Saturday, November 1, 2014

Green America People and Planet Award

by Tracy Zhu, owner

A couple of weeks ago I got one of those "you have been nominated for an award" emails that fell into my mental category of "maybe spam, maybe not, will look at later." After a few days, I received a friendly follow-up email asking if I was in, and I realized this actually was the real deal. An employee had nominated us, (without my knowledge -  love those proactive employees!) for a People and Planet Award presented by Green America. We somehow made it to the top ten and now the public will vote. If we win, all of the $5000 prize will be shared among the employees - and we have very few employees, so this will make a difference to them. Even if we don't win, we're grateful for the exposure. If you have the time and the inclination, vote for us! Voting will run through November, with the winner announced December 1st. Two of our key suppliers, Canaan Fair Trade and Mata Traders, are also finalists, which is very cool.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Second Quarter 2014 Recap

by Tracy Zhu, Owner

Well now, here we are past the third quarter already and I'm just getting to the second quarter recap. I'm sure these posts aren't interesting to most people, but I want to record the history of my little enterprise as it unfolds.

By April I had nearly give up on finding a suitable second location for Tango Zulu. I was holding out for all the elements I wanted, and I hoped to be open by summer so we could make the most of the high season. Four months into the search, nothing had worked out and my window for a summer opening was closing rapidly. Then near the end of the month a space we had looked at earlier came back on our radar: the historic City Club building in the gritty and resurgent Pioneer Square neighborhood of Seattle. I loved the high ceilings,  30 feet of display windows, open floor plan, and the quirky wrought-iron spiral staircase....but oh, it needed work. We signed the lease on May 16th and entered into a frenzied month of construction followed by a hard two-week push to get displays and inventory in. Long days with a three hour round trip commute ate me up. I was determined to open by June 30th, but July 3rd ended up being the actual date. We opened almost on time and a little under budget, which I'm proud of. I also am happy with all the big decisions regarding the build-out, hiring, and inventory selection. I couldn't be more pleased with the way the community has welcomed us, and to my immense relief, the store is thriving (so far...we'll see how the slow season goes.)

The Port Gamble store hummed along during this period, largely due to the remarkable work ethic of  employee Kristi Anna. Sales were about even with the same quarter last year, and our growth may be leveling off in that town. E-commerce sales, however, were up about 30%, continuing the impressive growth we saw in the first quarter.

Opening the Pioneer Square store was a tough and stressful undertaking, but it's well worth it when I come down 1st Avenue South in the morning and see our big, beautiful sign and, often, someone pressing their nose hopefully against the glass. On a personal level, Drew and I lived in Seattle for years, spent lots of time in Pioneer Square, and in fact met right next door to our new store at the old New Orleans Café. It feels good working down there and being part of a vibrant, rapidly changing neighborhood that also holds a lot of nostalgia for me. I was feeling a little stale spending all my time in North Kitsap, and this new adventure is doing me good.

Finishing touches minutes before we officially opened.

See what I mean about the staircase?

The field office, where I tried to retain control of my empire during the build-out.

Getting the floor laid down was a big help.

Our changing rooms. Print by local artist Tyree Pearson.

Jaycee, who has been rocking her job from day one.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

First Quarter 2014 Recap

by Tracy Zhu, Owner

It's a sign of spring when we can wet Bolga baskets to shape them and allow them to dry on our back deck.

Our first quarter of the year is always marked by slow sales and lots of projects. This year our brick and mortar store in Port Gamble was presented with some challenges beyond the normal anemic sales. Several businesses in town closed temporarily for reasons ranging from expansions to vacations to getting hit by a semi, which affected business town-wide. We also had unusually bad weather, and the Seattle Seahawks  made their run to the Super Bowl, which thrilled us but killed our Sunday sales. Richard Sherman should buy a market basket to make up for it. Despite it all, brick and mortar sales were up 12% over the same period last year, and internet sales were up 39%.

