April Morse was a young mother of two whose custom cabinet family business was floundering. The economy has been tough on the entire nation, but April's tiny Northern California community, Lodi, has been notorious for its lack of action ever since Credence Clearwater Revival sang, "Oh Lord, stuck in Lodi again!" It's the last place you'd expect to find a hot new product that one of America's most prominent retailers can't resist.
And if April hadn't written about her wine bottle-shaped cutting boards on her oh-so-tiny blog that was "read by about nine people," the president of Williams-Sonoma probably never would have know the item existed. The story goes like this:
Weber's Cabinets, which specializes in custom cabinetry for homes and commercial buildings, was at the end of their rope. Construction in the the area was grinding to a halt, and they had to let 25 employees go -- whittling their company down to April, her father and one other part-time worker.
The one thing they had an abundance of, however, was wood scraps. Since there's a wine community in the area, they thought maybe a wine bottle-shaped chopping block, made of these wood scraps, might sell, so they created a pattern and started constructing. They figured the local wine stores and vineyards might be interested, and a friend encouraged her to submit the product to Williams-Sonoma.
Facing the big guys
Although it seemed intimidating -- "My Gosh! They own Pottery Barn!" she exclaimed -- she reasoned she had nothing to lose, not even a sample cutting board, since Williams-Sonoma only accepts photos and descriptions at first. Heaven knows she had the time. So she went on their website, figured out how to submit, and, like a diligent salesperson, followed her submission with a phone call the next week.
"They were like, "Are you kidding? Did you read the submission form? It says not to expect a response in less than 60-90 days," she said. Feeling foolish and naively over-eager, she decided to write about the experience on her blog site, Custom Cabinet Girl, which she originally started to express herself as one of the few female custom cabinet woodworkers she knew.
Within a week of posting the blog, she heard back from Williams-Sonoma. It seems the president of the the company had found out about her blog via a Google alert he had running for Williams-Sonoma. He was in Australia at the time, but phoned his associates back in the United States and told them to get a hold of April immediately and start stocking her product ASAP.
April was stunned when she got the phone call the next morning. The Williams-Sonoma rep told her they would have called her sooner, but there was a time difference in Australia and they didn't want to ring her at 10:30 the night before.
Be careful what you wish for
That's when the paperwork began, as well as the process of submitting and modifying her product for in-store sales. Although each cutting board takes days to complete -- two-and-a-half hours to cut and assemble, but much longer for glue and finishes to dry -- the paperwork was a bigger challenge because she was unfamiliar with it.
But the hard work is paying off. While custom cabinet orders have dwindled, April is busy preparing 300 cutting boards that retail at $129.99 each, to go on sale in a number of select stores starting Sept. 1. She's hoping that online and catalog buyers will also pick up her product.
"If that happens, we're going to have to change the way we do things," April says. Perhaps she'll be able to hire a few more woodworkers back. And perhaps she'll have time to make a cutting board for herself. "I don't even own one," she says. "We can't make them fast enough."
She acknowledges the fact that if she hadn't blogged about it all, she'd still probably be waiting to hear back from the company that changed her life and helped save her family business. "You have to take advantage of every opportunity that's out there," she advises. "Even if you're intimidated, you just have to force yourself to do it."
For April, it paid off. She's now anything but stuck in Lodi again.