This is a follow up story for JAQET. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published over 5 years ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
My name is Jacques Flynn and I run JAQET, a small leather goods company out of Long Beach, California. I started JAQET in 2012 when searching for what I thought was the perfect wallet that seemed impossible! I wanted something slim, high quality, and made in America.
I am a designer by trade, designing cars for major automotive companies. I have designed concept cars, production cars and even got to design a race car competing in the DPi (Daytona Prototype International) race series. I love designing cars but have always been interested in fashion. I thought not finding the wallet I wanted could be a great opportunity to dive into some new design work! I started the same way I design cars, researching other brands and products, looking at inspiration/influence images, and finally some pen and paper sketching. This part of the design process is always the most fun for me. It’s the most creative part of hands down!
After I had a few designs I liked I searched for someone to help make some prototypes and test the product. This became more difficult as well. I wanted everything hand-stitched, and all the small factories in LA that I spoke with wanted to use machines. It got to the point where I decided to learn the craft of leatherworking and do it myself. I thought I would just build the first dew and then have a factory copy my technique. Well, 8 years later and we still do all our manufacturing in house. We hand stitch every wallet. While I have maintained my day job as a car designer, JAQET has made enough money to self-sustain and put a few extra dollars in my pocket while at times employing up to 4 dedicated craftspeople. It has also taught me a monumental amount about business and what it takes to be successful.
Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?
Over the past few years, I have gone through personal changes that have no doubt affected JAQET. The main one is I took on a new job as Director of Exterior design at Karma Automotive in 2017. The job has been challenging with many overseas trips to support a variety of projects and has taken up the vast majority of my time. I still run JAQET from my wife and I’s a new home (quite a bit smaller than the last home, so a new set of challenges there) where there is some dedicated workspace.
Take the time upfront to develop the idea and make sure you’ve looked at the idea from every possible angle.
I knew this career change was coming so before I took on this new role I had my small team create a large inventory as to not sell out of too many pieces right away. We have now sold out of many pieces but do still have some in stock that sell from time to time. Our overhead is so small that even selling just a few wallets a month can sustain the company. Currently, our only bill is to keep the webstore open and the domain name, so not much stress there which is nice.
I wish I could dedicate more time and energy to JAQET, but for now, I plan to just let it float along, still being the brand I always envisioned and at any point has the potential to grow with some dedicated time and investment. At this point, I am the only one working at the company. We have not released any new products for the past few years, just focusing on our best sellers and looking at possibly discontinuing some pieces. In the early days of the company, I would do multiple new products a year, and now we have so many SKUs for people to choose from.
I have stopped running paid ads as I found that for the money, they do not yield an impressive return. The best marketing we’ve found is the word of mouth and our return buyers, of which we have many. I would say that most of our customers have come back and purchased another wallet, either for themselves or as a gift. Our return rate is almost zero, with many customers writing to me how much they love their new piece. This is something I’m very proud of.
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
Like most small businesses these days, I think our biggest lesson this year is it’s impossible to plan it all out. COVID has no doubt affected our sales over the past few months. Luckily with our overhead so low, we can navigate and adapt to this challenging time.
The business was quite streamlined before COVID, but now so even more. As stated earlier, the company is now just handling all the order fulfillment and simple website maintenance. The shop space we currently use is smaller than before, but with proper organization, it is not a problem. Our smaller space is proving that sometimes being forced into a somewhat uncomfortable place can yield positive results.
On top of that, the number of competing brands is now so much larger than when we started. As I said, it was tough to find a slim handcrafted wallet made in America in 2012, but now the options are endless! We do have our loyal customers, but attracting new ones can be challenging!
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
Our plans for the next 5 years are to keep the company afloat and growing as best it can. It sounds a bit conservative because it is, but during these times both personally and professionally the next steps for JAQET need to be calculated. We still get sales and can keep everything in place. When the time is right I will put the proper investment into the company and take the next steps.
While we’ve been a leather goods brand for 8 years I often think about what could our next line be? Could we branch into other materials and fabrics with the same high-quality hand made approach? These are fun thoughts and are constantly buzzing around my head. When the time is right, our next line will be sure to impress, this I can promise!
Have you read any good books in the last year?
Most of the books I look at these days are large format print books that offer an incredible amount of inspiration for the JAQET brand (as well as day job car design stuff as well!). Two that I have been looking at recently are Gasoline and Magic which has amazing images and stories about the early days of automotive racing. More specifically the 60s when there was no doubt certain magic to what these individuals were doing in race cars. Much more dangerous but the romance and excitement that was present provide wonderful stories and photos.
Another book I’m constantly looking at is Julius Shulman’s, Los Angeles. Incredible photographs of some very iconic architecture around the city I live in. Another subject of the past but one that again holds a certain mystic and theater that can be tough to find in our modern world.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
Patience. That’s a big one for me...to practice patience through any stage in developing your own business. Take the time upfront to develop the idea and make sure you’ve looked at the idea from every possible angle.
As far as growth, it seems hard these days to pick the best marketing platform or ad strategy..there are so many! If you have a good product that you believe strongly in, I think the best marketing strategy is to get into people’s hands. We gave out a lot of free wallets in the early days...not to influencers or celebrities but friends. That has been the best source of marketing to date. It might not reach huge numbers, but the people it does reach get a very authentic opinion on a product. The impact made here can stick versus an Instagram ad that 99% of people will just blow through.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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