The need to review 2021 and see what 2022 will bring was important and brewing in my mind for over a month. Sorry for the long winded version but it was necessary to get it all in, even just for the sake of me writing it! - Thanks, April - Owner - True West Hats
January 2021 - We had just returned to the US from visiting Ecuador. Our initial idea was to meet with our weavers but naturally, given our wandering spirits, we found a little town we fell in love and almost stayed. We were one minute away from it but ultimately, and within one day, decided we weren’t ready to leave our business and life behind. So, we headed to the airport and arrived in Miami, FL on New Year’s Eve. Funny enough, all but one of us came down with food poisoning and ended up extending our stay in Florida for an entire week.
February 2021- Our relocation month. After researching and researching place after place and looking for commercial rentals, housing rentals etc. we landed in Sedona (wanting to be closer to my parents in Mesa). And what timing it was (if we had not gotten stuck in Florida our timing would have been awful and we likely wouldn’t be here in Sedona). In 2 days we found the most amazing house rental and happened upon a “vacated in the night” retail space right in the heart of Uptown. Commercial spaces such as these don’t happen often - we were in the right place at the right time and sometimes Sedona welcomes you with open arms and sometimes it spits you out! We are one of the lucky ones!
March 2021 - After completely remodeling the space, lying new flooring, installing our displays, building out the entire store, getting all the city approvals - we opened March 1, 2021 to a whopping zero day. However, on the 2nd we sold a hat and well, pretty much have been selling non-stop since then. Our risk and experiment has worked.. so far! Phew! Whoever said going from a place where you are spending 1/4 of the money to spending more than triple during a pandemic was a good idea simply has to be CRAZY. Good thing that one has worked out for us - it was make it or BUST!
April - June 2021- Hold on to your hats - literally! A two man team running a retail store every day and making all their own products and selling like crazy - we were now rethinking this world of success and realized this was not sustainable! Our efforts to hire help had not worked - (not surprising). Oh - we moved our shop from the garage to our outdoor shop. Plus we have two kids… really? What are we thinking?
June 2021- In comes our savior in a young energetic form! We welcomed my niece to the team! And what an addition! Echo came to us from Mesa where she was looking to get a start after being laid off from her job during the pandemic and working here and there since. Eager to live in a smaller town closer to an outdoor life that fit more with her life goals, she moved in with us and started working at our retail store. One of the best things that’s happened this year. Her kindness and electric personality gives our customers an unforgettable experience. She’s found herself a place to live and now fully integrated in all that we do! We have been able to completely give her the retail store on most days which lets us focus on keeping up with making hats, bringing in new products and building our business. We would be no where this year if she hadn’t come in and saved us! And if we weren’t crazy enough, since we had someone help us with the retail store - we thought bringing two German Shepard puppies in to the family was a good idea. (Not sure if you are picking up the theme of crazy but seriously people, I can’t make this up - we do all these things!)
July 2021- My biggest mistake of the year (or perhaps our biggest in our hat business lifetime) started this month and continued through December. Yep, as a small business, it’s hard to make big mistakes, but this one was a humdinger of a mistake that set us back several thousands and months of frustration and stress. After being so spent on working the retail store and not being able to keep up with the web site and marketing, I reached out to hire a company. Now, I’ve been down this road before. I have done this for other companies and seen how much money is wasted. Taking pride that I’ve always designed and managed our website the joy in doing it had completely left me and I needed someone to take it over. Post meeting with this company and all the promises of the best website in the world to handle custom designing hats, we were hooked with a promise that in 20 days our website of our dreams was going to come true. After many lies and promises broken and it being drawn out month after month, we came in to the busiest time of the year - Black Friday in NOVEMBER and our site still hadn’t launched. The Monday after black Friday, it launched. Launching with so many glitches it affected our website, our accounting, and all of our processes in our retail store right during the holidays. I struggled for an entire month to make this new system work to no avail. I finally swallowed my pride, realized I was going to go crazy and pulled the entire project. We lost months of online sales waiting for this system and an entire holiday season - typically the biggest for most companies. OUCH.. Charlie sat by and supported me in my waffling back and forth but kept watching the stress build and build. Every morning I’d meditate and it would taint the meditation. The weight that fell off my shoulders when I removed the company from our web management and took it back in to my own hands was immense. It’s still not done but holy cow, what a hard lesson. I wanted it to work out so much I wasn’t paying attention to my entire body and soul screaming at me on a daily basis telling me it wasn’t. Lesson learned, listen to your own self! Listen!! I did get some great assets out of the deal with videos and some photos and I’ve built stronger based on what I’ve experienced, so in the end it will serve me well. What a crappy and expensive lesson though. After coming out of the fog of months of stress, it hit me when my eldest daughter said, wow mom, this is the first time I haven’t heard you complain and stress about the website. Great - now an 11 year old knows better than me!
August 2021 - Our little family unit came down with Covid and we were out for 3 weeks. Luckily, Echo was able to run the shop during this time and we didn’t have to shut down. Did I say how lucky we are to have Echo? Just making sure everyone understands!
October 2021- Our biggest sales month in our entire history. What a month. This was the month that Charlie woke at 5am and started working and didn’t finish till late every night. Well, he’s still actually doing this but not so frenzied!
