I Turned My Hobby Into A $4.5M/Year Metal Wall Art Business
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hello, our names are Ali Bedrettin Boz and Cagri Ayten. We founded Hoagard in 2014. We took up designing as a new hobby and created steel samples. At first, nobody realizes what is going to happen. Results are extraordinary. We had not only got a new hobby but also, brought a brand new notion to interior design.
Since its establishment, Hoagard has made an indelible impression with its metal wall decor designs. Its first rise was with animal designs made in geometrical style and especially with the “world map” design. It has become a brand that generally attracts people who are interested in interior decoration.
Hoagard was established without investment. So it was not a gold mine between the years of 2014 and 2016 the situation was relapsing during these years. By making a huge leap in 2016, it has become a brand that reaches an average annual turnover of 4.5 - 5.5 million Euros.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
My name is Cagri Ayten. I was born in Turkey in 1988. Graduating from the Department of Electrical and Electronics Engineering, I started working in several places in the field of engineering. Then I focused on music and started to play drums on the stage for many years and provide training in this field.
Then, we put the idea of starting a design atelier into action together with my 2 friends who are graphic designers and architects. We have signed many projects and completed them successfully but also we had many problems in this process.
A startup with a good idea, the right team, and a solid strategy will lead you to great results.
The most important of these was that our idea was not appreciated as we had expected. We decided to transform our idea into a physical object and introduce it to the whole world by establishing an e-commerce system and we started to lay the foundations of the Hoagard brand. Today, we continue on our way with my architect partner Ali Bedrettin Boz and a team of 42 people.
We realized that we had to continue our e-commerce adventure, which we started with designing posters, with a different category. Because the blue ocean strategy was more suitable for us to move forward in this journey. After working on many materials, we decided that metal was a good fit for us. It was an advantage for us that it had a rigid stance and was able to contrast with the designs, as well as having a suitable material for the shipping process. So, we fixed our attention to designing metal wall decors.
Metal Wall Decor had a low search volume and we rarely saw it in the e-commerce world. Therefore, there wasn’t an exact competitor for us and we tried to be inspired by different aspects of different brands. But overall, we had to define our brand strategies entirely. When we realize that we are creating a category that has never been mass-produced before, “that's it!” was what we said.
It was not a field in which we had the expertise, but we were familiar with many parts of it thanks to our original professions. We predicted that a good initiative would emerge from the combination of an architect, an electrical and electronics engineer, and a graphic designer. Because there were sections that related to these three different fields and each of us could be interested in.
After the designs were created, the first samples appeared there. Since e-commerce is a very complex field, we had to consider many factors at the same time. We had to solve specific parts such as the e-commerce system used, advertising channels, social media management, shipping process, and communication with a team of just 5 people. Although it was a difficult process, we solved these problems in a short time by making a great job-share among ourselves.
Later, we had to work on a name and logo that would represent the category and turn us into a global brand. The name Hoagard is a name designed to be memorable and to create an effect that parallels the work we do. After the name Hoagard was created, we completed the circle and our project came to life.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
The idea of metal wall decor began to emerge and this led the design ideas began to emerge, simultaneously. We started to make designs inspired by the steampunk era. Later, Scandinavian patterns were also used, considering that we should make also some modern designs.
Although the designs were tried to be made by the production process, it was a difficult period for us to take samples and revise them. Because they were very few and it was a new category, it made the production phase difficult. But as a result of intense efforts, the first samples were taken and they were highly appreciated.
It is very important to consider branding as a whole. From design and R&D departments to the shipping company we work with, good steps should be taken to bring the brand to a better place.
The most important point we pay attention to when choosing a supplier is the trust factor. We take cognizance of choosing solution-oriented suppliers who can support us during the operation process. Another point is continuity, we try to go for more innovative suppliers whose quality does not impair over time. The most important thing regarding this issue is that alternative suppliers are also in your system. We need to take quick action in any crisis period.
