In 1978 I was involved in a series of small real estate and service businesses here in Santa Fe. Physically they were all housed in La Casa Building, an office complex that formed the basis for an "incubator" covering these and other people's businesses.
One of our tenants was a freelance photographer who offered to sell me at his cost a small-bowled pipe made from tropical hardwoods, turquoise and mother of pearl. I gave him the five bucks he asked, and followed it back to the source. Bill Wirtel had made it in his spare bedroom, and had charged the photographer three dollars. I was so intrigued by the process and the modest cost structure that we formed
a partnership, and using $20,000 in borrowed money and my credit, set up a manufacturing operation of some four or five workers.
A major chunk of our capital was consumed by the production and insertion of a half page, full color display ad in a fall issue of High Times Magazine. That was the issue featuring a caricature of Jimmy Carter snorting cocaine on the cover. The ad was pitched to the consumer, and we really didn't do very well on our retail sales. Moreover, the hot checks and bad credit card numbers we received made the
situation even worse. However, that one insertion generated unsolicited inquiries from over 750 retailers wanting to stock our pipes in their head shops.
By the middle of 1979 we were shipping 1,500 pipes a week, but the DEA was gearing up to shut down the distribution of drug paraphernalia. A thirty minute color documentary on closing down your local head shop was being shown at church meetings, to the PTA and other civic-minded groups around the country. Head shop owners were going to jail, and the feds were taking a close look at the interstate distributors. The writing was on the wall. This was NOT an industry with a rosy future. At yearend I went back to our banker, who fell out of his chair when he heard that we had sold $150,000 in small-bowled pipes our first year. He had no interest in having us pay back our working capital loan. Instead, he helped us obtain a much larger loan from the Small Business Administration to finance the
expansion of our business, and our move out of paraphernalia. So one hand of the government was helping us to grow, while another was trying to shut us down. Go figure! Our first new product using the proceeds of our SBA loan was a letter opener. Santa Fe Stoneworks is still making that item today. It's the "Classic" letter opener, and is no more than our original pocket model pipe without a bowl hole.
Soon after that we were making a full line of desk accessories, as well as the ubiquitous belt buckle, bolo tie, boxes and an inlaid gearshift knob (jewelry for your car). Gemstone-handled knives followed quickly, and as they say the rest is history.
Who should read this book
You should read this book if you are already in business, and are wondering how to go about making the next big jump. Perhaps you're getting tired of retail shows, and have been tantalized by the relative comfort of a major wholesale trade show. Perhaps you think you've got the hottest new craft widget ever, but don't understand why the galleries aren't lining up and taking a number just to buy your widgets. Or
perhaps you are wildly successful, and just are terrified at the prospect of the IRS knocking on your door (they are your partners, whether you know that or not; your job is to keep them silent partners).
How this book is organized
You won't find a bunch of graphs or tables herein, nor have
I included a lot of footnotes. If I want to quote something or
someone, then it will probably be out of context and/or paraphrased.
I believe that will keep the focus on the topic without you having
to break your train of thought by moving to the bottom of the
page to examine my source. The writing itself comes across as
a kind of "stream of consciousness".
Chapters are designed to be integral, but business is messy, and the business of Art is even messier. Consequently, take this book holistically. A quick read should give one a grounding. Leave the nuances until the end, after which you can go back and pick up the details.
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