pay an hourly rate. The net result was a financial loss, as the wages exceeded budget.
The final product was a beautiful green home ready to tour the country. At the time, I was overwhelmed with my other job, and I hired a publicist at the last minute to help me promote the upcoming tour. I wasn’t able to spend the time necessary, and the house went across the US without much fanfare. Accordingly, without the media exposure, it was hard to sell the house.
Currently, the small house is available for sale in Ohio, and you can tour it 7 days per week.
The year ahead
We have some big plans for the coming year. Realistically, most of the projects we are working on now won't come to our website until 2011. Keep an eye out for more posts about the road ahead - it is something I plan to blog about. I'll be reaching out for partnership opportunities in the coming year, and I'll be using our newsletter and LinkedIn to do so. Go back in time: 2008