Not quite a regular business

i am one of 4 general managers for the communities hammocks business.  And if we were a case study for an MBA class, the students would go a bit nuts.

Right now we have told our biggest customer that we will not supply them with 12 out of 18 models – including the best sellers, because we are out of stock and we are not likely to catch up, despite this being the hammocks high season.  We have all the materials to make these hammocks, all our production facilities are operational. We will likely loose about $50K in sales for this failure produce.  And we are probably just fine with this.

Sometimes i feel like this

We make most of our hammocks in the winter.  We guess what it is we will need and produce that mostly between November and March.  When the spring comes we want to be planting things and being outside.  We are a farm more than we are a factory.

We did open a  couple of small satellite hammock shops using ex-members and local communities.  But this has not really covered that much of our increased demand.

We simply can not hire locals to come into our shop and make hammocks and we are unwilling to pull our members from the fields and require them to make hammocks.

So we just lose the sales and try to calm our upset customers.

[Dont worry, we will raise prices next year.]

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About paxus

a funologist, memeticist and revolutionary. Can be found in the vanity bin of Wikipedia and in locations of imminent calamity. buckle up, there is going to be some rough sledding.

18 responses to “Not quite a regular business”

  1. Jason Sharma says :

    Is the profit margin (or opportunity cost) higher for farming than for hammock making? Or do more members simply prefer working in the field to making hammocks? Or are they just not interested in making some extra money? If you need temporary volunteers to help catch up with demand – there are MANY people out of work in my area who desperately need the work. If you’d like, I can check among my friends for anyone who might be willing to help you meet this demand.

    • Alex P says :

      Jason,
      I think many would say that opportunity cost for farming is higher than hammock making. If we were to buy local organic vegetables, it would cost us quite a bit. Our garden is often touted as an “income-saving area”. As far as getting outside work in, we run in to the values problem of being a self-sustainable community, and the legal problem of acting as an employer.

      When it comes down to it, community businesses will sometimes have to make the economically less viable decisions. East Wind Community does a lot of work on sewing and putting grommets in our fabric beds. With their community businesses demanding more work from their usual fabric bed worker, they may have to drop this service for us, perhaps even if we do up the price we pay. Similarly, even if garden isn’t saving us more money than hammocks would, we may still be willing to lose income from the latter in order to support the former because living off the land sustainably is what we, as a community, value.

      • Jason Sharma says :

        Paxus and Alex: I tend to view organic food as a luxury item. Organic produce goes for top dollar over here. A single organic tomato might sell for close to $3. When times are good, I get what regularly sells at the Wal-Mart, and when I am unlucky: I have to subsist on Top Ramen. I feel your standards of living are much higher than what I am accustomed to in that regard. Do people tend to enjoy gardening more than hammock making? Perhaps selling food might be more productive than hammocks? If there is more work than you have members which can do it, perhaps that is a sign that it is time for the community to grow.

      • paxus says :

        Dearest Jason:

        We cant really use your friends. Between OSHA and our tax status, we cant have non-member workers working for money here. Nor are we likely to solve any of our problems by selling produce instead of making hammocks or tofu. To sell found you need to have health inspectors come in, which we do for tofu, it is a bi deal and overhead expensive.

        Thanks for your helpful offers tho/ It is certainly time for the community to grow, and sadly there is no chance of that for several years, material for another post.

        Paxus at Twin Oaks
        21 Red 2012

    • dan kappus says :

      The marginal benefit (piece rate) per hammock would probably not cover minimum wage for an outside person, and that would be a requirement. TO people can pay themselves less than the minimum wage and avoid any sort of compliance with safety requirements because they are all business owners.

      But even if TO could pay outsiders to do this work, I don’t think the rate would be attractive enough to get people to do the work. It would average out to being something like $3/hr or less.

      Not to mention that training people to make hammocks is no joke. It’s skilled work.

      • paxus says :

        Dearest Dan:

        For the record, the satellite shops who are making hammocks for us now can pull about $15 to $18 an hour at the piece work rate we have set. Now i should say that these are some faster hammocks makers, long experienced. But for someone who was motivated this could be better than minimum wage work. It is true our internal rates dont come close to that, but we dont normally give any incentive for people to go fast.

        Paxus at Twin Oaks
        22 Red 2012

      • Jason Sharma says :

        Dan and Paxus: It is easy to make over $3/hr just by doing transcription work on Amazon Mechanical Turk – and this is something that absolutely anyone, anywhere can do.

        mturk.com

        I wouldn’t think of doing that as an occupation, but it is a good way to make a few extra dollars in a pinch – especially for some of the older folks who might not be able to stand on their feet for hours. If you have people working at less than minimum wage, it could be something worth looking into.

