Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hello readers! I’m Crystal, the one-woman show running TCB Designs, Florida. I’m a 43-year-old mom that has been blessed to wake up every day and do what I love.
Running a small business isn’t always easy, it’s not glamorous, and I second guess myself a lot. But nothing makes me happier and gives me satisfaction like completing an item that I love and knowing that my customer will love it too, or challenging myself to learn something new. I love what I do, but I never want to stop learning and getting better at my craft. It may not always be easy, but it is rewarding!
I started TCB Designs, Florida in 2017 as a side hustle and a creative outlet that helped me to destress from my J.O.B. at the time. I first started selling small items on Facebook, but quickly moved to Etsy to broaden my audience reach. Our first top seller signs were our rustic Kitchen and Pantry signs that are made using old reclaimed wood.
The barn wood look helps give them that old, antique vibe and since the farmhouse look was huge the last few years, it took off quickly and got the ball rolling with new and different designs, but mainly stuck with the rustic and modern farmhouse design concept.
Over the years I have added smaller items that are perfect for unique gift ideas and stocking stuffers like our ceramic car coasters, personalized tape measures, and memorial ornaments. Adding these smaller items boosted sales greatly, especially around the holidays. This last Christmas season (November through December 2021) sales totaled just over $20k.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
There was a point in my life when I was a single mom with 3 young kids. I had a nice house I was renting, but could not afford to style it the way I would like. Most of my furniture was hand-me-downs, so everything was mismatched. However, I worked with what I had and would refurbish furniture items to give them old chippy paint looks. Even though Chip and Joanna Gaines helped make the “farmhouse” trend popular around 2015, I have always been a fan of that style. We just used to call it “country” before Fixer Upper.
It was always an easier style to accomplish since many of the items were vintage or antique. But Chip and Jo brought modern farmhouses onto the map. I couldn’t afford to buy the signs and decor that I wanted for my home, so I decided to try my hand at making them. Once my friends saw what I was doing, they convinced me to try my hand at selling some items. That became my mission…to help others who may not be able to afford the expensive decor that was being promoted online and in stores but still wanted to be able to decorate their house with the style they loved.
I created my pieces at price points that would fit any budget. I do have a background in graphic design, which helped quite a bit. But I had to learn a lot of woodworking tools to start creating my items by myself from start to finish. This is where my husband entered the picture. At first, he would cut my wood backers and my frames for me. He even would nail the frames on for me once I got everything painted and stained.
However, orders were picking up and it got to the point where I couldn’t wait for him to have time to help. So, I finally decided the only way to get over my fear of the tools was to learn how to use them safely. He spent some time out in the workshop teaching me all of the different tools that he was using and within a few days, I felt comfortable enough to use them on my own and I haven’t looked back. I now call the workshop mine instead of his.
At this point, I still had a full-time job working at Kennedy Space Center, but orders began coming in steadily and I was having a hard time keeping up. I would come home from a full day at work, and have to head out to the shop to work on orders and would spend the weekends trying to finish them up so I could get them shipped out on time.
You can build a business even if your pockets are spilling over with money right now.
This became stressful for me pretty quickly as I felt like I had no time for my kids and my new husband. After almost a year of trying to juggle both jobs, my husband and I made the decision that I would leave KSC and work on my business full time.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
My first products were based on items I had created to decorate my own house with. I used old reclaimed barn wood to make some small signs and distressed them to give them a vintage look. Once family and friends saw them, they wanted some for their homes as well and I began selling those.
As they shared photos on their social media, I began to get more requests and custom requests for different wording and even some quotes/verses. That is truly how the business and the items I offer were created and built.
As customers reached out with ideas that I hadn’t yet done, I told them I would create a design electronically, and send it to them for review and if they liked it, I would do my best to bring it to life. And to this day, many of our new items make their way to our website in this manner.
Describe the process of launching the business.
I did not start the business with any credit cards or loans. I would simply buy the least amount of lumber needed for the orders that I had received and had already been paid for. It wasn’t until I was probably a year into the business before I started stocking up on regularly used supplies BEFORE I had the orders. I had to get to the point where I had an idea of what orders I would get during a specific time and then use business funds to purchase ahead of the actual orders.
