Once upon a time (about 14 years ago) in a land far, far away (Atlanta, GA) there lived a confused princess (yours truly) who was stuck working tirelessly for relentless and evil stepmother (a retail store)…
You’ll have to forgive me, this all still feels like a fairy tale.
You see, I had just earned my Degree in Fashion Design from a renowned program and moved from small-town Ohio to Atlanta, GA. Bright lights, big-city aspirations, and the chance to run into Elton John at any moment… I was ready to make this world mine!
Chapter 1: Finding something fun
I was working for a high-end designer making dresses for all sorts of fabulous people. It was part-time work so I also took a position as a retail store manager. The designer ran out of work and naturally, so did I.
Not a problem… I’ll do it myself.
So I kept my retail job, working up to manager level. I also worked part-time as a waitress. Most importantly, I kept working on dresses. I did made a few pieces myself but getting my name out there was difficult and slow. I pivoted into doing mostly alterations and then almost exclusively wedding dress alterations. This was decent work but there were three problems:
- I wasn’t creating anything.
- The work was kind of seasonal (nobody gets married in the winter months)
- Brides and bridesmaids are probably the worst customers to have (google ‘Bridezilla’ if you don’t understand).
One cold winter night, I got home after trying for an hour to tell a particularly ornery customer that she couldn’t return a couch that she didn’t buy from this store (yes… that happened, more than once… give us retail workers some respect for dealing with this crap). I looked at my dogs and decided on a whim to make them some fancy dog collars.
So I picked out some couture fabric from my dress-making days, disassembled their old dog collars to scavenge the hardware, and set to work on the sewing machine.
“Hey… those look pretty good. You should sell those!”The high-praise that I got from my future husband.
So I put them on Etsy and it turns out that lots of people shared my boyfriend’s opinion.
This was fun and it solved those three problems:
- I was creating something!
- People are always looking for dog collars, no seasonal work here.
- Dogs are waaaayyyy more appreciative customers than bridezillas.
Chapter 2: Is this a thing?
Slowly, things started to pick up. More and more orders came in and it was becoming tough get them all done in time. I ended up quitting my waitressing job. The tips were good but the hours were unpredictable and I had to wear a bolo (don’t ask).
I was flying through Etsy orders. I got to choose fabulous fabrics and put together beautiful pieces that I was proud of. There were also a couple more hard lessons to learn:
- People are nuts.
- I used to think my retail customers were crazy and entitled. Then I met online customers who had no qualms about asking for ridiculous concessions (from impossible customizations to unwarranted refund requests).
- I wasn’t charging enough.
- Creating these pieces took a lot of time and care and I had not priced them accordingly. I was fortunate to have many orders but that required me to stay up into the night measuring, cutting, sewing, crying, redoing, packaging, crying, sewing, and sewing. Upon calculation, I was making far less than minimum wage. To avoid this problem yourself, learn how to price your Etsy items appropriately.
- If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.
- I was getting my fabric and my buckle hardware from other online sellers via Etsy, Ebay, and elsewhere. Inevitably these sellers’ stock would run out. I’d find myself going to Joanne Fabrics for ribbon patterns (nothing wrong with that, ‘you my girl, Joanne’). Then, one day the gal that I was getting my buckles, d-rings, and adjusters from decided to stop selling them to me.
I’ll be honest, there was a short period where I thought that I was done. It wasn’t fair, how could she do that? That was so mean. What am I supposed to do now? I searched around and basically wore out Google trying to find a replacement hardware supplier. All of the other buckle options were total shit.
Wait… ALL OF THE OTHER BUCKLE OPTIONS WERE SHIT. I told my fiancé to hold my beer and I got on the horn with China.
I talked to a handful of factories in China that could manufacture hardware and I asked them to send me samples. They DID NOT want to send me samples. So I told them that I was a big-time Pet Boutique and I needed to find a replacement source for my hardware along the order of many thousands of pieces each month, but I need to see the quality they could provide first…
…and they bought it!
Shortly after, I received a package of their various hardware options that put my old supplier to shame. My huge smile faded a bit when I also saw that they sent me a price quote that included a mold fee and a minimum order quantity.
Even though the amount was modest, I couldn’t afford it at the time. I was stuck. I had a solution to my problems that would give me sole access to an item that was not readily available in the USA, and I could get it for a ridiculously low per-unit cost, but due to quantity requirements it was out of my financial reach.
Lucky for me, my parents are financially savvy and know a good investment when they see one. Without me asking, they loaned me the money for my birthday in July.
