Wednesday, June 4

Competing With Larger Manufacturers

I've been away for a while now and I wanted to include you all in what's been going on. If you're a first-timer here, I run a small blacksmithing company called Earthman Ironworks.

I do most of my business in hand-forged wall hooks. Very simple designs. Rustic feel. Traditional finishes, mostly hot beeswax.

I sell the majority of my hooks on Etsy. I've never moved large volumes in my five years on the site, but the slow trickle has been a welcome addition to my income.

Working On Growth

I've been working on expanding my business for the past month or so to become my main source of income. To do this I've done some research in larger marketplaces to see what's selling that I can make or sub out to someone else.

In my search, I came across a simple, uneven S hook on Amazon made by Perky-Pet . They do a decent sales volume every day, usually in the neighborhood of 50+ hooks.

Here's the side-by-side of their hook (right) next to my shop's:

Both hooks are 12" long with hooked ends measuring 4.75" and 2.75". Ours is made out of 5/8" cold-rolled square stock. I'm only guessing here, but I'm pretty sure Perky-Pet's wasn't made by hand (It's also made in China). 

Key Differences:
  • Material: Ours is far sturdier. 
  • Price: We could never survive selling our hooks at Perky-Pet's $6-and-change price point.
  • Exposure: Perky-Pet already has the attention of customers on Amazon. We're just venturing out. 
What To Do


Since our hooks are handmade, we have the luxury of putting an appropriate price tag on them as well as our personal lifetime guarantee. 

The trick is to price reasonably without pricing yourself out of a potential sale. During testing I'm trying out a few different prices to see at what level the hook sells best.

On Etsy, it's priced at $25 + $5.95 shipping. This reflects the perceived value people place on handmade goods. If you price too low, people won't see what you're selling as valuable or worth buying. Price it too high and you're putting their imaginations through the ringer. They wanted to use your hook in their garden, but you've put it out of their reach. 

On a site like eBay I'll be setting a reserve price at break-even (around $7 before shipping) as well as utilizing the Buy It Now option. If bidding ensues there's always potential for going up. If no one wants it at that low price I've gained some valuable knowledge.


In time, I would love to be right alongside Perky-Pet in terms of sales. I've partnered with a local metalworker (Chandler Metalworks) who has the capacity and efficiencies to do a lower, but respectable volume. 

For now, I'm testing various online selling avenues including: Facebook Ads, eBay auctions, Etsy with internal promotion, and possibly the Google Ad Network. 

With vetted interest through even one of these channels, I'll proceed forward with production. What that looks like is a little subjective, but comes down to

Orders placed vs. Advertising dollars spent

If the order value exceeds the money spent advertising, we're in business. This may seem a little nerve-racking in a business that traditionally relies on face-to-face interaction. I'm making an informed bet that I can reach more potential customers for less money via the Internet than I could traveling around the country to trade shows and fairs. 

That's the key, too. I'm trying to build a business that can sustain itself for the long-term. Sales should be happening day-in and day-out.

Leveraging Your Position

As blacksmiths and metalworkers we have a unique position in the marketplace. We may not be able to produce as many things, but we can always make them of the highest quality.

We can also join forces with other likeminded individuals to accomplish larger goals. That's what I've done by pairing up with Chandler Metalworks. Without Jonathan Chandler's time and expertise my idea for producing larger volumes of extremely useful things wouldn't be possible.

The Internet is a great leveler for makers of all sizes. It's now more possible than ever to compete with established brands. You just have to find what makes you stand out and highlight it. The tools to get what you make out in front of people are now available to everyone


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