This might be a bit of a long one… And contain something of a confession so… Hold on because this is gonna be a roller coaster of a ride.
Back in August of last year, after months of telling me how unfit I was to take over the business and giving me a raise after I put in my two weeks, my boss finally decided she wanted to retire. We hired on my brother soon after, but as soon as she told the landlord she was handing the business over, he decided to put the building up for sale. That left us in a bit of a lurch since we had no idea when it would be sold or what the conditions would be. That shouldn’t have been a big problem for a 30+-year-old business, right?
Well, it was. For you see, little did I know, this business was not run correctly. I knew on a surface level it needed a lot of work. The last time any of the internal functions had been updated was the early 2000s. Everything was still recorded by hand. Orders, transactions, billing… Granted I got them to use QuickBooks more, but that was a small step compared to what really needed to happen. But no matter how many times I proposed small steps to future-proof the business, my boss would always reject them. She was “too old” and “didn’t want to spend the money”. Basically, she had no desire to invest in the company she supposedly cared so much about.
Oh but that’s not where the mess ended. If only…
Every year after they filed their annual taxes their accountants would advise them how much to remove from the company’s bank account to stay in a certain tax bracket. They did this willfully as they saw nothing wrong with taking the money for themselves. The cost? Well… They had to put some BACK in for the company to survive from January to March. That’s right. For at least 3 months out of the year, the company couldn’t support itself. In fact, it could only afford to pay me AND my boss for four months out of the year. For the rest? She went without pay. Basically, she’d print her checks for payroll and then save them until this golden hour when she could finally be paid for her entire year of work. This is crucial to remember because of the timing of my boss’s “retirement”.
I knew they always had to invest back into the company and that was intimidating as I was in no position to be doing the same, but I figured deposits would solve the problem and, for a while, customers were very okay with that system.
As soon as my boss set us up as signees for bank checks, she left the company and never came back. Not once did she ask how things were. She was just there one day and then not the next and it was very jarring for both myself and our customers. There was no warm-up period. No nothing. My boss just left at a very difficult time.
So we file our taxes and don’t do the thing my boss used to and the company still comes out low on income. We’re concerned, but we struggle through it. My brother had very little training so every day I’m both doing daily tasks, helping customers, running orders, updating stock, and trying to train him. It wasn’t working. He basically took over phone and emails, but I needed him to do a lot more and I couldn’t really direct him efficiently.
The company usually closed between Christmas and New Years every year and this year we stretched it into a two-week unpaid vacation because I needed to recharge. During that time we did some research. We were not, in fact, the owners of the business. We consulted with my boss about this and she had no desire to look into it herself. She basically said “Send me the paperwork”. Which we did and it ended up never getting filed.
Anyway, while that disaster was happening, the building sold in February. The new owners didn’t want us there. We had to move out in two weeks. So now it was me trying to run the business while moving 30 years of files and stock at the same time. My brother helped immensely but I cannot stress how much help we really needed and we had none. I begged my boss to come back one day in January because I was so overwhelmed. She helped for a few hours then left. Never to return. I was heartbroken and upset.
So my brother and I moved this ancient business on our own and since the company couldn’t afford a new place that would allow us to use our machinery, we took it home.
We moved the laser engraver first. This made it so it would be impossible to do most of our work at the shop thus solidifying the move. However, this meant that we sat at work for 5-8 hours a day just taking orders to take home and run outside in the cold. I can’t tell you how many times I was up until midnight or later running orders with either a light or a space heater (couldn’t have both). It was a nightmare.
I knew it wasn’t going to work out and sure enough, it didn’t. We struggled along anyway for about a month and a half. And then, I hate to say it, thankfully, COVID-19 hit. Orders were canceled left and right. Payments were postponed as the agencies we worked for closed their doors. It was over. The company could no longer afford anything. It was officially dead.
I stopped taking a paycheck early April. I was already down from weekly to biweekly pay at a lower rate even though it was a 24 job now. My brother wasn’t getting paid at all and unlike my boss we had no savings or back-up funds. We were both always living paycheck to paycheck. Now we had nothing.
