Meet the Maker – Annika Benitz Chaloff of Married & Bright

Annika Bentiz Chaloff of Married & Bright

Annika Bentiz Chaloff of Married & Bright

 

This week in our ongoing Meet the Maker series, we’re going behind the scenes with the lovely Annika Benitz Chaloff of handcrafted lingerie brand Married & Bright. Annika, whom I had the distinct pleasure of getting to know in person at the Craftcation conference this past April, is a honey of a woman – and I’m tickled pink to introduce her to you as well. Welcome, Annika!

 

LBC: What inspired you to take your leap as an entrepreneur?

Annika: About five years ago, I decided to start my own business because I couldn’t find a career path that I was happy with. Rather than endlessly pursue jobs that dead-ended or made me feel trapped, I started a line of children’s and maternity clothing called Expect. That ill-fated business closed at the end of 2014. I was so heartbroken by what I perceived as a failure, I vowed never to go into business again.

In early 2015, I fell into being a handmade business owner when I made a bralette for myself out of leftover materials from Expect. That bra went “viral” on Instagram. I got so many requests for duplicates that I had to open an Etsy shop to process the orders. Suddenly, I was in business again, and invigorated with fresh passion.

As the success of my new business, Married & Bright, increases, I realize more and more that there is no other career I’d rather have. I am, simply put, unemployable. I really enjoy setting my own hours, being free to travel, and creating my own lifestyle. I’m hoping to become a mother in the next few years and I really like the freedom that entrepreneurship affords me when it comes to time spent working and time spent with family.

 

LBC: When you first got started, how did you envision your business would be defined?

Annika: I wanted to create unique lingerie that is designed by women, for women. I wanted to design and market non-intimidating undies for everyday ladies. From day one, it has been my goal to make women feel more beautiful, confident, and positive about their bodies through what they put on it. I believe that the way you look on the outside has the power to influence how you feel on the inside… and truly lovely, fun lingerie makes every woman feel just a little more pretty.

 

Annika Bentiz Chaloff of Married & Bright

 

LBC: How would you describe what you create?

Annika: I make quirky yet delicately handcrafted lingerie that is designed to make the wearer feel wonderful.

 

LBC: Where can we find your products?

Annika: On my website, marriedandbright.com, and on Etsy at marriedandbright.etsy.com.

 

LBC: Walk us through your typical work day.

Annika: Every day seems to be different and I’m often flying by the seat of my pants, but usually I split my day into three sections: filling orders, marketing, and product development. I strive to get my orders out within 48 hours of receiving them, and since every bralette and pair of undies is made-to-order, I spend a lot of time at my machine.

I enjoy working late into the evenings, and as a result, I wake up late — around 10am. Usually the first thing in my work day is sewing and packing orders to get them to the post office before it closes at five in the afternoon. Most days I’m at the post office at noon, and I swing by Starbucks on my way back home.

Then I dive into marketing efforts, whether that is developing my Pinterest and Instagram platforms, or working with a blogger on an upcoming feature. It’s hard for me to keep from adding new products to my line because I’m always finding new materials I want to work with, so a few times a month, I sew, photograph, and create new listings.

 

Annika Bentiz Chaloff of Married & Bright

 

LBC: What are 3 things makers should think through when they initially decide to start a business?

Annika: 1. Think through why you are going into business. If you are doing it just for fun, then it’s not a business. Sometimes, business isn’t fun, but it can be very rewarding even when the money isn’t flowing. I went into business to be in control of my work schedule, income, and lifestyle.

2. Think strongly about the viability of your product. Do a little research about what kinds of products people want to buy, and see if you can supply that. I think a lot of handmade business owners go into business to try to sell something that they enjoy making without considering if people actually want to purchase and own it. This was the downfall of my pervious business; I was making products I enjoyed sewing, but ones that no one really needed or wanted.

3. Consider how much money you want to put into your business and make a plan. It’s easy to get excited about starting a business, but much harder to be harshly honest with yourself when it’s not going well. It’s important to think of it as a business and not take it personally when it’s not going well. I’m not saying to throw in the towel during a slow season, but to just be careful about sinking a lot of money into something without a plan.

 

LBC: When you’re overwhelmed, what brings you back to focus?

Annika: When I used to get overwhelmed as a kid, my mom used to say, “Just do it bird by bird.” I return to that phrase often when I’m feeling like there are just too many tasks in front of me. I make a list and I break the steps down to super small actions. I think of what needs to be done today and what I can leave for tomorrow. Sometimes it’s as simple as cleaning up my studio so that I have room to cut long reams of fabric, and then laying the fabric out to get cut. Bird by bird.

 

Annika Bentiz Chaloff of Married & Bright

 

LBC: Tell us about a few of the best business decisions you’ve made to date.