I created a Facebook business page and sold there for a few months before I decided to expand my reach and created an Etsy shop. I had my first sale within the week, but it was a few months before I started seeing consistent sales. I had to learn about SEO, product staging, and photography as well as try to figure out the Etsy algorithm. Once I started to put that knowledge into place with my listings, I started seeing instant results and increased sales.
I would say my biggest lesson learned was just expecting to put items out there and get sales. I didn’t have much knowledge of SEO, but diving in and learning more about that has helped throughout the years across all platforms.
If you are a maker, find a maker space to use before you invest in tools.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
TCB Designs, Florida thrives mainly on SEO, return customers, word of mouth, and a small amount of social media. That is probably our biggest downfall. I know that social media is how the majority of people are introduced to new products, however, I do not like to spend time on social media. I feel it takes up a lot of time that I could use designing and creating new products and it takes away from time with my family.
If I were ever able to hire someone to help with the business, it would be someone to handle the social media and advertising part of the business. I feel if I were to devote more effort to that part of the business, we would take off and I could bring on employees to help create products as well.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
I’m not going to lie, 2022 has seen a decrease in sales overall. Increases in the cost of supplies and wait time on deliveries have also made working in a small business quite difficult. We went through several years of keeping prices low so that people who might be in similar situations as I was back when I was a single mom (wanting to have a nicely decorated house, but not being able to afford it) can be able to purchase. However, the drastic increase in lumber alone this year did push us to increase prices quite dramatically.
Most of our sales still come through our Etsy shop, but our website has seen an increase in sales and we hope to eventually close the Etsy shop. We are also seeing an increase in wholesale orders to small businesses throughout the country through the Faire website which has been great and we do have a presence in a few local brick-and-mortar stores, but that is the smallest portion of our income and orders.
My long-term goal would be to eventually increase the wholesale orders and possibly increase footprints in the local brick-and-mortar stores.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Pricing has always been a tough one for me. The basis of my entire business has always been to create unique, yet quality products that fit even the smallest of budgets. I didn’t start the business to become rich, I truly just wanted folks like me that didn’t have thousands of dollars to spend on decor items, to be able to get products that they love for their home. So, with that being said, keeping my prices low even though the cost of supplies continues to go up has been challenging. I was forced to raise prices quite a bit this past year.
I do have a few friends on IG that are influencers and have been blessed to have their photographs and promote my products a few times. Anytime you can get someone with a large following like that to promote your products, it generally tends to generate quite a few sales and site visits.
I lucked out that my design style has always been country (aka farmhouse), and when I was getting started is when the farmhouse trend was reaching a peak. I am trying to incorporate other design styles now, but it is difficult since that is not my style. I’ve never been one to keep up with fads or trends, so the country/farmhouse will always be my main focus.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Most of our business is Etsy driven, however, our URL will direct you to my Shopify site. We use a few 3rd party apps, our favorite being Infinite Options by ShopPad Inc. Since many of our products have different color options and/or are personalizable, Infinite Options has been the best app to add to our Shopify store.
I also like to use Pirate Ship for some of our shipping labels. Etsy doesn’t give you many options as far as purchasing shipping labels through their site, and USPS now charges length fees for anything over 24 inches, which is most of my best-selling items. Using Pirate Ship for purchasing my labels gives me more options and at a great discount!
We are also available to wholesale buyers through the Faire website. Many store owners out there use Faire to find unique goods to fill their brick-and-mortar stores and can do so by buying bulk at wholesale prices. This side of the business is starting to pick up for us and I love the idea that my products are sitting in stores across the country.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
My biggest piece of advice is to just get started. Find your niche. Watch videos, join Facebook groups, and gain confidence from seeing others succeed. It is possible. It is a lot of work. But you can build a business even if your pockets are spilling over with money right now.
Start small and use the funds you make to buy more products. If you are a maker, find a maker space to use before you invest in tools. Ask questions and learn before you dive head first. My goal was to be able to work my business full time, it took a little over a year, but I was able to leave my job and it truly is the best feeling ever to be able to wake up and know you are doing what you love.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
This holiday season, we will be looking to hire at least one part-time employee. October through December are crazy busy and it helps to have extra hands to help with production and shipping. The pay won’t help you with retirement, but you would be paid depending on what position you are helping with and what hours you can commit to.
I would also like to find someone to help with the social media side of the business. I’m not sure where to start with that, but if you are reading this and you are interested in helping me, please email me at [email protected].
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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