You’ve heard the old adage: Time is Money. We all know that. But when you’re starting out and running a young company you’re probably, or at least you should be, counting every last dollar. It’s just good business. But there comes a time when you realize that your time is actually more valuable than money. This is a story that happened before that time.
The beginnings of Splendies is rooted in penny saving and grittiness; the hallmarks of any bootstrapped company. A few years ago it was just me and I was importing my first-ever shipment of custom Splendies bags. After months of design and testing, I was finally ready to do our first import. I had the option to have the shipment delivered directly to my door for $300 OR I could pick them up from a warehouse about 45 minutes away for $100. Well, there was no way that I was going to pay an extra $200 just to have them bring them to me when I could easily pick them up myself.
One Friday I got the message that I had been waiting on for weeks. The delivery company sent me an email telling me that my bags had cleared customs and were ready to be picked up. Months of hard work finally realized. And on top of it, I was saving $200.
Here began my Odyssey.
It’s important to understand that I live in Los Angeles. Although LA is notorious for having bad traffic it really isn’t any worse than anything I’ve experienced in any other major US city. That is unless it’s Friday afternoon. Everyone is trying to beat the traffic home and so rush hour can start as early as 1 pm. When international shipments go through customs you don’t know exactly when they’ll clear and be made available. You just get an email or a phone call letting you know that they’re ready to be picked up. There are also penalties for letting them sit at the warehouse for too long so you want to pick them up as soon as you can.
So I hop into my car to get started. It’s about a 30-minute drive but will take an hour with traffic. On a Friday at 1 o’clock, it’s a good hour and a half. Unfortunately on this Friday, it was going to take about an hour and forty-five minutes. But hey, I’m saving two hundred bucks!
The warehouse was hard to find. There were no signs at the warehouse and the addresses were confusing so I actually got lost on my way there. It’s about 3 o’clock by the time I finally make it to the warehouse.
For some reason, I thought that I’d be able to just go to the warehouse, find my carton, pay for it, and be on my way. I happened upon a 200K square foot warehouse with racks everywhere and forklifts beeping and no coordination as to what is actually going on. If you get anxiety easily this is the last place that you’d want to be. Luckily I don’t get anxiety and remember: I’m saving two hundred dollars.
This place was an education in disorganization. No one knew where to go and no one knew where anything was. It’s a lot of frustrated people, crammed together in a hot area with tensions running high.
The first thing that I had to do was to locate a kind soul to show me where to go. I spotted my Yoda and he showed me the way. I followed him to “The Line.” If you think it’s as simple as going to your local Post Office to retrieve a package, think again. There were about 50 people ahead of me and the line is NOT moving. Think the DMV but hotter. I kind of needed to go to the bathroom but I recognized pretty early on that this isn't the sort of place where people are going to let you back in. Everyone is there for the same reason so there’s no explaining to someone that your package is somehow more important than theirs. I’m just going to have to wait it out.
The line moves at a glacial pace but luckily I have my phone to keep me company. Maybe I was playing Angry Birds, I don’t remember anymore. I needed to go to the bathroom. I had been sitting in the car for two hours and in line for another one. It’s about 4 o’clock by the time I get called to pay for my goods.
But there’s an issue.
The clerk at the counter told me that they only accept business or cashiers checks, money orders, or cash. Wait? Where was this in the fine print? Did I miss something? I didn’t bring any business checks with me. I just had my credit/debit card. It was this new technology that most companies had been using since, well, the 1980s! Who carries checks with them? And forget cash. I checked through the email and there was no mention that they didn’t accept credit or debit cards. They only stated that there was a “cash handling” fee and that their preferred method was a business check or money order. This presented a problem.
I pleaded with the teller explaining that I didn’t have a business check or cash. But in a word, I was screwed. I had two options. I could find a nearby bank and get a cashier’s check or money order and come back OR I could just bring a business check... On Monday! This was because it was now 4:15 and they closed at 5. And you had to be inside in “The Line” by 4:30 in order to be admitted inside. No one was allowed back in after the 4:30 cut off. So in two words, I was royally screwed. Desperately, I asked if I was somehow able to find a way to get the money or a check in the next fifteen minutes if I’d be able to get back to my place in line. The response? “No.” I was going to have to go through “The Line” again. But - I was saving $200.
Defeated and frustrated, desperate, and annoyed, I went back to my car. Was there any way that I could get a cashier’s check or money order? I checked my phone and my closest bank branch was 10 minutes away; not enough time to get a money order and come back. What about an ATM? The closest gas station was 7 minutes away. I’d be cutting it very close and with no guarantee that there would be an ATM on the premises or that it would be working. I had only had about 12 minutes to figure this out. I was ready to do anything not to have to suffer through this again.
