Are you thinking about becoming a Maker of something? There’s a revolution of Makers going on right now! Here’s a little of my story and some things to consider. I hope this can help you on your journey.
Is your work fulfilling?
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve spoken to clients who “wished” they made something like Vintage does. Their professions range from CEOs to Housewives. Everybody has made something before, whether it was in art class or in the garage. There’s just something magical about the creative process, getting the materials, assembling them, then seeing your creation unfold. I myself was working in the family investment banking business before this. We put together investments for client. My Father wanted me to take over the business, but I declined as it wasn’t my cup of tea. At the time, I knew I didn’t care for it. But I later realized that is was more along the lines of unfulfilling. There’s no way of knowing ahead of time if your new job will be fulfilling. But pouring your heart and soul into something will help! This means there will be UPS and downs, lots of them. In fact, it may be a daily occurrence for years, was for me!
The American Dream
One of the main reasons to become a Maker is the American dream of being self-employed. Most people seem to think that working for yourself affords you more time and money. You can get others to work for you while the money rolls in. My couple years in business I worked 80-100 hour weeks with no vacation. Weekends were work time. This wasn’t as hard as it sounds because I loved what I was doing, but I did eventually get BURNED out. Within the second month, I had some decent income. Part of that has to do with my marketing background. I had a strong web presence already so I had lots of people looking at my work. Another part had to do with timing. I fell into the Vintage Industrial trend which was in it’s infancy in Manhattan. Everything I sold was to the wealthy and space conscious living there. The other lucky part had to do with my wife. She has exquisite design taste which is something I lacked. She was able to guide my designs into what they are today. I’ve been told by several bankers, CEOs, COOs, etc., that we are in the 1% of companies that grow this quickly with no debt. Consider this to be next to impossible. What makes this possible is an unwavering determination to succeed and better yourself and product. But you must fail over and over and over and learn to be ok with that. In fact, you must see that as a stepping stone to success. The Master has failed more times than You have tried.
I already had a small income from investments. So I didn’t jump into the deep end with this venture. Many people try investing all they have into something new and untested. Most of them will fail. Had my stuff not sold, I would have stopped soon and did something else, or changed the design. I had a $450 welder and $50 grinder with some hand tools. That is all I needed to get going. Once it picked up, I spent another $500 here and there which was from profit. We didn’t know at the time, but it was growing organically. Demand rises, you make money, invest some in better equipment, make more stuff quicker and better, rinse & repeat. The Phoenix summer was coming so I upgraded our 200sf shed and added air conditioning, insulation, lighting and power.
We did that until the backyard couldn’t contain us anymore. The freight companies were sending semis for pickup and dropoff all week long which blocked the road. Orders came in and overwhelmed me. Sim (my wife) found our first employee. That helped but we needed a bigger space. So we moved to Buchanan and hired more people.
Small or Medium Company?
I can’t tell you how many sleepless nights Sim and I had because of this company! It must be over 500. My mind tends to go over problems of the day or future ones. With this business, at least for the first 4 years, everyday presented new problems. We ran around putting fires out. Being led by problems is no way to live, or run a business, because the business is running you (into the ground). Many a times I pondered the fact that I was making more money, with less headache, when it was just me in the backyard making my stuff. I didn’t have CPAs or lawyer meetings. I didn’t have multiple departments to deal with and personnel issues. Any problem that arose was accountable by one person, me! But there are some thresholds that we broke through. Once you have good certain people in place, they can take over the things you don’t want to deal with, or don’t have time for. It took us over 4 years to get there. So yes, at times I wish it was just me farting around in the backyard. But I truly treasure the relationships and business we’ve built with our own blood, sweat and tears.
Some pros and cons of having a Small or Medium company:
- You are responsible for everything (accounting, billing, customer service, building, shipping, marketing, design, etc)
- Few people to oversee
- Life is simple!
- Income is capped at your man hours
- You can’t handle big jobs
- Lead times can get long for delivery
- Employees can handle tasks for you
- You have to let go of control of almost everything and let employees work
- You must supervise employees and become a great manager
- You’ll need to learn to hire the right people
- More potential income with more people
- Potential loss of everything when personally guaranteeing loans, leases, etc.
- The business gets much more complicated
- You can handle bigger jobs
- You can grow to shorten lead times / increased demand
- You’re overhead increases and so does your cost to produce
- You need to hit a certain dollar amount to meet payroll
- You have to run payroll which is costly and time consuming
- You must create regular new product to keep clients buying
Do You Have A Great Idea?
Many people dream of making something tangible for a living. I know there is a small rebellion going on giving pushback to the tech-age we’re in. What better way than to make something with your own two hands right? Well what is your idea? Do you have a gameplan on how to finance it, where to make it, etc? Are there lots of others making the same or a similar thing? Do searches on the web to find out. If you find 3 million search results for leather handbags, maybe you need to make it more specialized. If you can find a niche nobody else is pursuing, you might be starting something that takes off like the pet rock. Our niche is luxury level vintage industrial furniture. Thousands of people are doing Vintage Industrial either in their garage, or importing it from Asia. There is nobody doing what we’re doing on this scale, or with our track record. This makes things easier for us in terms of finding buyers. And fortunately, there is a decent market for it. But it didn’t exist when we started. If we decided to import crap from Asia and pass it off as Vintage Industrial, we’d be competing with the likes of Walmart to Pottery Barn. I highly recommend making something unique, and more important, something you believe in. If you’re selling leather handbags and are a vegan, you’ll be conflicted. And if you’re doing this to get rich, you’re not a Maker, not in my eyes. Profit is the side effect of this, albeit a nice and necessary one you’ll need to continue.
Do you know how to build things and run a business?
Ya we didn’t either. I have some experience working for my Father which helped, but I didn’t know Jack Shit about being a furniture manufacturer. I didn’t even know how to weld really, or work with wood. But I had the yearning to learn. I asked questions, researched, and figured it out. I am probably the worst welder at our shop, but I can get in there and make just about anything. I don’t have any fancy certifications. I don’t care if our employees have fancy certifications, I just care if they can do the work, are willing to learn, and put their heart and soul into it. Attitude is everything, yet rarely touched on in school. Hmmm…
How do you handle StReSs?
Increased stress levels are probably my main reason for discouraging people from doing this. You need to be able to handle stress well to succeed here. I can tell you in the last 6 years of this business, I cried routinely, lost 1000s of hours of sleep, considered suicide several times, and almost wrecked my marriage. Fortunately, my wife and I had been pursuing spirituality and working through things before this venture. If it wasn’t for that, and her ability to help me work through this shit, it would have all exploded and I’d have lost everything. You’ll need to find what works for you. For me, I find a great audiobook and go for a walk / run. I try to do this daily. It keeps me centered, along with meditation and yoga, and occasional counselling.
My A Frame design is the most copied of all our pieces. It’s being mass produced in Asia and imported by small furniture companies all over the world. The pictures above show the first sketch and the prototype I made in the backyard. Expect good design to be copied.
I made 16 of these shelves for a wine shop in Rhode Island. It was a huge order for me and took a month to finish.