Annika: Education. Period. When I was running Expect, I refused to spend money on anything besides materials. I’d say that’s the number one reason that business failed. I had no idea what I was doing. When I fell back into business, I decided to educate myself as much as possible about anything related to my field. That included brushing up on sewing skills, and taking online classes about marketing, finance, social media, and graphic design. Paying other people to share their genius with me has been worth it tenfold because of the heartache and frustration it has saved me.

 

LBC: Please share one mistake or obstacle from your business experience. How did you bounce back/overcome it?

Annika: Something hard I face almost every day is people writing to me complaining that they don’t think the products I make are for them. It can be really hard knowing that there is an underserved community that I could be selling to, and feeling like I can’t help them. Specifically, women with larger chests feel disappointed that my bralettes aren’t made to support them. I had to realize that, first of all, I can’t serve everyone. No business can. I had to be okay — at least for the time being — with turning away potential customers because my designs aren’t meant for them. Secondly, I had to strongly consider if I wanted to onboard these potential buyers and how I would do it. Since making underwire bra is a complicated, math-heavy (and I’m good at math!) project, I’ve decided to make a long term plan to literally support these women… just not today.

 

Annika Bentiz Chaloff of Married & Bright

 

LBC: Is there a cause or organization that you contribute to that you’re particularly passionate about?

Annika: I’m not sure if there is even a word for this cause, but my current passion is making women feel good about themselves no matter what men think about them. My best friend, Jessica, founded I Dress for Me, which is a movement that sums up my feelings about fashion. Wear what you wanna wear and don’t worry about what your husband, boyfriend, or strangers on the street think about you. Wear a wild outfit, or a short skirt, and forget about what others think. Your sartorial choices are not an invite for judgement, conversation, harassment, or assault. You can check out the movement on Instagram at @idressforme.

 

LBC: What are 3 essential resources in your business toolbox that you can’t do without?

Annika: 1. It might be harsh to call this a tool, but my “biz besties” are a great resource and enormous comfort to me. Having a group of fellow small business owners to bounce ideas off of, or just whine to, has been wonderfully helpful.

2. This may be surprising, but Etsy has been an amazing tool for growing my business, and I don’t plan on doing away with it! Etsy is like one of my employees. She brings in traffic, advertises for me, and streamlines my customer onboarding process. I can’t fire someone who only takes a 3.5% commission!

3. Since I run my business out of my home, having a whole room designated just to Married & Bright has been a really lovely luxury that I hope I never have to do without. Being able to lock the door and get work done without interruption allows me to be as productive as a work-from-homer could possibly be. And being able to shut myself out of the room when the day is done lets me dedicate valuable time to my husband and dog at the end of the day.

 

Annika Bentiz Chaloff of Married & Bright

 

LBC: Suppose we had a time machine. If you blasted ourselves forward a few years, where would we see your company?

Annika: Designing and making my own products is something I hope to never have to stop doing, so as I grow my business, I’m hoping to outsource tasks like marketing, finance, social media, packing and shipping, and sourcing materials. I’d love to have a small team. My loftier, more long-term goal is to one day open a brick and mortar boutique where I can interact with my team and customers daily.

 

LBC: Your musical playlist is full of…

Annika: 90s pop and musicals. I can’t get enough of those five-part boy band harmonies, and those get-out-of-your-seat-and-do-a-solo kick line tunes!

 

LBC: Share one of your guiltiest pleasures.

Annika: Snarfing down Trader Joe’s Belgium Chocolate pudding straight out of the container while standing in front of the open fridge. If there is another way to eat that stuff, I haven’t discovered it yet.

 

LBC: If you could hire someone to do just one thing that you sort of loath doing, what would it be?

Annika: I would seriously love to get someone to do my bookkeeping. I’m decent at math, but something about looking at money numbers makes me queasy, even on a good month! To not have to crunch those numbers once a month would be so so dreamy.

 

Annika Bentiz Chaloff of Married & Bright

 

Thank you, Annika, for sharing your talent with us!  We absolutely love what you’re doing with Married & Bright, and we look forward to all the wonderful things ahead for you and your company. We’re cheering you on!

 

Want to see your brand featured in our continuing “Meet the Maker” series? Drop us a line: hello AT luckybreakconsulting.com. Please use “MEET THE MAKER” as the subject line and be certain to include your web address. We look forward to hearing from you!

 

Meet the Maker – Megan Eckman of Studio MME

Megan Eckman of Studio MME

Megan Eckman of Studio MME

 

This week in our ongoing Meet the Maker series, we’re getting to know the amazingly talented Megan Eckman, who produces a line of DIY embroidery kits using her own designs out of Vancouver, Washington. Welcome, Megan!

 

LBC: What inspired you to take your leap as an entrepreneur?

Megan: My initial leap was more of a shove. In order to pursue dual degrees in art and creative writing, my mother required I start a business before I graduated. I set up Studio MME in my senior year and I sold prints of my illustrations.

After I graduated, I moved to Silicon Valley and had to get a part-time job at Borders to pay rent. Eight months later, Borders filed bankruptcy and I danced out their doors determined to take Studio MME full-time and never work for anyone else again.

