March 13, 2019
HONESTY HOUR: REFLECTIONS ON PERSISTENCE
It must’ve been about 5 years ago that I opened the most impactful fortune cookie of my life. Typically the phrases written inside these things prove more useless and irrelevant than a clearance sale on VHS tapes, but this one was different. On this particular shred of paper was written, “There is no problem so great that it cannot be solved through persistent thought.” I was at a different point in my life then, about to move to Utah along with an earlier business that’s since come and gone. Still, I was facing enough challenges that the quote became instantly memorable.
Fast forward roughly 55 months to when I was presented with the biggest problem of my life to date. It was in early March when my business partner came to me and let me know that he’d accepted a position at our biggest local competitor. Not only that, but he’d been coaxed into signing a non-compete agreement which barred him from continuing to work on or represent the Hemetic brand. A day earlier, I’d been busy strategizing on how to capitalize on a successful Fall and Holiday season after opening our storefront, “The Hemetic Trading Post,” here in Burlington, VT. The news obviously caught me off guard and resulted in a multi-month struggle to regain my footing.
Now, let me set the record straight before I go any further. I have absolutely no hard feelings for either of the two people who were initially involved with developing Hemetic but have since moved on. Ultimately life is a journey full of discovery and no one can know where their path might lead. When it comes down to it, we all have different routes to take and it’s our responsibility to be true to ourselves and to make decisions that are in our own best interest. In both cases my former business partners left to pursue opportunities that they believe will take them closer to their ultimate goals in life. Who would I be to step in and attempt to interfere with this? Still, the decision left me in a difficult position.
In the wake of this departure, there was an overwhelming amount to consider. On one hand, I still had inventory, a brand, and a product that had proven itself (not to mention four months left on a lease). On the other, I’d lost my lead designer, on-the-fly photographer, and right hand man. Over the course of March and April, it felt like an endless struggle to make sense of how to move forward. Every 30 or so days, expenses would mount and I’d empty the bank account to satisfy the financial responsibilities of the business. I was treading water. Not sinking or swimming, but driving myself mad doing it. One hand couldn’t count the number of times I clenched the proverbial towel, ready to throw it. The white flag was on the mast, ready to raise.
Then, in early May as I made the 5 hour drive through the Adirondacks back from my parents' house I found myself in that state of “persistent thought” that the Chinese had told me about years ago. Suddenly, things started clicking. The problem, had never been the product- I knew that. Ultimately the problem was getting enough people to see the product to support the brand. I started thinking about the brand, who it was for, and who it should relate to. I started thinking about myself. Here I was, a 26 year old guy who had an equal appreciation for skiing, Hip-Hop, sewing, college sports, fashion, entrepreneurship, and reading. Safe to say, I have eclectic taste.
That’s when it hit me. Somewhere just beyond a miscellaneous town named Poland, I realized the common thread that ties my existence together. Everything I care about stems from the idea of bettering yourself. In Hip-Hop, the theme that I’m drawn to most is the struggle. Starting from square one and building yourself beyond your current situation and becoming the person you dream about. It’s the same for athletes. Skiers, snowboarders, skateboarders- they're all trying to land a new trick or a sponsorship. Team athletes strive to win their next game or take their skills to the next level, whether that’s college or the pros. Musicians, artists, business owners- it’s always the same story. Pushing yourself past your current limits in order to reach that next level.
"That’s when it hit me. Somewhere just beyond a miscellaneous town named Poland, I realized the common thread that ties my existence together."
I found myself pulling over frequently over the course of that drive as new ideas kept popping into my head that needed to be recorded. It’s funny how inspiration works like that. For months, you can’t come up with an idea to save your life. Then in a handful of hours you can have enough ideas to last for years- literally. The thoughts from that car ride ultimately became what’s currently the marketing plan for Hemetic and has brought a new level of clarity and purpose that had yet to exist within the brand.
So why I am bothering to share all of this? Well, for two reasons really. From day one my goal with the brand has always been to act transparently and honestly. Until this post, I’ve kept silent about what’s been going on behind the scenes. I’ve always known that if Hemetic were to survive the Spring 2016 chaos, then I’d have to share this story when the timing was right. I've started to notice some confusion from people who’d come to know the faces behind the brand. Sharing this story should serve to clarify things for both of our friends, families, and customers who might like to know.
The second reason for sharing the story is to let our target market know that we’re right there with them. We’re a brand that strives to inspire and encourage people who are dead set on achieving their goals. While we certainly haven’t reached a position that allows us to say, “don’t worry, it’ll all be worth it,” we’re definitely in a position to say, “let’s keep going. If we stop now, we’ll never know.” Ultimately it’s my hope that by shining a light on the reality of our business, we can inspire someone else who is about to call it quits to give it just a little more time. If Chinese fortune cookies have taught me anything, it’s that you’re absolutely unstoppable, if you want to be.
I’ll wrap this up with one more analogy. Finding yourself in a tough spot is a lot like a 4th and inches situation in football. As the coach, you’ve got a choice to make. Will you punt, or go for it? While it's not always the right choice, if you take that extra risk you might just end up with another set of downs- even if there's still a whole game left to be played.
One last note on this: just after coming up with the new marketing plan, I realized the next challenge was putting it into effect. The task of making it all happen would be too much for any one person, so as a result there’s a whole list of people I have to thank. I’m sure I’ll miss some, but here’s my best: Shout out to Mike McGinnis, Zento Slinger, Peter Cirilli, Ryan Bent, Casey Joseph, Liam O’Neil, Samantha Goudreau, Matthew "Mski" Milewski, Ben Weigher, Dan Asam, and most significantly Jake Caggige whose efforts made the very existence of Hemetic Trading Co. possible. Without the help of Jake and Joey Szela, I wouldn’t have a brand to grow. Oh, and shoutout to Phil Knight too. "Shoe Dog" was a great read.