November and December 2021- These months were such a blur. Even though they are closer to when I’m writing, I can’t really remember what happened. Echo got sick for 2 weeks in December and we turned in to survival mode instead of “we’ve got this” mode. And now we realize how fragile our little team is, if one of us is out, we are pretty much screwed! So, here we go - let’s hire again!!
Material Sourcing - We had to completely find new sources for our materials. The struggle of manufacturing and getting our raw materials has been real! We are still in the middle of this, but feel we are making strides. We had to turn down two shows because of our lack of being able to get reliable raw materials.
Straw hats - We upped our Straw game! Working with the weavers, we’ve found new designs and dyes and have really enjoyed spreading the straw hat love to Sedona!
New colors - we keep trying out new fur felt colors and have had some new fun colors stick!
Herbs -Yes, we are a hat company, but my love for herbs is huge and life changing! We brought on RocknRoots CBD salves, oil, teas, and lotions in to our shop (https://www.rocknrootsfarm.com/). This company alone has made a massive impact on our health and care for my entire extended family. I just believe in them that much! Try them out! Of all the crap available out there, they are the real deal!
Bags - we’ve started carrying handmade bags - not by us but by companies we feel are a good inclusion, must be fair trade and Handmade! Maybe some day we will make our own - see the theme here - WE ARE HIRING!!
Hatbands - holy moly have we added so many hatbands. Echo has led the charge of designing and making beaded bands, stone bands, leather bands! She’s been a creative thrust in to adding some serious fun to our hats.
Straw hats - we have decided to remove them from our custom made this year. We hand dye and make these one by one and getting the exact same result each time is impossible, so we will not be offering the capability to custom make a straw hat. What we have made is available for purchase! They are awesome!
Donations for 2021 - 2021 was the first year we were able to make donations from our net sales! We donated around 1% of our net sales to some of our favorite organizations. Running River School (Our Children’s Waldorf school who are fundraising for a new home after being kicked out of their home last year). The Learning Council; An organization in Paonia dear to my heart. They support so many organizations and good causes in the Paonia area. In an effort to offset our impact on the environment, we decided to donate money to two organizations, one local (Verde Valley River) and one national 1% Environment. Although it was modest we hope every little bit can add up and make a difference! Next year we hope to double!
Outdoor workshop - Charlie has dreamed of having an outdoor shop with direct sun light to help him see and work. However it happened, he made that happen this year.
Goodbye Wholesale - as we evaluated our 3 man team capabilities, we have made a hard decision to say goodbye to wholesale until such time we have a huge production facility to be able to handle all the inquiries we have received. Maybe some day we will be able to come back to this, but for now we focus on our customers.
What’s to come in 2022?
Marketing Focus! We are really building our focus on marketing. This has been left behind and now we are picking it back up!
New Equipment - Charlie is designing and making some hat presses! Something we have been wanting to do and given our production demand, has become necessary!
New products - we love having bags in our shop! What’s next? Anyone have any suggestions?
New location? So, even though Sedona has stretched us so thin, we love having the shop and creating custom hat experiences for our customers. This has shown how we can grow and expand. We are researching new locations right now! Looking to add one more every two years. If you have any suggestions or know of commercials spaces perfect for us - let us know! You never know!
Staffing up - really none of this can happen unless we find help! We are looking for a marketing or social media manager (not a company to hire but someone to join our team!), production - Charlie’s maxed! We need some makers!! Our goal would be to train an entire team and send them out to open our stores! Come on and let’s help our little business grow!! Know someone who isn’t afraid to get their hands dirty and help take us to the next level? We would love to find that perfect partner - someone who has experience taking small businesses to the next level and isn’t afraid of doing a bit of it all! We don’t need a finger pointer, but a doer!! If this is you or you know someone, just let us know!
Grow From the Source Sustainably and Ethically - This is more like a 5 or more year plan - we keep planting seeds to be able to grow and raise the animals and make our own hat body materials. Just throwing this one out there because if we don’t speak it, it never will happen!
Value Statements - As we grow as humans in this world and see what the future can and may look like, we could focus on some of this harsh and badness that we see but that just wouldn’t be us. When times are tough, we pivot, we flex, we maneuver… we DO NOT GIVE UP. This is what we hold dear.
- Our customers. Obviously, without you we would have nothing. You are number one and we hope we have made you feel so this year. We have been strapped in our staff so there have been some times where we have dropped the ball but we are making huge strides to get processes in place to pick up those small pieces! We so appreciate you!
- Lifetime Fur Hats We are not fast fashion. Our commitment to creating quality and lifetime fur hats is that important! We do not want you to wear this hat for a short time and it fall apart. We want it to be heirloom quality! So, if you feel you hat isn’t living up to it, we will replace it or fix it - even if you have worn it for a year!
- Staff - Even though we are a team of 3, we want to grow. Staff is so important. We want to do everything we can to make sure the people working with us love it as much as we do. We appreciate and look for creative input, hard workers and giving constant learning opportunities that we appreciate and compensate! We want to keep good staff and value what they bring.
- Giving Back and Sustainability - more and more we are trying to give more and position ourselves with sustainable methods.
In sum, we have tripled gross from 2020 - yahoo! Of course, it all balances out once we take in to account our expenses also more than tripling, but what a whirlwind of a year. We are grateful for our lessons, for our families, for this beautiful land we get to live and work in, and we are grateful for all of our wonderful customers! Thank you and truly, we wish everyone to reach down and pull up their boot straps for 2022 - it’s gonna be a helluva year! - April