People who have never managed a small business understandably think that slow sales periods = lots of free time for the owner/manager. Not so, at least for me. Here is a partial list of my first quarter 2014 tasks:

Closing down the pop-up store and absorbing fixtures and merchandise into the main store
Deep cleaning and reorganizing the store
Here's a fun one: removing the winter mold from all our white railing.
Revamping the website (huge project, lots still to do but I don't doubt that my work so far helped produce those big internet sales numbers)
Doing inventory - a massive and tedious job
Scouting dozens of locations in six different cities for a possible second store - this has been frustrating but fun
Designing new labels and hangtags for several products
Ordering summer merchandise (and by the end of the quarter, ordering some of our fall merchandise.)
State L&I tax return
State unemployment tax return
State B&O and sales tax return
State use tax return
Kitsap County personal property tax
944 return
940/941 return
AJEs and other ground work to prepare to close the books and file our federal income tax return

And of course all the daily HR, accounting, marketing, administrative, operational and janitorial tasks that are too numerous to mention.

All in all, I'm happy with both sales and projects for the quarter. Spring seems to finally be taking hold and I have much to look forward to in the coming months.

Photo: At Tango Zulu, we know it's spring when Jesse the UPS driver starts rocking shorts. Although he is still wearing a hat and long sleeves, so we may not be out of the woods yet.
It's another sign of spring when Jesse the UPS drive driver breaks out the shorts. Hmmm, he's still rocking a winter hat, though.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

2013 in Review: 4th Quarter

By Tracy Zhu, Owner
It's a leaf blizzard! October in Port Gamble.

The last quarter of the year was the most intense. I had the opportunity to open a pop-up clothing store, which I put together (including sourcing and ordering inventory) in eleven days. With our locations doubled to two (woo hoo!) and offsite events to exhibit in, I ended up working every day of November and December except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and December 30th. Drew was pressed into service as well. I managed to badly sprain my ankle in early November which added to the grind. It was a tough quarter but worth it, as we ended up with record sales.

The pop-up store, Tango Zulu Too.

My bum ankle. I'm wearing a fair trade slipper from Kyrgyzstan, fair trade boot toppers from Nepal, a fair trade dress from Nepal, and a sweatshop-free cardigan made in the U.S.A.

  Many thanks to local Jerry Cornell (he and his wife own The Quilted Strait) for transforming our front yard. He approached me last fall about removing the sod and replacing it with native plants. My always-accommodating landlords, Olympic Property Group, removed the sod at no cost to me, I bought the plants, and Jerry did the rest, from design to sourcing to planting. We are looking forward to what each season brings.

We ended up the year with a 20% increase in sales over 2012, but the higher overhead (rent, payroll) took a toll on net income. One of the big questions for 2014 is whether we can fully utilize the new space and our wonderful employees to grow sales further and become a stronger business. Managing growth can be harder than it looks. We'll see how I do in 2014.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

2013 in Review: 3rd Quarter

By Tracy Zhu, Owner

Tracy and Patricia at Urban Uprising in Seattle in August.
The third quarter of 2013 saw smooth sailing and strong sales. With the hard work of moving the store behind me, I was able to get out of the store and even out of town a bit more for both professional and personal activities. One of the highlights of the entire year was partnering with Seattle's Burke Museum to help promote their Empowering Women exhibit. My husband Drew and I had a wonderful time at the artists' reception in July. In August, Drew, Patricia, and I had a fun evening of sourcing and shopping at Seattle's Urban Uprising trade show. We were proud to be sweatshop-free from head to toe in this picture (except maybe our under garments and possibly my shoes.)

Sarah, Eamon, and beautiful Baby Ziva.
Sarah had quite a year! She and her husband Eamon enjoyed a long-delayed honeymoon in France and Croatia in July. On September 30th, she brought their enchanting daughter Ziva into the world. Sarah worked right into her 9th month and seemed to never miss a beat. Only a couple of months after giving birth she performed in a Seattle staging of Handel's "Messiah". She's tough!

