How A Teacher Started A Successful Handmade Jewelry Business Online

$2,500
revenue/mo
1
Founders
0
Employees
product
Gold Pan Pete Design
from Queenstown
started November 2012
$2,500
revenue/mo
1
Founders
0
Employees
247
followers
platform
social media

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

My name is Alex Moore. I’m originally from St. Louis, MO, USA but have lived overseas the last 11 years and am currently living near Queenstown, New Zealand, where I have been for the last 5 ½ years. I have a wife, Paula, and three children, Sophia & Grace (twins, age 5) and Beau (age 3). My main profession (no longer full time) is that I’m a primary school (elementary) PE teacher going on my 15th year.

I don’t have a flagship product per se but I make rustic-styled, outdoor and nature-themed handcrafted jewelry for men and women and other gifts for men. My customers are from all over the world and a mix of male and female, but mainly in the 18-40 age range.

I have a stall at a very popular tourist market here in Queenstown called the Creative Queenstown Arts and Crafts Market. This is where a majority of my sales come from. I also sell online via my website, goldpanpete.com, Etsy, and Felt (an NZ site similar to Etsy). I also have a few stockists that carry my items, with that number hoping to increase in 2019.

Currently, between all of my sales at the markets, online, etc, my revenue is on average between $2500-3000 per month. One thing that people find unique about my product is that I personally make every piece of jewelry I sell.

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

After graduating from Saint Louis University and teaching for two years in the St. Louis area, I decided to pursue my rugby career in London, England. While in England, I met my now wife, Paula, who is from New Zealand.

After we got engaged, we took a trip to New Zealand. The area where she is from was a huge gold mining area back in the 1800s. I found the history of the area very interesting and found out that there is still a lot of gold around...if you could find it! I made it my goal of the trip to find enough gold to make my wedding ring.

My best piece of advice for anyone who is interested in starting their own business and has a good idea would be to just go for it. Take things in baby steps and gradually get bigger and bigger.

After countless hours of gold panning in local streams and rivers, I was able to find about 1 ½ grams of gold. This was quite a bit short of the 20 or so grams I would need for a full ring. On returning to London, I spoke with a jeweler who had made some of our good friends’ wedding and engagement rings about using the gold I had found in my wedding ring.

In our conversations, I was immediately interested in the process of making the ring and found out that the jeweler also taught jewelry making at a university in London and also privately out of his home workshop. I choose to take the classes at his workshop every Saturday morning for three hours for about a year and a half.

It was also during this time that I read Tim Ferriss’ The 4 Hour Work Week* *and Chris Guillebeau’s The Art of Non-Conformity. Both of these books really resonated with me because I was going through some burn out with my teaching career and wanted a change, but didn’t really know what to go into. The jewelry making became a creative outlet.

I literally had no experience at all with any type of metal work, but I did quite enjoy art, ceramics, and sculpting in high school, which comes into making jewelry a little. However, it was after I started making jewelry that I found out from my grandmother that her grandfather and great uncle were both jewelers and had two jewelry stores when they settled in St. Louis from Germany in the 1800s.

When I first started making pieces of jewelry it was really just to practice the skills I was learning. Then I started to make pieces for my wife. She really liked most of them, and then her friends started wanting me to make pieces for them, etc. This really helped validate my work and decided to start selling on the website, Etsy.

Like I said earlier, I was teaching full time, playing rugby, but was also building a career in acting. I had roles in some pretty amazing films and commercials, but it was definitely a career that was not a reliable income source. Although I loved it, I wasn’t fully prepared to go ‘all-in’ on acting and not know if I would have an income from week to week.

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

I draw a lot of my ideas for my pieces from the outdoors and the environment around me. In this part of New Zealand, there is tons of amazing scenery with beautiful lakes and majestic mountains. But also, a lot of my ideas just come from my personal experiences and things that enjoy or think others would enjoy.

All of my pieces of jewelry are completely manufactured by me personally. Depending on what I’m making, pieces can be fabricated from sheets, strips, or wires of mainly sterling silver, but I also work in gold, bronze, copper, and brass. From there, there is a lot of soldering, filing, hammering, sanding, and polishing to get a final piece. I also make a lot of pieces using the lost wax casting method.

how-a-teacher-started-a-successful-handmade-jewelry-business-online

This is where I carve a ring, pendant, etc out of wax first. Once the wax model is finished, it is then encased in a plaster mold. The mold is put into a kiln overnight to vaporize the wax inside. What is left is the plaster mold with just the impression of the wax model inside. This plaster mold is put on a centrifuge and wound up. It is connected to a crucible where the metal is heated with a torch until it is molten.

