Hi Ryan. You own Autumn Summer providing various wood carved products for personal and home use. How did you start up the business?
Hi Dave, I started Autumn Summer around 2009, and it was originally a way to make some money while I was in school. The first item that I make was a Native American flute, believe it or not. I soon realized, however, that the market for NA flutes is very small, and there are already a few very well established crafters. My uncle, who’s tools I had borrowed for the flutes, introduced me to custom wood pen making, and they did very well at local shows. From there I realized that if I had enough products, and learned as much as I could, I could become a full time artisan/entrepreneur.
When you look to create a new product line, how do you evaluate it for feasibility?
I’m a numbers person, so as soon as I think of a product that fits the brand I run the numbers. I ask myself, could I sell this at a price that customers would be willing to pay, and are there enough of those customers to make it worth my time.
That is a quick (15 min) process, and before I really confirm pricing or my costs, I try to make one. That’s the beauty of “handcrafted”. I can just go to my shop any time that I want and make something new, and give it a try. Bigger companies will spends thousands, if not millions in product design, and if it doesn’t sell they’re really out of luck. I can make a new product, take some pictures, and have it listed on my website in 24 hours. Product perfection takes years, but product design could be very fast if I don't’ run into any trouble.
It takes a while to build traction online for each product, so I will always put my newest products at the front of my craft show booth to get an instant yes or no, to see if it’s worth spending my time on any given product.
In the current digital space, how/what have you found is your most effective way to market? The least effective way?
Many of my products are in a niche market, meaning that there aren’t a ton of customers, but there also isn’t a ton of competition. My personal strategy is to constantly expand my product line to fill all of these niches.
I’ve also found that I work best by using someone else’s audience, whether it’s through listing my products on someone else’s website or listing them on Etsy. Someone else get’s a cut, but then I can worry about making a great product and having great photography rather than worrying about whether I’ve posted on Instagram enough times this week.
I think the best thing for an artist or small team is to figure out who they are, and what type of marketing works best for them. As previously stated, I’m a numbers guy. I prefer to work with computers, and I’ll always take paid ads over social media. My fiancé, Lizzie (a silversmith) is the exact opposite. She’s a people person and would rather talk to her customers than worry about what keywords they’re typing in.
What's the product you most identify with - that says 'this is me, Ryan!’?
I’ve always thought that the most beautiful products are those that mix meaning with practicality. A piece that mixes practical lines and numbers, with the color and meaning in art.
I recently got a laser cutter/engraver so that I can put engravings on my products. I realized that you can cut wood with the laser, and the designs that it can cut can be extremely intricate. My newest products are bottle openers with inlaid wood shapes. I have anchors, bikes, and guitars, among others. With the bottle openers, I can cut out a piece of Walnut, and cut a matching hole in a piece of Maple to fit the Walnut into. The contrast of the light and dark woods is beautiful, and I have never felt such a connection with a product.
They are practical to use, the wood itself is beautiful in color and grain, and the lines that the laser cuts are so precise, that it just fits my personality perfectly. Not to mention that my customers are loving them because they can get whatever design the want. “Oh, my Dad plays guitar, he would love this!”. It’s great to be able to facilitate that.
What's one of those products you thought was going to be the best thing since sliced bread, but ended up being moldy crumbs?
I think it was May last year that I came out with an item I called the “Geo Stopper”. It was essentially a bottle stopper with a hunk of wood on top that was in a modern, geometric shape. Unfortunately the artist took over as I was making them, and I didn’t ever stop to think if anyone would want them. The price would have to be pretty high to cover the time it took to make them, and people just weren’t interested. Not to mention that they had about 20 sides, all at different angles. It was only a matter of time before I cut my finger trying to cut an angle that I shouldn’t have.
What does the future hold for Autumn Summer?
Many new products. We just designed wooden coasters, and after years of anticipation, we’re almost done with out wood covered journals.
As far as 2017 goes, we’re looking to do 2 things: expand our product line, and have our products sold in more retail locations. For a 5 or 10 year plan, I couldn’t tell you, to be honest.
I’m still battling with myself over whether I would be happier running a bigger business, or having an artists’ lifestyle. For right now I’m just constantly improving my product offering.
I would like to get to the point that I can donate a portion of my profits to a charity (most likely to mental illness research), or offer certain products that have their profits donated. For example, one of my competitors engraves an American flag on some of their products, and each of those has a portion of their profits donated to a veterans charity. That’s what drives a person to successfully run a company. When you’re no longer working to make money, but working to help people in your community. That to me is a successful business - and I hope that’s what the future holds for Autumn Summer.
A collection of keepsake pendants by Autumn Summer can be seen here.