Back in 2012 the meat manufacturing business that my grandfather started in 1959 was shutting it's doors. The last two years of the business were extremely stressful and I needed to find a healthy outlet for all of that negative energy. So I bought a project truck and started converting it into a rock crawler. That’s where my love of metal fabrication began. I would get lost in the process of designing, fabricating and welding this truck together. Every time I went to the shop it would consume me, I found myself working later and later into the night and taking on increasingly complicated projects. By the time the business closed I was a obsessed with metal instead of meat.At that point, I was burned out on the corporate life and wanted to pursue my passion of metal work full time. I joined the local ironworkers union and started a small fabrication shop out of my garage that I ran on nights and weekends. I honed my skills there and researched the latest equipment and techniques until I found out about CNC (computer numerical control) machines. I knew that if I could get my hands on one of those machines, I could compete with much larger shops.
What were the biggest initial hurdles to building your business and how did you overcome them?
I made huge sacrifices to build that CNC machine. I sold my house in California and moved my family across the country to Tennessee where the cost of living was much lower. This let me take some of the equity out of my house to buy a workshop and the parts to build a CNC plasma cutter. I taught myself to build, program and operate the machine using online tutorials and industry specific forums. I worked full time as a union ironworker building high rises, bridges and dams to finance the rest of the shop and tools. 5 years of 70 hour work weeks, in the worst conditions, prepared me for the marathon that is entrepreneurship.
Did you ever deal with contention from your family and friends concerning your entrepreneurial pursuits? How did you handle it? What would you do differently in hindsight?
My family has been very supportive through this whole journey. I have entrepreneurs on both sides of the family so they understand the challenges and opportunity that comes when you strike out on your own.
What would you say was the single most influential factor in your business success?
Unique designs. A lot of people have the same equipment and manufacturing setup but they rely on generic designs; so they're forced to compete on price or finish techniques which are labor intensive. Every design in our store is created in house which gives us a clear point of differentiation and puts us ahead of the competition. No one has the same products and we can quickly change or customize each item to suit out customers because we have the source file.
What do you know today that you wish you would have known when you first got started as an entrepreneur?
It's not enough to make a great product. You have to market, sell and ship that products before making has any significance in a business. In today's digital age the barriers of entry are so low for those three skills. Each one can be difficult to master but the cost of learning and implemenation has never been so low.
I originally thought that having a strong skill set in the workshop would be enough to bring me success but growth is painfully slow when relying on word of mouth and weak social media engagement. Marketing through Instagram, YouTube and Pinterest brings steady traffic to my sales platforms every day. Selling on Etsy is like ecommerce with training wheels, it taught me all the basics of selling online and taught me how to structure my own website for sales conversion. Finally, learning to efficiently package and ship my products around the globe means my customers get their products delivered right to their doorstep. Shipping is the first consideration when designing a new product.
What advice would you give to an upcoming young and old entrepreneur locally and internationally?
Shamelessly self promote your brand, if you are too embarrassed by your idea to shout it from the roof top it's the wrong idea. Be persistent, eventually momentum will take over and you will be racing to keep up with your idea. Be original, otherwise you will be forced to compete on price which is a race to the bottom.