It wasn't easy to get the first sample, it was not easy to put small quantity products as an unknown brand on the production line of high-volume companies. But in the city we live in, it was not impossible to do this. After searching for several manufacturers, we were able to get the first sample. Once the samples were out and approved, we had to move on to the packaging process. Because one of the most important stages of the e-commerce system is the proper packaging of the product. For this reason, we are still making R&D works on this subject even today. At that time, our priority was to choose a packaging method that is most easily reachable and that we can protect the product in the best way.
After the online ads were placed, we started to take our first bulk orders and in a short while, we have seen that many companies started to contact us. But since we are a company that attaches great importance to branding, we had to choose our partners very carefully. We needed vendors to represent us correctly, and we had to make sure that we could meet the demands of the other party since there was no established production line. It took us a long time to find the right manufacturer. Since it was a design-oriented collection, it had to be preserved very well. Therefore, the production line took place at the end of a process that was followed until 2018.
We advertise on many social media channels such as Google, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Youtube and change the strategies periodically. E-commerce is an area where many ups and downs can be experienced during the year. Therefore, both budget adjustment and advertising strategies should include periodical differences. Accordingly, we can follow interaction-oriented strategies in some periods and sales-oriented strategies in other periods.
We were supporting the brand with the income we got from our works. Since we did not have any capital, this was a very tiring process for us. Especially in processes where production had to be concentrated, we were taking extra debt and taking risks to move forward. We took out patents and copyrighted our designs to protect our brand in the process of time. Of course, we couldn't handle these costs at once. At the same time, we used some promotions during these times. To be honest, this has been a costly and challenging process for us. It can turn into a much more challenging process, especially if your purpose is to be a global brand. Therefore, during this process, we tried to benefit from government promotions. But following the legal processes afterward was more difficult than obtaining a patent. Since the legal system of each country works differently, we have had times that are at least as challenging as obtaining a patent.
Describe the process of launching the business.
It was not until the end of 2016 that the brand gained real momentum. It took time to prepare the correct images and content to promote the product as we had very few role models to look up to. Discovering that our designs are complementary and establishing our strategy in this direction allowed us to grow in a short time.
Our first sale started with local customers, but our first overseas sale was very exciting for us. We even wrote a note on it stating that was our first client. Then, after focusing on eye-catching visuals and sensible advertising strategies, our sales increased rapidly.
Our first website was not much different than today in terms of infrastructure, but it was much more complex regarding the design and content. We have simplified the design day by day. Technically, we are using much more integration systems on our website although it used to have a more manual system. First, the advertising panels of Facebook and Instagram channels were used as they were the most suitable channel for us as we design visual-oriented products. Including Display ads and providing fast access to new users, Shopify was very helpful for our processes.
Hoagard grew up with a completely self-sustaining nature. No extra support was needed as the revenues were spent rationally. The biggest expenditure items for us were advertising and shipping. While the well-made contracts and the right packaging relieved the shipping/cargo expense, the high roas in the advertising channels helped us to overcome the costs in the design field.
A startup with a good idea, the right team, and a solid strategy will lead you to great results.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
It is very important to consider branding as a whole. From design and R&D departments to the shipping company we work with, good steps should be taken to bring the brand to a better place. Because all these will reflect positively on the customer experience. Therefore, it will be much easier to bring back a satisfied customer. You can also achieve a good conversion rate when supported by remarketing ads and mailing.
We are constantly trying to expand our sales channels to increase the traffic. In current ones, our priority is to have an interactive attitude by creating innovative content. To increase the sales, we are trying to give varieties by creating new categories. Besides, we are in an endeavor for upgrading the customer experience.
Recording and evaluating the criticisms and suggestions from customers is also one of the factors that affect branding positively. It is also very important to reduce the return rate and provide a better customer experience. Surprising them as well as meeting their expectations is one of the effective methods to increase traffic to your sales. You can do this with innovative ideas and good content. Although the time people spend on social media channels has increased, the time they spend on content has shortened. We need to get their attention as soon as possible with beautiful images and content.
