Profile: Doug Johnston
The hanks of cotton rope in a local hardware store had been calling out to me, so I bought some. I found a method of sewing them into bowls and it turned out to be an excellent way to de-stress and explore some ideas from my previous work. I made a few baskets for friends and family as well as a bag for my wife. The response to the pieces was always very positive and everyone suggested that I sell them. For about a year I continued working with the technique and materials. There was a lot to learn about the method and I had to test out different kinds of rope, thread, needles, etc before I felt comfortable selling them.
With so many ideas for pieces I wanted to make, the original thought was that I would start an online shop and sell a few things here and there simply to pay for more materials and equipment. I got so excited about having my own business, and all of the possibilities that I realized I shouldn’t limit my options or lose the opportunity. For me there was very low risk and very low investment since I was already renting space, had the equipment, and was making the work anyway. After months of planning and discussion with my wife, I decided to go for it and I actually left my job in august to focus on my artwork and getting the business going.
Now I am working freelance on the side to help pay the bills while the business gets traction, but mostly so I can control my schedule. The free time allowed me to sort through the business start up process, get a few permits, tweak my website, finish up the first round of products, have photographs taken and set up the online shop. Most importantly though, I had time to think, focus and plan. I opened the webshop on October 1st of this year and it was very satisfying to finally get it going. I never thought I would be doing anything like this but it feels very natural and its been a lot of fun so far.
My first problem was finding the right information for the kind of business I wanted to start. A great resource will always be my network of friends and family. They have been wonderfully supportive and helpful. I am also discovering this wonderful wealth of information online and its sites like this that lead me in the right direction. Because the products I am making span a few different categories I have trouble defining my business, explaining it to others and getting the pricing right. I am trying to get everything set up correctly, but I also know that its going to take a lot of time and I have to allow mistakes to happen in order to learn what is going to work best. Patience and a functional but flexible business plan seems to be the key.
The biggest issues are always lack of money and time. There is a long list of things I could do or want to do with my shop, products, promotion, and many details in all areas of the operation… if I only had the money and time. I have committed to letting the business grow slowly, step by step, even though I can get impatient with all these ideas and goals. As things grow I will eventually have the money and make the time to do what I want to do. In the meantime, I’m really enjoying the process. Focusing on what is actually happening right now and celebrating all the little accomplishments along the way is the fun part.
In two years I would love to do this as my only job, splitting my time somewhat equally between sending out orders and making new artwork. Now I am taking steps to get my work in front of the right audiences. In addition to doing a few craft fairs and markets I’m fostering some potential wholesale opportunities and preparing promotional materials. Making new pieces to expand and re-stock the online shop will be a continuous effort and an essential part of my work. I will continue to refine the presentation of my work through the images, packaging, and details to a more cohesive and unique identity. Eventually the made-to-order pieces such as the bags or certain repeatable items could potentially break off as their own line with stream-lined production and a stronger brand identity. Likewise, the more sculptural explorations will continue to grow and be pushed conceptually and physically.
Thanks, Doug! Creative business owners, would you like to be profiled? Contact me here.