How GLDN Uses Strategy in Their DMS

This fall, we’re going to be hosting a series of Zoom Calls (register here, they’re free) unpacking Kaas Tailored’s Daily Management System (DMS). Each month we’ll dive into a different element of our DMS so that you can start to see what it takes to build a DMS. This month, we’re talking about strategy and how starting with the right strategy will set your team up for success when it comes to adopting a DMS. Today, we’re hearing from special guest Mark Johnson, COO of GLDN, an online direct-to-consumer jewelry company.

I’m Mark, COO of GLDN, and today I want to share with you six things GLDN has learned about strategy. 

Before I get started, here’s a brief overview of GLDN. We’re an online direct-to-consumer jewelry company that’s been in business for about seven years. We make jewelry up North in LaConner and Bellingham, Washington, and sell online through two websites. Chrissy, our founder, started the business on her kitchen table, making jewelry and selling on Etsy. Within a couple of years, GLDN was the biggest seller on the Etsy platform. 

Our business model lends itself well to lean because most of what we make is made to order. Chrissy’s philosophy has always been, “Why make jewelry and then spend a lot of money on marketing to try to persuade people to buy it. Why not just ask them what they want and then make it for them.”

How GLDN Thinks about Strategy

We’re a small company, we have about 80 employees, and almost everybody in the company is homegrown. I was brought in from the outside about two years ago. I have some experience with larger companies. And one of the big challenges is to take some of the disciplines that I’ve learned in bigger companies and find out what is the right size for our operation.

What we are really trying to do is to nail down our vision, mission, and purpose at this point so that that can inform our strategy. And most of our strategic decisions have been pretty organic and driven from the top. We’re trying to mature ourselves and create more collaboration around what strategy looks like.

I’m going to share how we’re thinking about strategy, some of the things that we’ve done wrong, and how our great ambitions around strategy got derailed this year with COVID-19.

Our Mission 

At GLDN, our mission is empowering people through craft. We focus on offering our customers a fantastic experience with a customized piece of jewelry that’s very meaningful for them or for whoever they want to give it to. But creating customized pieces of jewelry is also very empowering for our people because they have meaningful jobs in rural communities and can build skills and grow their careers in an artistic manufacturing environment. 

Focus is Essential for Strategy

“People think focus means saying yes to the thing that you have to focus on, but that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully.” – Steve Jobs 

This quote from Steve Jobs emphasizes the idea that as a small company, we have to be very focused. In the past, we’ve tried to do all things. 

One of the big strategic decisions we made was to move from selling on Etsy, which is a platform with millions of merchants, to selling on our own website. We did this to focus and build our own brand and deliver a better experience. Every day we’d encounter situations where we’d compromise what we wanted to do because it didn’t work for our Etsy customers. We realized we needed to invest our time on the GLDN side of the house. So now, we’re not putting our energy behind Etsy. But to make this decision, we had to decide what we were going to focus on.

Balance is Important for Strategy

Balancing the importance of optimizing what we do today while also having an eye for building what we need to build for future growth and change.

Another challenge we face is balancing the here and now and how to optimize what we’re doing today with building the future. We’ve enjoyed quite a bit of good growth, but we definitely are trying to balance how much we invest in optimizing what we’re doing right now and what we’re going to be doing this year with how we are going to be building our team, skills, and marketing for the future. 

Adding Value in the Eyes of (Most of) the Customers 

We focus on what the majority of customers value today, try not to get distracted with outliers, and let these insights inform our future designs and experiences. 

The big principle of lean that we embraced without realizing it was, “Don’t do anything that doesn’t add value in the eyes of the customers.” We definitely focus on what the customers pull because we don’t produce anything that they haven’t ordered from us. But we also try not to get distracted by outlier customers. There are always some people who want us to go in a very different direction than what we plan. Our customers didn’t tell us to go into business, that was Chrissy’s vision. And she has fantastic instincts about what the customers might want in the future. So they’re not always going to tell us what the future holds. We have to balance what we’re hearing from the customers and use that as insight as to how we are going to grow and innovate in ways that they don’t expect. 

What Can Go Wrong? 

Like all companies, we have had to adapt this year. During the Covid-19 manufacturing lockdown, we have learned new things about our business and pivoted to meet the new situation. Overall, this will be a positive learning experience for GLDN. 

What can go wrong or has gone wrong I would say? Obviously, our focus of trying to balance the here and now and next year changed this year on March 23rd when all of our makers in our two locations were sent home because of the COVID lockdown. We had to pivot very quickly to stay in business. We ended up sending all of our makers home with their tools. We bought a couple of vans and started delivering raw materials to their houses.

For about three or four months, we made jewelry in about 35 different jewelry makers’ homes, delivering the raw materials, giving them the orders from the customers, picking up the finished goods, and then shipping them from our locations. We were in survival mode and focused very much on the next day and the next week. But we did learn a lot of interesting things during that period that is going to help us in the future.

We came up with new virtual Visual Management Systems where we could see backlogs, too much inventory or not enough inventory, and waiting going on, even when it was happening in people’s houses. We put a lot of effort into how to digitally track product that is going to be a benefit to us as we come back into onsite working. 

Being Too Specific or Too Vague with your Strategy

We need to set direction, not the exact route, but we all need to be on the same bus. 

It is important for us to let people see “where” we are going without being too prescriptive about “how.” Setting principles to be used to interpret users’ situations, stories, and examples are great, but we just need to be careful with how we use those examples so that they don’t become the only way to do things. 

Being Inflexible with your Strategy

If we keep doing what we are doing, we are going to end up where we are heading. We have to be responsive and reserve the right to get smarter with new information.

Being inflexible. This year, we’ve all had to be flexible. For example, if we hadn’t changed things in March, we would not be in business right now. It’s very important to not get so anchored in your strategy that you can’t pivot. You need to be able to respond and reserve the right to get smarter with new information.

Keeping your Strategy a Secret

“Dear Leader, when you get tired of telling the strategy storyline, you have reached three percent of your target population” – Anonymous 

Keeping our strategy secret isn’t something we did intentionally. It wasn’t that we didn’t want to share it with people, we just were spending too much time trying to perfect the message. 

In trying to perfect a message, we didn’t share it enough with people. It’s been hard for people to understand the strategy because we had been wanting to refine the delivery of it and make it the perfect experience for our employees as we try to do for our customers. We are realizing we just need to deliver good enough information sooner or more frequently to both our employees and customers. The quote I have here was really: when you get tired about talking about your strategy storyline, you have reached about 3% of your target population. And so, we need to communicate early and more often than we’ve been doing.