So as you can see across this series of interviews there are a lot of different ways to run a business and a lot of points of view. Everyone has a story, now it’s time to write yours. Good luck!
How long have you been working for yourself?: Ok, to be clear, we started the business about 2.5 years ago. It is not my full time gig… not yet. [The] Business began as a way for me to sell my crafts; A way to pay for our visits to comic cons; and finally a way for me to teach my children how to run a business.
What do you do as your day job while you work towards that goal?: I’m a software engineer for a global corporation that you’ve never heard of. I have three daughters. They all work at the booth with me.
Ah faceless anonymity, are you a cubicle dweller?: Office dweller but we do have cubes.
How long did it take you to build your business to where it is now?: Is a business ever done building? We started with simple hand sewn crafts. From there it’s moved into sewing, woodworking, t-shirts, retail merchandise from china…frankly anything I can do to get money into the cashbox. That being said, we do take pride in what we sell and do our best to keep our price points low. As a father who’s been to many cons with his children, I know how much the high prices hurt. Especially with current ticket prices at most of the big cons. We always make sure to have some kid friendly rings or toys at the $1 mark so parents can get their kids a treat. without breaking the bank. I approach the business as a father first, business man second. A luxury because I’m not trying to pay my mortgage.
Do you expect your business to start paying your bills soon?: OOOOH no. So far the business still runs at a loss though this might be the first year we see a true profit. Especially with the poor showings we’ve seen at the conventions over the past year or so. Wizard World Philly, our home show, was miserable last weekend. We didn’t lose money but we certainly didn’t do the numbers I was expecting. I know from friends in the business that show revenues are down at least 25% over recent years.
Sakura Sisters: I had heard that Wizard World Philly was pretty bad.
Man Crafting: WWP was just painful.
Sakura Sisters: In your opinion why was WWP so bad?
Man Crafting: You hear so many theories as to why it was so bad but my personal theory is simple… the public has been burned by high ticket prices and very little value coming from WW. Some vendors were blaming the lack of big ticket celebs and maybe that’s true…. But I’ve met more than one guest who said they can’t believe they paid so much to get into a glorified flea market. I’m a comic fan. So for me hunting down artists and writers to get books signed was a big part of the fun but most of the big names are avoiding WW these days. So as a comic fan, why pay so much money to go to a show?
What made you choose to start your own business?: This will sound silly but a posting on FB in my comic book group. A member posted a picture of a pillow made with some superhero print. The group went nuts and said they would pay all kinds of money for the pillow. I know how to sew…. so I bought a machine and started making pillows with super heroes. From there it was talking to my friends Tommy and Sammy Castillo. They make their living on the convention circuit with Tommy’s artwork. They told me to get a table and make some money. So I’m combining my love of conventions with my love for making crafts and creating into a viable small business. And teaching my girls about finances along the way.
So you’ve covered a little of this in your previous answer but why did you choose the product you sell?: Crafting is an evolution of skills. My skill level allowed me to make pillows. From there I took my sewing to the level I wanted to. I invented a Dice Bag that opens into a Dice Tray. We call it the Dice Trag. I make stuffed toys and a few other products on the sewing machine. We began making buttons to add something to the table. Then we discovered jewelry making. Now our earrings are a good 30% of our business. For the business I bought some wood working tools to make some display cases. That’s evolved now into making Harry Potter style wands and sewing up “wand holsters”.
What advice would you offer someone who wants to start their own business?: Shut up and do it. There is no magic and no easy way. I put a ton of time and effort into this business and that’s the only way a business can succeed. Sweat, blood, and maybe some tears. Also, be prepared to fail. Failure is going to happen and you need to be prepared for it. Don’t spend rent money on a vendor table expecting to get the money back. Expect to lose it all then you’ll never sweat over a bad show. Finally, keep moving forward and diversify. Selling only one product is not going to make you money. Earrings that sell like crazy one weekend fail to sell at all the next .Pillows that sit for 3 shows suddenly sell out. Lastly, learn how to be friendly and talk to people. At a con, if you’re not talking to the guests they’ll just keep walking. Make eye contact, ask about their day and don’t worry about selling anything. Human interaction is your best tool.
