If there’s one thing we can agree on, it’s that the pandemic was a huge disruptor across all sectors. The details of why and how are apparently open to interpretation, but here at T|W it was seeming like we were going to make it through this turbulent time relatively unbothered. At the beginning of shutdowns we naturally felt as uncertain as the rest of the world - and for us, creating Totes that are generally used during the work day, we had many sleepless nights as workplaces went virtual. But as everything played out, T|W was fortunate to make it through 2020 and 2021 with (more or less!) the kinds of ups and downs any new business would face, and we were feeling pretty good about coming through the pandemic as a company…until Omicron.
For months we had been working on our latest product - our first non- Tote bag, the Mero Weekender. We went through rounds of designs, samples, testing, and finally felt like we had a gorgeous travel bag to offer. Photos were taken, ads and social media pumped our new release, and pre-orders were taken as we secured a delivery date of early December from our manufacturing team. How ideal, we thought: shipping our new product just in time for the holidays. What could go wrong?
You already know the answer. By the end of November as Omicron spread, we realized that our new baby was going to be late. Experience told us that as cases went up, the people that the world relies to bring them their goods from all over the planet were going to get sick just like the rest of us. Just like when they’re short staffed at your favorite restaurant and you have to wait extra long for your table, we knew all those workers missing from the airports, at customs, even the manufacturing facility would be dealing with Omicron just like us.
What followed was a lesson in patience and faith. As the Weekenders shipped, we did a little happy dance because that significant hurdle was cleared - hooray! Little did we know our order was making a stop in Morocco. At this point we are in daily contact with the shipping company, and we were told that due to pandemic factors we could expect a delay of one week. Then we were told to expect a delay of two weeks as Morocco shut down…then three weeks. During that time, we received preorders for about half of the shipment - a silver lining, but also pressure. Finally, the restrictions in Morocco were lifted, and the Weekender arrived at JFK. But not so fast. JFK was experiencing delays like never before, and we stressed as our product that we worked so hard to create sat. And sat…and sat. We don’t like “no” and we are two people who know how to make things happen, but this was solidly and uncomfortably out of our control. For all the brainstorming of clever and bold ways we could get around this, there was no getting around it - TW was having it’s pandemic supply chain catastrophe! Two years in and we finally got our big pandemic disruptor moment! And the kicker was, our brand new design was sitting so, so close to where we live. Folks that ordered the Weekender were understandably wondering when exactly would it show up - before Christmas? It was excruciating to not know.
Eventually, of course, our shipment was released, and even though we didn’t get the glory of driving a U-Haul onto the tarmac at JFK to liberate the Weekender, we DID work overtime on customer service, offering free embossing to all preorders for our wonderful fans who were amazingly understanding. And then we worked overtime again to turn all those orders around - embossing and all - in 72 hours!
Nail biter as this was, everything worked out in the end. Running a small business is full of these moments, and we had been so fortunate to make it through the pandemic without any (other!) major TW catastrophes. In the end, we learned how important it is for us as a team to trust each other - trust that the other person is doing their job, trust that they’re doing everything they can. It’s a valuable lesson. And we learned that in the grand scheme of things, if the only impact we feel from Omicron is an extensively delayed shipment on the Weekender, we’ll take it. Although at a certain point in this debacle we considered that the name the “many many MANY Weekenders” would have been more apt!