Author Topic: If you were starting again with nothing and knowing what you know now....  (Read 3279 times)

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WPJ

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A few questions as I'm just starting out I wanted to learn from your experiences and lessons learned.  I'm sure a number if others would like to know and share as well.

What is your start up story?

What are some of the little and major mistakes which you made along the way?

If you had the opportunity to start over from scratch knowing what you know now what would you do different or better?

Gear Dynamics

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My advice is to try and develop a few products and really perfect those items. Try and bring something to the market that is different and unique, but most importantly, useful. If you have an idea for something in your head, really workout the details before buying everything you might think you need. It's hard to develop products from scratch and to figure out what works and doesn't work without spending money. I find that my ideas continually evolve and I usually end up with supplies that I might not need anymore. I'd like to try and minimize that. It's my goal for this year.

Alex

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Read this book and spend two weeks reading everything you can off the Authors website. It's the industry bible. Make sure to buy it direct with the author, it's in the second link below. I think she gives you a free year to her forum with a book purchase.

http://www.amazon.com/Entrepreneurs-Guide-Sewn-Product-Manufacturing/dp/0966320840


http://www.fashion-incubator.com/

Crusader Gear

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I'm coming late to the party here, but I've learned a ton along the way!

1. Starting a gear business is NOT a get rich quick proposition.  If you want to have success, prepare to grind and work and work and grind.  You better be doing this because you love it, because there will be things that happen along the way that will be frustrating.

2. Adding on what Gear Dynamics said, if your skills are on the novice level, start with projects that are easier, and gradually progress to making things that are harder and more complicated once you've mastered those easier items.  For example, if you want to make backpacks, start with learning how to make a really good zipper pouch first.  If you want to make super fancy magazine pouches, learn how to make more simple ones first.  Build your skills and you will eventually surprise yourself with the things you are able to make and how well you are able to refine your designs.

3. Build a local following.  Get in to your local gun stores or outdoor stores.  Get to know the people there and let them know who you are and what you do.  They may give you some business, and that business may lead to more.  They may give you design ideas, or even let you borrow stuff to design for.  If they have any sort of social media presence, they may give you some publicity.

4. Be judicious about how you spend your revenue.  Yes, a bench-top grommet press will definitely make you faster at setting grommets in mass-produced pouches, but they cost $300 and you may not need anything more than $35 in a mallet, punch, and setting dies for the volume you are producing.  I've got a number of things I wish I hadn't purchased and had put that money in my pocket instead.

5. Marketing is VERY important.  Having a website does not guarantee that anyone is going to know who you are or find your website when searching for a product that you happen to produce.  You've got to get out there and tell people that you exist and who you are.  I think social media is a huge tool for this, but "Likes" on Facebook don't always equal dollars in your pocket.  Figure out the right place to spend some marketing dollars to attract customers to you and your products.  Understand that nothing is a guarantee.  Website traffic, static ads, Facebook followers, forum sponsorships can all be part of your marketing efforts, but you might not get anywhere near the return you expected from any one particular venue/method.  If you can get someone to post a review of your products, that will help, but understand that will only provide a brief spike in your website traffic.  You'll constantly have to find ways to keep your products in front of the customers in your target segments.

6. Be willing to make custom items until your product lines take off.  It's great to have a line of products that you can assembly line produce, control your variables, establish a price structure, etc.  But your business might take off after someone asks: "hey, can you make me something that does x.y.z....?"

7. Charge a high price.  This one may seem counter intuitive, but the fact of the matter is that we put a lot of time, effort, expertise, brainpower, etc. into designing and making gear.  All of that is worth something--especially if you have unique products.  Obviously you have to understand what customers are willing to pay for the things you make and obey those market forces, but also don't put yourself in a position where after selling hundreds of items, you don't have a lot of profit to show for it.

8. Keep learning.  After years of making gear, there are plenty of things I still need to learn how to do, and ways to improve my gear and my skills.

9. Get a mentor.  Everyone needs someone who has been there before that can help guide them, be a sounding board for ideas, and to help encourage when you hit a speed bump.  You'd be surprised how much someone might be willing to help you be successful.

10. Don't get discouraged, and refer back to point #1. 

Good luck!
« Last Edit: July 03, 2015, 04:49:25 AM by Crusader Gear »

WPJ

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Wow very inspiring, just what I needed today.

TwoWayTrauma

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Here is some of my input.  Some of the points were brought up in earlier responses, and I will "double tap" them just to reinforce that I also had the same experience.  For perspective, I went incorporated 6 months ago (after building a bunch of stuff for friends and coworkers), and just shipped my first order to a retail store, and am working on a deal with another store.  So, I'm definitely not the most experienced guy around here.

