Backorders, Gratitude, and Hope. – Vite Ramen

Backorders, Gratitude, and Hope.

I sit here, looking at the glaring white screen in front of me as the minutes and hours tick away besides me. It’s 1:04AM, and we’ve just finished a mad rush of conversions to put the shop into backorder status. I’ve had a combined total of 6 precious, staggered hours of sleep over the last 48 hours, and nurse a glencairn of barrel proof rye whiskey in front of me, wondering if my mind and body will allow me the privilege of rest tonight, or if I’ll drift in and out of half-formed ruminations nipping at my consciousness.

This year has started out nothing short of incredible. Even as these harried words drift from my mind, taking form in prose likely far too flowery for this type of medium, I can’t help but smile.

Every year is supposed to be a new start. Every year, a fresh take, a new chance, a brand new slate to leap from. For us at Vite Kitchens, and for me, personally, it has not been that way. The first year is always supposed to be difficult as you learn. The second year gets easier, and the third year yet easier still; or, at least, that’s the way it’s supposed to be, and the way that it normally goes. 2019 was our first year after Kickstarter opening sales to the public, and we had so many plans to grow, to thrive, to create and to rush towards all of the starry-eyed dreams we had manifested for ourselves.

2020 needs no introduction. It is a period of difficulty that everyone struggled through, and we were no different. 2021 offered no respite, and only continued the onslaught of trouble, leaving us gasping, clawing, fighting for every bitter inch to survive. Like many other small businesses, we’d become mired in the crushing burden of debts, taking out loan after loan in a relentless refusal to die, adamant and dogged in our conviction and dedication in providing a stable wage for our people, no matter what. (Read our 2020 and 2021 blog posts.)

2022 offered nothing better, we thought. Another year, and nothing’s changed-- Supply chains have rusted until they were as brittle as autumn leaves, raging wildfires and frigid snowstorms battered the nation as we struggled through yet another new variant. What, then, has changed? What in this year can offer us any greater optimism than the years before?

As I sit here, pondering even as I type, I still don’t know. Not exactly. But I know of something. I know this something has grown, slowly, steadily, surely, and this something has buoyed us through every unlucky event, every trial, every encounter we’ve had to survive through.

Can you guess?

It’s you. You, dear reader, who have kindly taken the time out of your day to read the nocturnal ramblings of a worn, exhausted man. It’s you, who have discovered this journey of ours, and you, whom we owe our tremendous gratitude, who have supported us through this, every step of the way.

January 2022 was unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. From our preorders of Vite Ramen GO to the surge in interest for Naked Noods to selling out of Nanoboost again and again, and even to the positive receptions of the Gijinkas with their stories and lore, we continue to be humbled and thankful for all the support that you’ve given us. In January, our order volume began to grow, again, and again, and again, and peaked into days where, in 3 days, we had gotten in more orders than we did in all of December.

This post is, like many others, written as a response to an event. But for once, I think, I am happy to write it. For once, as my fingers peck at the keys and my eyelids grow heavy, it is not a defeated panic or the miserable pit of failure stuck in my stomach-- it is a strange feeling, one that had been unfamiliar for so long. Relief. Happiness. Perhaps now, we’ve finally begun our ascent from this desolate trench, and climb, slowly, blinking our way into the rising light.

Maybe now, I can breathe. Maybe now, I am allowed to dream. Maybe now, I can hope.

And, of course, all of this does not come with its own ironic twist. A good problem to have, after all, is still a problem, and a problem that needs to be solved. The volume of orders that flooded us was a huge, sharp spike that bulldozed its way through our prepared inventory and chewed up our material backup as we moved as quickly as possible to make more, package more, fulfill more.

We’ve since hired more people, but training takes time. We’ve fine tuned our machines, but they’re running at capacity. We’ve put in significant amounts of overtime hours, but people’s bodies and minds can only take so much.

Right now, every single crumb of noodle, every ounce of flour in our facility is accounted for, and assigned to an upcoming order. Our suppliers, too, are reeling from this spike in demand, and have given us all the reserves that they had set aside for something like this-- but for this, right now, it’s not enough, and we scramble to look around elsewhere.

Maybe right now, I can hope, and I can dream, but perhaps at this moment, I’ll have to hold my breath just a little bit longer. But this time, I’ll hold it happily, and hold it with a full, contented heart.

The store is now on backorder because we want to make sure we’re not over committing. We don’t want to double our hiring, to suddenly find out the demand was temporary and suddenly there are people who have nothing to do. We continue to take orders with backorders for the very same reason that we do pre-orders and waves of pre-orders-- Simply, this allows us to plan ahead, and allows us to warn our suppliers and their suppliers so that everyone can be prepared.

When we know how many orders we need, and when we’re able to crunch the data from the spikes in orders, we can plan ahead smarter. It allows us to maximize efficiency, and make sure that no one is being overworked, and that everyone is still able to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Currently, many materials that were available to ship almost immediately can take 8 weeks or more to get to us, which means we’re working with extremely difficult schedules and projections. The only reason why we’re able to even continue producing at this moment is because we had ordered enough backstock for a 100% increase in orders at any given time... But, being that we received an entire month’s worth of orders in 3 days as mentioned before, we were quickly wiped out of that backstock, and then of the held reserves that our suppliers had as well.

That brings us to now. Our best estimation of timelines puts us at being able to deliver new orders in about a month from their order date. While we will do everything in our power to push out orders faster, there’s only so much we can do as a small business to expedite things. If even behemoths like Starbucks are having trouble getting paper cup lids, you can imagine it gets pretty hectic for us down the supply chain as well. We currently, at the very least, are holding on to a large stock of material, and have maximized the output of our machines. Orders are being filled in bulk batches and sent out in huge, stacked pallets, and slowly but surely, we’re beginning to catch up.

Maybe after we catch up this time, I can breathe, and maybe go on a vacation for the first time in five years. But at least this time, I write, and I work, and I do all this with a smile on my face, because even if it is a problem, it’s a good problem to have with all you wonderful people at our backs, supporting us and helping us make it through these seemingly insurmountable times.

There are worse problems to have. 2022, maybe, can be the year we’ve always dreamed about. At least, this time, I very much believe so.

-Tim Zheng, CEO/Founder Vite Kitchens

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