For the next year, I struggled trying to sell my prints. Then one night I stitched one of my illustrations onto scrap fabric and shared it on Facebook. The next day, I had tons of people asking if there was a pattern they could sew. With a terrifying leap, I switched over my business to that of embroidery kits and ever since it’s been a crazy ride upwards.

 

LBC: When you first got started, how did you envision your business would be defined?

Megan: I wanted Studio MME to be an alternative to the 1950s patterns still sold in craft stores and the punk offerings of Sublime Stitch. I wanted to be defined by my whimsical illustrations that I converted into embroidery patterns. I knew the way I created my designs wouldn’t make them extremely popular with those who were Master Embroiderers (yes, that is a real title you can earn) or those who loved the traditional Day of the Week patterns. Instead, I wanted to give people not yet into embroidery a new way to relax after work and feel creative.

 

Megan Eckman of Studio MME

 

LBC: How would you describe what you create?

Megan: I create approachable embroidery for modern stitchers. I flunked my grandmother’s lessons so there are no fancy stitches in my work. I believe that crafting should be fun, not frustrating, so each kit is designed to be finished while relaxing in just a few hours. Sometimes I test the designs by having a beer while I sew. If it turns out looking fine, then I know it’s a good pattern. I’m all about initiating new people into this craft in the least intimidating way possible.

 

LBC: Where can we find your products?

Megan: You can find Studio MME kits online at http://www.studiomme.com and http://www.etsy.com/studiomme. In person, you can find them in 70 shops across the country. I have a full list of my retailers here. Also, in just a few months, you’ll be able to find my work through DMC’s CommonThread line!

 

LBC: Walk us through your typical work day.

Megan: Each day of the week has specific tasks. Mondays are admin days so all outstanding issues are handled, product copy is tweaked, etc. Tuesdays are photo shoot days. Wednesdays are play days, where I draw new designs and sew. Thursdays are wholesale days, where I find new shops, check in with existing shops, and hunt down those who haven’t responded to my pitches. Fridays are media days where I find and pitch blogs and magazines. Saturdays are another play day and then Sunday is OFF.

I’m up at 6am every day and amuse the cat for a bit. Then I work out and have breakfast. The ‘work’ doesn’t start until 10am. I work from10am to noon each day and then cook the ‘big meal’ with my husband/business partner. We’re back at work from 2pm to 6pm. After a short break for supper, we are back at it until 9pm. Everything gets shut down at 9pm no matter what. Then I read a book, watch a movie, paint, or just amuse the cat some more.

 

Megan Eckman of Studio MME

 

LBC: What are 3 things makers should think through when they initially decide to start a business?

Megan: 1. Will your product be profitable? I get new ideas all the time, but over half of them never make it past the initial burst of excitement because they don’t pass the profitability test. If I can’t make a profit from it, I’m not going to invest the time and money to make it. Be sure you run the numbers before you start buying supplies or website URLs.

2. How long do you/can you make things yourself? I’m the proverbial gym teacher: Those who can’t craft, make kits. I outsource much of my sewing now to my super fans who stitch up shop displays for me or test out new patterns. It’s important to consider how much you LOVE doing something yourself with your hands and how long you can physically do it without injury. By letting those who truly love to sew (and who are much better at it than I am) do that task for me, it allows me to grow my business more than if I did everything myself. Build an ‘escape route’ into your business plan that allows you to hand off certain physical tasks when you reach key milestones.

3. File correctly. I know this is really unglamorous, but filing your business correctly both legally and financially makes a huge difference. Not only do you perceive it as a business with a capital B, but you don’t get bit in the butt later by back-taxes or fines from your city and state.

 

LBC: When you’re overwhelmed, what brings you back to focus?

Megan: I get overwhelmed frequently because I have some anxiety issues. When I start to feel panicky, I go for a long walk. I live just a block from Fort Vancouver, the end of the Oregon Trail, and I wander around the barracks and parade grounds till I realize how lucky I am to be able to do that any time I like. If that isn’t enough, I go to the place where I board my cat on vacations and pet the cats there for an hour. Free therapy is sometimes the best therapy.

 

Megan Eckman of Studio MME

 

LBC: Tell us about a few of the best business decisions you’ve made to date.

Megan: 1. I hired my husband. In 2015, I took on my husband as a contractor. He has an MFA in photography so I set him to work shooting EVERYTHING. Instagram pictures, product shots, magazine shots, head shots, lifestyle shots, etc. You name it, he photographed it. With his new photos, we doubled our income that year. I had no idea professional photos could make that much of a difference.

2. I started selling just parts of my kits. I had lots of customers tell me they loved my kits but they already had so many supplies that all they needed was the fabric. We added pre-printed fabric to our product line and now we make about a quarter of our sales from that simple product. We’re now going to start up a club for our super fans where each month the fabric arrives at their door, ready for them to sew. Sometimes giving the people what they ask for pays off.

