Welcome back to our Small Business Spotlight series, where we profile innovative small businesses and startups across the country and identify lessons from their operations, strategies, and growth.
Our newest profile takes a look at Urban Ironcraft, an Oklahoma City-based manufacturer of custom furniture, niche metal décor products, and custom metalwork for the hospitality and commercial sector. The company was founded in 2010, and quickly established a clientele base far beyond Oklahoma through digital advertising and stylish Etsy listings.
We spoke to Urban Ironcraft’s founder, president, and product designer Justin Hodges about ecommerce, marketing platforms, and MS Paint.
How did Urban Ironcraft get started?
I started the company while building my first home in 2008. We needed metal support brackets (corbels) for our countertop overhang on our kitchen island. Everyone used wood corbels from what I could tell, so I told my builder that I was going to make some metal ones instead. This led to me finding that there were no metal corbels on the market like the ones I had made. With the encouragement of friends and family, I decided to go straight to market via E-Commerce.
Did Urban Ironcraft seek outside funding, such as a loan or investment?
I approached a computer programmer friend I met through the trucking business I was working for at the time to be my partner. He put in $5,000 and I put in $10,000 to open the website and build up some inventory. We started in a corner of my father’s barn and were there for the first year. He built out the site and did the books, and I made the products, shipped them, and dealt with the customers.
How do you differentiate yourself from others in the custom fabrication/furniture space?
We’re unique in a few ways:
- We mass produce our brackets and drop-ship to the end user, selling through online stores, designers, etc.
- We custom-build furniture to the customer’s exact specs.
- We custom-build interior and exterior metal products for restaurants, bars, hotels, and offices.
Most companies do just one thing, but we like being a one-stop shop for decorative metal needs.
What advertising and marketing strategies have been successful for you?
Urban Ironcraft is on Etsy. Is the approach to leveraging that platform markedly different from other platforms? How?
I stayed away from Etsy for years, but as soon as we decided to start building custom furniture as well, I thought I might give it a try since it’s pretty affordable to sell through. I also sell through www.custommade.com, and that works pretty well also. Etsy is so well known for custom anything, it draws a great crowd. Custom Made works, but not near as well as Etsy. I sell to the end user there, and designers can find me as well.
What ecommerce platform do you use for your website? Why? Did you seek outside help in initial implementation?
Since I have a computer programmer as a partner, almost anything is possible. We went with BigCommerce due to good reviews and ease of use. All platforms are going to have limitations that will annoy you, but it works for 98% of what we need it to do.
Is that platform still implemented and maintained internally?
I now use an outside firm that specializes in BigCommerce. They have it down to a science, are affordable and easy to work with. Once the site is built and looks the way you want it to, you can do quite a bit in-house.
Speaking of other platforms, what is Urban Ironcraft’s strategy for Instagram? What about other social media channels?
I like Instagram because of how easy it is to use. Facebook is fine, but I find that more and more people use Instagram for finding products like ours. I don’t get a ton of business from Instagram, but I connected the company feed directly to the website—that way something is new and fresh on the site at all times.
What is the biggest challenge you face as a local small business in terms of generating new customers?
Thanks to all of our digital channels, I would say 75% of our business is out of state. For this reason, I don't advertise locally very much at all. Local business has all been word of mouth up until this point. In today's digital world, I prefer exploring low-cost, low-risk channels over more expensive local advertising.
What’s the most valuable technology or software you use in running your business?
BigCommerce, ShipWorks and QuickBooks are all important. I couldn’t image our business without any of them. I also use MS paint, which is hilarious to most people, but that’s where I do all of my drawing. I’ve been using it for years and I’m pretty darn good at it.
What are Urban Ironcraft’s plans for growth in 2017?
It’s hard to put a number on growth plans. I just say that I’m pushing as hard as we can until we hit at least $3 million in revenue. I like somewhat slow, but consistent growth. I want things to be managed like a well-oiled machine. When things move fast, you drop the ball and hurt reputation. I’d rather take our time and perfect our systems, so that we can focus on efficiency and customer service. It’ll pay in the long run.
What’s the best business advice you’ve received?
It’s not so much the advice I’ve received, it’s watching and paying attention to mentors in my life. I like to take bits and pieces from everyone I respect. I believe in being honest with my customers—“what goes around, comes around”. I’m hardcore on quality and won’t let a piece leave unless it’s as perfect as it can be. I love seeing people get excited when they get their piece from us.
I think what’s most important is that when someone is as passionate about what they do as I am, it comes out and your customers see and feel it. They feed off of that energy and it gives them confidence that you’re going to give them all that you have. As most know, work isn’t really work when you love what you do. I’m fortunate to be in my position and I don’t take it for granted.
- Company Name: Urban Ironcraft
- Website: http://www.urbanironcraft.com/
- Founded: 2010
- Location: Oklahoma City, OK
- Number of Employees: 8