This is a follow up story for Mini Materials. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published about 3 years ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
Hello again! We are Mat Hofma and Erik Polumbo, co-owners of Mini Materials. We manufacture and sell scaled-down versions of your everyday common building materials.
Our target market ranges from hobbyists like dollhouse makers, model train customers, fingerboarders, and diorama builders to educators in STEM/STEAM and even promotional swag sellers all around the world. In 6 years, we have grown our product line to just over 95 SKUs with all but a handful made completely by us here in the USA. We do most of our work out of Virginia Beach, VA now, and have a staff of 5.
Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?
In the last year, our business has boomed. The world has shifted dramatically since we gave our last update. Covid-19 has forced the world to use the internet more and more, which translates to more shoppers online. When everything shut down last year it gave us a tremendous opportunity to get in the lab and develop new products and engaging content. We were able to bring out over 25 new products in the last 12 months and doubled our annual sales YoY.
Here are a few of the killer new products we debuted since the pandemic struck:
Frank Lloyd Wright Collection
Flat-Pack Mid-Century Modern Furniture
Warehouse Rack Kit
With the extra revenue, we were able to invest in advancements to our printing game by purchasing some new equipment. Previously, we subbed-out our printing services which was a significant cost drain and slowed down our product turn drastically. We are now able to offer our printing services at 2x less per unit and ship in about 10% of the amount of time. It has expanded our tchotchke-type marketing services to a whole new level. The original investment was about $35,000 and we are tracking to pay it off in less than 6 months on a $1.00 price-point item.
We also decided to fully dive into Facebook and Instagram marketing. Our ad spend was a measly $5,000 per year in previous years but in 2020 we decided to really scale it up and are now spending $50,000 per year in social media marketing. Our RoAS hovers around 3x throughout the slower months and we saw almost 4.5x during the heightened 4Q last year. It has really allowed us to increase our exposure and scale our business.
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
We learned a lot in the last 12 months. It was a tough year in so many ways. Learning how to shift from being extremely careful and safe in our working environments to dealing with many of the delays of raw goods due to the complications of Covid. Something new would come up almost daily that would force us to pivot. The good news is most of our customers were dealing with similar issues in one way or another so it was easier for us to explain delays because we are all in similar predicaments.
Find out what matters most to you and create a path that allows you to make the money or satisfaction you need to enjoy the life you want.
The biggest challenge was shipping delays at the end of the year. The US election, pandemic, and just sheer explosion of the volume of online purchases really created a lag in our shipping times. We saw almost 100% of parcels had at least a 2-day delay if not 2 weeks on some. This is tough when customers are trying to give them as Christmas gifts and want them in time for the big reveal. This year we’ll press customers to get their orders in early so there’s ample time for shipments to arrive.
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
Our 5-year plan is still in construction. It is easy to say what we would like to see happen in 5 years with constant 2x YoY growth, but the action plan required to make that happen is a difficult one to write. We are building a company that revolves around constant new content and doing things no one else is really doing at our scale. We take things in 6-month increments and have a game plan to grow within those 6 months and then adjust for the next cycle. For the first 6 months of this year, we plan to debut 10 new SKUs, we are trying out a few new scales of products for new segments of the miniature markets (Mini Railroaders we hear you!), and we are really trying to get our video production to another level for TikTok and Youtube platforms. We know this is a missing link in our social media reach. We’ve added quite a few followers and daily visitors to our Instagram and Pinterest accounts, which are big marketing tools for us.
Once things improve with the pandemic, we hope tradeshows will get back on the calendars throughout the country and that is when our promotional offerings with our printing services will really start to hit. We are getting all our collateral, jigs and set-ups, and some limited but narrowed and focused marketing efforts out to those folks that will be back on the trail as soon as things get back to normal.
Have you read any good books in the last year?
I listened to “Keeping Your Sh-t Together” by Sherry Walling a few months ago. I think as any business owner knows it is paramount that you don’t let work run your life. That’s not easy to swallow or really do when you are running a small business, but Sherry puts some things in perspective that helped quite a bit. It is a daily struggle, but I have “Work to Live, Don’t Live to Work” written on my desk as a constant reminder.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
I assume most entrepreneurs struggle with a couple of core elements.
1) Balance – work and life, find out what matters most to you and create a path that allows you to make the money or satisfaction you need to enjoy the life you want.
2) Motivation – we plateau, it’s natural. It’s a struggle sometimes to find the next idea or even energy to complete some tasks. Understanding what drives you and then finding ways to maintain that drive is important. I’ve also found motivation changes, kind of like tastebuds, as you grow as a person and a business owner your motivations change.
3) Give up – I certainly subscribe to the don’t ever give up strategy, but in business that’s not fundamentally possible. You have to know your limits and when to say no, giving up some business opportunities may be necessary.
4) Ideas - Not every idea is a good one, not every idea even has merit, some are just ideas.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We are always looking for creatives to help develop new products. If you are in the market for some freelance product development work feel free to reach out.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Mini Materials has provided an update on their business!
About 1 year ago, we followed up with Mini Materials to see how they've been doing since we published this article.
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