This is the part of our 2003 update. This update I am doing a little bit different than our 2002 update. I am breaking it up into several consecutive posts and the last post will have the net worth update for 2003 followed by a glance at our 2003 budget. By doing it this way I can give more details for the year. Let me know what you think of this format.
This all started for me back in late 2002 right after I found out my wife was pregnant. There was something about her being pregnant that made me really start thinking about providing more for my family. Having a baby on the way was a huge driving force for doing more.
With that new found motivation thoughts of money and finance seemed to always be on my mind. This driving factor was also what got me starting in flipping cars, but that was not necessarily something I wanted to do long term. Flipping cars seemed more like just taking advantage of a quick opportunity that was right in front of me. Along that same note this is the same way I thought of my (current) business as I was starting it. I was just looking at the numbers and taking advantage of an opportunity. This is really how all business’s come about.
Now that we were out of school Corinne wanted to start her own small portrait business. Corinne graduated with a BFA in photography. She had worked as a portrait photographer while we were in school for a bigger company and she really enjoyed the creative element of portraiture. To start her photography business she needed some muslin backdrops, the big pieces of fabric that hangs behind you in a photography studio. Corinne had learned how to paint them in a class while at school, so being the frugally minded couple that we where, we went ahead and painted a few ourselves. It ended up costing us around $60, a couple days worth of time, and one ruined friends lawn to make two of these(our friends where good sports, but we still felt pretty bad). To purchase these backdrops it would have cost us close to a grand so we were pleased with ourselves. That’s when a light bulb turned on.
“Why not make more of these and sell them on ebay?”
So we went ahead and tested the market on ebay and sold several of these at a fraction of what the people would pay at the big backdrop vendors. The few people who purchased those first ones loved us and even wanted more at that price.
I figured we would make more and start really selling these on ebay. I got into researching everything about the photography backdrop market and learned so much. I eventually started looking for a better quality fabric than what we got from the local fabric store. As I was researching I started finding that all the good fabrics seemed to come from India. I came across a company in India on the internet that was selling completed backdrops for only a little bit more than it cost me to make them. How awesome was that? Already painted! Especially because I don’t think my friend would let me keep destroying his lawn and driveway as I made these 10 feet by 20 feet backdrops. I went ahead and tried ordering a few from this manufacturer in India. They responded back saying they do not work with small quantities and that I needed to order at least ten thousand dollars worth of product for them to even consider making these for me.
Wow, ten thousand dollars worth of product. Because of our diligent saving and we were in the middle of flipping cars we had the money but that was a big commitment. We spent the next week going back and forth, contemplating what we should do. We did all kinds of pro vs. con lists, and much more. At the time I did not realize I was doing it but I was creating a business plan as I was going over all this information to figure out if we should take the plunge. We finally decided to go for it, the numbers just made sense and I was sure we would turn a profit on whatever we ordered. I went back to the manufacturer and convinced him to allow me to have a smaller first purchase, after some back and forth we came to an agreement of seven thousand.
One of the scariest days in my life was wiring that money to manufacture in India. I was wiring all that hard earned money of mine to a company in India that I had never met before and had only communicated through email, one phone call, and mailing sample swatches back and forth. I did do my homework and found a safer way of doing it but still it was something very new to me.
When the backdrops finally came in that was another crazy day. We lived on the second floor of a small apartment. A big old eighteen wheel tractor trailer pulled up in our little apartment complex. Luckily, he was an amazing driver. Watching him manage all those tight angles and obstacles all over the place was scary to watch. We then proceeded to unload the trailer putting all these backdrops at the bottom of the steps leading up to my apartment. From there I had to take them all up the stairs to our little apartment one at a time, it took me all night. It seemed we would need a miracle to fit all these backdrops into our apartment. I am sure our neighbors thought we were crazy and the complex management was probably not to happy with us. The amount of backdrops we had was enough to fill the entire living room wall to wall six feet high, but it all fit. It was crazy in our apartment for the first week. We had to create small walkways through our apartment, there where backdrops everywhere. It was crazy, but exciting.
We started selling them on ebay and we did great with it. From there Corinne learned how to create a website without any help or knowledge. She read a lot and studied a lot of books and launched our first website. The whole time we did this we didn’t officially form a business or get a DBA or anything. It was just all making money on the side for us. Every penny we made from this venture went right back into purchasing more backdrops. It was great to see things growing and numbers we had never imagined before going through our bank account.
At the time I never considered myself an entrepreneur, I was just doing something that made me some extra money. Looking back at it all I am amazed that it turned into what it turned into. Really the whole thing was completely unplanned. We just jumped in and went with it, never seeing a reason to stop. It wasn’t like we were making millions overnight, it was always slow and steady growth. The point is - Don’t buy into the whole billion dollar company overnight, or get quick rich schemes. For every one Facebook or Google there are many millions of companies that are started slow and steady just like we did and the reality is that the odds of being successful at a company like ours is much more attainable than a big company.
I’m gonna leave it there for now. There is so much more I could write about with this whole experience and with what developed but that is for future posts with the coming yearly updates. So stay tuned. Please do let me know what you think. Also if you want to hear any other aspects of the story let me know.
Be sure to stay tuned for the next post next week. It will help you get a full glance at our finances for the year.
Author: KC Beavers
KC Beavers is a semi-retired entrepreneur. The subject of personal finance has always fascinated him. In an effort to not bore those around him with all his love of personal finance as much he has come here to bore all of you instead.
wow, necessity is indeed the mother of innovation. glad you made the right choice of investing your hard earned money into that backdrop business. wish you more success in the future!
This is a great article! You did a fantastic job of finding something right around you and turning it into a business. That's where all great ideas come from. Truly, though, the biggest scare is that initial investment. Even though $10,000 is pocket change once you make it big, starting out, that's not easy.
I'm in the middle of brainstorming and developing that great idea - your article is an inspiration. Thanks for writing!
That’s a nice success story, or rather, a story about how you got off on the right track towards success. One important consideration regarding your “market test” that wasn’t explicitly mentioned was that the photography backdrop market is a good example of a “niche market” – i.e., a small market segment which demands a highly specialized product/service (in this case, photography backdrops). An auction site like ebay is probably a good place to test a niche market because a lot of the critical information you’d want to gather when conducting market analysis is very transparent (e.g., competitors’ price ranges, competitors’ product features, etc)
Great story! How did you guys test the market on Ebay with your hand painted backdrops? This aspect of starting a business really interests me as I brainstorm ideas on creating a parallel business model to yours.