3. I cold-email shops like nobody’s business. Every three months I cold-email between 100 and 200 shops to pitch my kit line. I used to worry that I was being annoying or pushy. Now I know that they love seeing new work that they don’t have to go out and find for themselves. I always do the research to ensure I’d be a good fit first.

I’ve also learned that just because you don’t hear back doesn’t mean they don’t want your stuff. It just means they’re busy or it’s not the right time. I cold-emailed a ‘dream’ shop for 2 years before they emailed and said, ‘We’ve been in love with your stuff for years and now we’re finally ready to carry it!’

 

LBC: Please share one mistake or obstacle from your business experience. How did you bounce back/overcome it?

Megan: Last October, my oval embroidery hoops suddenly stopped being available. All shipments from Thailand were halted and no one, I mean NO ONE, could get their hands on more. So, two months till Christmas, there I was, completely changing more than half of my product line to take a circle hoop instead of an oval one. I had to re-sew every piece, photograph it, make new kit papers, tweak the designs, and explain the change to all of my shops (who had just placed their holiday orders). I don’t know how I did it, but I got all 26 designs changed over without a hiccup or delay in shipping.

I’ve learned now to do more research into my supplies and have a ‘battle plan’ in the event that something gets discontinued, held up in a port strike (which has also happened), or jumps significantly in price.

 

LBC: Is there a cause or organization that you contribute to that you’re particularly passionate about?

Megan: I hope next year to contribute to the World Wildlife Fund, since so many of my kits feature animals.

 

Megan Eckman of Studio MME

 

LBC: What are 3 essential resources in your business toolbox that you can’t do without?

Megan: 1) Adobe Creative Cloud – My partner and I can share everything instantly between our computers.

2) Dropbox – I love being able to go on vacation knowing I can send out line sheets, update Instagram, and give blogs the images they want without having to lug my laptop around.

) Trello – Not only does this project manager allow my partner and me to divide things up by day, week, month, and quarter, but it has saved me a veritable fortune on Post-It Notes. If you’re a visual person like me, you’ll love this free resource.

 

LBC: Suppose we had a time machine. If you blasted ourselves forward a few years, where would we see your company?

Megan: You would see Studio MME kits sold in every state in the US, as well as in Waldorf schools to teach life skills to kids. Studio MME would have a team of employees, including a packer and a wholesale manager, allowing me to simply be in charge of design. And me? Well, my husband and I plan to roam around the country in a van with our cat for several months each year, being inspired by our surroundings.

 

LBC: What’s one thing you would eat, if you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life?

Megan: Korean rice bowls.

 

LBC: Your musical playlist is full of…

Megan: This is embarrassing, but my playlist is full of musicals. When my partner isn’t in the studio, I sing along while I work.

 

Megan Eckman of Studio MME

 

LBC: Share one of your guiltiest pleasures.

Megan: On Sundays, I lie in bed for two hours and just do crossword puzzles.

 

LBC: If you could hire someone to do just one thing that you sort of loath doing, what would it be?

Megan: Pack my kits. I’m looking at hiring seasonal help this year because packing kits from sun up till sun down for two months straight is no way to enjoy the holiday season.

 

LBC: What’s your favorite quote and who said it?

Megan: “Nothing is impossible, just highly improbable.” ~ Douglas Adams

 

LBC: If you were given a million dollars, but were not allowed to keep a single penny for yourself, friends or family, how would you spend it or give it away?

Megan: I feel like I’m channeling Bob Barker now, but I would give the money to the Humane Society so that it could pay to trap and spay/neuter as many stray animals as it could. It breaks my heart knowing so many have to rough it outside without a lap to sleep/drool in.

 

Thank you, Megan, for sharing your talent with us!  We absolutely love what you’re doing with Studio MME, and we look forward to all the wonderful things ahead for you and your company. We’re cheering you on!

 

Want to see your brand featured in our continuing “Meet the Maker” series? Drop us a line: hello AT luckybreakconsulting.com. Please use “MEET THE MAKER” as the subject line and be certain to include your web address. We look forward to hearing from you!

 

Meet the Maker – Amanda Wright of Wit & Whistle

Amanda Wright of Wit & Whistle

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Today in our ongoing Meet the Maker series, we’re getting to know the lovely Amanda Wright, who runs her perfectly witty-pretty stationery company Wit & Whistle from home in Cary, North Carolina.  Welcome, Amanda!

 

LBC: What inspired you to take your leap as an entrepreneur?

Amanda: I started Wit & Whistle because I needed a creative outlet. I was working as a graphic designer at a design firm, but my work wasn’t giving me the freedom I craved. Logos, annual reports, websites, and stubborn clients were holding me back. I felt like I needed a big change, so I made one!

 

LBC: When you first got started, how did you envision your business would be defined?

