Question about makers

Okay, this one’s out of left field… something that I’m just tossing around in my head and would like some leads or first hand experience with such things if anyone here has had some. I launched an online pet shop in Feb. It’s been going okay, slow sales, but that’s to be expected. I’m not too worried about it (I have a full time job as well) but I am always thinking how I can grow the shop or make it better. It’s running on one of the large online shopping platforms which has a user forum. In the forums, I frequently hear advice that it’s better to sell your own products (like an artist or leatherworker selling their own stuff) than to sell commodity goods from wholesale distributors.

So this is where I am… guess what I’m selling. That’s right, commodity goods from wholesalers. I do carefully choose what products I sell, but they’re all still commodity things that can be found elsewhere, usually advertised for cheaper and with free shipping - things I can’t afford in a brand new, small store. So coming back to that advice… I’m not crafty or artsy at all. I do have some product ideas that could be manufactured by someone who is crafty, but I don’t know anyone like that personally. So I’m wondering about trying out a business partnership with a maker.

But… where do you find them? Browsing the web, I found a couple of places that sound like Uber for makers. But they have mixed reviews: fun to work for but they have bad work/life balance trying to keep up with quotas. I think someone independent might be better. Someone skilled in carpentry and basic cabinetry, someone clever and creative, someone who likes making things but doesn’t want to do his own sales and marketing (because I would do that).

Anybody here know of a discussion forum for makers or any other leads where I might be able to find such people?

What are the products specifically?

If its a product that can be designed and punched out in mass quantities, it should easy to contract with a blow/ injection molder, or metal stamper. Quantities would probably need to be in the thousands to make it worth while.

If its something that already exists but you are adding paint (for example) to it, I would contact the manufacturer to get bulk discounts and then hire some artsy high school kids. would be a good starting point for manufacturing, I have never used them personally but have heard good things from people that have.

But I fear your biggest obstacle will be quantity. Most manufacturers have minimum custom orders of 5000 or more.

Since the OP is asking for advice, let’s move this to IMHO.

General Questions Moderator

Thanks for the move.

Yes, it will definitely be small quantities to start with, which is why I’m thinking of a craftsman rather than a full on manufacturing company. The items I have in mind are furniture-ish, but not things you just buy and paint. They would be custom-designed raised feeders, cat tree type stuff, pet rodent climby things, etc.

Try contacting a local woodworker, maybe that would be a good way to use
up scraps he has from other projects.

I’d be wary of looking at craftsmen or small business, to be honest. I work for a small business right now, and let’s just say many small businesses are not run as smartly as they could be. My boss can and will say “yes, yes, yes” to anything that comes in the door, and turn around and be unable to fulfill his promise due to mismanagement of the workload.

We had someone just of your type come in looking to get custom dog bowl holders done. Simple shapes crafted out of wood, a print applied on top, and everything glued together. Even at a low volume of 25 or 50 items, my boss was completely incompetent at handling the processing of these in a timely fashion because he was used to one-off jobs. And he apparently assumed she would fail, so when she came back a second, and a third time, he was grumbling and upset about having to keep making these items. It all led to a bad falling-out.

And the thing is, most craftsmen and small businesses I know of would be like this. They’re not invested in it like you are. Whatever you ask of them will be some thing outside their norm, some thing they do on the side of their “real” work. Your stuff will constantly get sidelined in favor of what they would normally do every day. Only when you get up to the volume necessary for a company whose entire business structure is to provide custom things of the type you want for clients such as yourself, do you get dedicated service. So I’d be very wary, and vet carefully, what small craftsman you would consider for something like this.

Ack, this is a very, very good point! Thanks for the sanity check. I also remind myself that my big problem now is marketing, not sourcing products. Ugh, back to work!