How a Whiteboard Disaster Helped Us Fail Forward

Owen was adamant: “I want the worst one over my desk.”

Sitting at my computer, I thought I'd misheard him. But, moments later, Owen hoisted up a (crappy) whiteboard. Picture the scene from Say Anything when John Cusack holds up the boombox. Now instead of a boombox, imagine it's a whiteboard. We didn’t have Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” blaring, but it was no less dramatic. 

This post is about that scene. Not the one from the 80's movie, but about Owen insisting he have the worst of the bad whiteboards.

It’s about a bunch of messed-up whiteboards and how we learned from them as a business. You may wonder why we would share one of our biggest mistakes - I certainly wondered why Owen wanted the worst whiteboard. Read on to find out.

The Worst Whiteboards

This story actually began almost a year ago, when Owen, our fearless leader, got an email stating the whiteboard sets he had ordered had been deemed HAZMAT and would not be leaving the port. This meant a mess of unfulfilled orders and potentially disappointed customers, which wasn't unacceptable for Blue Summit standards. 

First, Owen had to find an answer to the obvious question: what on earth makes a whiteboard set hazardous material?!

After days of rushing around between calls and frantic research, Owen finally determined the small amount of ethanol, a key ingredient in all dry erase markers, was the culprit for the "hazardous" label.

Ethanol is a kind of alcohol used in alcoholic beverages, household products, makeup, and, as we learned, dry erase markers. It's a common ingredient routinely allowed in-country. So why these particular whiteboard sets were flagged when millions of these markers are shipped without problem every single day, we're still unsure.

But Owen learned the necessary steps to have his whiteboard sets "unclassified" as dangerous materials and got to it. Unfortunately, convincing dock and warehouse workers to rip HAZMAT labels off goods proved difficult, and Owen knew it wouldn't be ideal to have whiteboard sets show up to customers emblazoned with a "Hazardous" label.

All Bent Out of Shape

Thankfully, most of the whiteboards finally made it to their designated classrooms, homes, and offices. Some of them were still marked with fluorescent "Warning" labels. But the products made it to the customers, and Owen learned an important business lesson.

You may think the story ends there, but unfortunately it doesn't.

Almost immediately, Owen began receiving complaint emails about the condition of the whiteboards.

No longer was the concern about HAZMAT labels. Instead, customers were upset because the boards were bent on the corners - bent so badly they couldn’t be mounted onto walls! Think origami directions: “Fold the corners inwards and crease well.”

Customers were not happy, and Owen wasn’t either.

To Make It Right, Then and Now


Owen set out to make things right by offering refunds to disgruntled customers.

But he couldn’t offer a replacement whiteboard until he determined why the boards were delivered in such poor condition.

After asking a few customers, it was evident the packaging for the board sets was the issue, not the boards themselves. Owen even had some delivered to him and immediately confirmed their comments. We were talking paper-thin boxes, offering little to no protection for our whiteboards.


Needless to say, our whiteboards today do not come in the same packaging from over a year ago. Now, it's three times thicker. Owen traveled to the factory and worked with several engineers to develop a box that could handle the rigors of transit.

And today, our whiteboards come with 8 holes on the back for easier mounting through more installation options. We also removed the sliding hooks from the top of the old whiteboard design. In transit, these hooks often damaged the box, which resulted in damage to the whiteboard inside.

For our largest board – 36 in. x 48 in. – we replaced the back panel with a lightweight metal to help support the board through both transport and installation.

Lastly, we redesigned the aluminum frame for our whiteboards, making them stronger yet still lightweight. Owen is a former engineer, so his eyes light up when he starts describing the science behind stronger but lighter.” He loves it almost as much as he loves office supplies.


Blue Summit Supplies - Whiteboard Disaster


No Business or Person is Perfect

We believe no business is perfect. Everyone makes mistakes; it’s how you handle those mistakes that matter.

See, Owen made several errors with these whiteboards. The Whiteboard Disaster of 2016 happened before he hired a team, so he was still juggling all the facets of the business on his own. In doing so, he made a rush decision on purchasing these whiteboards.  He failed to research the packaging or determine what customers valued in a whiteboard like having them arrived undamaged and in one piece!

He also learned about HAZMAT labels, and has been able to use that knowledge going forward. Of course, in his rush to buy, he never saw a new 'learning opportunity' coming either.

Most importantly, Owen made the decision to continue. The idea of closing up shop crossed his mind, and Owen knew he was at a crossroads - bow out now, or learn from the mistakes and move forward.

Now, there are damaged whiteboards hanging all around the office to remind Owen (and us!) of his decision to keep learning and growing. And that’s not all: we also have an expanding file folder and a large vase overflowing with rolls of clear tape serving as reminders that these were both mistakes AND growth opportunities.

Learn and Think Differently

One of our core values at Blue Summit Supplies is to Learn and Think Differently. When you do this, you will probably fail at times because you’re doing things others don’t do. But other times, you’ll succeed beyond your wildest dreams…because you’re doing things others don’t do.

For our company, we would rather fail (temporarily) than never try. We know it’s in the failing that you learn to be better.

The whiteboards mounted around our office serve as our reminder of what we learned through this disaster: to pause before making large purchases, do thorough researchdetermine what customers value, and test items first.  

Why Tell This Embarrassing Story?

We know some of you reading are business owners, too. You’ve made errors along the way, and as strange as this sounds, we applaud you!

We know it’s from those mistakes that ingenuity, creativity, and a renewal of purpose spring forth. (It’s also where you get the epic office moments of hoisting boomboxes – whoops, whiteboards – above your head and declaring you want the worst!)

It’s our purpose to add value to our sphere of influence - especially to you, our customer. Sometimes our added value is simply envelopes for your mailing needs or whiteboards to hold office meetings.

Other times, our added value is encouragement – to tell you we all make mistakes and we should keep moving forward. And, if needed, display your mistakes around the office as reminders of the failings AND the lessons learned.


Blue Summit Supplies - Whiteboard Disaster - Henry Ford Quote    


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Rachel Eubanks is a lifelong educator in Huntsville, Alabama who helps other mompreneurs tell their stories online through digital and social media. As a homeschooling momma of two, Rachel loves reading, hiking with her boys, and writing. You can find her online at Inspire to Engage.

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