By Barry Schoenborn
My company, Willow Valley Press, isn’t “too big to fail.” We fall more into the category of “too small to succeed.” Yet, despite the Great Recession, and despite dramatic changes in the publishing industry, we have succeeded. We’re still in business, and poised to do better as the economy gets better.
I sometimes marvel at our endurance. This little company started in Nevada County in 1988 as Willow Valley Software. To this day, we still operate WVS – the Technical Writing Company to do technical documentation. However, big American corporations have determined that our brothers and sisters in India can do a better job than we can in writing manuals in American English! So our tech writing business has been reduced. Well, maybe the corps figure the Indians need the money more than we do.
For those of you who (like me) were born in the Stone Age, you may remember John Cameron Swayze strapping a Timex watch to the propeller of an outboard motor and revving her up. He’d say “It takes a licking and keeps on ticking.” Sometimes I feel like that watch.
A key point is that Willow Valley Press (WVP) is different from WVS. We publish books, and so we’re not beholden to cost accountants of corporate clients. We publish what the public wants. We are beholden to the marketplace, which is just fine with me.
We follow a few basic principles. You might think they apply only to micro-publishers, but they apply to most small businesses. At WVP, we have practices that can apply to any local manufacturer or retailer. Let me share them with you.
• Make or sell what people want to buy. We publish books that people are interested in reading. So they buy. This is so simple. I wish some local retailers would grasp this. Granted, people are price-sensitive, but an appealing product and the “in-person” buying experience are usually worth the money to the customer.
• Don’t make or sell junk. Don’t try it. China will kill you on manufacturing junk. The Internet will kill you on selling junk. At WVP, we publish quality books, mainly “Greatest Generation” stories.
• Provide outstanding customer service. Local retailers sometimes don’t get this, to the point where critical letters appear in The Union! But it’s easy. At WVP, we respond promptly to every query and we fulfill orders fast.
• Use the Internet. For us, it’s a primary tool. Websites and Facebook are our friends. Locally, even restaurants should have a website. Note well: we did a website for a local Chinese restaurant, and that was a giant boost for them.
• Spend your money on your employees. Local manufacturers sometimes don’t get this. If you create “intellectual property,” as we do, plan on paying good money to the intellects who do the work. They are your “engine.” Since most of our talent is local to Nevada County, our salary dollars help mortgages to get paid and families to eat out at restaurants.
• Sell global, spend local. In the Good Ole Days of technical documentation, we made a lot of money from Hewlett-Packard Company, Roseville. But the staff spent the money locally. In the Good New Days of publishing, we use Amazon and Barnes & Noble to sell our books everywhere, but, again, we spend the money locally.
• Keep your sense of humor. People are sometimes outrageous. The government and big companies are often brutal. Not a day goes by where I don’t need to laugh at something or somebody. That includes laughing at myself.
Don’t forget the famous Horatio Alger theme: “Strive and Succeed.” It sounds really old hat, but I believe that the principles of hard work and utter honesty will get you through hard times.
Barry Schoenborn is the President of Willow Valley Press in Nevada City. He published “Dandelion Through the Crack,” by Kiyo Sato, which won the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing. He’s also the author of “Technical Math for Dummies” and “Medical Dosage Calculations for Dummies.”