Growing Pains & Tiffany: Welcome Aboard!
July 18, 2015
It’s been a challenging couple of weeks here at Mosko. First, our inability to provide a timely response to incoming inquiries caused a lot of frustration with customers who were waiting on orders. Second, we found a stitching issue on the new Reckless 80 bags that needs to be addressed, and we’ve been searching for a permanent fix. In this post, I want to address both issues head-on.
Up until 4-6 weeks ago – when our inventory shipment arrived – we were processing orders as they came in, and answering customer inquiries on a same-day basis. The volume of activity was totally manageable with our small team.
When the inventory arrived, there was a large backlog of accumulated backorders to process – way more than the normal day-to-day order flow – plus we experienced a surge in new orders and inquiries. As shipments started going out, the number of inquiries increased even more. In a few weeks we went from 10-20 emails/calls a day to 50-100 emails/calls per day. And we had less capacity to answer the inquiries, because we were all running around trying to process and ship the backlog.
This led to a kind of gridlock. Many emails and calls went unanswered. The general Mosko inbox, which we’d previously been emptying every day, grew to 250 emails, then 350 emails, and then finally last week to a peak of over 550 unanswered emails. And that doesn’t include advrider PMs, Facebook messages, and voicemails. When customers didn’t get a response to their first inquiry, they sent a second & third inquiry, and the emails kept piling up. People were getting pissed, and with good reason.
We really apologize to anyone who was affected by this situation. We’re taking steps to ensure it never happens again. We aspire to be a transparent, highly communicative business that answers inquiries on a same-day basis. We were caught off guard by the sudden increase and we weren’t prepared.
Welcome Aboard Tiffany
We have a new team member in the customer service “department” at Mosko. Tiffany Lyn comes from a marketing and customer service background, and is joining our team in a full-time capacity, working together with Nicole. She’ll be monitoring and maintaining the primary Mosko customer contact points like email, phone, facebook, advrider, etc. and ensuring that everyone gets a timely response. She’s already diving in, and we’re currently working our way through the accumulated emails and inquiries.
No More Backorders & Preorders
The decision to accept backorders and preorders was a big contributor to this situation. With both backorders and preorders, we’re accepting an order for inventory which has not arrived yet, with the expectation that it will be shipped at a future date. When backorders started accumulating back in February, it seemed like a natural thing to do. Customers could reserve their inventory and get priority in the shipping queue, while we got peace of mind from seeing the continued demand, and it also helped with cash flow. In retrospect, however, backorders & preorders created a bunch of problems.
1) When placing a pre/backorder, the customer expects X product at Y date. If the date slips and they can’t get their bag in time for a trip, they’re pissed. However, there are so many unpredictable variables that can affect the timing of our delivery, from production and material issues to port strikes and border inspections. This scenario – with variable delivery dates matched against fixed customer expectations – is a recipe for angst.
2) The large pause between when a pre/backorder is placed and when the product actually ships, creates a big opportunity for change-orders, For example, customers need to change their shipping address, add/subtract things from their order, upgrade their shipping method, or make other special handling requests. Managing those requests across a large number of orders is very labor-intensive and error prone. When orders come in and are shipped within a few days, change-orders rarely occur.
3) When the inventory arrives, pre/backorders all need to be processed and shipped at the exact same time. For a small company this creates a “mouse moving through the snake” kind of issue. The volume on a day-today basis would be totally manageable, but the big one-time spike is not. That’s the kind of spike we experienced over the last 4-6 weeks, and it was largely caused by the decision to accept pre/backorders.
Going forward, we’re thinking that it will be easier for everyone if we don’t accept orders for new or sold-out items until they’re back in stock and ready to ship. Or at least on the water and en route to our warehouse with a relatively firm delivery date. I’m not saying that we’ll never consider a pre/backorder program again, but if we do, it will be structured very differently.
A third thing we’re working on is improving our order processing system. Like many small businesses, we’re currently managing everything manually. An order comes in from the website and gets printed on paper. We type the order in an excel form (each order gets its own spreadsheet), and email that form to the warehouse. The warehouse receives the order, uploads it into their system, picks/packs/ships, and 24-48 hours later emails us a large excel file with all the tracking numbers for shipments that have gone out. We manually match the tracking numbers to orders, and copy/paste the relevant tracking information on our website orders. An automated shipping notification then goes to the customer via email. It’s a manual, labor-intensive, error-prone process.
We need a simple small-company ERP system that links orders and inventory between the website, our company, the warehouse, and our accounting records. We’re working on that now. We’re also looking into some Shopify Apps that enable customers to check their order status online without having to send an email. More on that soon. In the meantime, now that the pre/backorders have shipped, we’re back to our highly technical “three box” order management system.
