This High School Teacher Started a Business as a Class Experiment

$1,250
revenue/mo
1
Founders
1
Employees
product
2Puggles
from Greensboro, NC
started December 2014
$1,250
revenue/mo
1
Founders
1
Employees
15.6M
alexa rank
5.25K
followers
1
followers
platform
email
productivity
payments
analytics
advertising
crowdfunding
design
freelance

Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

My name is Steve Smith. I am a high school marketing teacher. I started 2Puggles in December 2014 as a 3-year experiment that I could share with my students to see how big one person could build a part-time craft-based business.

2Puggles is a woodworking based business that specializes in wooden earrings, wooden bookmarks, coasters and Wooden Clocks.

Last year I made $15,000 doing the business very part time while remodeling my home with the tools I bought for 2Puggles. Most of my revenue is generated in the fall.

In past years, January through March are typically 0 revenue months; However this year I have already grossed $500 in mid- January. With the home remodeling done and my brand awareness growing steadily I think this will be a significant growth year!

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What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

2Puggles is the result of my experience owning and operating two manufacturing businesses, losing everything after September 11, 2001 and then changing careers to become a teacher. In 2005, I switched to a career teaching marketing in high school. Although I loved teaching I had in the back of my mind that I would like to run a small business.

The best advice I can give to a brand new entrepreneur is to give yourself time to learn. But learn by running the business. Don’t be afraid to start. Don’t be afraid to suck. Do it to the best of your abilities…your best will be better every day if you let it!

My wife and I bought a home that was going to require quite a bit of remodeling with the intention that I would do most of the work myself. As a result of that I bought a table saw and while researching table saw techniques on YouTube I came across a video on how to make a snowflake ornament using a table saw.

It was Christmas time and I was looking for something to make for Christmas gifts, so I made a bunch of oak snowflakes. I do not even remember what made me make them into earrings but I did. Giving about 20 pairs as gifts for people at my school with the option to use them as ornaments or earrings.

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The response to the earrings was very positive. With a lot of comments of “you should sell these”. Encouraged by that response, I decided to design and make a few more styles of earrings and attempt to sell them on Etsy. I made about 10 different styles of snowflake and daisy earrings and put them on Etsy in January 2015. Absolutely nothing happened…and the people who were encouraging me to make and sell them were also not interested in actually buying them.

Using my students to help fuel the business

At the same time I ran into my first failure selling earrings, I had started a new semester of marketing classes.

I shared the trials and tribulations of trying to get my business started with the class and noticed that the engagement level, particularly in hard to reach students, was very high.

At that point, I decided to continue my journey to building the business using my students to help me get there and using my business to teach my marketing lessons.

I started a 3-year business experiment that I shared with my students every step of the way. The first year would be learning the business. The second year would be about brand awareness and figuring out what the business focus would be and the third year would be about niching down and becoming revenue focused.

All in all, it has been a wonderful teaching tool while fulfilling my need to run a business.

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

I make everything I sell. The first earrings were a great starting point. They looked great and they were a great starting point but they were not a style that most people would actually wear.

Good things will happen…and bad things are going to happen…but the more you stay with it the good will outweigh the bad.

Throughout the first year my focus was on different styles of wooden earrings I would make a few pairs of different designs and if they sold well I would go back and improve the manufacturing process until they were profitable.

All of the manufacturing is done in 3 areas in my home. I have a 16 foot x 35 foot workshop in the back of my house that houses all of the woodworking equipment. A room in my garage where the laser engraver is utilized and a room in my basement for assembly, storage and a workspace in the winter months.

I started with a $250 table saw, as well as, a bandsaw and drill press I bought at an auction for less than $100. Over 3 years I have upgraded all of my equipment. I currently have a very functional shop. My goal for the next two years is to purchase what I am calling “my last tool” tools that will last me for the rest of my woodworking career and hopefully my children and grandchildren will use them!

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Currently, I have the four product lines and in all cases, I use a lot of input from in-person selling to determine what styles I keep and what new products I will introduce.

To start 2Puggles, I loaned myself $100. Now that I think about it I never paid myself back but from that point on the business has sustained itself.

Since it is a part-time sole proprietorship, 2Puggles does not have a lot of expenses that a full-time business would incur. Almost all revenue has been put back into building the business and my workshop to prepare for future growth of the business.

Describe the process of launching the business.

My business launch involved attending a street festival in April 2015. My plan to make a booth, make some product and see how well I did. If I had a good feeling about it I would go forward with the business. If this went badly, I could very possibly pull the plug on the whole experiment.

The day of the festival turned out to be really bad weather. Although we opened, there was only about 1 hour of selling time before the rain was too much for anyone to be out there. The good news is in that 1 hour I sold $130 worth of earrings and got a lot of positive and constructive feedback.

