Geoffrey and Valerie Franklin are husband and wife team behind, Walnut Studiolo, a unique accessory manufacturer for bikes, beer, and more specializing in leather and wood based products. Prior to working full-time on their business, Geoffrey worked in Architecture as a graduate of the University of Oregon Architecture School, and Valerie was a professional project manager.
What is your company?
Walnut Studiolo makes leather and wood accessories for bicycles, beer, and more. We make everything by hand in our workshop in SE Portland, and sell them online. Geoffrey Franklin, a graduate of the U of O Architecture School, is the designer and maker of the company’s products. His wife, Valerie Franklin, runs the business.
How did you come up with the idea?
Geoff was commuting by bicycle to work at his architecture firm, and he had ideas for products that he wanted for his commuter bike but couldn’t find on the market. So he decided to make them himself. Valerie thought the products he made were really cool, so she decided to list them on Etsy. Etsy proved there was demand, and the business was launched.
Where did you find your first customer?
How did you determine your target market?
For us, it was rather straightforward – we started making bicycle accessories, so we targeted bicyclists. We set up our first card table at the BikePortland.org’s BikeCraft Fair in 2009, and the word spread among cyclists from there.
What are you currently doing to reach them?
We have an online store on Etsy and our own site, walnutstudiolo.com. We also keep an active social media presence on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
How much did you start up with?
$0. For the first three years, we only started making each product after we received payment, a method that works great with Etsy. Etsy also has very low overhead. It was free to open our Etsy store, and it was only 20 cents to list an item. It wasn’t until we got comfortable with the business that we started building up an inventory.
Did you bring on investors, get loans, or grow naturally?
We have grown naturally and organically, 100% bootstrapped.
What’s the best advice someone has given you?
Valerie’s father, who works in marketing, said, “Do as much for free as possible.”
What are your keys to staying productive?
Scheduling my day.
Making sure I have time set aside for each thing I need to get done, and having a routine.
When you started, what was one thing you wish you knew?
Excellent photography is critical, especially when selling on the internet.
It took me a while to realize this.
What resources or books do you refer to regularly?
For Valerie in business, I have a Feedly feed of several business blog articles that I read, and I have a bookshelf that I am working through that I call my “Personal MBA”. I’ve found the The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss, Small Giants by Bo Burlingame, Business Model Generation, and Reality Check by Guy Kawasaki to all be really helpful books.
For Geoff in design: my sketchbook. I put my ideas down in there whenever and wherever they occur, and I consult it regularly throughout the day.
Has your company experienced any close calls or lucky moments?
Christmas is always a close call for us. The pressure is high, and you don’t want to disappoint hundreds of people around the world who want that perfect gift under the tree on such an important day. Every year, we have a “shipping party” with our friends. We buy beer and pizza, and we form an assembly line to put together all the packages. Same thing happened when we were successfully funded on Kickstarter. We had over 500 Kickstarter rewards to send out.
We’ve had hundreds of lucky breaks! Every time we get written up in a magazine or popular blog, we thank our lucky stars. Big moments for us were, in chronological order, the first article by BikePortland.org and the subsequent roasting by BikeSnobNYC.com, a mention on Gizmodo.com, a feature in Real Simple Magazine, and in House Beautiful Magazine.
What does success mean to you?
Having a balance in our life and spending time together.
Growing our business in a foundational, natural way.
Where would you like to see your business 5 years from now?
We’d like to see 10% growth every year and for the business to support 1-2 more leathercraft apprentices to work on production, that way Geoff will have more time for design.
How can people find you online?
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