Meet Amanda Siska, owner of Bread and Badger. Amanda was selling shoes when she decided she needed to draw full-time. She learned about glass etching and fell in love! Quitting her job and starting her own business has been one of the hardest things she’s ever done. She’s inspired by the honey badger, who fearlessly faces all challenges.
What is your company?
We are Bread and Badger, and we etch glass and ceramic drinkware with my original artwork. Our cups make great personalized gifts and wedding favors.
How did you come up with the idea?
I was trying to come up with a way to get my illustrations onto a usable product, and I stumbled upon the idea of hand-engraving on glass. I had been making beaded jewelry to supplement my income, and started etching with a Dremel carving tool, drawing one line at a time onto tiny glass marbles that I turned into pendants and brooches.
It just sort of expanded out from there, from vases to barware, and snowballed once we upgraded to sandblasting so we could do production work.
Where did you find your first customer?
I started off recruiting family and friends to host parties in their homes for the jewelry line I’d been working on, and tested out all my etching ideas on them. I launched a website in 2005, but I have no idea who my first online customer was! It was a complete fluke that anyone found me at all until I started an Etsy shop in 2007. By then, we’d been selling at local craft fairs in Boston, MA for at least a year.
How did you determine your target market?
Trial and error, really. I listened very carefully to the feedback I got from craft fair customers and fellow vendors, but there weren’t really any other businesses etching glass when I started. I thought it would be sort of high-brow art, but people really wanted beer glasses with fun animals and things on them to express their personality. When I made those, everything just clicked!
What are you currently doing to reach them?
I use Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram, and send a monthly newsletter with an exclusive coupon for customers and fans. We run PR campaigns to reach magazines, local papers, and bloggers every now and then. That route helped us a lot when we were just starting out, but I don’t have a lot of time for writing press releases now.
We’re working on setting up a press schedule with a friend who’s trying to break into the PR field, so we’re sort of learning the ropes together. It was a lot easier when there weren’t so many people writing blogs, even just a few years ago. It was easy to contact bloggers directly, who had a lot of readers and were looking for handmade products to feature.
How much did you start up with?
My partner and I just saved up as much as we could from our full-time jobs, and I quit mine with the understanding that I had about a year or two to make a successful business. I was really motivated, had a unique product, and the timing was right with the online marketplace so that we didn’t need any more than that.
Did you bring on investors, get loans, or grow naturally?
We’ve always grown naturally, though we did participate in a 3yr IDA program, which allowed us to upgrade our production equipment and buy a trailer to transport goods to in-person events. That was extremely helpful!
I actually think we borrowed a few thousand dollars from a relative a few years into business, when we knew we were making money, but had to spend more on supplies than we currently had available without taking out a line of credit.
What’s the best advice someone has given you?
The idea that I am completely in control of my own business is something I need to be reminded of frequently. We’ve gone through a number of painful growing stages, and things tend to feel really off-the-rails sometimes. There’s always some guiding person who reminds me that our company’s growth is based on our own goals, decisions, and that we can slow down whenever we want. Hearing that can bring everything right back under control. It’s good to remember who’s really at the helm, and it’s not a demanding customer or a vague notion that we should be taking over the world.
What are your keys to staying productive?
I have a hard time NOT working, so the important thing is to stay on-task when I’m in work mode, and to take prescribed breaks where I’m not allowed to work at all. I use an online app called Trello to sort all my to-do lists, which has really increased productivity. We also integrate all our sales channels with Stitch Labs, to track all our inventory. That’s pretty much revolutionized the way everyone at Bread and Badger works together, since we can all see what stage of production every item is in, and where inventory levels are. It auto-updates our website channels in real-time, so we can sell a really broad range of products in a lot of places.
As far as keeping myself from getting too burnt out, I try to exercise regularly, which improves my mood even on the worst days. I also attempt to keep compulsive email and Facebook checking to a minimum. That’s easier said than done, of course.
When you started your business what was one thing you wish you knew?
I wish I’d been prepared for production work a little sooner than I was. I wanted everything to be one-of-a-kind, but that’s really not practical for our product and we had to make a lot of adjustments in order to do production. I wish I’d at least had it in my head that expansion was a good idea from the beginning.
What resources or books do you refer to regularly?
I like reading the blogs for our ecommerce platform (Shopify) and inventory management system (Stitch Labs) because they have lots of simple articles that pertain to our online market without being overwhelming. But really, nothing beats talking to other small biz friends directly. I use Facebook to network with people on a daily basis, which is perfect for trouble-shooting challenges.
I try to have face-to-face meet ups as often as possible because it offers such a refreshing perspective on this whole business ownership deal. I just started reading “Creative Block” by Danielle Krysa, which has lots of inspiring artist interviews and project ideas for getting unstuck from a block. I don’t read a lot of business-y books, but this one is really motivating me to try some new things with my art.
Has your company experienced any close calls or lucky moments?
We got our first lucky break when my mustache pint glass was featured on the design*sponge blog and Urban Outfitters wanted to wholesale them. That lead to a small licensing deal that helped us pay for sandblasting equipment, and national press that really catapulted our brand. We were then featured in Real Simple magazine’s holiday gift guide a few years ago, which was also lucky that they discovered us for that.
What does success mean to you?
Supporting my family and having time off to spend with them makes me feel like I’m succeeding at life. I pretty much stopped working weekends when our son was born, and it’s been amazing for my mental state. Being able to offer jobs to other people also increases that feeling. Plus, anytime I read an email from a happy customer about how our product was the perfect gift for their groomsmen, or wedding toast, or dad’s birthday, it let’s me know that we’re doing the right thing.
Where would you like to see your business 5 years from now?
We’re working on getting our own workspace outside of our home, which will be a huge step toward making our business more like a real job that we can go to and leave behind at the end of the day. I’d also like to do more in-person sales, like trade shows and maybe the Saturday Market here in town. We’d like to work with more local manufacturers for our supplies and packaging, and have a high-end line of custom ceramics.
How can people find you online?
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