I suppose it was inevitable that I’d restart the Crowing Ram blog by writing about ThreadBear. Really, it would be sort of silly not to, right? I mean really. Bottling things up is a bad thing. One should talk about things that affect one’s life and livelihood. And I didn’t for a long, long time.
I was embarrassed. Long before I realized that there existed the kinds of fundamental problems with the business that there were, our blogs and newsletters had become places where my partner made subtle—and sometimes less than subtle—jabs at me.
It may come as a shock since I’ve chosen to share this now, but I’m actually a rather private person. I appreciate intimacy, and I was always rather particular about what I shared online. So rather than contest anything that might have made me sound like a lunatic, I kept my mouth shut. As I hid more and more of my painful existence, there was less and less left that I felt comfortable sharing. Eventually, Crowing Ram—as a blog—became silent.
And that’s a shame. There were amazing things going on in that store that were never reported. There were things I learned as the roof was rather literally falling in around me. And many of those lessons would apply to most any business. Edison has been credited with saying that he learned more from the thousands of failed attempts to make a light bulb than he did from his ultimate success. If that’s so, I believe that there’s much to be gleaned from the many great accomplishments of ThreadBear as well as the catastrophic failures that eventually put it solidly in the rear-view mirror.
To paraphrase The Immortal Bard, I come not to praise ThreadBear but to learn from it. ThreadBear was a big shop, and its mismanagement did damage to numerous other businesses and entities. It’s scary to have large players on a small field behaving irresponsibly. So, let me make it perfectly clear that I knew when I walked away from the business that I was putting a bullet into its skull. It needed putting down. It was my responsibility, and I did the only thing that I knew how to do to put an end to it.
That said, I loved ThreadBear and love the part of it that was good still. It needed killing. I won’t deny that. But to not make use of the lessons it offers would be tragic.
This industry needs excitement. ThreadBear knew excitement. And actually, I can’t find a lot of fault in the excitement that ThreadBear generated. There were certainly complaints from competitors that we pulled customers away from them. But not only did we also build a huge number of new customers who weren’t already in the market, we also made concerted efforts to reach out to other shops for participation in events and to refer customers to other shops who carried products we didn’t. And as customers ourselves, we spent thousands of dollars a year in competitors’ businesses. Competition’s a real part of any business, and with very few exceptions I can honestly say that we had healthy respect for all of our competitors both local and at a distance.
There were a few who made the mistake of pitting themselves against us, and I really wish they hadn’t. Their businesses fell. But no business should be in the business of attacking another business. That’s just dumb. This industry needs brains.
And this industry needs growth. ThreadBear knew growth. What ThreadBear didn’t handle so well was controlled growth.
In fact, I’d say control was the one thing ThreadBear truly lacked. It was out of control. That’s bad. Really bad. I get that. And those that were closest to me at the time would confirm that control was much of what I spent my last days at ThreadBear struggling to establish. I’d have had as much luck stemming the flow of a fire hydrant with a cork.
I can’t regret that the business is gone. It needs to be.
But its lessons are both valid and numerous.
And I’m eager to share them. For the industry’s sake as well as my own.