I started hand sewing leather holsters around 2011, that progressed to belts, and other hand made leather goods form moccasins to satchels for black powder.  I also did a bunch of kydex work.  People took note, and I started making for friends and co-workers.  A couple years ago, I bought my first sewing machine to make slings.  I had made them before using ti-glides to avoid sewing, but they always ended up clunky.  I had an idea to improve a sling I had used before, and used the sewing machine to make it.  About 12 sewing machines later, here I am.

Here is what I would do different:

Form the equipment side:

1.  I started with a husqvarna viking emerald.  It's a great home sewing machine, and I'm glad I started with it.  It cost around $200, but I probably could have gotten by with a $50 vintage (1950-1960) machine.  Depending on what you are doing, this may or may not be helpful to you.  Some of those vintage machines can sew through 3 layers of tubular webbing with size 69 thread no problem.  Some can also sew through two layers of type 13 webbing, but you have the potential for a skipped stitch, so I wouldn't recommend them for the application.

2.  My next machine was a tuffsew walking foot machine.  The walking foot is nice, but it didn't really punch through anything the viking couldn't.  If I could go back, I wouldn't have bought this machine.

3.  After that, I made an impulse buy on a no-kidding industrial, compound feed, walking foot machine for around $2200.  After demoing it at the store, I fell in love.  I should have bought this sooner.  It's a Kingmax CG1510, and a great machine.  If I could do it over again, I would have trolled craigslist in my town and surrounding towns for a used one.  Since I bought this, I have seen the same or similar machines (like the Juki it is cloned after) go for about $1000.  Never buy a machine without testing it.

From the business side:

1.  I would have started my social media presence earlier.  I don't get a ton of "likes" on Facebook, but I get them fairly regularly, and at a seemingly constant rate.  If I would have started this page a year earlier, even if I was just posting pics of gear with a "e-mail me if you want this", I would have a bigger following.

2.  I would have started my youtube presence earlier.  Again, I don't have a lot of subscribers or views, but they still trickle in.

3.  I would have found a mentor that knew about starting an LLC, and how to do the whole "tax" thing.  The retailer I am currently working with just let me know that there was some license I was supposed to have that I don't have.  He said he is willing to help me out on that aspect next time we meet.

4.  Ditto to #6 from crusader gear.  I'm kind of getting out of the custom market, except for a few select customers that I have been making gear for a while and buy from me regularly.  At the beginning it was a lot of hustling on craigslist and armslist.  I have literally sold hundreds of dollars of gear in the parking lot of the starbucks near my house. 

5.  Ditto to #7 from crusader gear.  You will get questions like "well, I saw this holster at wal-mart for $16, can you make it for $15?".  Be ready to tell them no, and explain why.  Have a tactful way to tell them that the item is mass produced in china, that it is made of inferior materials, and that the people making it are trying to meet quotas and don't care if your holster, chest rig, or belt falls apart the first time it gets wet or you fart sideways.  Memorize some of the specs of your material, whether it be UV resistance, low IR reflectivity, or tensile strength.  Have a canned response that you can rattle off from the top of your head, such as:  "I design and test everything myself.  All materials are made in the USA, and are fully Berry Amendment compliant.  The buckles are made of...."  you get the point.

6.  Something I totally failed to do was to create 1 or 2 items as "flagship" models.  If I could do it over, I would probably have invested more time in the beginning to perfect a sling and belt (or maybe a chest rig), and pushed those very hard.  This was also brought up in an earlier post.

7.  I should have started networking with other small business owners earlier.  I recently met with a local photographer and publisher who introduced me to a local group called "bigger than business" which is a group of small business owners in the meet at a bar or restaurant once a month and just talk and share information.  It is on meetup.com.  Depending on the size of the city where you live, meetup.com may or may not be convenient for you.  Members of the group include everything from photographers to accountants and financial experts, and it's just a way for people to partner and help each other.

From the design and manufacturing side:

1.  I should have started giving prototypes to friends and coworkers earlier for test and evaluation.  I have a bunch of stuff I sewed that I don't know what to do with.  Some of it is good, but I don't want to put it out there with my name on it.  I might take it to a pawn shop or just give it to good will.

2.  I should have taken the free sewing lesson that came with my machine.  I made a lot of mistakes that probably could have been avoided if I had gotten instruction from some wise old seamstress.  Lots of unnecessary frustration there.

3.  I should have been more proactive in asking friends and coworkers for feedback on their existing gear, and what they did and did not like about it.

From the work/life balance side

1.  I am an engineer by trade, and have passed the FEE in industrial engineering.  I time myself sewing things, and calculate profit.  Therefore I know how much money I make per hour at my sewing machine.  It's a very dangerous thing to start looking at your time as money like that.  I've recently realized that I have to stop looking at my days and hours like this.  If a friend or acquaintance asks if I want to go to lunch or watch a movie, and I look at spending time with them as a $200 loss, I'm probably not going to have many friends.