One of the best features of the new building is this deck, which became my office for much of the summer.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

2013 in Review: 2nd Quarter

   By Tracy Zhu, Owner

One bright spot in April was the use of one of our market baskets in a Romantic Homes magazine photo shoot.
The second quarter of 2013 began with a sinking feeling that lasted all of April. We founded the business in May 2010, and beginning in May 2011 we enjoyed 23 months of unbroken year-over-year sales growth each month. March 2013 was bigger than March 2012 which trumped March get the picture. April 2013, however, saw our sales drop by 24% from the previous April. I was quite concerned. We had spent a lot of cash moving the store and buying more displays and merchandise to fill the bigger space, and we had taken on higher rent. As part of my capacity-building plan mentioned in the previous post I had committed to more hours for my employees so I would have a better chance of retaining them, and also to free me up for more big-picture activities and off-site events. The growing payroll loomed, along with the higher rent, just as sales took a dive. I hoped the drop was due to the move and would be alleviated as customers found us in the new space. Although it is only two doors down from our old space, it's not visible from the old building, and I've heard from many who stopped by the old location after we moved and left disappointed when they saw we were no longer there - not realizing until well afterward that we were still in town. We had signage up redirecting people, but not everyone noticed, apparently. I was deeply relieved when sales rebounded strongly in May and June and we again set new monthly sales records.

Setting up the Tango Zulu booth at the Mother Earth News Fair in Puyallup, Washington

We had a booth at the Mother Earth News Fair in Puyallup, Washington in June, which worked out well for us. We were primarily there to sell product and raise our profile, but it was also a huge treat to experience the whole event, with its stellar lineup of exhibitors and speakers. I left the fair feeling I must have a yurt and a Tesla, but Drew was able to talk me out of it. Employee Patricia and her husband Steve were there to help, while our other employees, Kristi Anna and Sarah, held down the fort back at the store where they dealt with the big crowds from the annual June Faire held in Port Gamble.

Patricia and Tashi
Patricia had some exciting life changes in this period. She and Steve bought a beautiful little farm, and she begin studies to become a certified health coach. At the end of June she and I took a trip to Sandpoint, Idaho in a mini-van to pick up a precious little yak calf who had been rejected by his mother. It was quite a road trip. We began it calm, collected and on good behavior. By the end of it we were showing signs of road rage and were sweaty, stinky messes. I remember us both flipping off a semi truck driver and screaming "f*** you!!!" as he tried (unsuccessfully) to muscle into our lane. At the end, when we went our separate ways, Patricia said "well, I'd hug you but that would be gross." The calf, who Patricia later named Tashi Norbu, handled the trip just fine. You can follow his adventures at Yaks in the Cradle Farm.

We made time on our Idaho trip to visit with Ganesh Himal Trading, one of our key suppliers.

We ended the quarter feeling mostly back on our feet after the move, and well prepared for our big months of July and August.

Friday, January 17, 2014

2013 in Review: 1st Quarter

 By Tracy Zhu, Owner

Our staff opening the new building. From left to right: Kristi Anna, Patricia, Sarah, and Tracy.
2013 was all about building capacity at Tango Zulu. We began the year in the same building we founded the business in, and what once seemed to expansive to fill with merchandise now felt cramped and overstuffed. The holiday shipping season of 2012 was particularly tough, as our shipping and receiving area was also our break room and stock room. We often ran completely out of space there and had to box up orders and unpack new shipments of inventory on the retail floor. I remember one day during Port Gamble's annual Country Christmas celebration when the store got so crowded with customers that people would open the front door, see how packed it was, and immediately leave.

Clearly we needed more space, and when a larger building with a much better layout just two doors down became available, we jumped at it. Much of the first quarter was spend planning the move, which was executed in late March. Because the new building was so close by and because we had early access to it, it was a relatively painless move that we accomplished without losing any business hours to closure. We were once again reminded of the kindness of Port Gamble residents, as even though we didn't ask for help, a steady stream of our fellow business owners, townies, and customers dropped by over the course of our move week to lend a hand.
Erik Kleiva, co-owner of the Port Gamble General Store and Café, and Drew Zhu, co-owner of Tango Zulu, taking a load to the new building. The entire move was done on foot with the aid of a single hand truck.

Townie and customer Anne Davies dropped by to help arrange displays.

Our new register counter, built (including graphics) by Port Gamble's Orbea Sign Company. Much better than the old tiki bar we used at the old store.
Another noteworthy event in the first quarter was employee Kristi Anna's graduation from high school while simultaneously earning her Associate of Arts degree at age 18. We are very proud of her, but saying so may not make her forgive me for posting the photo below!

Super Employee Kristi Anna wears a lot of hats. Hah hah.

We ended the first quarter ensconced in our new building, ready to see what the busy summer season would bring.