Obviously there was no way that I could just conger up $100 out of thin air in the next 10 minutes and make it back in time. I resigned myself to the thought that I was going to have to go through this entire process again on Monday.
There was absolutely NO POSSIBLE WAY that I was going to go through this again or ever come back to this warehouse as long as I lived.
I looked around the parking lot and saw a food truck and got an idea. And this is what you have to love about entrepreneurs. We solve problems.
The owner of the food truck was about to pack up for the evening. I approached him and made some very small talk.
I asked him how his day had gone and he explained that he hadn’t sold much. He looked as dejected as I was.
I needed $100 and he was desperate for a sale. And he had the one thing that I needed most of all at that moment: a debit card machine. I asked him if I could get cashback. He didn’t really do that. Then I said, “Hey, I need to pick up some goods and don’t have any cash. I don’t want to buy anything. I’ll give you $20 just for running my card. You run my card for $170 and you give me $150 in cash.” He couldn’t have swiped my card any faster. Of course, being an entrepreneur I immediately thought that I should have offered $10. But the deal was done. He got his $20 and I got my cash.
Just as they were locking the door I made it inside the warehouse. A few poor souls tried to make it in after the 4:30 cut off but were turned away. I was last in line and the happiest person there. Somehow I forgot that I still had to use the restroom. The line, which had moved at a snail’s pace before started to pick up. Everyone was smiling, almost laughing at the people novices who dared try to enter after 4:30. Did they turn on the air conditioning? Yes, they did. It was a whole new world. It was as if I had been admitted to an after-hours VIP club and I was the main attraction.
This time it only took me 20 minutes to get through the line and wouldn’t you know that I got the same teller who had turned me away before. I came through with the biggest Cheshire Grin on my face. She must have thought that she had seen a ghost. Somehow I had materialized $100 out of nowhere in the span of ten minutes. I paid my fees: $100 fee plus the $50 “cash handling fee”. If you’re thinking that $50 is a ridiculous amount to pay simply for the privilege to accept cash you’re not alone. But by then I didn’t care. I just wanted my goods and to get out of there.
I paid my dues, got a slip of paper, and was told to wait in another location. They would bring my carton out to me. OK, but how long was this going to take? By now it was a little after 5 o’clock. And that line of people waiting in front of me had now materialized into a larger pool of people milling around waiting for their packages to be retrieved. This was something out of the 1950s. There was no technology, no process, just “we’ll get it when we find it.”
I asked someone how long this process usually took and he told me that he had been waiting for about an hour.
By this time I was tired but surprisingly exhilarated. I wasn’t going to have to come back here on Monday. Heck, I was never coming back here again. I waited around making small talk with the other people there. I dared not bother the warehouse workers who looked even more ready to be out of there than I was. By 6 o’clock I saw that the number of people was dwindling and right when I was about to call on a worker for help, one came over to me to grab my ticket. He’d be “right back.” But I had seen the process playing out for the past hour and so I took “right back” to mean anywhere between 15 minutes and 2 hours.
Thirty minutes later my carton had been located. It had actually been located 20 minutes before but the person in charge of my package had gone on break so I was just waiting. I got my carton. I signed for it and I got into my car.
I checked Waze: There was an accident on the highway so it was going to be about a 2-hour ride back home. I checked my gas gauge, I was running low so I decided that it was best to find a gas station to fill up. I put $30 into my tank, finally WENT TO THE BATHROOM, grabbed a bottled water, and started my trek home.
So all in all this process which started at 1 o’clock was going to end at about 8:30 in the evening. That was 7 and a half hours. This process, to save $200, ended up saving me $100 after subtracting my food truck payoff, gas, and ‘handling fee.’ This process, which you could chalk up to a ‘learning experience’ was more a tedious examination in inefficiencies than anything else. So in the end it’s a question of time versus money. How did I do? Was it worth it? Remember.
I did save $100!
Anthony Coombs is the Founder and CEO of Splendies. Coombs is a serial entrepreneur having launched and sold his first company, an E-Commerce Arts and Crafts business, while back in college.
Launched in 2013 Splendies has grown to become a premier brand of affordable products in the women's intimates space.
In his spare time, he enjoys baseball, true crime novels, and traveling. He was excited to postpone a trip to Paris last year in order to attend Game 7 of the World Series but equally disappointed when the Dodgers lost. Coombs is a graduate of The University of Pennsylvania and holds a B.S in Sociology and Urban Studies.
You can hear two great podcast interviews with Anthony here: