HOW I WENT FROM HOBBYIST TO SUCCESSFUL LEATHERGOODS BUSINESS OWNER

 

There is nothing wrong with picking up leatherwork as a hobby and being perfectly happy leaving it at that.

But for those of your that love your leatherworking hobby and often find yourself in a daydream thinking, "how cool would it be if I could turn this into a business?",

I've got a story for you.

And that is the story of how I went from hobbyist leatherworker to successful leathergoods business owner and how I did it.

 

In 2008 I got laid off from my job.

Now this is not Step 1. You don't need to get laid off from your job to start a small business. But it was at this point that I had a lot of time of my hands and less then $1000 in the bank and I started my online business.

Long story short, I had a sewing machine and some fabric and I started making women's dresses and tops.

My clothes were so popular with friends and family that I started selling them on Etsy. At the time, Esty was just getting popular and it was a really great platform to start an eCommerce business on.

It was fun but I really kind of stumbled into this whole business thing.

What I realized in this early stage, was that it was totally within reach to never have to go back to a regular "JOB" and that if I wanted to make that a reality, I needed to start getting serious with my business strategy and marketing.

I started participating in craft markets in 2009.

In 2009 I started to participate in craft markets as one of my main methods of selling and marketing my business.

Not only was I making a profit from selling my work at these markets but I was also able to network with vendors and shoppers.

Networking with other vendors should not be overlooked because collaborating with other artists is a great way to get in front of new audiences. You never know how these interactions will come to play out in the future so I always made the rounds at markets and talked to other vendors.

After awhile I started to recognize people as I did more and more markets. Getting to know the other vendors was also a great way to get inside info about the market - like if the foot traffic was good and if the market was worth doing.

This was super valuable information.

Getting to interact with your customer 1 on 1 was equally valuable. I got to see how people were reactng to my goods. I was able to speak with them in person and learn from the questions that they were asking, what I needed to make clearer in my branding.

One of the biggest takeaways that I received through my 1 on 1 contact with customers was that most customers do not know the amount of effort that goes into leatherwork.

Which is not their fault, but it is why I try to make customer education a focal point in a lot of my marketing. 

Then I got into wholesaling and consignment.

It was also at one of these early markets that I had a conversation with a customer who loved my work. She didn't end up buying anything but what she did do was so much more valuable.

She gave me the contact info of a friend of hers who had a store because she thought that my goods would be a perfect fit. She said to me, "tell her that I sent you."

So, on a whim, I reached out to the store owner and the following week I was in her office having a meeting with her.

I was very nervous, but I showed her handmade goods which she loved and she placed one of many wholesale orders right there.

I remember leaving her office, thinking, "what just happened??"

I couldn't believe I got a yes!

I rode that high and managed to get my clothing into 4 other shops in NYC that year. 

Then I took a 5 year break to help run a luxury business.

This is the part that I don't talk about much because it's not directly related to leatherwork.

What it is related to though, is running the operations of a luxury interiors and lighting business for 5 years.

I started as the bookkeeper at this growing company and took every opportunity presented to me until I had worked my way up to the position of Director of Operations. I worked very closely with the owner on the major financial, production and personnel related decisions of the business. 

In a nutshell, what I learned in those 5 years working for a small but very successful company was that creating a life that you love and getting paid to do what you love is soo possible.

With my extensive business experience that I gained in those 5 years under my belt, in 2016 I decided to go back out on my own and work on my leathergoods business full time.

Leather Beast

It was at this point that I decided that I wanted to teach other people both how to make traditional leatherwork as well as how to start their own successful leathergoods businesses.

In 2017 I launched Leather Beast and the the various social platforms that I use to teach and help other aspiring business owners and it's been growing ever since.

So thats my zig-zag of how I went from hobbyist to successful business owner. 

Guidelines for going from hobbyist to business owner..

Over the year, there are a few golden rules that I've learned about what it takes to create a successful and sustainable leathergoods business:

  • Listen carefully to your customers and feedback about your products. Take note of what they're looking for so you can develop products that they want to buy.

  • Educate your customer on the value of your process, materials and product.

  • Make connections not just with paying customers, but with other artisans and browsers as well. You never know how those relationship could develop in the future.

  • Believe that your work is valuable and if you don't believe this then go back to the drawing board and redesign it or improve your craftsmanship.

  • Take advantage of opportunities to learn from people who have already created a successful business at every chance you can.

 
 

Do you have a story of how you went from a hobbyist to a successful business owner? Share it in the comments below.