Sunday, October 14, 2012

Our Small Business Venture

Why haven’t I been painting and posting much lately?  Because my husband Jeff and I have been working on a small business venture.  Over the past 5 months, it has been like working 2 jobs, but it’s been interesting and fun.  Here is how it all came about...

David and Carol Marine
It all started when Carol Marine, a very talented and renowned painter, posted on her very popular blog (link) about this “shadow box” that her husband David built for her.  It was made of PVC pipe and hardboard. 

This tool enabled her to control the lighting on her still life subjects.  I noticed a few of her fans commenting that they would love for David to build one for them, and they would pay for it.  Carol said that David was not interested in doing that, so she kindly put together a blog post on how to make one (link).  Her fans responded with enthusiasm and appreciation, yet a few were still asking if her husband would sell them one.  Carol answered that David again declined.  In David’s defense, he is busy being the webmaster for the very successful art marketing site Daily Paintworks (link).  He helps artists promote, sell, and auction their work using the site’s features.  Carol and David have built their business from the ground up, and are an inspiration to many, including me.

I asked Jeff to make a shadow box for me, and he did, with his own design changes to make it even stronger.  I LOVE using it!  It has solved my problems with lighting my still-life subjects.  My south-facing window in my studio had been driving me crazy, because during the course of a painting session, my shadows would move and the colors and contrast would change slowly.  I kept trying to correct my painting.  This box, functioning as a stage, eliminated that problem.  I was very happy.  I saw a little business opportunity…I knew that there are many artists in the world that do not have the desire to obtain pipe and board from a hardware store, then cut and drill those things to make their own, but could still benefit from having that box.  I thought it would be neat if Jeff could help these people by selling them one, and we could make a little money.  Jeff said, “Sure!  Easy enough!”  In March 2012, I wrote to David Marine and made that suggestion and sent him a picture of it.  He said he was intrigued with the idea.  I quickly got to work developing the product and giving myself a crash course on how to be a small business.    This is what I spent my free time learning:

How to choose a business entity and become legal.
How to charge sales tax.
How to place a PayPal button on my website, and form a merchant account with PayPal.  This includes setting up shipping costs per each state.
How to use Quickbooks so I could do my own accounting.

 Jeff figured out a way to break it down so that a customer only has 4 steps to assemble it.  He shopped around and determined where to obtain the supplies he needed to make a yet unknown number of units.  He developed his own tools for quick manufacturing, in case we got hundreds of orders.  He found a local shipping box company, purchased a stack, and figured out how to package and pad the product with as little waste as possible.  Jeff created an assembly instruction page in Autocad as a PDF file, based on sketches we’d made.

At the last minute, I coerced Jeff into making a side extension feature, that helps keep drapes off of hot lamps.

My conscience and my nursing need for customer safety required this addition, even if it meant it would cut into our profit a bit.  Jeff made it work, and made it fit perfectly into our packaging.  I named it the “Still Life Stage” and designed a logo for it.  I like the name because I think it describes it's function perfectly.

I took photos of our product and used Photoshop Elements to edit out my messy house.  Then I imported those images into iMovie and created an instructional video for YouTube. 

I sent the link to the video to the Marines.  They liked it and were interested in seeing one in real life.  I sent one, and they said they were very impressed with everything about it.  They wanted to work with us.

I also sent one to my artist friend Janettmarie (link) whose studio is at the Stutz building, so we could test the integrity of the shipping box, and to see if she found the assembly to be easy by following the instructions that Jeff had made.  She said it passed with flying colors.  She has also been very helpful to me in my local promotion of it.   She is such a sweetheart. 
I emailed some images to David Marine, and he made a widget for me (see the side bar on the right side of this blog).  I upgraded my website to allow for e-commerce. I posted the product on my site with the PayPal button.  David sent me a draft of Carol’s blog post that she had written about the product so I could review it.

On July 24, we “went live”.  On that day, Carol posted on her blog (link) about the Still Life Stage and her genuine endorsement of it, with a link to my website for ordering.  She also posted the widget on her right side bar, with rotating images of the Stage, and it is also a link to my site.

Jeff and I were excited as the orders came in that day.  We were a bit nervous about it being a flop, or the other extreme, getting so many orders we would drown.   We had no idea what to expect. God smiled down on us, and we got a manageable number of orders.  Over time, orders have slowed down, as people forget about her glowing review on Go-Live day.  But they still trickle in.  And that’s okay, because we have been busy developing another product, called “Jeff’s Canvas & Panel Gripper”This is another product that I am thrilled with, and use all the time, but I'll save that for another post.

I want to thank the following people for their advice, teaching, and help with promotion: Carol and David Marine, Janettmarie, Randy Marra, Cindy Cradler, Qiang Huang, Betsy Bayne, Roy Rodabaugh, Steve Hetrick and Cathy Nobbe,  Jim Hargitt, Mike Hargitt, Alyssa Nobbe, Randy Williams, Rita Smith.

After this, I think its time for me to start making art again.    

1 comment:

JanettMarie said...

Wow, Connie, you and Jeff have been busy!
Happy to hear about the success of the "Still Life Stage".
The canvas & panel gripper looks like a winner to me too!
Have fun this coming weekend in Brookville, oh I wish I could be there too! I hear it is one of the best paint outs in Indiana!