Monday, January 27, 2014

WWHAD: What Went Wrong



Can't find who this pic belongs to.
Back in the late Eighties, there was a band called The Smithereens. The band had a few detractors, namely Rolling Stone who snarked that their sound was too influenced by The Beatles and The Byrds. Sure, they peaked at #43 on the 1990 Billboard Album charts, but for some of us, and by most of us, I mean me, they were essentially "the gateway drug". Were it not for them, I'd still be stuck listening to mindless Cock Rock, or Genesis, or whatever happened to be popular on MTV at the time. Were it not for them, I wouldn't have taken that leap and gave an ear to bands like REM, Camper Van Beethoven, Sonic Youth or Husker Du. Were it not for them, I wouldn't have developed an appreciation for the New, for the Alternative, for the notion that television does not dictate my life. Were it not for them, I probably would have been happy being another member of the Wal Mart walking dead.

The Smithereens were a loud, guitar and amplifier driven band out of New Jersey. Perhaps it was their particular style that they didn't get enough air play given that Madonna and Wham! was still dominating the air waves because those music executives in their glass towers knew what the kids wanted! Yes, they might be considered too loud for Top 40 radio, but beyond that, the music was rich, melodic, honest, straight-forward rock and roll; the perfect antidote to the mindless landscape that was Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go. There was a purity to it that influenced many bands that came after them, as the case with most notable bands like The Velvet Underground, for example. Ironically, one of the one's who were greatly influenced, was Kurt Cobain.

Blogs that sub-reference alternative bands to make a point STILL suck!
Then 1991 happened. From 1992 to this day, the epitaph that tattooed on every rock musician's forearm read:
We were almost there. Then Nirvana came and they ruined everything!
This passed weekend, I took that leap again to try the New. Having been recently laid off and assessing my own worth in today's job market, I decided to devote some of my time to making an effort and go into business for myself. I decided to sell cakes at a winter carnival at my daughter's preschool. I decided to sell cakes, because it's what I like to do; I'd like to think that I'm more than a little talented at making them, why not sell it and make more people happy and make a profit at the same time? Right? That's the name of the game, right? Do what you love and the money will follow? Well, the day finally came and things were progressing as expected; lots of people milling about, nobody really buying anything from anybody. Everything was going well...

...Then the petting zoo came...and they ruined everything....
Suddenly....people....

~*What Went Wrong*~

Well, for starters, I had no comprehension of what I was getting into. When I think bake sale, I think of crowds of people crammed into a church basement, their eyes scanning the tables of baked goods and home made crafts while they make a not too subtle bolt for the door. Sure, there's a kiss-your-grandmother-on-the-lips awkwardness about it and there's a faint odor of ointment that doesn't seem to go away, but there's a guaranteed traffic flow, and with that more eyeballs checking my stuff out, which means that probability of moving product goes up exponentially. Instead, what I got was a table in the middle of a field. Away from everybody else. With no chairs and no tent. We were this unexplored island in the middle of the Pacific and people passing by were 737's on their way to vacation destinations.
Scene from The Lonely Cake Table.

"Look Martha, a little table in the middle of nowhere!"
"OOOhhh, how WONDERful, let me get my camera! *click* What do you think they do down there, Gerald?"
"It looks.....it looks like they're selling cakes."
".......Oh.....well....isn't that nice. Are you done with the Skymall?"

Psychologically speaking (if I knew how to psychologically speak), my odds of selling something would have been greater had there been some sort of continuity.  Instead of putting me where you think the most traffic is, put me where the traffic will be. Think of it in terms of opening a Starbucks on a busy intersection where there's guaranteed traffic, as opposed to putting one on some deserted stretch of highway.

Secondly, it would have probably been in my best interest to diversify the product. I only offered chocolate cakes. Maybe if Angel Food were offered, or pound cake...or cheesecake it would have been better. Given the situation I faced, the venue that it was and the capital that we could use, I chose to stick with one thing but offer it a few different ways. It was a risk, but it was all I could work with.

Not actual "cake" cake, but more like fancy muffins. Really GOOD fancy muffins.
Thirdly, I needed to take a bigger risk and start giving product away. I had plenty in stock and I wasn't convincing anyone to buy with pathetic pieces of cake at the end of a toothpick. What I needed to do was to take the hit and give them a whole cake. That way, it'll be a situation where the customer would be established having been convinced that the quality of the product is up to snuff; a test drive, try before you buy, first taste is free, pal. Pick any scenario you want, but when your back is against the wall, it might be wise to step up the game a little. It might have also been our best interest to not make so much. Two dozen would have been plenty. Eight dozen was a tragedy.

Lastly, and there's no way around it and it's nobody's fault, trying to build up a brand from nothing is hard. People are skeptical to buy from you if they've never heard of you. Business cards would have been nice, but it wasn't in the budget. Flyers were nice, but they got lost. We had to make due with what we had. I could have opened a Facebook/Twitter/G+ account, gotten our name in everyone's faces, but there was no time and on further speculation, no point. I had no idea how this venture would turn out. If all else failed, it would be a success to get people to notice me.

Which they did, and that leads me to what went right.....

Watch this space...