Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Marc Staples. I am the founder of DowhHomeModern and the Lago Luna Lakeside Studio in Virginia. With the recent introduction of my original designs of windbells and chimes, DownHomeModern is gaining attention as an educator as well as a producer of quality products. Each Frontier Bell that we sell embraces the history of the place it is named for.
In 2021 I created a collection of small bells based on American Southwest decor. I call the line our Frontier Mission Bells™. The rustic style of these products has grabbed the attention of people who like their homespun appearance. The Frontier Bells has been the primary driver of sales for DownHomeModern. The example below is called “San Gabriel”. It is named after a Spanish Mission in San Gabriel, California.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I am a 3rd generation professional in the fine arts business. Quite a few people on my mom’s side of our family were artists who were crazy enough to believe they could make their living this way, and many did… I started as a painter and am one of the lucky ones in this group. Born of my skills as a painter, In 1996 I founded the Heritage Giclee Printmaking Studio.
The studio was recognized in the book Mastering Digital Printing as one of the founders of the digital art printing industry. I later became interested in producing metal artwork which required that I develop skills in welding.
From painting and printmaking to becoming a welder, what a switch in gears, but I was excited about working in this new medium. I started out making larger monumental pieces, one of which is currently in a Powhatan State Park in central Virginia. As I have grown older, I have gravitated to working on smaller pieces, mostly for home and landscape decor.
You shouldn’t be afraid to reach out to people, stay in front of them, but do it respectfully. I always treat people the way I want to be treated.
The subject matter of these small items was originally all over the map. I created items ranging from garden pig planters to abstract mailbox birds and test-marketed them at local shows and on Etsy. At one point, I made a few small bells and chimes. Once I got some eyeballs on them, they started selling immediately. This was the moment that I saw the opportunity. As a small business person, I have always believed in an idea pulling me before I commit to it… this one seemed like a winner.
When I started doing this I wasn’t in search of a new career or anything like that. My wife wants to consider us as “retired” folks. But I can’t sit still, and I don’t play golf or bingo and such, so I needed something to keep me jazzed.
I love it when I make something that people want to buy from me. It is the ultimate compliment to my work. When sales and referrals for the windbells started to grow, the idea was validated with some financial rewards.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
The windbell idea was accidental. I had been cobbling together items using reclaimed materials. Reclaimed is a trendy thing these days and a lot of metal crafters go that route because they can often find their raw materials for a low cost or even free.
Anyway, some time back I had saved the parts from a scrapped patio torch. The support for the head of the torch was a 3-inch diameter metal tube with a nice patina to it. I cut this thing up and attached (welded) a few pieces to it to fashion it into a small bell reminiscent of some clay bells I saw when I lived in New Mexico. The sound was terrible, much like a cowbell, but it looked cool. I put a price of $55 on it and sold it the same day.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Initially, I added this as one of many items that I had on an Etsy page. Then more orders started coming in. I immediately recognized that one of many problems was that I only had two of the patio torches, so the idea of reclaimed materials went out the window fast. I needed to figure out how to source the raw materials reliably and affordably.
And I also needed to come up with a production system and schematics so that a small shop can keep up with demand. In other words, I had a lot of work to do. I ended my upbringing as a marketing partner who handles most of the promotion and advertising, website updates, and the like. She built and launched the DownHomeModern.com website for me and we are adding new product designs as fast as I can come up with them.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Attracting and retaining customers is hard work with almost any product. The idea of “build it and they will come” is just flat-out false in my opinion. We have pushed the social media and SEO side of DownHomeModern. I am somewhat of a low-key type of person, so with the public promotion, I have been forced to do some things that are beyond the normal bounds of my personality. I have needed to polish my personal story and then tell it to everyone who will listen. I always appreciated a phrase that Bill Clinton once used. He said that “Everyone has a good personal story, but most people just don’t know how to tell it”.
Regarding retaining customers there are a few fundamentals regardless of the size of your business. Good communication is one. You shouldn’t be afraid to reach out to people, stay in front of them, but do it respectfully. I always treat people the way I want to be treated. And a quick response is always appreciated by people when they have a problem with an order.
We market through the fulfillment of the sale. We recently started including a custom-designed “Thank you” note with care and use instructions (as shown here) that are packed with the item to be shipped.
And we are big on promoting handcrafts locally made in Virginia.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We are doing well with the online business and the continuing addition of new designs and product selections has not only increased sales but added to DownHomeModern’s credibility and allowed me to increase prices a bit. I recently added a new line of garden creatures that I call Bogie Critters. This seemed like a natural fit with the bells and chimes and firmly cements DownHomeModern in the Garden & Landscape Home Decor category.
Always recommend that you test market an idea first. I use the analogy of “pushing a rope”... the rope needs to pull you, not the other way around.
I am also working on putting together a wholesale program to sell through gift shops and garden centers. Pricing, logistics, and volume are all items of concern and it is taking a bit of time to figure this part out. But as I said before, I enjoy the challenges, it keeps me jazzed through this second act.
I hope to grow DownHomeModern and the Lago Luna Studio and just see where it goes.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
The biggest lesson that I learned a long time ago, and am reminded of here, is that I can’t do this alone or it will just be a busy hobby. Hobbies aren’t my thing, the serious side always takes me over. I guess that is either a plus or maybe a family curse.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We have the DownHomeModern.com site hosted on Shopify since they seem to have a pretty resourceful platform. The only downside is that I needed to host the domain name elsewhere to use company-named email. I use Bluehost for the domain hosting and they provide free email included in the domain service.
Of course, I still have the DHM Etsy shop. For makers (crafters) who want a good overall platform to sell their work, Etsy is hard to beat. They have automated so much of the business side of the platform and their SEO and marketing are very well done.
We have DownHomeModern as a promotional page on Facebook. I also display a wide range of my original sculpture and artwork on a separate site at marcstaples.com
My marketing partner maintains DownHomeModern Pinterest and Instagram accounts, I don’t get too involved with these. I like to focus my attention on creating and executing new ideas.
Quickbooks is the accounting platform that we use.
Photoshop is the tool that we use for image preparation.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
As far as online resources, it seems like they make a Youtube video for almost everything these days. Years ago I was looking for a solution to bending a particular type of metal and ran across a Youtube video by a metal sculptor in Arizona. I ended up becoming friends with the guy and we have swapped ideas ever since.
In terms of influential design, I would have to cite an individual, Mr. Dale Chihuly, as being very influential. The guy is the biggest in the world as far as glass art, working with teams, marketing, quality control, I could go on and on. Very inspiring in all areas of business.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Lots of aspiring entrepreneurs look for the latest, greatest whiz-bang idea. The problem is, most “great ideas” aren’t that great. I always recommend that you test market an idea first. I use the analogy of “pushing a rope”... the rope needs to pull you, not the other way around.
Also, don’t forget the “why” of starting a business. So many factors come into play that I could write a book about it (and many people have) but if you can make money doing something you enjoy then I say go for it. Try not to break the bank in the process. Very few people have the stamina to “bet the farm” on an idea like Elon Musk has.
Where can we go to learn more?
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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