Reckless 80 Stitching
A few weeks ago, at the Touratech Rally in Plain, WA, I ran into Fletch (one of our Gear Guides) on the side of the road. He’d been riding offroad with one of the very first Reckless 80 bags we shipped, and reported that the stitching had failed on one of the buckles sewn to the top of the harness. A few weeks later, someone posted the same issue on our advrider thread.
The issue is that the buckles on the top of the harness – the two 1.5″ buckles that run over the side drybags and the three 1″ buckles that connect to the rear of the bike – are not attached with the correct stitch to support the amount of abuse they take while riding. They need to be reinforced, not just in future design iterations and on our remaining inventory, but also on all the bags we’ve already shipped.
After much experimentation, we came up with solution using a combination of a 1/8″ soldering iron and chicago bolts. The soldering iron melts a hole through the webbing and harness, bonding everything together, and then the chicago bolt works like a rivet. The resulting connection is extremely strong, stronger even than stitching.
This solution works great. We ordered a ton of soldering irons – enough to send one to everyone who got a Reckless 80 – and also the necessary hardware, with expedited shipping.
The stitch reinforcement kit comes with 7 of these chicago bolt/washer combos, one soldering iron, and an instruction sheet.
Here’s Tiffany packing up the first kit. They’ll be shipping over the next 7-10 days. If you got a Reckless 80, you’ll get one of these.
Next we needed a solution for the remaining Reckless 80 bags in inventory. First we met with Will at the Last US Bag Company in Portland.
We tried getting the bag into his bartacker but it was too big to feed correctly.
Then we tried one of their sewing machines but the stitch was too loose.
Finally we tried their rivet machine, which worked well, and a was a totally credible solution. Will ordered some rivet samples to experiment with.
While waiting for the rivet samples, we also headed into Portland to look at an industrial bartacker that was for sale on craigslist, thinking maybe we could buy it and do the rework ourselves.
This machine can do some seriously burly stitches, but the arm wasn’t long enough to get into the bag, so it didn’t work.
After that we met with Chip (who sewed the early Backcountry 35/40 protos) on the side of Highway 14 in Washington. He took an R80 back to his shop and reported that he was able stitch the buckle with his machine, which was great news, but he also suggested that we talk to Bruce Peterson at Sailworks about rivet options, and also a special sewing machine he has.
So we went to Sailworks and checked out their rivet system. This company, Hanson Rivet, had a bunch of machines and rivets that could’ve worked.
We also got to check out this really cool Claes machine Bruce has, which was designed for repairing shoes. Bruce actually bought this machine ($9,000) for a rework project he did on windsurfing sails many years ago. Totally cool machine and would work for the repair, but very slow to use.
Finally we talked to Reynaldo, who has been helping us recently with prototype sewing on the tank bags and tool rolls. He took an R80 sample home and added a bunch of bomber stitching on his own machine, which worked great. He was interested in the project and could start immediately, so we went into pdx and grabbed a bunch of bags, which are now stuffed in every corner of Reynaldo’s house. We’ll have some reworked bags in stock and ready to ship within a week. Thanks Reynaldo!
Anyone who ordered a Reckless 80 in the first round of shipments will be getting the stitch reinforcement kit. All future Reckless 80 shipments will go out with reinforced stitching. If you received a bag in the first round of shipments and a buckle has come unattached, it needs to be reattached before you apply the reinforcement kit. Two options for reattaching:
1) The easiest/fastest fix is to find a local shop that has a heavy duty sewing machine and get the buckle re-sewn locally. While you’re at it, have them reinforce the other top buckles as well. When it’s fixed, take a photo of the repair and the receipt, email those photos to us, and we will reimburse you in full. You’ll be back on the road in a day or two.
2) If you can’t find a local shop to reattach the buckle, send it back to us and we will take care of it for you. We’ll process these repairs as fast as we can, and pay for shipping. With incoming/outgoing shipping plus repair turnaround, it could take 2-3 weeks before you have your bag back, depending on how many come in. Just a heads up.
The re-stitching is only necessary if you have a buckle that has come unattached. For everyone else, the reinforcement kit we’re sending is a permanent fix. And of course, your lifetime warranty still applies no matter what option you take.
Thanks so much for your patience while we get all this stuff sorted out. It’s been just over 9 months since we shipped our first product. Clearly we’re experiencing some growing pains. We’ll get these issues fixed, learn from our mistakes, and be better in the future than the past. Really appreciate the support!