Who can we learn the most from when starting and growing our product based business? Those who have been successful before us, of course!
With that note in mind, I am starting a series of posts on Mastermind Members and others who would like to share their story about their business.
Today’s featured producer is Andrea Butter with Maui by Design:
1. Please tell us a bit about your business: When you started and what you make?
My company is Maui by Design. I design souvenirs for Hawaii and other tropical beach areas that are as special as the trip that they are meant to commemorate.
Our biggest line are glass Christmas ornaments that are hand painted from the inside with beautiful images of Hawaii such as the tropical fish, sea turtles, dolphins, tropical flowers – all the images that visitors love to remember from their vacation. I have owned the company since 2008, but the company itself was started in Maui in 2000 by its previous owner.
My start was probably not typical. I had had a satisfying corporate career in high tech companies – my specialty was marketing. For much of my career I found the pace in Silicon Valley companies exhilarating and the work interesting. Maybe I had a mid-life crisis – at some point my work stopped being interesting and the former exciting pace seemed merely stressful.
From there it wasn’t long for me to discover that I wanted to run my own small business. I talked with a number of business owners who were listing their companies for sale, and determined quickly that Maui by Design had products that I could personally feel proud of and identify with I could easily see myself buying one of the Hawaiian ornaments on vacation! I also knew that I could design new products and images for our products.
I admire people who start as a craftsperson and from there move into business a lot, and think that I probably took an easier path – I didn’t have to establish the product lines and a customer base from scratch. The closest I got to that was by expanding the product line to the US mainland, and offering hand painted souvenir ornaments for New York, San Francisco, and Florida (Patch of Shade) which meant also finding sales reps and setting up order fulfillment on the US mainland.
3. What is one of the biggest “Ah,ha!” moments you have experienced since starting your business. In other words, what is it you know now that you wish you knew in the beginning – maybe something that made a big change on how you saw yourself or your business.
I ran the company for several years relying completely on my sales reps to sell. Coming from my marketing background, I had never seen myself as a front-line sales person, and though I am not all that shy, was really shrinking from the idea of selling personally.
It wasn’t until about 18 months ago when a great mentor really pushed me on it. He told me that selling was one of my primary jobs as the owner of the company, that even the best sales rep would not have the same enthusiasm and understanding of my products as I had, and that I needed the experience selling so that I could better understand my sales reps, and give them guidance on my product lines.
That was scary stuff for me! Of course I know our products and am proud of them, of course I know that they sell well… I just didn’t want to have to tell a customer!
The first time I approached a customer to show them a new line I tried to practice for the conversation for hours! And it turned out that it really wasn’t that hard. In fact, all my fears proved unfounded, and the conversations with customers really feel much more like a good conversation where I find out more about my customers and get to them about our products and why consumers like them.
Of course my mentor was right – even my best sales reps don’t have the same passion about the products or the same fire in the belly to get the products into stores and I really wish I had understood the importance of seeing myself as a key sales person for the company years earlier.
Interesting insight Andrea found with the advice from her mentor! As a sales rep, I will never be able to sell your products as good as you. No matter how hard I try, the level of commitment and enthusiasm is just not as high. But the advantage of a sales rep is for producers to let go of that end of the business and concentrate their efforts on their creations!