It came in the form of a check.
The note said: “Make it happen.”
Chapter 3: Make it Happen.
So I did.
I placed an order for the amount of the check. It was far less than the thousands of pieces I led the factory to believe I would order, but they didn’t call me out on it. Little did I know, in the years to come I would place those orders and even more.
While I waited on my first order to arrive, I sought out the best fabric I could find and I used the hardware samples to make a few prototypes. I put them on online as a presale listing.
By the time the order got to my apartment, I had pre-sold enough collars to use all of them and I used the proceeds to place another, bigger order.
Time for another big decision…
With much trepidation and uncertainty I quit my retail job. I knew that if I wanted to ‘make it happen‘ then I would need to dedicate myself to the process. I became an expert in making Etsy listings, an expert in customer service, an expert in dealing with the post office and managing shipping issues, and an expert in quality control for my collars.
Things were running smoothly but I quickly realized that I was at capacity. Sales were good and my day was full. My profits were better than ever since I was getting factory-direct prices on my hardware. I would be hard pressed to do more with my time. Yet I wasn’t making the kind of money that I wanted.
It was time to grow.
Over the next year I added a two new products: dog harnesses and leashes. I also decided to go straight to the source with my fabric. Much like I did with the hardware, I found a manufacturer overseas that would sell me unique patterns in large quantities for pennies on the dollar.
Next step… I needed a minion.
It turns out not many people can sew. Far fewer people can sew well with attention to detail while receiving constant over-the-shoulder, back-seat-driving, micro-managing advice from a boss who is used to doing everything herself.
So my Mom graciously volunteered for the job.
Once again, I was off and running on an upward trajectory. But things were about to change, big time…
Chapter 4: Life changes, KraftHaus is born.
I had a kid.
Then I had another kid.
A big challenge was finding enough time in the day to shower and get dressed. So you can imagine it was doubly hard to run a business. Sewing was out of the question. Even with the help of my husband and family members, things were starting to go downhill and I saw the writing on the wall.
Was I destined to the life of a housewife, a la Betty Draper?
I wasn’t going down like that. But what could I do? As entrepreneurs, we will all face a moment like this. It wasn’t quick and it wasn’t easy, but here is what happened… I had to take a step back and look at my situation.
What are my assets?
- I had access to both a hardware supplier and a ribbon manufacturer that provided me access to unique materials.
- I had contacts and working relationships with dozens of other Makers and customers.
- I had developed a strong working knowledge of how Etsy worked.
It was time to pivot.
Goodbye sewing. Hello supplying. Hello KraftHaus.
One thing that was still true was that nobody on the World Wide Web was selling collar hardware like the stuff I got from my factory. So I started peddling it. I contacted all the other makers and let them know that KraftHaus Supply Co. was a thing now and they too could get the quality materials for the pieces they were making.
I fancied up my Etsy store and I started marketing like crazy. I perfected my packaging to make my sure people would be ‘wowed’ when they received their orders. I started placing huge orders to China and my basement became my factory.
I spent the days parenting my two beautiful girls while my husband was at work. When he got home he would take over with the kids and I would go to the office to market, network, and actively sell my products. After we tucked the girls into bed, hubby and I would head downstairs to pick, package, and ship orders. He would drop them in the post office before work the next day. Rinse and Repeat.
Chapter 5: Creativity comes calling…
Life has gone on like that for quite a while, business was booming and for the next couple of years I set and reached outlandish yearly revenue goals. But much like Elsa hearing the call of Ahtohallan, I heard the call of creativity!
I want to create. I miss it dearly. So this year I am relaunching and rebranding my Pet Accessory Store, Thursday Moose. I am in active conversations with other entrepreneurs to outsource my warehousing and shipping. This will clear time for me to be creative.
In 2021, you will see Krafthaus launch a blog (duh), produce informative courses for up-and-coming entrepreneurs, and create truly unique and elegant dog collars/leashes/harnesses. I am sincerely excited to see what the future holds and I’m equally excited to see what is in store for you. So please feel free to join me (form below) on my journey and ask me as many questions as you can think of.
If you are in the first couple of chapters of your Fairytale and you need some guidance. Take a look at the different types of dog collars on the market to get some inspiration. And if you have already started your journey, don’t forget to always have one eye towards GROWING your business. See How I Set My Etsy Prices and make sure your are being rewarded for your passion.
In the incredibly insightful words of my parents…
MAKE IT HAPPEN.