However, in certain periods, there may be a noticeable decrease in the number of visitors to our websites, especially during the holiday seasons when people spend more time outside. At these times, it will be useful to spend this time optimizing our advertising budgets and concentrating on our different departments. In general, we have experienced some decreases up to 50% in the advertisement channels due to the technical problems beyond our control. The updates in these channels and correspondingly, the algorithm changes were the most challenging factors for us in this journey.
Almost all marketplaces require specific attention. Although it is a good source of income, it is extremely risky to build the future of the brand through these channels and that’s why our priority is our own sales channels. We use marketplaces mostly because of brand awareness and trust factors. If it is necessary to follow a marketplace-oriented strategy, it is necessary to work with experts in this field. It is also necessary to consider that there is always a possibility that your shop can be closed.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Yes, we can say that it is profitable because it provides a design-oriented added value to a standard material. However, the emergence of competitors, the increase in costs, and the constantly emerging innovations in e-commerce are the factors that force us in this sector. 85% of Hoagard sales come from our websites, 10% from Marketplaces, and the rest from our business partners. You can manage your operations more professionally as new integrations and automation are added to it. So in particular, we are moving forward in a structure that gives importance to solving the entire operation internally.
Hoagard has been a known brand in the metal wall decor category from the beginning. But nowadays it has started to include many different product groups in its collection such as carpets and home accessories. In addition, our related department is pursuing the R&D workings of more special categories.
This naturally presents a good opportunity to open up to new customers and markets. We are now actively selling in almost the entire European market. In addition, we are progressing effectively in the American and Australian regions. We are always exploring new markets and working for a few regions that we think are suitable for us.
Since its establishment, Hoagard has been moving forward to become a world-renowned brand in its field without losing its boutique nature. While we are on course for this, Hoagard also is reaching its goals of establishing companies and logistics centers in different countries. In the short term, it has the goal of offering the audience more than expected by implementing new categories rapidly.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
In the e-commerce sector, you sometimes need to take quick action against the obstacles you encounter and that's why we have to act in solution-oriented behaviors. In an industry growing at this rate, you have to make a good or bad decision quickly. I remember that a wrong decision about managing the advertising channels caused a difficult period for Hoagard. This was an important experience for us. Later, when we decided to manage these channels ourselves, it was a turning point for us. Both the amount spent on this channel decreased and the roas increased. During this period, we acquired new knowledge and skills in this field.
The timely access to the American market and our Australian Franchise agreement were also very appropriate decisions. Because these are the serious decisions that increased the growth momentum of the company. All this gave us the courage and ability for accessing new markets.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We are using Shopify as an e-commerce platform for our sales because its infrastructure made the setup process very comfortable for us. It was also an advantage that our team had a language that they could easily learn and develop. We generally use third-party apps that can be integrated into Shopify.
To fulfill our orders, we use Sendcloud. The app is really good and can save so much time for the team. It creates the shipping labels and fulfills the orders.
We have Omnisedfor our email marketing purposes. This app is also really easy to use and can give you great reports for performance.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
The book Blue Ocean Strategy inspired us alongside our path. We recommend this book for those who are looking for unconventional success.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
The delusion that I face today mostly is the thought that e-commerce is very easy. Without a serious research process and effective teamwork, it will be an attempt with a high probability of failure. Hoagard's biggest chance in this regard is the correct implementation of the blue ocean strategy and his team, which we see as invisible heroes in the background.
It is also very important what the original purpose of an enterprise is. Entrepreneurs who only seek profit in this road cannot find a brand and can be destroyed quickly. That's why 95% of startups on e-commerce today fail. Since it is a field with many units and invisible rules, it is necessary to be systematic and very careful from the beginning.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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