A modern craftsman’s journey doesn’t always follow a predictable path. But woodworker Ben Aroh’s education-job-growth trajectory has been practically arrow-straight.
He started his business the same way so many businesses start. He stumbled across a clear problem and created the solution. In Ben’s case, his stumbling was literal. “In college,” reminisces Aroh, “I used to go to class and forget my keys; I’d have to break into my rental house and trip my way through the dark cellar to find them”.
His solution was to create a Kentucky-shaped wooden plaque, embedded with a magnet, that would display his keys so he’d never forget them.
And this Kentucky cutout would serve as Aroh Made’s product prototype. At first, he carved states for friends during the weekends and for fun, but thanks to a class assignment, his side hustle soon became a full-fledged business.
For a class project, he managed a successful Kickstarter campaign. Then followed that up with a serious Kickstarter initiative, for which he customized a wooden magnet of every single state. The first garnered him $7,500 and a new CTC router; while the second was picked as a Kickstarter Staff Favorite and earned him $55,000.
I don’t think that every business belongs on every social media platform.
“If your project is selected as a Staff Favorite, it’s like having a Recommended Video on YouTube. You get a lot of traffic.”
When it was time for him to graduate from college, he knew he’d have a job as a self-employed craftsman. “I graduated at Christmastime, and I was really busy fulfilling orders,” Aroh remarked. “So, in the spring I just figured I’d do this full-time.”
To fulfill orders, he started with lo-fi Wi-Fi. “At first, I just set up a mobile hotspot and used that to fulfill all my orders. I was pretty minimal,” says Aroh. He did the “hotspot hustle” for between a year and a year and a half before finally purchasing an internet subscription for his shop.
Today, Aroh Made has wholesale distribution partnerships with national retailers like West Elm, and has been contacted by Amazon. But he sees an opportunity for greater profit margins by pivoting into strictly online merchandizing.
As he transitions from wholesale to direct distribution, Aroh perceives two clear paths for efficient self-marketing and growth.
One is social media. He prefers Instagram to channels like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, which each serve their own purpose. “Taking Instagram pictures, for me, is more fun, and easier (than other social media channels),” Aroh said, before adding a little contemporary wisdom. “I don’t think that every business belongs on every social media platform.”
The second way Aroh plans to self-market is to grow online sales through targeted social media ads. For example, he might target men 25-35 in Texas with an ad featuring the Texas magnet.
Aroh understands the value of an efficient customer journey—from discovery to purchase. That’s why he plans to add Apple Pay to his website. “I started using Apple Pay personally this year, and it’s great.” When he considers his customers’ journey it just makes sense because as he says, “I think typically people discover my brand on their phone, from Instagram or wherever.”
When he hits the road to show and sell his magnetic states at craft fairs he packs the requisite tech. He trusts Shopify as his ecommerce platform, and the reliability and ease of Square for mobile payments. And, today, a tablet is a better tool for capturing attention than a real-life demonstration. “Sometimes people walk by and they just see a piece of wood. A video really grabs people’s attention, then they’ll go up and interact with the physical product themselves. It’s a better conversation starter.”
For a business borne out of losing his keys, it’s been Aroh’s knack for finding—wholesale distributers, allies at Kickstarter, new ways to display his wares—that’s been the key to his success.
Thinking of starting up your own endeavor? Find out more about AT&T small business products and services.
In college, Ben Aroh created a wooden holding device for his constantly-lost keys. The innovation set him on a path to success after a hit Kickstarter campaign. Today, Aroh Co. offers homemade wooden and leather goods.
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