Amanda: I didn’t have a vision when I started my business, which probably isn’t a great way to start out. I only knew that I wanted working to be fun. I took it a day at a time without a big plan—tweaking and slowly growing my business as I went.

 

LBC: How would you describe what you create?

Amanda: I create witty and whistle-worthy greeting cards and paper products. My work is pretty with a touch of unexpected crassness.

 

LBC: Where can we find your products?

Amanda: You can find my products online at witandwhistle.com and at a bunch of brick and mortar shops around the country.

 

Amanda Wright of Wit & Whistle

 

LBC: Walk us through your typical work day.

Amanda: I recently had my first baby, so my typical work day routine has been thrown out the window. These days I frantically try to cram a full day of work into nap time and the few hours I have after the baby goes to bed. I’m not getting much done, but my shop is open, and I’m keeping up with orders. So I’m content with that for now!

BEFORE parenthood, my typical workday was dreamy! After breakfast, I made a cup of tea and headed to my basement studio. In the morning I shipped orders, replied to emails, sent invoices, and reordered supplies. I reserved my afternoons and evenings for fun creative things like working on new designs, taking photos, brainstorming, and writing blog posts. Those were the days!

 

LBC: When you’re overwhelmed, what brings you back to focus?

Amanda: Remembering that I’m the boss! I chose to do this, and I can make Wit & Whistle into whatever I want it to be. If I’m not happy with the way things are going, I can change them.

I also remind myself that my business has peaks and valleys. If I’m overwhelmed with work, I just need to power through until I hit a slow period. Ahhh, sweet summertime… when they are no card-giving holidays!

Amanda Wright of Wit & Whistle

 

LBC: Tell us about a few of the best business decisions you’ve made to date.

Amanda: Starting out selling on Etsy was a great decision for my business. Many potential customers (both retail and wholesale) constantly search Etsy. It was much easier to be found and gain recognition there than it would have been starting out with only my stand-alone website from the beginning.

Building a relationship with a trusted local print shop so I could outsource my printing was also a great decision. For the first few years in business I printed all my cards myself, but it got to be too much for me to handle. I was always printing, cutting, and folding when I really wanted to be designing. Picking up boxes of freshly printed and folded cards from my printer is the best feeling! It frees me up to do more of what I love.

 

LBC: Please share one mistake or obstacle from your business experience. How did you bounce back/overcome it?

Amanda: I’ve grown my business so incredibly slowly that I haven’t made any massive mistakes (thank goodness). Several years ago I decided to expand my line and introduce a collection of home goods. I spent a good chunk of money screen printing large quantities of tea towels and printing custom fabrics for pillow covers. My pillows and tea towels weren’t total failures, but they definitely didn’t become customer favorites. Since then I’ve been slowly selling out of my home goods. I’ve realized that my customers love Wit & Whistle for the witty paper goods, so why reinvent the wheel?!

 

LBC: Is there a cause or organization that you contribute to that you’re particularly passionate about?

Amanda: I support Water for Good (they drill and maintain wells in the Central African Republic) and the local North Carolina food bank. There’s nothing like helping others in need get the basics—food and water!

 

LBC: What are 3 essential resources in your business toolbox that you can’t do without?

Amanda: My sketchbook, Adobe Illustrator, and Wave Accounting.

 

LBC: Suppose we had a time machine. If you blasted ourselves forward a few years, where would we see your company?

Amanda: I honestly have no idea! I’m going with my “take it a day at a time” plan for now. There may be more babies in my future, in which case Wit & Whistle will be coasting for the next few years while I savor this phase of life. Maintaining the business has helped me stay sane and feel like myself as I adjust to motherhood, so keeping the shop doors open one way or another is important to me.

 

Amanda Wright of Wit & Whistle

 

LBC: What’s one thing you would eat, if you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life?

Amanda: Warm-from-the-oven, gooey-in-the-middle chocolate chip cookies. With milk. (I’m a total chocolate chip cookie snob.)

 

LBC: Your musical playlist is full of…

Amanda: Regina Spektor. Pretty sure I have all her albums. I also love Rubble Bucket. Oh, and Parov Stelar.

 

LBC: Share one of your guiltiest pleasures.

Amanda: I can’t control my self around desserts. If I make a pan of brownies or a batch of cookies, it will be gone within 24 hours. I’m a monster! I have to limit myself to making those single-serving mug brownies.

 

Amanda Wright of Wit & Whistle

 

LBC: If you could hire someone to do just one thing that you sort of loath doing, what would it be?

Amanda: Cleaning the grout in my bathrooms. Grout is the worst.

 

LBC: What’s your favorite quote and who said it?

Amanda: Today my favorite quote is: “Don’t panic, and it’s amazing what you can do in a day!” —Rhea Thierstein

 

Thank you, Amanda, for sharing your talent with us!  We absolutely love what you’re doing with Wit & Whistle, and we look forward to all the wonderful things ahead for you and your company. We’re cheering you on!

