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In this article, we are discussing how we started our small business miniROOMZ. A new gift shop with a niche that is relatively uncommon in Egypt, selling handcrafted, gothic-inspired decoration items.
Two Craftsmen’s Entrepreneurial Journey To A Successful Gothic Gift Shop In Egypt:
- Who are miniROOMZ owners?
- What we do and how miniROOMZ started
- Choosing our business name and branding it as a gift shop
- The difficulties we faced creating our handcrafted gothic-inspired items
- Upgrading our business idea for efficiency
- Can we find customers for such an uncommon type of product in Egypt?
- Did we make profits selling our gothic-inspired handcrafted products in Egypt?
- Reception and expansion of our gothic-inspired gift shop business
- The future of our gothic gift shop business
- Our previous failures lead to this business’ success
- Spread love not hate
Who are miniROOMZ owners?
I am Essam Saeed, 29 years old, graduated from the Higher Institute for Specific Studies, though my dream was to become an architecture engineer, but it didn’t work out that way for me. I finished my bachelor’s degree, then started working odd full time jobs here and there until this business finally took off.
My business partner is my elder brother, Amr Saeed, and craftsmanship wasn’t new to him, in fact he was already running his own small business, before I approached him with my idea.
What we do and how miniROOMZ started
At first glance, some might think of us as artists and what we do is sculpturing, but the truth is I don’t consider us artists, and this is not really sculpture work.
Here is the thing, I never studied any type of art, in fact I figured out the idea one could craft things by hand by mere chance.
One day, I was hanging out in El Kasr El Einy Street and I saw an anatomical skull on display in an anatomy shop for medical students. It made me stop for a moment and wonder.. This skull could be used as a decoration piece, with just some modifications and a touch of coloring.
Immediately, I opened Pinterest and started searching for skulls or decoration skulls, and I was surprised by what I found, a ton of designs that can be crafted. I can’t describe how happy I was to find that my idea was something that could be done. It filled me with so much enthusiasm!
After that I started searching on YouTube for videos to show me how I could make copies of something like that, and that’s when I discovered MOLDING. I spent around a month trying to master this part of the process.
I successfully created the first model of the shape I was trying to copy using plaster material. It was my very first copy of a skull, and it looked exactly the same as the original. Needless to say, I was extremely excited. This was the moment I became so interested in this type of art and started taking it seriously as a business idea.
Choosing our business name and branding it as a gift shop
We weren’t exactly sure of the direction our business will take in terms of the type of products we were going to sell. So, when choosing our name, we wanted something broad that would allow us to venture into several different types of designs and items in the future.
We thought miniROOMZ is like we have many mini rooms where in each room we are creating a different product, in a mini room we are handcrafting our skulls for home decoration, in another mini room we are building mini concrete houses and towns, in another one we’re working on something different like gothic-inspired car and bike accessories, and so on.
As for branding our business as a gift shop, this wasn’t our initial plan starting out. This was something that we decided when we analyzed our customers’ behaviour. We noticed that most of the orders we were getting were going to be gifts; some customers were buying for themselves for their homes or offices, but the majority were buying them as gifts.
We thought if this is the appeal, if people saw that our products made good gift ideas, then let’s use that to our advantage and brand our business as a gift shop. This way it would easily appear in search engines and on social media for people looking to buy gifts.
The difficulties we faced creating our handcrafted gothic-inspired items
I can say that most of the difficulties we faced were in the researching phase, preparing for the project. Surely, this is to be expected by any entrepreneur starting a small business from scratch, especially when you are trying to create something that isn’t already common and has been done before..
As I mentioned earlier, we depended entirely on self-learning through YouTube. However, unfortunately, there was too little content about what we were searching for in Egypt and other countries on this side of the world. And the videos we found by those in western countries, we couldn’t follow entirely, because we couldn’t find the material they suggested to work with here.
