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.
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.