The Trouble With Scaling for 'Hand-Crafted' Entrepreneurs
Over the past five years, my all-natural skincare company, S.W. Basics has been trying to figure out how to scale. We've made a lot of progress, in a lot of ways. We've added employees, sales brokers, a fulfillment center and recently outside manufacturing. (Yes, up until now, we have been making all of our products by hand.) And in our experience, hand-crafting products seems to be the enemy to scaling. I can't think of a faster way to depressing entrepreneurship than saying, "I'm sorry we can't take that order for 10,000 units, because we can't make it all in time."
Moving to outside manufacturing has been significantly more difficult that we were imagining. Apparently, it's actually fairly rare that a company switches over. Either you hand make from day one until forever or you contact third-party manufacturers before launching your company in the first place. My cold calls have been met with some serious confusion and disbelief. "Wait, you want to use your formulas?" "Are you a chemist?" "Who is making the products now? Not you, right?"
It's been incredibly daunting. I have spoken to dozens of facilities. A couple have taken us on but only for some of our products (the ones that are easiest and fastest to produce). And they've got a whole lot of attitude about it. Worried but not one to give up, I have kept trying with new places. And finally, after more than four years of searching, we have found two facilities that are perfect -- dreamboat perfect. They are doing exactly what we need: producing the entire line for us with our exact formulas in the quantities we need as quickly as we need them. In fact, they are doing more than that. They are also helping us to certify the entire collection organic (something that other facilities have rejected from the get go because "organic is a trend that is going away"), and they are working on our formulas to make them better and better. But better according to my standards, not theirs. It's amazing.
When this past week we received our first ever delivery of 5,000 units of our cream, the best-selling product in our line and the hardest to produce, it was one of the most satisfying moments I've ever had as an entrepreneur. Just seeing all that product -- my product but not made by me -- gave me pure joy. It's successes like this that I think really matter when you're building your business: overcoming rejection, ignoring naysayers, being patient and having just the perfect amount of audacity -- that makes you keep trying until you get what you want. These moments are rare in business, but they really make the whole thing worth it.