Alternatively, we started to ask local shop owners that deal with relatively similar types of products. We specifically targeted areas such as El Attaba and El Hussien, so they could guide us to where we could find the materials and tools we were searching for, and they were generous with providing us with all the information we needed.
Despite facing some difficulties trying to find the tools and materials needed to start working on the project, we have eventually found all the resources available in Egypt. Yet some of them had different names here, and some materials we had to find alternatives for.
We continued to utilize the learning content we found available on YouTube and social media, to help us navigate our way as we tried to gather all the right tools. The best part about this is the information was available in abundance and for FREE.
Upgrading our business idea for efficiency
Once I got the hang of the molding process and started selling the skulls I was making, I realized I needed to make some changes.
As mentioned earlier, I was molding these skulls using plaster, because that was what I learned from the YouTube content I was following to master molding.
However, I found that it was too hard to offer high quality pieces with plaster, because its nature was like dust or sand, so any little force causes scratches.
Adding to that the weight issue, it was too heavy, around 2.5 kg for each skull, and it was more susceptible to damage if it fell during delivery.
That’s when I decided to consult my brother, and he recommended using a different type of material that had much better quality and durability, one which he also had previous experience using, and that was polyester resin.
His suggestion to change the material made all the difference, helping us progress and successfully make copies of any shape we wanted.
Can we find customers for such an uncommon type of product in Egypt?
This is a question that could perhaps stop someone from pursuing a business idea that they believe is uncommon. If no one is selling it then that must mean no one needs it…
But the answer to this question was so clear to me and I learned it from studying marketing.
That is, there is always a customer for everything.
You will always find someone trying to sell a product or service and you will always find customers who are looking for exactly that thing. The point is how we can find those customers.
Thankfully, we were able to get a lot of customers from day 1, even when we were still using plaster material. The way we managed to find those customers was utilizing social media platforms, using Facebook and Instagram ads.
Did we make profits selling our gothic-inspired handcrafted products in Egypt?
Contrary to what some might think—that this type of art would have little appeal and wouldn’t make a financially successful business in Egypt—we actually made profits from our very first ad campaign on social media.
Not only did we make profits, we literally had to pause the ads, because the amount of orders we were receiving was too overwhelming, that we wouldn’t have been able to keep up with the demand. And that was only during the first two days of our business launch.
Secret golden rule to making sales
First, I want to stress on the fact that anything either product or service has a buyer. We see so many ads everywhere, persuading people to buy from them, so if you are interested in creating or starting your own business those words for you:
GO AHEAD NOW!
One thing you have to learn though, and I call it the golden secret rule for making sales. Every marketing book talked about it. And you have to master it, if you want to make a real profitable business.
The rule is: You are a customer before being a seller.
This means offering an amazing service to your customers in all parts of their buying journey.
Do your best to make your customers satisfied, and the result will be “word of mouth,” and this is the most effective way to make sales, even without promotions or ads.
I can guarantee 100% that you will achieve amazing results if you applied this rule in your business.
Reception and expansion of our gothic-inspired gift shop business
When we first started sharing our skull work, we found a lot of customers were surprised and impressed at the same time, that we were Egyptians who were crafting these skulls. And they were happy to find this art available in Egypt.
On the other hand, we also faced some criticism, and many found it a bit strange and an unorthodox type of decoration. We received some comments and messages mocking us as well as negative comments about our product idea in general or our actual designs of the skulls.
However, we were confident in our business idea, we knew there is such thing as skull art and that there were so many sellers making a living from selling skulls outside Egypt.
So the negative comments didn’t affect us in the way they were hoping to. It did however inspire us to expand our collection.
We decided to add a new item to our skull collection, and that was when we introduced the floral heart vase collection.
We contacted Fatma, the skilled sculptor who helped us in sculpting the original masterpiece, which we then used for molding our items, and launched our “skull and heart” project.
There were two intentions for this new addition. First, we believed the skull and the heart would go really well together as a package. Second, we thought maybe those that our skull design didn’t appeal to could like the heart designs instead.