 

Want to see your brand featured in our continuing “Meet the Maker” series? Drop us a line: hello AT luckybreakconsulting.com. Please use “MEET THE MAKER” as the subject line and be certain to include your web address. We look forward to hearing from you!

 

Meet the Maker – Paul Ocepek of Modern Moose

Paul Ocopek of Modern Moose

Paul Ocopek of Modern Moose

 

Today in our ongoing Meet the Maker series, we’re getting to know the amazing Paul Ocepek, who runs his handmade business Modern Moose from a bustling workshop in Wrentham, Massachusetts. Welcome, Paul!

 

LB: What inspired you to take your leap as an entrepreneur?

Paul: Probably age. It may sound like an overly simplistic answer, but we all reach a certain point in our lives where we need to decide to fish or cut bait. I was self-employed for about 12 years running a home-based product design consultancy and began growing bored creatively. I have always had side projects or ideas that I would work on in my off-hours. I finally just reached a point where I felt I needed to pick one of my side projects and make it my main focus.

At the time I was really interested in laser cutting and had done quite a bit of research into what types of products I could possibly create using this technology. I was also exploring flatbed inkjet printing on to wood substrates. Between these two technologies I knew that I would be able to create a unique, scalable, and nimble production process to make my creations. Sooooo, I bought a commercial printer and a laser and set them up in my basement. As I like to say – most guys buy boats or motorcycles during their mid-life crisis – I bought industrial equipment.

After about a solid year of product development and refining the production process I felt ready to introduce my creations to the world and sent in a very large check for a booth at the NY Now Gift Show. This was back in 2011 and every day has been an adventure since.

 

LB: When you first got started, how did you envision your business would be defined?

Paul: Honestly, I don’t think I spent too much time thinking about this. I guess I was hoping to be defined by my ability to create original, well-made products and deliver them on time to retail. I was certain that the whole process would be evolutionary and eventually I’d find my sweet spot. I knew that I was looking for customers who would appreciate modern, fresh and affordable decor products that were made in the USA.

 

LB: How would you describe what you create?

Paul: Modern Moose is about fun, well designed and affordable home decor products that are locally manufactured in the USA. “Produced in Mass Not Mass Produced” is our motto.

 

Paul Ocopek of Modern Moose

 

LB: Where can we find your products?

Paul: Modern Moose products are available online and through various brick and mortar retailers. The majority of our business is wholesale – we sell to quite a wide variety of shops, including: book stores, toy stores, gift boutiques, hospital gift shops, museum gift shops, furniture stores, and even a few ice cream shops! We also have numerous international accounts and a distributor in Canada.

 

LB: Walk us through your typical work day.

Paul: I get into the office around 7:00am, before other employees arrive, and try to spend the first hour of the day doodling in my sketch book and doing some design-thinking. I really enjoy this quiet time and usually feel most creative earlier in the day.

Following my quiet hour, I start answering email, downloading web orders, and generally planning on what has to go out the door that particular day. When my team arrives, I am able to step back a bit from the production side of things and concentrate more on the tedious but critical tasks of bookkeeping, supply ordering, customer relations, etc. This takes up most of my morning.

After lunch, I try and concentrate on business development, exploring new design ideas, and social media.

Then there are days where I don’t do any of the above, and spend my time trying to fix a broken compressor, troubleshoot a printer that’s not working properly, or drive around trying to find vacuum filter bags for a sander. Life in a production facility is rarely dull and there are times when I feel like I’m waiting around for the next thing to break. Luckily, we have very reliable equipment, and the nightmares are few and far between. (I’m sure I just jinxed myself by typing that last line.)

At the end of the day, I usually check up on all of our equipment and make sure that we’ll be ready for the next day’s activity. I also review what has been shipped and go over our sales numbers. If time allows, I will squeeze in some reading or maybe a podcast on small business, e-commerce, or entrepreneurship.

 

Paul Ocopek of Modern Moose

 

LB: What are 3 things makers should think through when they initially decide to start a business?

Paul: 1. Do you have a product that people want to buy? Can you change it if they don’t? Sounds simple enough, but the market – and retail especially – is a fickle beast. This I have learned firsthand.

2. Can you sell your product at a fair price and make enough profit to sustain your business? I mean real profit. Enough profit to cover employees, equipment, insurance, taxes, leases, trade shows, advertising, sales commissions, etc. To this day, I’m still a little shocked at how fast money seems to fly out the door.

3. Are you willing to sacrifice to make it happen? You will need more time, more money, more patience, and more resolve than you ever thought possible. It will also be the most rewarding and fulfilling thing you’ve ever done.

 

LB: When you’re overwhelmed, what brings you back to focus?

Paul: Fresh air and fishing, and a cold beer never hurts.

 

LB: Tell us about a few of the best business decisions you’ve made to date.

Paul: Buying my first couple pieces of equipment back when I still had my consulting business. The extra revenue stream at the time really helped to absorb some of the costs of a start-up manufacturing business.