Once the metal is molten, the centrifuge is released and it quickly spins and the molten metal is flung into the plaster mold. Once it has cooled, it is dipped in water to wash away the plaster and then the metal piece of jewelry is left.

The only problems in manufacturing that I have found so far is that if I have a lot of orders come through at the same time, especially with a deadline like Christmas, then it sometimes makes for a very busy time getting all the orders made and shipped out in time. As the business expands, this is one area that I’ll need to rethink.

When I first started the business, I started with a basic set of jeweler’s tools which cost approx. $100. Over time, I’ve continued to grow my collection of more specific and advanced tools. Currently, I have approx $3000 worth of tools that I regularly use.

how-a-teacher-started-a-successful-handmade-jewelry-business-online

Describe the process of launching the business.

When I first launched the business it was on the handmade selling website, Etsy. I only had a few items that sold quite well and were easy to make.

I gradually started using Instagram and Facebook and growing my followers. On Facebook, I have nearly 2000 followers and approx. 9.5k on Instagram. It wasn’t until 2017 that I really started to step up my Instagram posts with more high-quality photos of not only jewelry but also landscape photography, etc. I didn’t want to become a boring feed of posting nothing but my jewelry with a white background.

My best decision for marketing and advertising was to teach myself how to become a better photographer and how to use Instagram properly for my business. These skills have truly paid off.

Initially, my business was just financed by myself from personal funds. There weren’t too many costs involved, so this wasn’t a problem. Currently, I use a credit card to fund larger purchases of supplies like metal and tools.

My brand has been constantly growing since 2012, but I really saw an increase when I started selling at the Queenstown Market. The exposure to this market is great, with tens of thousands of tourists from across the globe visiting every year. I get many repeat customers and the word of mouth from customers telling their friends or sharing on social media has been amazing!

The biggest lesson I learned is that I was always nervous about starting a side hustle due to not thinking I was good enough at anything for people to spend money on whatever it was I was selling. Once I started selling jewelry and people were loving it, then it validated that people did like my stuff and wanted to buy it. Especially selling at a large market, you definitely get more soft rejections than sales, but I have never had a piece of jewelry not sell.

This has taught me that there is someone out there that each piece is made for and to be patient until they find it.

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

Attracting and retaining customers is something that I’m continually working to improve. This is a tough one for a small business without much of a budget for advertising, which means that organic advertising is key.

Growing my mailing list

All the books I’ve read and podcasts I’ve listened to have encouraged building mailing lists. In the past, I’ve neglected trying to grow my email list. In the last six months, I’ve 10x’ed the number of people on my list.

I forgot the name of the podcast, but on it was the founder of AppSumo, which has a free giveaway app called KingSumo. This program allows you to easily run giveaways and collects emails, and social media follows for entries in one’s giveaway. I’ve been able to grow from 120 email followers to 1,200 in running only three giveaways.

These extra 1,000 followers or so have continued to be on the email list after about approx. 100 names unsubscribed because they didn’t win the contest. So, losing these people wasn’t really a loss as they were only interested in joining giveaways.

how-a-teacher-started-a-successful-handmade-jewelry-business-online

how-a-teacher-started-a-successful-handmade-jewelry-business-online

When I started using Instagram for my business it looked like my second personal account. In 2017, I started focusing on only posting quality photos of my products and travel/outdoor/landscape photos.

I also starting using appropriate hashtags for my local area and niche. I didn’t want to get rid of the personal aspect of my page entirely, so I use these type of photos and videos in my Instagram Story. When I say personal, I mean more of the unplanned and unedited content.

how-a-teacher-started-a-successful-handmade-jewelry-business-online

I also use Facebook but find that my engagement is pretty low compared to Instagram. I have used Facebook ads but have only found them really useful for promoting the giveaways I’ve run.

As far as other social media, I do have a Twitter account but rarely use it. Also, Within the last couple of weeks, I’ve started to add products to Pinterest that will funnel viewers back to my website. In adding 3-4 photos, I’ve seen a huge jump in the number of views to my Pinterest page and a spike on website views too. This is something that I plan to explore and experiment more in 2019.

Returning customers

With my business, I do tend to get a lot of returning customers. For example, on my Etsy site, when the item is shipped, within the shipping notification, customers are sent a discount code for a later purchase. I have one customer come to mind who has purchased four of the same item over a few months. He also didn’t use the discount code, so I’m not sure he was reading the emails. Because of his continued support, I was able to get in touch with him and found out he was buying the bracelets for his friends, which I thought was pretty cool, so I made him one for free to keep for himself. It’s really important to me to show my customers that there is a real person behind the business and that I’m truly grateful for their business.

