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Getting the Word Out: How Nick’s Wood Shop Uses Apparel to Market Handmade Goods

By on August 21st, 2018 Reading Time: 5 minutes

Nick’s Wood Shop has been stocking some of Wisconsin’s most charming gift shops with handcrafted home goods since 2014. To get the word out about his business and bring a little bit of branding everywhere he goes, owner Nick Endle expanded his product line to include a few screen-printed items.

I chatted with Nick to hear about how his online store came together, and how he balances a mix of products and a growing business.

A home-brewed brand

What immediately hits you when you visit Nick’s Wood Shop is that it’s full of heart. The whole project started when Nick needed a workbench for his garage. Rather than pick up a ready-made bench, Nick got together with his dad, Herb, and started planning. Herb was a lifelong woodworker (“since before I was born,” says Nick), and he shared his time and knowledge to create that first bench. They stocked up on tools and supplies for that first project, and the rest is history.

“I got hooked from there, and started building furniture that we needed in our apartment. I purchased more tools, and was able to acquire a large amount of hand tools, shop furniture, and other essentials from my grandpa’s shop, who was a carpenter for almost his whole life. Soon after that, I started getting custom orders from family and friends after they saw my work.”

Handled coffee scoops by Nick’s Wood Shop

Nick started making smaller home goods for friends and family, and opened an online shop, Nick’s Wood Shop full of bottle openers, coasters, and cutting boards

Nick used Big Cartel, an ecommerce platform for creatives and independent artists, to build his store.

He’s a web developer by day, and worked on some custom code for a designer friend in exchange for branding work. With a great-looking logo and on-point packaging, Nick was ready to bring his business to a wider audience.

Nick’s first stop: local craft shows.

My mom, dad, and grandpa had years of experience selling handmade items at craft shows, and that inspired me to do in-person events as well.” His parents helped out at the first few events, showing Nick the ropes and proudly watching him figure out his business’s needs as it grew.

Spreading the word

“Once I had a logo, it was within a few months that I was like, ‘Oh yeah, I should put this on some apparel and maybe some other merchandise.’ I thought it would be cool to wear a hat or a shirt with my logo when I was at a craft show or some kind of event. It was mostly for me, but then other people seemed interested too.”

So because of the interest from friends, family, and followers, Nick connected his shop to Printful and added logo gear to his product lineup. These items aren’t Nick’s core product, so he kept his retail prices intentionally low.

“I’m not really offering apparel to make money. I did it more as a marketing tool than to try to make money off them.”

Selling a shirt with the price set to just cover production costs won’t make sense for every business, but for Nick’s Wood Shop, it was the right decision. This isn’t an apparel brand, so the company doesn’t depend on profits from shirt sales to grow. These items exist to support the brand and its handmade goods, so each shirt or sweatshirt that goes out into the world is free marketing.

The brand is gaining more name recognition among locals, and more wholesale orders from Wisconsin-based stores.

The daily grind

These days, Nick’s biggest challenge is keeping all of his handmade goods in stock.

“I do a lot of wholesale, which can really fluctuate throughout the year. Lots of time is spent making sure stores are stocked before the major holidays, but then there’s also making sure stores have enough on hand during the slower times of the year too. At any given time, I’ve got a couple dozen of any product in various stages of finished. It’s a lot more efficient to batch stuff up, than to take the time to set up a workflow for just one item. During the holiday season, I try to keep everything on hand because people want to get last-minute gifts from me, and they like to buy direct.

Happily, Nick doesn’t need to worry about keeping an inventory of apparel.

“That’s the main reason I’m using Printful. I let them do all of the fulfillment because I never know [what will be ordered] and it takes so much of the risk out of the situation. I don’t have to worry about spending a bunch of money upfront, or hanging on to a ton of inventory.”

“I’ve had other projects in the past where I’ve made t-shirts and sweatshirts. If you have a pre-sale phase, you can get an idea of your numbers, but after that when you have random sizes left over or run out of certain sizes, it’s just a nightmare to try and push that stuff. My main business is handcrafted items – not the apparel. I don’t want to do more work than I have to.”

He’s keeping things simple by not stocking and shipping the apparel items himself, but Nick’s shop feels cohesive and professional with the addition of the shirts and other items. They reinforce the brand by using the store’s logo in more places, and blend with the handcrafted wood products, thanks to their nature-inspired color palette.

Slow and steady

I asked Nick about what’s next for his business. And in a nutshell, he’s keeping his head down and working hard.

“I’m still trying to expand around the state, get into more stores, and get my name out there. I’ve been steadily improving my shop space and workflow to continue making top-notch pieces without sacrificing quality.”

And the thing about modest, organic growth is that it creates a business that lasts. He’s building a company that’s sustainable, and a thoughtful line of products that each have a purpose and an enthusiastic audience.

Nick tests new products and details to find what resonates with his customers. He even started making wood utensils at the request of a local gift shop owner, and they’re now his most popular products.

“I sell in stores that get a lot of traffic from tourists who come from all over the state, sometimes all over the country, and visit these shops. I make a lot of wall-mounted bottle openers that are in the shape of Wisconsin, and I use a Wisconsin-shaped stamp on a bunch of utensils. A lot of my audience is people who want to get local gifts.”

Nick knows what his customers like, and he’s not afraid to figure out how to make something new. And he’s designed a business that can adapt to his ever-evolving product line. He can design and update new apparel items using Printful as quickly as he can finish a new prototype that he’s created in his workshop.

Sarah is part of Big Cartel's Community team. She works to support, champion, and promote Big Cartel shop owners from all over the world and help them grow their businesses.

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