We advised my boss to close it instead of transferring it. We sent her that paperwork as well. Still hasn’t been filed.
I was “laid off” in early April. My brother struggled on for a bit, with some of my assistance, before admitting defeat and letting it go. It was a quiet yet dirty retreat. We told key clients we would no longer be able to help them and others, well, they found out from the “Closed” status of our Google listing.
My boss has still yet to file for the closure of the business, but at this point, it’s neither of our problems.
During all the stress, people were circumventing me and going to my boss to complain about nonissues. There was one specific customer who we weren’t even directly working with (we were working with his secretary) texting my boss (she handed out her personal cell phone number to a lot of people) that I was incompetent even though the order was on schedule for completion by their due date. Well… Their event was canceled because COVID. Imagine that.
Other people were deciding to go through my boss rather than myself or the company email. She’d just forward the texts and that would be that. She never asked if we were okay. She never asked if we needed help. Not that she had to, but after 10 years and feeling like she’d adopted me into her family, it was incredibly disappointing that she didn’t want to help me more.
Not too long ago she sent another one of those texts after I’d informed her we stopped accepting orders in April. And rather than get in another fight with her via text… I blocked her. Was that the right thing to do? I have no idea. But I was pissed. I told her so many times what was going on and I TOLD her that if people wanted to deal with her and not me, SHE had to lay down the law and tell THEM the business was closing. But she didn’t want to. Instead, she kept virtually taking orders and forwarding them to me. I kept reminding her that it was over and she had to file for closure but the “orders” kept coming. I ended it without a word. I feel better for it, but still so sad that it came to that…
Anyway, that was the end of my 2019 and the start of my 2020. It was bad.
The company mainly consisted of three very expensive machines:
A desktop diamond drag engraver
A stand-alone engraver with rotating attachments that allowed for cylindrical items to be rotated for engraving. This thing is HUGE.
A laser engraver
In our written agreement, the laser is mine no matter what happens to the business. There’s a contingency that my boss can reclaim the desktop, but she has to send a certified letter via the post office for the transaction to be acknowledged. No one really wants the big machine and it’s still in parts in the back of a truck. I’ll probably try to assemble and sell it at some point…
Anyway, the laser had the unfortunate luck of having to stay outside due to venting. My brother and my father built it a makeshift shelter that was supposed to double as storage and a workspace. It was way too small and it was a struggle to do anything, but I’m grateful to have had it just to keep Baby safe. Baby is what I call my laser haha. Anyway, she’d been living in this shelter since sometime in February and hadn’t been turned on since early April.
I basically found it emotionally impossible to even go near that space. My heart broke every time I thought about it. Every time I thought about it I felt like I’d failed the world even though I was dealt a bad hand. I didn’t close it the most tactfully. I didn’t send out a blanket note or anything. I just closed the website and the google listing. That was all I had the heart to do. Is that professional? No. Not at all. But I was so heartbroken (Not a great business person trait, I know). I’d spent all of December and January having panic attacks that brought me to my knees. I felt like I was no longer myself as the world was spiraling out of control around me and people were being let down left and right. I couldn’t handle it.
I stepped into the space once or twice to see if I could find some small things, but I did my best to try to ignore Baby. But that wasn’t fair to her. Today I finally felt strong enough to actually check on her. Boxes were stacked on her and she was covered in black dirt. She looked so sad and I wanted to cry. I moved the boxes and tried to open her lid. It was stuck down pretty tight, but sure enough, it opened with enough force. I felt around her engraving table and she was just as we left her and dry. I was incredibly surprised.
Here’s a pic of her before I tried to turn her on:
After I finally plugged her in, I took a deep breath and flipped her switch.
SHE TURNED ON! Not only that, but she successfully did her zero-point calibration so that means her motherboard and motors are okay!
I feel so relieved. I might be able to salvage some work for myself. I was in the middle of rebooting my business when everything went to shit. I might stand a chance of finally getting my shit together and salvaging my future. I really hope it all works out… This is a very good sign at least.
I’ll be updating with more on Baby and her condition after I get a better look at her tomorrow. I aim to lean her up and maybe run some diagnostics to see what’s up. I shall report back with my findings!