Do you ever worry that you’ll lose your business?: Lose the business…… hmmmmmm. Since it’s not my livelihood I’d say “no”. But I’d be very sad to not have that creative outlet in my life. Not to mention all the friends I’ve made from our “booth buddies”, vendors we’ve worked next to, over the years.
How did you fund your business?: Funding this kind of business isn’t too bad at my stage in life. You need a really small investment… less than 1k to get some product and open a table. Personally I work some side contracts as a software engineer and that money goes to fund my business. As I said, you have to work hard. I don’t have a lot of free nights.
Is this something you hope to pass on to your kids?: What I hope is they see me as a small inspiration to avoid the over traveled road of college into unhappy job. I’d like to see college into open their own business and succeed while working hard but happy.
If you had to do this all over again is there anything you would change?: Hindsight is 20/20 of course. Many of my crafting projects fell apart and never saw the light of day. I’d avoid those. I’d prob do more shows in the first year.
How far do you travel to get to cons?: Baltimore is the farthest for my business. With the Castillo’s I went to Gencon last year and will be running their booth at SDCC next month.
Do you ever hope to have a brick and mortar store or will you sell solely at cons?: OH… it would be nice but we’re all watching the slow decline of brick and mortar. There will always be a place for physical stores but it’s getting harder and harder to imagine trying to run a shop these days. Perhaps when I retire?
Where would you like to see yourself and your business in ten years?: In 10 years my girls will be grown and out of the house (God willing). My hope is I’m still crafting and working shows and my daughters will come work with me. A great reason to spend time together. Beyond that, I’m hoping in the next year to get my products to a point that I feel I’d do well at the New York Comic Con or maybe even get crazy and get my own table at SDCC.
How do you feel about the number of Cons in your region?: I had one vendor telling me there are too many Cons in the Philly area. I don’t agree. Philly gets WW Philly, which is going down hill and we get The Great Philadelphia Comic Convention (only a few years old). Beyond that we get small room shows here and there. … The argument is we also have NY and Baltimore, Virginia, NJ, etc. And that’s true… but I feel the large makeup of any attendee list is going to be locals. Not a ton of moms are going to drag 4 kids for a 3 hour drive to go to a convention.
Sakura Sisters: So you think your area could benefit from a few more cons? What size do you think they would need to be?
Man Crafting: Summer is not the right time for comic shows. Winter baby!!! And fall. On a nice spring or summer day, people are out and about… having fun, enjoying the day. On a freeze your ass off February day, people need a place to go. And they have holiday gift money to spend.
Sakura Sisters: So it’s more a when as opposed to a where for you?
Man Crafting: Agreed. I’d also like to see some ideas on making the shows more fun for the guests. Give them some more value for their entry price. We have a small show at a local middle school in my area. The only invite local artists and do not allow vendors. They open a large part of the school including the library and gym. They have many of the artists run creative group games for the children to participate in; adding free value.
What improvements would you like to see in Cons?: Why not do the same at the conventions and allow for adult level games as well? Offer “make your own cape” type craft booths? I could go on for a while….
Sakura Sisters: Maybe we can do a separate interview for that.
Man Crafting: hehehehehe
What do you look for in a convention?:Comic creators. I’m a comic reader and want to meet them. I’m also looking for new talent. Let me find some artwork that moves me. Let me talk to that artist and get to know them. Let me take my kids for a fun weekend where they come home and say thank you to me for a fun time.
What is your dream Con?: The Baltimore Comic Convention is close. They are always heavy on comic creators and vendor/guest friendly. My treatment as a vendor at WWP really showed me how well Balt.CC is run.
As you know I’m doing these interviews to garner advice for new business owners, what would you have most wished to hear back when you started?: Don’t be afraid. I was so worried at the time since I was messing with family money. Not a lot of money but my fear of buying materials and paying for vendor table and tickets…blah, blah, blah. I was so worried about not making any money it made it hard for me to relax. Put your products together and dive in. The money will come.
Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me, do you have any parting remarks?: “Sorry for being long-winded”?
Sakura Sisters: haha It’s fine
Man Crafting: Always happy to talk shop.