13 Mar '15
Build a Brand
Posted by Jon Fontane
Building Metal Shop
I’ve had a few people ask how and why I started Metal Shop. So....
What business did I have starting a brand like Metal Shop? Do I have a background in design...no. A background in machining? Well...no to that as well. So then how and why did Metal Shop come about? Funny, I sometimes ask myself that same question. Almost a full two years into this little journey and I finally think I am starting to figure it all out. Creating a brand from scratch is no easy task, it takes 1) time, 2) resources, 3) a heck of a lot of intestinal fortitude and 4) a willingness (and ability) to wear many different hats. Let’s also throw in a dash of dumb luck as well (as I’ll explain later).
What got me interested in even thinking about making things out of metal? It’s a two part answer.
First, I believed in something. I believed in the emerging small brand maker movement. Watching what brands like Shinola were doing, transforming a category and a city at the same time. Sites like Huckberry.com and coolmaterial.com were weekly rituals for me. There was a movement growing: quality, ingenuity and best of all, the movement centered around Made in America. I became somewhat obsessed with checking out the featured sales that hit on Huckberry.com twice a week. There was something there and I knew I wanted to try and carve out my niche within it. Always an idea guy; implementation was where I fell short.
The second part of the answer, well its sort of in my DNA. Now, I can’t say I remember a lot, but I did grow up around a machine shop owned by my grandfather and his brother. Liberty Machine Company of Paterson, NJ made machines for a variety of industries. Shop floor downstairs, draftsman upstairs, and the most over the top office for my grandfather; huge self portrait, even bigger leather chair and massive wooden desk. Very old school. So I guess I can say a little of his business savvy and entrepreneurial spirit wore off on me.
Back to the little bit of luck. My luck came in the form of the people I surrounded myself with. My ability to take the ideas from my head and put them on paper was lacking. To the rescue, a good friend with a great head for design. My ability to program, operate, heck even turn on a CNC machine was lacking even more. This time a little luck/fate introduced me to a couple of amazing small machine shops. Guys with years of experience, creative minds and the patience to deal with me.
So, I had the designs, I had the shops to produce them. Why not jump right in?Sometimes it pays to take a step back. But heck, you can’t learn from mistakes unless you make them. I like to say I took the "fire, ready, aim" approach. Like in Field of Dreams, "Make it and they will come," or in my case, they will buy it, right? Well. The moment of truth came at a local pop-up market. I was set; market space rented, product ready, square reader for my iphone to accept payment. What could go wrong? Well, its not that anything went wrong. It was more of things didn’t meet my expectations. That is were point #3 comes in. Intestinal fortitude. Why didn’t I sell more? Do people not like my products? Not like my vision? Are my prices to high? Throughout the market, plenty of compliments were thrown my way. A lot of business cards were handed out. “You sell online, right?” was asked many times. Leaving that day, I realized there was still a lot more work to be done.
Time, attention to detail and the ability and desire to commit yourself 100% to making something grow is a lesson I still learn everyday. When at the market, my website still was not yet finished. Even though I had a product that received positive feedback, there was (and still is) many daily tasks needing completion in order to build a brand. It’s the little things; posting to social media, interacting with customers, making sure your photography is just right. All these things and so much more are needed everyday to be even a blip on the radar that is e-commerce.
Fast forward to today and the struggle is still real. For every one step you take forward you take a few back. More sales means more time shipping product, more time in customer service. Time management and prioritizing your day are key to not taking those few steps back.
So where does Metal Shop go from here? I continue to focus on building a brand that creates unique rugged products. Products that evoke a day gone by, vintage feel, but with a modern touch. The product pipeline is always full. Prototypes are always being tinkered with. Some will become viable - many will not. Partnering with other brands is a key for 2015. Good things happen in teams. It's about finding the right partners and together, creating amazing products.
Bottom line, it takes a lot out of you, its not for the weak of heart and mind, but once you hear from and see your products in the hands of your customers it is all worth it. I look forward to what the future of Metal Shop holds.