      • paxus says :

        The minimum for OUtside Work (income area where members work outside our cottage industries for labor credits and the community gets the money) is $10/hour. If it is something especially politically groovy or close to your heart, we will go to $8/hour. Thus your mechanical turk – which has strange racist overtones – would not be of interest to us.

        Paxus at Acorn
        22 Red 2012

    • Brian Adler says :

      Sadly, the profit margin isn’t really high enough to offer people real jobs making hammocks.

  2. paxus says :

    Dearest Jason:

    Alex has covered most of the points i wanted to make. Except this important one. Everyone at Twin Oaks volunteers for the work that they do (see https://funologist.org/2011/02/13/all-volunteer/). So it is not just “shall these managers assign these members to hammocks instead of garden”. Area managers only control labor (with the exception of the hx goal to quota link in the winter – see https://funologist.org/2011/01/27/behaviorism-dies-last/) by encouraging people to work in an area by making it desirable or by requesting people rally to a specific need.

    Paxus at Twin Oaks
    21 Red 2012

  3. Jason Sharma says :

    In our area, it is common to both use informal labor – paid under the table, and to sell goods informally (at a flea market for example). It probably wouldn’t work if you have any litigious rivals, and do not keep business small and low profile. I would imagine that there would likely be objections to this on ideological grounds as well. I suppose it would be a bad idea unless the community is facing some dire financial difficulties, which doesn’t seem to be the case. It is unfortunate that there is nothing anyone can do to fix this problem. I’m sure there is a lot the community could do with that amount of money.

    • paxus says :

      Dearest Jason:

      We dont have litigious rivals (fortunately), but we have a very strong “follow the rules” ethic at Twin Oaks – all buildings built to code, not grey market activities – squeaky clean. Not what i personally would always do, but it is important to understand the culture you are working with.

      Paxus at Twin Oaks
      21 Red 2012

      • Jason Sharma says :

        Paxus:

        I agree. I think that regulations tend to set up so that it is nearly impossible to not break the law in day to day living (regardless of if it is intentional or with knowledge), and then these rules are selectively enforced such that when something that you happen to be involved with has happened to upset someone (generally a corporation or wealthy individual) with enough of an interest to spend the time and money to then go after you for whatever reason which generally has nothing to do with the rule you happened to break. In general I tend to view the laws in this country as a system put in place designed to protect the interests of the rich and powerful, rather than the common good.

        I tend to agree with the adage “If you’re not cheating; You’re not trying.”, though I certainly have respect for the desire to operate as cleanly as possible. It is a valuable ethic to have, especially in situations where it is necessary for people to be able to trust one another.

      • paxus says :

        Dearest Jason:

        I largely agree with you. The laws are selectively enforced. And while i have anarchist tendencies in general. I do think it makes sense to have something like a health department inspection of a commercial kitchen, otherwise a sloppy cook could easily poison a bunch of people. And i would of course prefer we have an interlocking collection of self regulating workers collectives providing for all our needs.

        Thanks for your comments. You are now the person who has most often commented on my blog, Surpassing three of my girlfriends.

        Paxus at Acorn
        22 Red 2012

  4. Tiffaney Hobson says :

    Pax:

    I am wondering if this might be an area in which Chubby Squirrels may pick up slack in the future. It appears that currently most income generating prospects are vested in working closely with ACORN. I realize that their infrastructure (and enthusiasm) make alignment fairly easy. I had the opportunity to work the SESE booth at the Heritage Harvest Festival and see their success and potential for growth first hand. I’m curious, however, whether you foresee any collaboration with non-seed Twin Oaks business.

    • paxus says :

      Dearest Tiffaney:

      There are lots of advantages to hammocks, but i doubt that we (Chubby Squirrels) will make them. There is plenty of expansion inthe seed business and it has the “right livelyhood” thing in spades.

      Hx built Twin Oaks, but it is Seeds that will build the future of income sharing communities. [in my never humble opinion]

      Paxus at Twin Oaks
      21 Red 2012

  5. Jason Sharma says :

    Paxus: Thank you for writing. 🙂 I feel you put a lot of thought and effort into this blog and I find that you are an enjoyable to converse with. I think this blog is kind of obscure though. You might find people to become more engaged with a public BBS forum that is linked into everyone’s facebook accounts.

    I never fond of the Mturk site either. It is a digital sweatshop, but I was able to make a few dollars there when I would have been in trouble otherwise. I think of it as a last resort.

    • paxus says :

      Digital safety net is nice, assuming you have cheap/free access to machines. I will certainly look into it. As for the blog, it needs a manager who is not me. I will find her, some day.

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