Switching materials after 2 years of production. My first products were built like tanks; the wood I was using was too thick and cut very slowly. Therefore, throughput was slow and product costs were too high. I switched to a thinner, more appropriate material, and increased output by 4X. Obviously, this reduced our wholesale price and we were able to hit a much more desirable price point.

Making good hires – a good employee is worth their weight in gold. I have a few early hires that are still with the company, and we would not be where we are today without them.

Hiring good sales people – we use 2 fantastic rep groups that have been essential to our growth.

 

Paul Ocopek of Modern Moose

 

LB: Please share one mistake or obstacle from your business experience. How did you bounce back/overcome it?

Paul: Due to fairly rapid growth and the expenses that come with it, we found ourselves in a bit of a cash flow pinch about a year ago. Fortunately I was able to acquire a line of credit from a local small-business-friendly bank. I’m constantly reminded of a quote from Albert Boateng: “An idea begins the journey of an entrepreneur, but cash flow ensures it continues.”

 

LB: Is there a cause or organization that you contribute to that you’re particularly passionate about?

Paul: We love dogs and are huge supporters of pet adoption and our local animal shelter.

 

Paul Ocopek of Modern Moose

 

LB: What are 3 essential resources in your business toolbox that you can’t do without?

Paul: 1. Shopify – can’t recommend this e-commerce platform enough.

2. Stitch (stitchlabs.com) – this is our online order management software. It’s simple, nice UI and integrates seamlessly with Xero – our accounting/billing software.

3. Xero – see above.

 

LB: Suppose we had a time machine. If you blasted ourselves forward a few years, where would we see your company?

Paul: Hopefully you’ll see managed growth. A few new product lines, a lot more designs and more retail customers. We’d also like to continue to increase our presence on the web. Slow and steady wins the race, right?

 

LB: What’s one thing you would eat, if you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life?

Paul: Buffalo wings and extra blue cheese.

 

Paul Ocopek of Modern Moose

 

LB: Share one of your guiltiest pleasures.

Paul: Sneaking a few minutes here or there and doodling in my sketchbook… except when driving. 😉

 

LB: What’s your favorite quote and who said it?

Paul: “A year from now you will wish you had started today.”  – Karen Lamb

 

LB: If you were given a million dollars, but were not allowed to keep a single penny for yourself, friends or family, how would you spend it or give it away?

Paul: I would start a creative project to get kids more involved in doing things with their hands. School shop classes have all but been eliminated, and we’re losing our ability to build things, use tools, and work with different materials. Our skilled workforce is rapidly declining in this country and I think it’s a big problem – especially if we expect to bring back manufacturing jobs from overseas.

 

Thank you, Paul, for sharing your talent with us!  We absolutely love what you’re doing with Modern Moose, and we look forward to all the wonderful things ahead for you and your company. We’re cheering you on!

 

Want to see your brand featured in our continuing “Meet the Maker” series? Drop us a line: hello AT luckybreakconsulting.com. Please use “MEET THE MAKER” as the subject line and be certain to include your web address. We look forward to hearing from you!

 

Meet the Maker – Wynne McCormick of Crowns for the People

Meet the Maker - Wynne of Crowns for the People

Meet the Maker - Wynne of Crowns for the People

 

Today in our Meet the Maker series, we’re getting to know the lovely Wynne McCormick, who runs Crowns for the People from her studio apartment in Brooklyn, New York. Welcome, Wynne!

 

LBC: What inspired you to take your leap as an entrepreneur?

Wynne: Turning 40, feeling physical pain going to my corporate job, and receiving some surprise money (yes, that happened) all in the same year. I had been hand-making crowns for girlfriends, turning 40 around that time, and was simply ready to start a grand new experiment.

 

LBC: When you first got started, how did you envision your business would be defined?

Wynne: I originally wanted to make crowns that I myself would want to be given. I love textiles, tailoring, and embroidery, and I thought that I could project different ideas onto a single form – that is, the crown. I thought a business that sold nothing but crowns was a very whimsical and unique idea, albeit niche. Another twist was that the crowns are geared towards adults, acting as a temporary reprieve from adult seriousness and real life.

 

LBC: How would you describe what you create?

Wynne: I create beautifully tactile, emotionally intelligent, and boldly thoughtful, tailored crowns for people who seek meaning, connectedness and fun through their gift-giving. My crowns help make visible all of the moments in life, small and big, that deserve notice and celebration.

 

Meet the Maker - Wynne of Crowns for the People

 

LBC: Where can we find your products?

Wynne: At my site www.crownsforthepeople.com (all of the crowns ordered directly from my site arrive in a beautiful red shiny box tied with a bow!) Some of my collections can be found at Amazon as well as several retail locations in the U.S. and internationally (I can say that now that I’m selling in England and Mexico as of July 2016!)

 

LBC: Walk us through your typical work day.