2.  Find a trusted friend or someone who actually uses gear and isn't a "gear queer" to evaluate things for you.  After all the sewing I have done, and all the gear I have made, I can not look at a piece without seeing a bunch of minor "flaws" (the triple stitching went in between a different weft yarn, this piece is 1/16 of an inch longer than the last piece, the MOLLE webbing is 1/32 of an inch off from the row beneath, etc).  Have that person give it a quick once-over if you are in doubt.

End of ramble.

ahhhh, sweet sweet  catharsis.

Happy trails,
Chuck
Two Way Trauma: Providing equipment for those trained in the judicious application and relief of trauma.

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bravodelta

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I am uber small time compared to you guys, still just a hobby and I have fallen victim to some of the points being brought up, like not charging enough and being only custom work..some really good info and tips going on here.

thanks for sharing dudes
As a sysadmin my next project is to network my sewing machine.

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TwoWayTrauma

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We've all been there, and we are here to help. 
Two Way Trauma: Providing equipment for those trained in the judicious application and relief of trauma.

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Crusader Gear

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I am uber small time compared to you guys, still just a hobby and I have fallen victim to some of the points being brought up, like not charging enough and being only custom work..some really good info and tips going on here.

thanks for sharing dudes

Happy to share!  Although don't be too hasty in judging how small-time, medium-time, or big-time any outfit is.  Personally, I'm always going to be "small-time."  I think of it this way: there are a LOT of gearmakers out there, and a customer can go to any one of them.  I like to interact with my customers, find out who they are, what they need, and make them part of my network as opposed to being just names on a list.  Granted, this isn't the case with all of them, of course, but for the ones that have contributed to my business growing this is certainly the case--especially my few distributors.  At the end of the day, they are buying my products not just because they like them, but because they like ME they like how I do business, and what my business is all about.  If I didn't have a "small-time" mentality in terms of customer interaction, I'd just be another face in a very crowded market (which sometimes I still am, by the way).

I guess that further emphasizes one of the points I was making earlier: where you are today isn't necessarily where you will be tomorrow.  You may be excited to get new wholesale customers, but later on they may decide to go in a different direction, or find that your products don't sell as well as they anticipated with their customer base.  You may start making custom gear locally, only to find that one particular item takes off and that one item ends up really making you as a company.  You may have a product that takes off quicky, but find a year later that the market for that product has dried up (so be sure to have plans to evolve your product lines!).  You may design what you think is a great/unique product only to find that it just doesn't sell--until two years later.

Things change, and you need good awareness and planing to make sure that you stay on top of it all.

@less@ndro

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Hello people,
Actually i do gear only for myself (I'm not in the military, simple i like backpacks) so i talk like 'hobbist' but I did some custom projects for customers. I find some really good point on this topic.

-If you do a custom job, think a lot about the price. Actually I always lost money because did was my thought:
Camelback sell his backpack at 250$ i sell this 'similar' backpack to 250$... WRONG if it is custom you have to ask for a lot of money. So i earned money but i loose 25 or more hours of my free time with an $/h less than my normal job. And I'm better to sew that to do my job... YES I WANT TO CHANGE!

-When you start don't take 5 yards of each color because than you need at least 3/4 set of full rolls. My advice is to start only with a solid color OD/tan. Actually i have a lot different camos in my room but for a long time i always used solid color because they were cheaper.

-If you don't have time don't take custom orders and don't give them a short deadline. It happened to my sometimes, the customer asked for a backpack and he asked if it was ready in 3 weeks. I said yes and I did it in time but i had a lot of troubles these weeks and it was very hard to complete the job.

-When someone ask a for a discount say him to go to fu** himself. No mid terms, i didn't and then i cried. You are a cool man, you are skilled tactical tailor you don't need their fucking money and you are not a slave.

-when you buy your stuff sometimes you can have find good offers but sometimes buy it new from a know brand and don't go for the cheap one. (this is always valid, especially if you want to build something)

others coming..
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WBTactical

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Hello I'm also hobbyist level gear maker/uniform seamster that takes commissions on the side, I would like to share my own experience

Material:
I should had stick/focus on two or three colors instead of buying little roll of each color/pattern just to have everything, chances are if you want to make something in Multicam or other pattern, you will need to stock up on matching binding tapes, webbing, thread, velcro, etc. Even if you purchase everything in small quantities they add up.

Equipment:
I got lucked out on this one and were able to get the right sewing equipment that works for me the first time. My first machine is a Singer 4411 which I had purchased from Amazon for about $130 dollars, it's quite a workhorse despite being a "home machine". The machine was easy to use, got decent speed and power to sew though at least two or three layers of Cordura fabric with no issue (assume you are using the right sized needle and thread). I also invested in a Sailrite LZ-1 when I got more serious about gearmaking, this is my first "industrial level" sewing machine so i can't really say if it's a good alternative to a "true" $1000+ industrial machine that have a dedicated motor and table. regardless the sailrite had never failed mw and it's good for those who doesn't want to spend over thousand on a brand new machine.

