An open letter to our customers, past, current and future

TL;DR – I’m sorry. I messed up trying to make a big change that I was confident would improve the customer experience; it didn’t. Now I’m going to make it right!

This letter has been a long time coming. It’s something I’ve been meaning to write for a while.

How’s that saying go?

“The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The next best time is now.”

I figured there’s no better time than now to say it.

First and foremost, I need to apologize and say “I’m sorry.”

Over the past few months we’ve made some changes within the sockbox.ca world. Things that on paper looked amazing to not only maintain profitability, but also enhance the customer experience. It’s the single question we ask ourselves when making any changes – “will this improve the customer experience?” Thanks for articulating it so well Carson McComas.

Since we started shipping our first pair of socks in December 2014 we always handled the shipments ourselves. I engaged neighbours and family friends to make some extra money during downturns in Calgary. There’s no doubt it was a great feeling to be able to help provide to others, to provide to their families during tough economic times. It was like a family – because they ultimately were.

In July 2018 I made the decision to begin transitioning our stock and fulfillment to a fulfilment company in Surrey, British Columbia. It was my expectation that this would greatly improve the customer experience. It would allow for same day orders to go out, or at the very least, the next day. It would allow for faster shipments to our Sock of the Month members. It would allow for us to increase the inventory and style options in our awesome sock shop without the added expense of our own warehouse.

I’d say that makes for a darn good improvement to customer experience.

You see, we’re a very small team at sockbox.ca – in fact at our peak there have been only five team members, all of whom were, or are part-time. The transition would allow us to really serve our customers better, while letting us focus on the customer awesomeness, and business side of things, while continuing to source quality socks from different suppliers around the world.

So in August I started moving thousands of socks out from the basement, and into the garage, and loading them on palettes to ship to BC. All told we had about 9 palettes ship west. It was a lot of weight, and a lot of work. Up and down flights of stairs all day for hours – talk about a great workout.

In September 2018 we shipped out our last Sock of the Month mailing from Calgary as we sent the last palette of socks to BC. Then on October 2 I flew out to meet with the warehouse team and help them with the first wave of socks. It was the first crazy snow storm in Calgary that day, and my flight to Abbotsford (YXX) was cancelled. I managed to get on a flight to Vancouver (YVR) and reserve a rental car while I was sitting on the plane before takeoff. Talk about close. Looking back, talk about a sign.

October seemed to go relatively smoothly with no issues that we hadn’t experienced ourselves over the previous three years.

November was getting busier and the volume was increasing, but there seemed to be more errors popping up. People had ordered specific socks from our shop and only got a few of them, or even the right number of pairs, but the wrong styles. We addressed this with our 3PL team and they made some staffing adjustments – yes, people got fired. Again, we looked at this that it would improve the customer experience. New staff that paid attention and shipped what people ordered. Who’d think that’s such a foreign concept?

While the warehouse in BC was running along, I was in Calgary back in the basement packing up our Fourth Annual Sock Lovers Advent Calendar™ and Twelve Days of Socksmas. Then I was carrying them upstairs, and shipping them out of the garage like I had in the past. And it worked – sort of. But all this focus in Calgary allowed me to lose focus in Surrey, and things were getting worse. Our Black Friday sale almost broke their fulfillment system. Another sign.

In December – our busiest month of the year – there were data issues with our Sock of the Month mailing, and many members that had an apartment, or suite number had their mail returned – thankfully back to Calgary. All told we had almost 3% returned. In a normal month it’s less than 0.5%. Yikes! I realized there was definitely a bigger problem at play.

And then came Boxing Day. We figured that we’d try something new. Something that we had never done in the past. We were blowing out inventory for $5.95 a pair, and free shipping on orders over $50. That meant on average there were at least 9 pairs of socks in each order. Our fulfillment partner had informed us in early December they were going to take December 22 to January 1 off from the warehouse. We were going to pass on our Boxing Day sale. And then the week before, they informed us they’d be in on the 27 & 28. We told them we’d be launching our sale on December 26 for 2 days.

“Great!” we were told.

Well, without getting into all the details, orders were shipped incomplete, incorrect, and some not even at all. In fact, some hadn’t shipped in the third-week of January. Or they’d show shipped in our system, complete with tracking information, but the tracking information had nothing registered with it. Frustration for our customers reached an all-time high. Some how Holly, our truly patient and amazing Coordinator of Awesomeness, held it all together, and worked through things to rectify them as best as we could.

Ultimately, the damage was done. It was a barrage of emails saying how much we sucked, there was no awesomeness, and that people would never recommend or order from us again. As the guy who built this business hand making envelopes at the kitchen table in the first few months, it hit me hard.

Our single core value is to treat others how you’d like to be treated.

This was not good.

And then at the beginning of February I made the trip out to the warehouse again to check on things. I wanted to see how the space had improved. To see work being done on our Sock of the Month mailings. This time I opted to fly to Vancouver (YVR) from the beginning. There are more flights from Calgary (YYC) to choose from if something happened.

And of course, something happened.

I had opted to fly on the 10:30 flight realizing that with the snowy, cold weather, I wasn’t likely able to arrive on time for the 9:30 flight. It would give me plenty of time to meet with the warehouse team, address any issues, and then meet up with another one of our suppliers.

So what happened?

The 10:30 flight was cancelled. Not just before 10:30, but earlier in the morning. It was the ONLY flight to Vancouver that was cancelled. All I could do was laugh at the sign it was showing me. I had already been discussing with the team about bringing everything back in-house, and this seemed to just push us further to saying “bring it back.”

Once I got to BC I managed to navigate the slightly snowy and icy roads to the warehouse. Seriously, the lower mainland got snow – which rarely happens. By the time I got to the warehouse it was about 1:00 in the afternoon. And I was greeted by people, and toured up to the new space where sockbox.ca shipments were happening – except there were none happening. There was no activity. No card writing, letter folding, sock packing, or prep.

Ask me how disappointed I was?

Without going into further details of conversations, I left unsure about the future of sockbox.ca and how we would provide a level of service to our customers that I was satisfied with. Heck, that our customers could even remotely be satisfied with. It was tough, and took a lot of thought.

By the time I arrived back in Calgary at home it was 1:00 am, and I was exhausted. Then before I knew it, I was wide awake at 4:00 am, so I decided to start searching for answers. Something that would work.

Then I realized the solution was simple; bring it all back in-house.

That brings us to today.

Within a week, we found a warehouse to lease, negotiated terms, put down a deposit, and began enacting our plan that will keep us true to our values for years to come.

The warehouse is larger than what is needed for today, allowing us to grow and stay in Calgary, and handle our own daily operations. It will allow us better control, and access to our stock. It means we can try some other new awesome things. Most importantly, it will allow us to drastically increase, and improve the customer experience. The single biggest question any business should ask itself when implementing change.

It will take some time to transition over from our current fulfillment partnership to the new warehouse, but hopefully it will be within 30-days. The selection of styles in our shop will temporarily disappear over the next few days as they’re packed up in BC in order to transport them back home to Calgary. Don’t worry though, they’ll all be back, and more.

I wanted to say, “I’m sorry,” once again. Thank you for reading this far, and for sticking with us.

We’re doing this for you. And I personally want to thank you.

Marshall Stevenson
Founder, sockbox.ca

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