In this episode we talk with Kyle from CigartMetalWorks. Kyle got started on Etsy by creating a product that scratched his own itch and helped him feel like Arnold Schwarzenegger on the golf course. We talk with him about beta testing with friends and customers, his custom video he has on his About page, run-ins with the TSA, a handy spreadsheet he uses to stay motivated and more!
How did it all get started?
I got turned on to cigars in my 40’s. When golfing, I didn’t want to put my cigars down on the grass because of all the ground chemicals. So I asked my twin boys to get me a cigar holder but all the cigar holders in the market look like women’s hair clips. So I immediately realized that there’s a niche.
I started playing around with that idea and came up with something that you can throw around like a knife and it would stick to the ground – pretty much things that a guy would like to do.
As a matter of fact, that was my test. If you can throw it and it sticks 9/10 times – it’s almost ready.
One time, I went to the airport and forgot that I had it in my briefcase. It was one of the early versions and at that time, I was trying to make it stick to the ground and the blade at the end was very long.
Officer: Do you have any weapons you’d like to declare?
Kyle: No sir, I got no weapons.
Officer: Okay, we’re going to need you to go that room.
Then they pulled out my cigar holder and asked me what it is:
Officer: What’s this?
Kyle: Well, it’s probably yours now, but it’s a cigar holder. I’m making it so it sticks to the ground when you golf.
He then went to his supervisor.
Supervisor: Explain this.
Kyle: Well it holds the cigar. I want to get it the point where you throw it on the ground and it would stick.
Supervisor : That is so awesome! Where did you buy it?
Kyle: I kinda invented it.
Supervisor : Really? Well when this goes to market you call me up! Here’s my card!
Then they let me go with my cigar holder. That run in with the security kinda gave me a confirmation that this is a good product.
How long did it take you from having these girly cigar clips before actually starting making one of your own?
I have learned that if you try to keep a secret to yourself, you’re limited to yourself. So I asked my friends in different manufacturing places to help me with it and I was getting so much help from them. That tweaking went on for around a year.
There’s this old saying, “Eventually you got to shoot the engineer and start production”. So I made my first one and that’s where my whole beta testing idea came up. I made more and gave it to about a dozen guys to get feedback.
I had lots of good feedback. “Hey it works, but I can’t stick it in my pocket” or “It cut the bag” and that’s exactly what you need. I think I gave about 10 of them to these different guys that are into golfing and they all came back with “Dude, I would buy one.”
So for the longest time, I was an Etsy shop with one product. I was surprised how well that shop did without any marketing at all. Then I saw Marmalead and thought that could fit this well.
Did you also do different versions of your Cigar Holder?
Yes. I kept changing and changing it because my goal was that you could throw it on the ground and you’d be like “Yeah!”
We went through a lot of iterations, at least 3 or 4.
I made a bunch of version 2.1’s and I needed feedback. Luckily, you have your beta-testers and your beta-testers are on your team. They really want you to succeed and they’ll give you good feedback about the product.
I’m really big on the beta testing idea. Get some feedback particularly if it’s something that’s not on the market.
My beta testing method was actually based on one of your podcasts where you said it’s okay to follow them up and ask about the buying experience. I also tell them that:
“Hey if you want to be a part of my newsletter (we’re always coming up with new products about every 3 or 4 months), you get a preview of what we’re working on and if you’re willing to, we might send you a new product if you volunteer to be a beta tester!”
Related: How and why you should talk to your customers
My daughter in law also helped me with pricing. She kept saying that I need to raise my prices. Marmalead helped in a lot of things too because you could see the distribution and you’ll know that there are people selling it for more so you feel more comfortable in making that decision.
Is your workshop at your garage right now?
Yeah it is. About a year ago, I had the opportunity to retire from General Motors early and so I said “Okay, let’s get for real. I’m gonna be the old guy that does stuff in his garage.” I had set up a shop and it is nice. I just go there and make some stuff.
Tell us about the Golf Club Hangers
The golf club hangers started with the idea that I gotta have to get more stuff in my shop. I can’t have just one thing in my shop. So I had an idea about the iron hangers. I know it’s gonna cost me a little bit to make so I started looking up what ‘wedding day hangers’ sell for and they were charging about $25 each. I was like “Okay, people are willing to pay $25 for a hanger, I guess”. So I made some up but I also didn’t want them to break. If there’s anything I don’t wanna deal with is someone saying that they bought it but it broke.