And that would naturally lead to more sales which is really the aim of any small business. Imagine a grocery shop that was selling just pepper in its colors, yes they would sell, but just to the people who want to buy pepper only. We didn’t want to be that much niched down, as we are already in an uncommon niche as it is.
Thankfully, when we introduced the floral heart vase and launched the “skull and heart” project, we had around 20% to 25% increase in our sales.
Our guideline for new designs
Moving forward, to allow everyone in our team to weigh in with their ideas for new items to add to our collection, we decided to put two conditions in place to make that process easier for everyone.
The first condition is that the suggested new item must be something that can be given as a gift.
The second, and most important, one is that it could be at least 80% handmade.
We put this rule to save the identity of our brand. Our branding relies on the fact that the pieces in our gift shop are all handcrafted. It’s an endearing feeling when you receive a unique gift from someone, knowing it has been made specially for you.
And we set it to specifically 80% because the manufacturing process of handmade products is quite challenging; especially if the goal is to sell a huge quantity.
Not only for the time and effort it would take, but also the scaling and measurements, everything needs to be precise and sharply measured to keep the overall quality customers expect from our business.
Consequently, we were forced to add machines to our crafting system, like the Rotocasting machine—which we built ourselves.
The future of our gothic gift shop business
At miniROOMZ, we love designing, crafting, and all things DIY; however, we’re not designers nor have we learned this field in an academical manner, we are just passionate about it, so we started to search and learn until we perfected our craft.
The goal was to give an alternative option to those who are into this type of art, to change the common available options for gifts like watches, perfumes, clothes, etc., to a unique gothic-inspired gift that is handcrafted just for them.
We established this brand and helped introduce this new concept in Egypt, and we hope to continue to grow in Egypt and beyond. We wish to be able to distribute our handcrafted work worldwide someday.
New handcrafted items in miniROOMZ
We are working on adding 3 new designs to our collection soon.
– Horned Bull skull (polyester resin)
– Mini Greek town (concrete)
– Commando skull (polyester resin)
So keep an eye on our miniROOMZ to be the first to know when they are out.
Our previous failures lead to this business’ success
miniROOMZ is not my first business venture, and therefore its success wasn’t just mere good luck. I spent 6 years after graduation trying to create my own business. I would take a full time job for a while, save some money that is enough to start the business idea I have, but it doesn’t work. So I go find another full time job, save some money, start another business, doesn’t work, and so on.
Of all the trials we had, I would say we have launched two serious businesses before miniROOMZ, and unfortunately, they both failed, for several reasons.
You can’t do it all
The most important lesson we learned, a lesson that I later also learned from Dr. Ehab Mesallum’s marketing advice, is that if you want to produce one kind of biscuit you have to own the whole world—which means that you have to depend on other people or businesses to do what you want to do.
That was our biggest mistake; we were literally doing everything ourselves, which resulted in draining us, wasting so much time, money, and effort, and eventually the failure of the business.
I think this is an important takeaway for anyone who wants to start their own business, you won’t be able to do everything.
You need to sell to last
The other reason for our business failure was that we had no idea how to market our products or find customers. As a result, customers didn’t find our products and we couldn’t make sales.
During that time however, I started reading a lot about business and marketing as a step to prepare myself to create one successful business. I enjoyed learning marketing so much, and would recommend this field of study to anyone who wants to take a step into any business venture.
For sure you have to sell to last, and to sell you have to market what you are selling, and to persuade others to believe, first in you, then in your offer.
Spread love not hate
A message to anyone reading this: Please don’t be a negative-thoughts-distributing machine.
I’m not referring specifically to our business miniROOMZ, but to any small business or startup in general. There is no need to criticize someone’s work or ideas; if you don’t like it, just don’t buy it.
Trust me, small business owners are in a dire need of an encouraging word, just a little bit of appreciation for their work can make their whole day.
Finally, I want to say, never lose hope, life is full of chances, you just need to focus to find them. Always be a good listener, that’s why you have two ears and one mouth, so keep on learning.