This is a follow up story for Valhalla Wood Forge. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published about 1 year ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
Hello! My name is James Wolfer, and I am the founder, co-owner, and lead jewelry designer at Valhalla Wood Forge and our jewelry brand, Wolfhart Designs. We are a veteran-owned company that started in 2017 with wood flags and have since grown to include designer wedding bands.
Our two main product lines, decor, and jewelry have counter-cyclical busy seasons, which is great. Our wood flags are huge during November and the gift-giving season, and our rings are very popular in the spring and early summer leading up to the wedding season.
“The Hunter” ring - Tungsten with elk antler and copper inlays
Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?
The business has been phenomenal this year. Last year, I had hired my first employee, Alex, after revenue had tripled in 2019. In January of 2020, I had my first child and was struggling to keep up with the demand and let sales slump a little. Alex approached me with a proposal about buying into the company, as he really believed in where it was going, and believed he could help take us to the next level. So I agreed and brought on Alex as an owner and partner with a minority stake.
Don’t be afraid to bring on the right people.
Originally, we had planned on finding a commercial building and building out a storefront for our items, with our employees having a central location to work in. But then COVID hit, and shops closed, so we pivoted away from that very quickly. We used Alex’s buy-in funds to fully outfit a second shop at his house, and later, a third, smaller shop at another employee’s house. When everyone got their stimulus checks, our sales began increasing massively and continued throughout the year. We began marketing heavily to the military, law enforcement, and firefighters, and revenue continued to increase, so much so that we brought on three part-time employees to help with demand.
Throughout the year, as Alex and our employees took on more and more of the flag making side of the business, I was able to focus my creative energy on the ring making business and have come up with dozens of new designs, including elk antler rings, meteorite rings, and a lot of carbon fiber-based bands. Recently, we launched a high-end line, The Imperial Collection which is made from rare materials. One of our more popular rings is the Andromeda, which is made from a solid meteorite and inlaid with an offset rose gold wire.
Additionally, bringing on Alex has been amazing for the company. Alex is great at managing people and manages our three employees. Also, he has come up with several new products himself, including a gear rack built for law enforcement to hang their duty gear on. This has been a HUGE seller this Christmas season, despite only launching this product line a few weeks ago.
Our gross revenue is on track to surpass $100K this year. As of now, we’re at $97K gross, which is great considering this is only a side business for both Alex and me. One thing that has helped a lot is in October we brought on outside marketing, paying a small fee to a local marketing company to do our social media marketing. We’ve seen amazing ROAS from that on our Shopify store.
Etsy has been a major letdown this year (minus November). For the most part, it has slumped for us, and from what we can tell from Etsy forums, for a lot of other shops as well. At one point, I considered closing the Etsy shop entirely, but we were still making about 5-10% of our sales there, so we kept it. This month, November 2020, has been huge with Christmas shopping, so we’ll likely keep it into 2021 but continue to focus our efforts on our Shopify channel as that has been growing like crazy.
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
I think COVID, like most everyone, took us by surprise. We had to quickly pivot, as we had plans in place to get a commercial level shop and have employees working there. This worked in our favor, however, as our profit margin is well above most businesses of our type since our overhead is very low with our workshops being located in private homes. Our costs consist of materials, advertising, a small amount to insurance, and labor. Our labor costs, even with three employees, is very small compared to the profit we turn.
Additionally, since much of our customer base remained employed during the COVID recession, sales were steady for much of the year (except July for some reason), and have continued to increase. As of now, our 12-month revenue has grown an average of 243%. One of our struggles, however, has been an absolutely oversaturated wood flag market with so many people working from home and/or unemployed. Thankfully, we started earlier and command a much larger market share, and to be honest, our quality and customer service still stands above much of the rest. However, it still has been a struggle when some of our customers will see home hobbyists making wood flags at half our price, even if the quality is often much lower.
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
One of the things we’re working on is continuing to bring our lead times down on flags. We’re on average about 4 weeks on flags now, compared to 8-10 weeks last year. The exception to this is during our busy season of November, which we tell people they’ll get them by Christmas instead of the normal 4-week turnaround. We focus heavily on custom flags, so that makes it more difficult to prepare, but with the employees, we have brought on, I have no doubt we’ll be able to shorten that lead time again next year.
The ring business is continuing to grow and has the highest profit margin and the least competition. We are continuing to sell these on our main channel, Valhalla Wood Forge, but are launching a sub-brand, Wolfhart Designs, in the next few weeks (likely by the time this has been published!). We’ve already got the domain bought and business DBA registered, we just are waiting until the flag busy season is over to really push it. We plan on taking the marketing for this brand in a completely new direction to take a bite from the multi-billion dollar wedding industry. My wife, who remains my partner in the majority share of the company, has begun helping a lot with the marketing director of the new brand due to her background in event planning, and I’ve begun training Alex on ring designs as well so he can assist with fulfilling orders and at some point, designing his own rings.
Our plans for next year include getting an SBA loan, converting to an S Corp, and doubling the revenue again to $200K. Long term, as in the next five years, I plan to grow enough to bring on full-time employees and a manager to work in a shop, fulfilling the flag and ring orders based on our designs, while both Alex and I continue as designers and executives, making high-level decisions and continuing to come up with designs. We’re kicking around the idea of bringing in outside investors within a year or two to accomplish this, especially as we break into the wedding industry. We also plan on increasing our executive team to include a CFO and other key roles, including legal, at some point down the line.
The Engineer: Acid-etched Superconductor with a rose gold inner liner. Part of our Imperial Line
Have you read any good books in the last year?
Currently, I just started From Good to Great which has been highly recommended to me. I’ve been reading a lot of fiction this year, just to take a break from work and running a business, which I found has helped my creativity a ton.
All too often, entrepreneurs get obsessed with being busy, without taking time to recharge. We’re creative types, and we need that creative energy to pour into our businesses.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
Don’t be afraid to bring on the right people. I was feeling so burnt out from this business after my child was born, but once I brought on a partner and some employees, I was able to delegate the tasks that drained me so I could focus on the parts of the business that really excite me. After all, entrepreneurship is a lot of work, but it really can be exciting and rewarding. Keep finding ways to keep that feeling, that spark, alive.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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