That has been our rule of thumb when I was with cars. If something goes wrong with the car, we want to be shocked. Like “No way! We tested this a million times!”
I don’t have the resources I used to so I brought this golf club hanger and asked my friend to pull out his heaviest winter coat to test it out. I just wanna make sure it didn’t bend under the weight of the coat. Luckily, It didn’t.
Let’s talk about your Etsy shop video
That didn’t happen because of Etsy. I told one of my good friends that I’d like to get a video out so people can see what my cigar holder can do. He said “You buy me a Tim Hortons coffee, I’ll do it for ya.”
So we went to a golf course that just opened in Spring and it only took us around 10 minutes on the green and on the tee box to shoot everything.
Best Tim Hortons coffee purchase I’ve ever made.
Work Life Balance
I’m trying to balance this with life. There’s always that concern that what if it goes non-linear? Each of these are handmade by me. There’s always that concern that what if someone ordered in bulk?
Well we did experience that one time. There was a golf outing and there are typically about 4 or 8 people on each hole and so I got an order for 96 of them. But the catch is that they’re only giving me a week and so I had to politely turn them down.
It’s a good problem to have but you gotta have a work life balance. I don’t want to have the work managing me. So I turned down some of those. I know for some businesses it’s hard to turn it down because sometimes there’s a little bit of greed or concern that this won’t come again – well, it will come again. They like you for a reason the first time around. Maybe you won’t get 96 orders next time but that’s okay.
If you have your own business, there’s a temptation to be either never at work (because you don’t physically have to go to work) or the more common one is you’re always at work. You gotta have a life. You gotta say “Hey I’ve done a good week of work, regardless what my sales look like.”
Click here to see Kyle’s spreadsheet
So I took that idea and made this spreadsheet. The rules are 1) You gotta line up the tasks that takes to be successful. 2) You can’t have too many of one task or you won’t get any more points. That’s what the 1 – 10 means and after your 10th time; you’re not gonna get any more points that week. The idea is that you come up with a total number of points by the end of the week. Mine used to be around 300 points and I had it broken down to:
- I have to make a product
- I have to market the product
- I got to have sales.
I put those in broad categories and decide what points each task would earn. Regardless of whether I heard the ‘Chaching’ in the middle of the night or not, I give myself points. “Am I spending time on each of these areas?” And then when I am, and I want to go hiking, I go hiking. But if I’m behind, it will motivate me to delay gratification because I’m behind.
I needed something that would tell me that I’m having a good week regardless of what the numbers say. It really is a number’s game. After so many views and favorites, I know I’m getting a sale so I don’t worry much about it.
Did you have to discontinue any products that you beta tested and failed?
Yes. My shop is originally called Cigart (Cigar + Jart). We then tried some things out of wood. I have never worked with wood very often and so my products horrendously failed. I gave them to people and they fell apart. That is why we added CigartMetalWorks in the name. We have no plans in venturing out of that.
That was a big failure but it’s okay. It’s good to know and from that, we got some good ideas. That was the one where we first thought of making coat hangers made of the irons (which did pretty well) and thought it’d be cool to have wooden hangers out of the old wooden woods. I thought it was genius and we’ve made plenty of those that only ended up terribly bad.
Story of the Golf Club Bottle Openers
One of my friends had seen one (or thought had seen one) and I said that I could do that too. So I made one for him. Then he put it on his desk, other people saw it, and orders started coming so I put that up on Etsy. That has been very popular.
How do you come up with ideas for your shop?
I try to incorporate things that I think would look cool and are kinda popular. Take the shotgun shells for example, I went with my wife to Hobby Lobby for her stuff. When we were there, I saw they’re selling fake shotgun shells as decoration items. So I thought that if people are making fakes and selling them, there’s something I can do with them. Thus my Shotgun Shell Ball Markers were born. The cigar holder looks like a 100 caliber casing so they both complement and gives that militaristic look.
Then as I was gonna go visit a friend in Costa Rica, I bought a cigar cutter for him. I had the shotgun shell ball marker and the cigar cutter in my pocket and realized they fit together perfectly. So I cut a deal with the guy making cigar cutters; put my ball markers in it and started selling them on Etsy.