July marks a very special occasion for Finao, we are now 5 years old! As we come upon Finao’s big birthday, I’d like to tell everyone my story of how we came to be. We were started by three people: myself, Keith Piccione and Tony Randhawa. Keith and I were both employed by Art Leather at the time and saw the writing on the wall. He did quite a number on me trying to convince me to quit in order to go in a new direction. Needless to say, it worked, and we both put in our resignations one day apart.
At this point I have a consulting contract with Art Leather, so when I quit it also meant Tony was out, as well as two of our most important employees. Having to tell them they were out of a job was horrible. We hoped they would stay with us, but could offer no promises. I would have completely understood if they wanted to look elsewhere; I think I even encouraged it. Unbelievably, they said they wanted to come on board and give it a try. To Lisa, our artist, and Henry, our programmer, I will never be able to thank you enough. You made Finao more of what it is today than anyone else.
For many years I was told repeatedly that my ideas would never work. The owner of Art Leather told me I was doomed for failure and living in a dream world. The plan was “dumb” and my ideas were apparently dumber. Yet, without the contributions that came from our Michigan office, Art Leather would still have paper ordering, no online payments (absolutely, that would not work) and would have never collected a client’s email address. They are now out of business and we are thriving, ’nuff said.
Who, but a totally crazy lady about to turn 60, would start a new business in an over-crowded marketplace at a time when the industry was starting to reel with changes and the economy was tanking? Remember: I did this with my former boss predicting my immediately demise. Those of you who know me, know I never back down from a challenge. I’ll work to my death to prove my case. I’m strong, competitive and willing to take risks. In this case, I needed to show that my ideas would work. I needed validation.
At first we tried to get marketing contracts with a few companies. A UK company was interested and ready to sign-on, then immediately declared bankruptcy. A large US supplier needed a flush mount album at a low price point, but with a turn-key solution. I worked to find some non-leather materials, a few cover design options (this was not a company where choice was of much value) and a great packaging solution. The short response, they hated it. We were ushered out so fast the guy wouldn’t even let me pet his dog. Wasn’t looking very promising.
So the five of us start out on a trek to create a product-based business in two months or less. There was a gaping hole in album offerings throughout the industry: choice. While more women were turning to professional photography, most all of the suppliers seemed to have missed that. An oversight, but not the key oversight. What was really missing was working on the end-user demographic: the bride. We needed to create products that appealed to Suzie Bride and she expects a myriad of choice at every turn. She has grown-up with choice; why would she want less? She didn’t, and I maintain, to this day, that Finao clients are doing better in a down economy than photographers in general. Every time a middle aged white guy tells me he doesn’t really offer choices because all his brides want is a black album I see someone who will be out of business very shortly. But I’m off-track here, this is a whole other blog post on its own.
On July 5th we turned on our website and got our first order! From that day on we have had exactly three days, all within the first month, with no orders. 365 days a year we have been open for business and taken orders. Every Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving and New Years Day Finao has taken in orders. That first order was like this old commercial where a group of programmer-types go live and get their first order, jumping up and down and high-fiving each other. Yup, it was exactly like that! Thank you to Pam Bredenkamp, the first customer to register on the website.
Seldex Artistic Albums, based in Australia, quickly partnered-up adding some much-needed revenue to the stream. Our company was located in the lower level of my home. Many a comment has been made that people suspected we sat around in our jammies and fuzzy slippers. That first Christmas we would get everything ready to ship when the carriers came, then we would continue making and packing orders into the evening. We would then stuff our workers cars to the absolute brim so they could fly to the latest drop-off site. Exhausting, but I believe we delivered every order before Christmas.
Finao was becoming the company I wanted it to be. We became the trend-setting album company. I dare say, we have changed the industry. By the time the first convention rolled around, we were ready. A new look, tons of samples and a different concept. We were packed. On the last night of the convention, my former boss had asked for a meeting. For three days he had watched our booth bustle. On that day, they were packing up early and we still had clients an hour after the show closed. As I walked over to see the two men who sat at a table waiting for over an hour, I couldn’t decide if I was happy or sad. Happy for our success, but sad at the same time. This was the moment when it was startlingly real for me, a moment I will never forget.
In the middle, I fell seriously ill and both Tony and I were away from the company for nearly a year and a half. But once again, the Finabulous people who work with us kept the place going. New people in MI like Lynsey (a very early hire), Harold (who risked his job to keep things going), Jamie (one of my invaluable assistants), Karen (who does wear her jammies to work), Crystal (the person who has spoken to most of you) and lastly, Nena, who held our New York facility together so Keith could spend time visiting me. She and her daughter contributed more prayers than anyone can conceive of. And then there was Henry (I’m crying as I write this) who got a phone call from my husband saying he didn’t feed the dogs and could Henry take care of them for a bit. That “bit” turned into four months and he lived in our house the whole time, took care of everything and then came to the hospital most nights. I have no idea what I did in my life to deserve any of these people. The illness was kept quiet as we know the minute there is blood on the water, the sharks will circle.
Today we are 66 people strong. Oops, 67….we just hired Harold’s sister Robin on Monday! Our newest facilities are now 22,000 sq. ft., filled with happy workers proudly wearing their Finao shirts (no requirement, purely choice)! We have state of the art equipment and a clean, well-ventilated work space. Our MI office is staffed with 16 people.
We are, apparently, the company to beat. The leader in the market. The one both brides and photographers would love to have. We provide a better product at a very competitive price (sometimes lower). Funny, it’s not often that things just look really expensive and then you find out they’re not.
We went from zero to 110 MPH right out of the gate and haven’t slowed down yet. We plan to stay ahead of the game. As a family, we think smart, young, sexy and with innovation. Thank you to each and every Finaon out there. You’re very much a part of our family and success. Wait ’till you see what we have planned for you this year!