MSA Member Dispatches from Home: How I Learned to Love the Word "Pivot" - Allport Editions, Portland OR
July 6, 2020
By Mackenzie Jeans and Team Allport
Confession: I used to HATE the word pivot.
Foremost, it’s because I hear Ross Gellar from the TV show Friends shrieking it in a stairwell while trying to get a new couch into his apartment. It’s a funny scene, but ruined the word for me. Pi-vot! PI-VOT!!
Secondly, in a business sense, it’s become a modern catch-phrase for companies that have become more flexible and creative given the current crisis. That also rubs me the wrong way. How has any company that isn’t at least a little lithe and inventive as a rule even survived this long?? Do I even want to work with businesses that don’t espouse flexibility and creativity as a regular practice?
On March 18, however, I took the biggest PIVOT of my career and it turned out to be the best, and most fulfilling, thing I’ve done in 17 years. All of a sudden, our team was being productive in a whole new way and it has brought us a LOT of joy. The feelings of accomplishment we’ve gained have gotten us through an otherwise very difficult time.
Backstory: Allport Editions publishes greeting cards and tea towels featuring artwork from artists around the world. 98% of our sales are wholesale – to stores across the country and abroad. Though we have a retail website and a small shop in Portland, we generally don’t engage in much marketing to consumers. Our efforts instead are focused on our wholesale customers nearly all of the time.
This year: At the end of March, we switched gears and began to teach ourselves, in quick order, how to communicate and sell things to consumers. (This is still an ongoing learning process!)
On March 19 the eight people that make up Allport Editions began to work from home. Our State officially closed on March 23, but by then everyone who works at Allport had the opportunity to re-think their jobs and we’d already implemented a new system for everyone to work independently.
I once read if you’re ever facing financial difficulty you should ask your team: “What can we do to generate income today?” With all of our wholesale customers closing down indefinitely, our quickest and easiest answer was increase retail sales.
First, we reorganized our functions as a team; creating a retail marketing calendar and distributing new tasks. Jared, who normally manages our wholesale inventory would work on our website inventory. Sales Manager Robin would now edit eblast text, and so forth -- so that everybody on the team got a slightly different, temporary job description. (One that they could mostly do from home.)
One major asset we have is an underutilized retail email list - we’ve collected emails for our digital newsletter for over 15 years and have used it maybe 10 times. We decided that our main focus during quarantine would be to send helpful and upbeat emails, once per week. While also featuring product to sell, our goal instead, was to make sure every email we sent out featured a helpful link or inspirational tip to assist people in coping with sheltering-in-place. We launched our first eblast on March 20 and have sent one every week since.
Examples: Our first eblast included our Top 10 Things To Do At Home While Social Distancing. We featured our favorite anxiety relievers (read a book) and added free and easily accessible activities (take a walk). Item #2 on our list was “Build A Puzzle” (my personal fave leisure activity) and included a link to a very limited supply of puzzles we had on hand. We sold out of nearly every puzzle, taking 51 orders in less than 48 hours – it was a hit!
We’ve since featured cards, mugs, pens, stickers – anything we have in our shop that we can put together in a digitally attractive and useful way. Aside from buying more puzzles, I haven’ t purchased additional product for this project. I’m working from stock on hand, coordinating items that may never have been put together before. I’ve even found old items in the shop that hadn’t moved and repackaged them in cute sets – like mugs (slow sellers) and tea towels (hot sellers), selling 12 sets in 2 weeks!
Our online retail sales have grown nearly every week since our first email went out March 20! We’ve had two weeks of retail sales that were up 900% when compared with the same week in 2019. Our most successful email garnered over 100 orders for a total of $2700 in less than a week. Plus, we’ve all learned a LOT. Our style has evolved and we’ve picked up new skills for communicating and selling things, tips and tricks that will ultimately be useful to our wholesale customers as well.
While our current retail sales don’t support our business the way our wholesale sales used to, they’ve helped ease the deficit considerably and more importantly, they give us all something to be proud of every week.
Although this is an incredibly emotional time with much uncertainty, it can ALSO be a time of great ingenuity and creativity. The wonderful thing about being open to new opportunities is that if often leads to additional amazing prospects and projects. Eblasts and trying to make our online retail sales more robust led to our Museum Towels program that helps MSA institutions who don’t have online shops generate sales even while they’re closed – another fantastic endeavor that never would have happened without this major pivot!
In closing, I’d have to say, the word “pivot” has grown on me because essentially, to pivot is to be aware of the opportunities around you, and to utilize them as best you can. Something challenging like mandated quarantine gave us the chance to do something positive – to work on projects we’d always wanted to, to use resources we often neglect, to rethink what we’re doing each day, and to get a little more inventive.
Wishing you increased creativity every day,
Mackenzie Jeans and Team Allport
Mackenzie Jeans, a Portland native, joined Allport Editions as Art Director in 2002. Although just 24 at the time, with a degree in architecture from Tulane University where she was an Alpha Rho Chi medal recipient, Jeans was ready to learn the greeting card business from the inside. Jeans worked alongside Allport siblings, Michael and Victoria, until purchasing the company in 2012. Under Jeans' dedicated guidance as President, sales at Allport Editions have grown despite a historically bad economy. "It begins with sourcing all of our production materials from like-minded companies and developing strategic production methods that create less waste," Jeans said. "We follow by using only recycled content and sustainable-harvest papers, printing with soy- and veggie-based inks, and processing chlorine-free. It ends with a beautiful, durable card that is easy to send and 100% recyclable. I'm proud to be continuing the Allport tradition of beautiful, witty, sustainable cards."