Screw Up With Style

My story has always be about taking an honest look at starting a business. So here is a little honesty. Okay, so I screwed up. As I get busier, and I make more and more things, I'm bound to make some mistakes every once and a while. Last week I screwed up. I'm going to tell you all about it because there is a really good lesson in it.

I decided to test out a new thread from a different supplier. I was making watch straps that day and decided to make myself one to see how it would break in. The following day I had a show and without realizing it I packed up the strap I had made for myself. While I was setting up for the show I grabbed this particular strap out of the straps I brought, put it on a watch, set it on the table, and thought nothing of it (because I thought my tester strap was still at home).

I have a nice show and I'm feeling pretty pleased with myself. Then Monday rolls around and I can't find the strap I made for myself. Then I get an email. It basically says, "Hey I bought this watch off you yesterday (Editor's note YESTERDAY!!!). It looks really nice but it's kind of falling apart..."

And my heart sinks. I immediately start thinking worst case scenarios.  I mean the main point of everything I make is that they are very durable. This guy has had the thing for less the 24 hours. He must think I'm either trying to screw him over or I'm a total asshat.

Here is where a lesson I learned in my previous life comes into play. I wish I could remember who said this to me, but it was probably said in a moment of chaos. Every screw up is a chance to prove how good we are.  As a server in a restaurant you get to apologize a lot. Even when something happens in the kitchen and I had nothing to do with it, it is still my job to go apologize to the table.  So having to learn how to fix mistakes is an art that any good server has to master.

So I stopped freaking out and starting thinking about this as a challenge. The first thing you should always do is try to meet the customers expectations. In this case they wanted a nice looking strap that doesn't fall apart. First I apologized and took responsibility.  I asked him to give me a chance to fix it. Either mail it back to me or drop it off at a show (one of the benefits of having a busy show schedule if you don't have a storefront) and I'd fix it and get it right back to him. He decided to mail it because he wanted it back ASAP.

I received the strap in the mail two days later. The mail arrived at 10 am. Within the hour I had the strap restitched. I then gave it a nice cleaning with saddle soap and re waxed the entire thing. I let it dry and spent a good amount of time messing with the stitches to make sure they wouldn't come loose. I then sat down and made another strap. Why? If for some reason this one got lost or ruined in the mail I'd have a backup ready.

I then sat down and wrote out a nice email letting him know that I had received the strap, it was already fixed, and explained what I'd done wrong.  Once it was dry I packed it up, added a matching keyring to the package (because I was grateful for the chance to try again) and had it in the mail the following morning.

This morning I got an email from the customer. The strap and keyring had arrived successfully. Not only that, but he was looking forward to using them " proudly."

I think that is really the lesson here. Just like how you can see what a person is really like when they are down, you can see the same with a business. It's important to impress people when you are doing to good job. It is even more important to shine when you have really screwed up. Because that is what I am really selling.

You can buy a watchstrap online that was made in a factory halfway across the planet for a lot less. I'm not reinventing the wheel here either. When someone buys something from me they know that I've put my heart into it. They know that I actually give a crap about what I'm making.  They get the confidence that what I've made is up to my highest standards and if it comes up short then I really want to make it right. They know that I am proud of the work I am doing. I have invested myself in it, and they should be able to be proud knowing that they made a good choice in buying it.

As a business owner you are going to screw up. It is inevitable. What is important is that when you do; you screw up really well.


(As a side note, if the watchstrap belonged to you and you are reading this: thank you very much for your email. A happy email resulting from something I screwed up is invaluable.)