Christmas is a time to reflect

Christmas and 2008 are just around the corner, and it’s a nice time to reflect back on the past year. With the holidays approaching I’ve been thinking about just how far our signal flag business has grown in 2007. Last year
IB Designs was barely a presence, now we’re showing up on the first page of lots of search engines!

We started the business in August of 2006, looking for a product we could produce that would be unique, afforable, high quality, and that we could manufacture ourselves. We got to thinking that although signal flags have been around for hundreds of years, nobody’s been using them to spell personal messages. A major part of the reason is that the flags you can buy are very big.

A “Size 0″ flag, the smallest available, is typically 12″ x 15”. The other thing is that typical signal flags are designed to hang on a rope halyard, not as a banner. After a lot of experimenting, and a series of prototypes, we came up with our flags. They’re smaller, fit in a home, and people can hang them as banners, wall hangings, or even curtain valances. We didn’t know we’d have all these variations when we started!

Another problem we saw is that when you buy signal flags, they ordinarily come in a set. There’s the alphabet, some number penants, and some special code flags. So if you wanted to spell “Amanda,” you’d be out of luck with 3 letter “A’s” in the name. That wouldn’t work for people who wanted to give a signal flag gift banner, or as a gift for someone in the Navy. And that was our main idea—nautical gifts and decorations.

Looking back on our first flags, it’s amazing to see how much they’ve changed and improved. We had to invent new techniques for sewing that nobody else uses. We wanted our flags to match the graphic pictures of flags. Even the “real” flags from World War II have a lot of places where the designs aren’t perfect (or even close in some cases).

In one year we’ve gone from selling on eBay, to having a Web site. That started in February of ’07 with just a single page flyer. We had to learn HTML because we couldn’t afford a professional developer, but since then it’s grown into a 5 page site. We even found an order form in PrestoSell! Even though we still sell on eBay (as Trader-Annie), we’re starting to get more of our orders from the Web site.

At first, we had only a couple of orders every so often, but in just one year we’ve started getting several orders each week. One thing our customers always comment on is our great customer service. That part will never change, no matter how big we get. We look at each order personally, thinking about how it would look in our own home. It’s fun, not work, and we want people to have as much fun as we do when they get their signal flag message banner.

Hopefully in the coming year we’ll be able to afford a developer for some Web programming. We’re bootstrapping, so there’s not much money in the kitty. It’d be totally cool if people could type in some words, push a button, and have the message turn into signal flags. Every other translator like this uses graphic flags, hanging to the side, but we’re thinking we could use pictures of our own flags. They’d hang downward, like they’re supposed to, and really show how the finished banner would look. It’ll happen, though. It’s just a matter of time.

Another thing we’re looking at is to find someone to manufacture the flags, but with the same high quality they have now. Since we’ve invented so many techniques, it will probably be hard to find someone who can do this. We’ll see.

Anyway, thanks for listening to my ramblings. We wish you and your family a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, and hope that your dreams can come alive, like this business of ours did! After all, where there’s a will and some imagination, there’s a way, right?

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