Wynne: I am up by 6am most days. I reserve my mornings for my labrador, Drummer. We are out the door by 6:45am and off to the park. And then, the rest of the day is totally dependent on what is pending i.e., a trade show coming up, bills to pay, etc. I try to do most administrative tasks (which are endless) in the morning. Anything creative is done later in the day.

 

LBC: What are 3 things makers should think through when they initially decide to start a business?

Wynne: 1 – Take “the good opinion of others” in stride. Everyone thinks that they know. Everyone. The “shoulds” that will come at you will be breathtaking. For me, this endless exercise of filtering advice, absorbing some and discarding some, strengthened my ability to stay centered in what I was doing. It’s important to be tested and this will test you.

2 – Pay attention to those in the “arena.” These are the folks to watch and learn from. They understand how much work is required and they understand the holy act of putting yourself out there. Those who are not in the arena, don’t have the same understanding and wisdom.

3 – You need some cash. It costs money to make stuff, but it also costs money to sell stuff. It’s good to have some cash flow at the ready because there will be plenty of unexpected costs. You don’t want to have to compromise too much and you don’t want to have to stop too early in your journey due to lack of money.

 

Meet the Maker - Wynne of Crowns for the People

 

LBC: When you’re overwhelmed, what brings you back to focus?

Wynne: Lists and a schedule. I am a planner. I call it my choreography. Just staring at a schedule will make me feel more in control. I schedule deadlines, but I also schedule tasks leading up to the deadlines (very important). It’s as though I need to have my left brain take over, because it tends to be my right brain that gets overwhelmed. Once I have a new version of the latest list and schedule, I can choose to tackle the endless small tasks or I can go deep into a project without fear that I’m taking my eye off the ball.

 

LBC: Tell us about a few of the best business decisions you’ve made to date.

Wynne: 1 – To keep going. It’s been a perilous journey in some ways and I always leave the option of quitting (shame-free!) on the table but the act of persistence and the gifts that show up as a result has been my greatest teacher.

2 – To not rent a studio (yet). Low overhead is everything. I live in a studio apartment with a labrador, and it currently doubles as my office/studio. It has required me to make some compromises – i.e., any extra space is utilized for fabric, inventory, and all other supplies -but it has allowed me to avoid very real rental costs.

 

LBC: Please share one mistake or obstacle from your business experience. How did you bounce back/overcome it?

Wynne: When i first started doing trade shows, my crowns were over-priced for the wholesale market, and yet I did it anyway. I did it anyway because I had hope that there might be some buyers, and that I might get some sense of the market by putting myself out there. Buyers showed me a lot of appreciation, but not a lot of sales. As a newcomer, it was really demoralizing, and I did not expect the shock and horror of buyer sticker shock as they walked by my booth.

By the end of the first day of the second show, I decided to have a new objective for the remaining four days of the show. Instead of sales, my goal would be to educate myself in manufacturing overseas in order to solve my price point issue. I had tons of conversations with fellow sellers (and some buyers) who were well-versed in producing product abroad. By the end of the show, I had a new manufacturer and a new price point.

 

LBC: What are 3 essential resources in your business toolbox that you can’t do without?

Wynne: Evernote – I do everything in Evernote. Everything.

Left brain desk/Right brain desk – I got this idea from Austin Kleon (author of “Steal like an Artist”), I found myself driven to insanity when I had to clear off my work table every time I had accounting and other administrative tasks and needed table space. I finally bought a real desk from West Elm where all business is done, and my work table is now dedicated to design and making. Relief!

A Singer presser – This was a discovery I made while browsing Amazon. I was in desperate need of finding a solution to applying adequate heat to the fusible that I used to line my crowns. An iron simply did not do an adequate job when it came to doing bulk work. The presser was a life changer. Now that I manufacture most of my crowns, I use it to press the crowns before they are sent out via orders.

 

Meet the Maker - Wynne of Crowns for the People

 

LBC: Suppose we had a time machine. If you blasted ourselves forward a few years, where would we see your company?

Wynne: Crowns for the People would be one of the first destinations for people to go to when they are planning to celebrate someone.

 

LBC: What’s one thing you would eat, if you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life?

Wynne: Quinoa with sautéed kale and sweet potato, topped with a fried egg.

 

LBC: Your musical playlist is full of…

Wynne: Jazz.

 

LBC: Share one of your guiltiest pleasures.

Wynne: Podcasts. I’m a podcast maniac.

 

LBC: What’s your favorite quote and who said it?

Wynne: “Kindness is my religion.” – Dalai Lama

 

 

Thank you, Wynne, for sharing your talent with us!  We absolutely love what you’re doing with Crowns for the People, and we look forward to all the wonderful things ahead for you and your company. We’re cheering you on!

 

Want to see your brand featured in our continuing “Meet the Maker” series? Drop us a line: hello AT luckybreakconsulting.com. Please use “MEET THE MAKER” as the subject line and be certain to include your web address. We look forward to hearing from you!