Energized by this start, I spent the rest of the year going to any show that anyone would let me set up a table. I learned a lot of dos and a lot of don’ts that first year and ended up with $5000 in revenue.

In the beginning of my second year, I decided to attempt a small Kickstarter campaign with my students to purchase a laser engraver. We asked for $600 and ended up being funded for a little more than 2 times that amount allowing me to buy a decently sized laser engraver. This created an opportunity for more customization of 2Puggles products and led to new styles of earrings and my biggest surprise that there is a pretty decent market for bookmarks.

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My biggest lesson I learned was that just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should do it. In the first two years, I tried a lot of different products and spent a lot of time on products that did not generate revenue.

Once I gain focus on my target market and stuck with products that would sell to that target market, my sales grew rapidly in proportion to the amount of effort I put forth to generate sales.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

2Puggles has a website and bookmarks sell well on Etsy but, by far the best technique for attracting and retaining customers has been in-person selling events such as crafts shows and art shows.

In my first year of business, I tried all of the methods of attracting business. A webpage, social media, and craft shows. By far, the best strategy has been to attend craft and art shows. My first year I attended any festival, show or place they would let me set up a table. It was a lot of work and a lot of frustration. Many of the shows, I did not cover my booth fee. However, at every single show, I gained knowledge that brought me one step closer to the business I have today.

I typically arrive at each show early and set up. After setting up,I had time to walk the rest of the show and meet people before the start time. I have found that the people who are most successful will enthusiastically share their tips and tricks for attending shows. Using this strategy I quickly learned how to do a show and got a lot of tips on the best shows to attend.

In my second year, I settled in on starting my selling season in May at the Saxapahaw Farmer’s Market on Saturday nights. This was a 3-hour show with a band playing. The revenue generated was enough to provide cash to get me to the fall season when most of the sales occur. More importantly, it provided a tremendous opportunity for very cheap market research.

I used these shows to introduce products and to get opinions on what I was making. Over the past 4 years there I made a lot of good friends and found a great place to get honest opinions on what will and will not sell. By August of each year, I will narrow down my products to what I am going to sell for the fall season. From September through until Christmas I will focus on making and selling these products.

This strategy has resulted in significant repeat business and word of mouth referrals. In the past 6 months, I have seen a spike in people contacting me to purchase products between shows.

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How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

I am very excited about the prospects for 2Puggles. In the first four years, it has not been profitable but it has been cash positive. Lack of profits is due in large to spending on new machinery to upgrade my shop each year.

I do not keep close track of the cost of goods. I can say that the material cost is negligible and for me to continue to make a product it has to cost out at least $50 per hour gross margin after the second time making the product. Most of my earrings currently cost out between $75-$100 per hour, bookmarks and coasters cost out at $100 per hour. The clocks are a brand new product. They have sold well in the 3 months they have been available but I am not sure how they will cost out yet.

For the foreseeable future, I plan to keep it just me in the business. I know that is a very limiting factor but it allows me to very closely control my brand reputation. For this year, I am going to focus on maintaining the earrings, coaster and bookmark products while putting more emphasis on the clocks.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

I think the biggest lesson I learned is a bit of a cliché but is very true. If you get out of bed every day and do what you need to do.

Good things will happen…and bad things are going to happen…but the more you stay with it the good will outweigh the bad.

Also having an external motivator has helped tremendously. Sharing the ride with my students has kept me on track on numerous occasions.

There were many times when I would have preferred to close up the shop and go watch TV but then I would picture having to tell my students what choices I had made that week and I got back to work.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

My favorite tool for my business is my drum sander!

As far as business tools, I keep it very simple. I have one credit card I use for all my expenses. I take payments with cash, PayPal or Square.

I have a WordPress website and I am most active on Instagram for social media, but also spend some time on Facebook.

Because it is part-time and I am only one person I have purposely kept things as simple as possible.

It is really not necessary to seek out the latest and greatest productivity tools for the size of my business.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

My favorite business podcasts are Side Hustle School it amazes me how many different styles can be successful and episode# 203 is really good, “Six Pixels of Seperations” does a good job of keeping me current on marketing trends, and pretty much anything on Gimlet Media.

My all-time favorite book is The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. The lessons in this book are timeless. After I read it and adopted the principles my life changed for the better.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

The best advice I can give to a brand new entrepreneur is to give yourself time to learn. But learn by running the business. Don’t be afraid to start. Don’t be afraid to suck. Do it to the best of your abilities…your best will be better every day if you let it!

AND don’t run out of money.

Where can we go to learn more?

My website is www.2puggles.com. I am most active on Instagram at 2Puggles_ and you can find me on Facebook at my 2Puggles page.

-  
Steve Smith,   Founder of 2Puggles

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