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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!