Information:
I should had visit these DIY, tutorial, information forums earlier, chances there will always some veteran gearmakers who's willing share their gear making experience and help you out like how to make this/that or where to get certain materials.

Pricing:
This category takes me the longest to sort it out, when I first started taking commission I would look at what the clients wants and be like "Ya I can probably do it for like $20" and when I actually start doing it, it take much longer than anticipated and the job is not even worth the $20. Now a days I look at how much I pay for my material and adjust my pricing accordingly, ex: I'm currently paying $10 per yard of coyote brown of fabric, there is about 2100 inches in one yard so if I were to cover the cost of the fabric I will have to charge at least $0.01 per inch for every inches of fabric used. Same thing with other materials.

Work/life balance:
Ditto on what Twowaytruma said, sometimes gearmaking isn't about making money, it's about making truly custom items that people had never seem before and to make something that is truly works for you. Sometimes I get burnt out treating my hobby like a small business and become less motivating in completing work and creating new gears, life is short, you have to stop what you are doing and doing something you enjoy once in a while.

That's pretty much it.

essal

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Pricing:
This category takes me the longest to sort it out, when I first started taking commission I would look at what the clients wants and be like "Ya I can probably do it for like $20" and when I actually start doing it, it take much longer than anticipated and the job is not even worth the $20. Now a days I look at how much I pay for my material and adjust my pricing accordingly, ex: I'm currently paying $10 per yard of coyote brown of fabric, there is about 2100 inches in one yard so if I were to cover the cost of the fabric I will have to charge at least $0.01 per inch for every inches of fabric used. Same thing with other materials.
I made a calculator for material calculation (ie an excel sheet) that I posted on DIY Tac many moons ago. It might be up on my website still, I'll see if I can find it one of these days.

However, your TIME is what should affect your price the most, especially if you're doing repeat jobs that aren't really fun to do. I think in 99.9% of all the work I've done since I started, the material was just a few dollars even for projects that I charged ~$300 for. I don't know what you consider an fair hourly wage, but you should charge that and not sell yourself cheap. Sure you might get some business by being an affordable option, but at some point when orders are lined up you quickly realize that you don't want to work for $5/hour..
Nora Tactical
Product Technician - Norrøna

SR Tactical

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My advice would be... Don't tell anybody that you exist until you know what you do. I was 17 years old when I started making gear and immediately tried to sell it. No good idea. Now five years later, my brand has a solid position in the german market. I don't sell tons of gear, but considering the time I work at SR Tactical, I earn good money.

Today I would develop one or two items and learn how to make them perfect.

Another point is the choice of tools and materials. Buy the best equipment you can afford as soon as possible, but don't overdo that. The most important thing is a good sewing machine. Yes, a 150$ hot knife is great, but a propane torch and a pair of scissors for 5$ each will do the trick aswell.

Last point: Be confident. Don't let people hate on you, just do your thing.

TwoWayTrauma

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Re: If you were starting again with nothing and knowing what you know now....
« Reply #13 on: September 04, 2015, 10:54:35 PM »
I just found out something last week that I wish I knew a long time ago.

Years before I thought I would ever be making and selling tactical gear, I decided to buy some webbing and tragedies along with other hardware to make my own sling.  Webbing was about $1.50 a yard, and hardware cost me a couple bucks.  I thought that was good, and if I bought a bunch I got 10% off.

I then started buying at a local fabric mill that had a good selection of military fabrics, and 1 inch 17337 was about 1.25 a yard, and if I bought a full 100 yard roll, I got 10% off, and I thought that was a good deal.  I shopped other places for various webbing and fabrics, including rocky woods, x-concealment, jontay.com, and a few others.

I had pretty much stayed away from the larger suppliers who didn't list prices.  This included Gerald Schwartz, Lowy, and some others.

I got over that barrier last week, and got pricing form Texcel Webbing and some quotes on scuba webbing from Gerald Schwartz.  I won't give exact prices, because they are subject to change.  Form Texcel, I got a 100 yard roll shipped for what it would have cost me to get about 30 yards where I used to shop.  Gerald Schwartz has prices so low on scuba webbing that I had to ask them to clarify.

Moral of the story, if you are buying your webbing somewhere, take a few minutes to ask Texcell and Gerald Schwartz for some quotes if you are buying anything more than a few yards.  I could probably have saved over a thousand dollars in the last 8 months if I had been buying from them.

That's what I wish I knew.  Besides costing me money, it slowed down the development of my business.  I could have had ore capital to add more colors and items to the line earlier.

Chuck
Two Way Trauma: Providing equipment for those trained in the judicious application and relief of trauma.

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