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

I have been running officially as a business rather than a paid hobby for three years now. The first two years, I was able to write off most of my business, living, and vehicle expenses (my workshop is based at my home). Due to this, on paper, my business operated at a slight loss. However, this tax year will be recorded as a profitable year.

Due to the nature of my products, the gross margins are around 50-60%. Most of this percentage is the labor costs of the time taken to make each piece. Raw materials are fairly low, except when I work with gold, but the high cost of gold is reflected in the customer’s price.

It’s hard to know how many customers visit my market stall every month, but I would estimate it to be in the thousands. This is a huge contrast to my website visitors, which is approx. 200 sessions per month. The average time customers spent on the site for 2018 was approx. 4 minutes. The conversion rate is a lot lower than average at around 1%. The bounce rate for 2018 was 54%. For social media, I have 1,818 followers on Facebook and 9,586 followers on Instagram, and my email list has approximately 1,200 subscribers.

how-a-teacher-started-a-successful-handmade-jewelry-business-online

Short term goals for 2019 include expanding the number of stockists who carry my products in New Zealand, Australia, and the United States. I would also like to run a Kickstarter campaign in the middle part of 2019. A very short term goal is photograph and list every piece of jewelry that I make. Currently, I only have about 20 items listed on my website. The long term goal of my business is to be able to build it up enough to have it be my full-time profession.

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

I used to sell items on a website called Fancy. They sold high-end products and advertised to have a celebrity following, had millions of followers, etc. and wanted to promote my Game of Thrones House Rings to their customers in their email marketing, website, Instagram, etc.

I think I got one sale from the campaign. That taught me a lesson to not get my hopes up and see the dollar signs with something is not guaranteed.

They talked it up that I could get thousands of sales by doing it, everyone in their offices loved the product and wanted to release it for the Game of Thrones season premiere. It cost about $2000, much more than I had ever spent on advertising before.

It ended up being a disaster with a lot of false promises. It wasn’t released at the right time as they said and it was basically a lot of hype to get me to buy the advertising package. I think I got one sale from the campaign. That taught me a lesson to not get my hopes up and see the dollar signs with something is not guaranteed.

My best decision for marketing and advertising was to teach myself how to become a better photographer and how to use Instagram properly for my business. This skill has paid off much more than the Fancy advertising campaign.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

My favourite tools for my business would be Instagram. This is a highly visible way to get my product out to people all over the world, for practically free. Since the algorithms, etc are always changing, it is a tool that you must always be adapting to and learning about, which keeps you sharp.

My website’s platform is Shopify. I find it much easier than my former Wordpress WooCommerce site due to its ease of use. I find it a lot easier to update listings, add listings, connect pages, etc. And the analytics one can get from it are great. I currently don’t use any add-ons or anything, just due to the fact that I haven’t had time to explore what is out there. I’m very open to hearing some suggestions from anyone!

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

Books

The Art of Non-Conformity - By Chris Guillebeau - This book started me on my quest to start a side hustle. I reread this book at least once every year. Chris has since written many books on side hustles including one that I will be mentioned in June 2019.

I have a huge collection of similar business/self-help books that I have read, loved and found useful and are top books. I’m happy to share with anyone who is interested.

Podcasts

The School Of Greatness with Lewis Howes - One of my favorite podcasts. Lewis has amazing guests that have helped me with business or just life in general. Highly, highly recommend.

Side Hustle School* -* This daily podcast is delivered by Chris Guillebeau, the author I’ve listed above. This podcast delivers short, daily episodes that tell the stories of side hustlers from across the globe. There is a lot of great content that gives side hustlers tips and tricks that have helped others be successful. I was also featured on Episode 62. https://sidehustleschool.com/episode/62/

Hustle to Freedom with Ryan Helms* -* Another very good podcast on side hustles. Ryan interviews different successful side hustlers and dives into their story and how they have built their businesses.

How I Built This with Guy Raz* -* A very high production value podcast that interviews very successful businesses that have grown massively. It’s inspirational to see what others have done and what is possible for my business.

how-a-teacher-started-a-successful-handmade-jewelry-business-online

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

My best piece of advice for anyone who is interested in starting their own business and has a good idea would be to just go for it. Take things in baby steps and gradually get bigger and bigger.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

Unfortunately, I’m not looking to hire for anything at the moment, but I’m always up for collaborating and working with other entrepreneurs. I’m also interested in helping out any podcasts or blogs that are looking for guests for interviews, etc.

Where can we go to learn more?

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!

-  

Alex Moore,   Founder of Gold Pan Pete Design

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