Here we are, in September of 2020 and boy what a year it has been. Just about this time last year was when Alena and Stephen opened up for orders as the new owners of Tentsmiths. We had worked so hard all summer getting ready to take care of reenactors all over the country and the world by providing the highest quality tents and shelters.
It has been a steep learning curve. Although we’d both run small businesses, and Tentsmiths is undoubtedly still a small business, Tentsmiths was bigger than anything we’d tackled on our own before. Alena had to learn a ton about accounting and business management, Stephen had to cram in all the tent learning he could before quitting his job and going at it full time, and then he had to get up to speed to tackle all the orders that you, our wonderful customers, placed last fall. In January and February it felt like we might finally be getting a handle on things, but the universe had other plans.
COVID-19 has turned everyone’s lives upside-down. When I (Alena) talk to you on the phone I love hearing your stories even though many make me sad. No one is thriving right now. First responders are working every day with no days off. Event folks and reenacting vendors are barely hanging on to the amazing businesses that they have built . Fires are destroying houses and gear, Tentsmiths tents included. Parents are stressed out of their minds by working from home or working in COVID rich environments and trying to make sure our kids are continuing to learn. And those are just the people who are not getting sick.
We are experiencing those same things.
When the State of NH mandated we shut down and send our employees home we were unable to make all the tents that customers had ordered, some as far back as September who asked for April delivery. At the end of March Stephen and I made the incredibly tough decision to shut down orders all together since school was closed and we could not answer phone calls or email as fast as we like. We also did not want to take deposits on tents if we could not tell you when we could even start them let alone finish them. With so little money coming in to Tentsmiths, Stephen went back to his old job part time. This has allowed us to keep the lights on at Tentsmiths, and allowed the Shellenbeans to pay their mortgage, but it pushed tent production back even further. Even once the state of NH allowed us to open back up, things were not back to normal. They still are not.
We had some employee issues; tents are not easy to make, and they are not easy to measure. We never want to ship a tent that is just okay. We want every tent that leaves the shop to be a place you can be proud of for years, and those exacting standards mean we have had some employee turnover. Now that is over we are much wiser and we are optimistic that the team now being assembled at Tentsmiths is top notch and can turn out shelters that are beautiful and can withstand hard outdoor use, like a tent should.
While we are back to producing tents, we have not been able to gauge the time it will take us to get them out the door while we are training up new stitchers. Plus school has started up again, and since we are a high-risk family with pre-existing conditions our first grader is doing remote schooling from home.
It pains me to share our struggles. I’d much rather let you know how much we miss reenacting and how glad we are of every order our customers place. But those of you who have already placed orders and those of you thinking about placing one soon deserve to know.
What we most need right now is your patience. Please be patient while waiting for your tent. Feel free to call or email, but understand that I may not be able to give you a good idea of when it will be finished. And those of you who are calling and emailing please be patient if it takes me a bit to get back to you. We promise to fill every order, and keep making awesome tents. And keep the faith, we will all be together around the campfire once more, though it may be some time yet.