December 14, 2017

Tech Support: An Old-Fashioned Business Copes With Modern Tech Issues

Tech Support

What small-business owners need to know about technology.

Shawn Reed, founder of form-function-form.Ian Jones Shawn Reed, founder of form-function-form.

This is one in an occasional series of posts that look at how small-business owners manage their technology needs.

The Business: form·function·form in Orlando, Fla., is a year-old leather-working business owned by Shawn Reed, 35, who makes products such as wallets and watchbands in a home studio. Forty percent of his sales last year came between Thanksgiving and Christmas, which coincided with the introduction of his “Button-Stud Weekender” watch (he designed the band). Mentions in Esquire, Dappered, Free/Man, AH Magazine and A Headlong Dive, as well as consistent business with Huckberry, has kept sales brisk enough, he said, for him to “scale responsibly and maintain quality.”

The Owner: In his previous life, Mr. Reed worked as a landscape architect. After 10 years, he left to get a master’s degree in economics at George Mason University and finished in early 2010, a time when the recession was lingering and his interest in landscape architecture was waning. A few years earlier, he had started working with leather, even tracking down a specific leather he wanted to make a bracelet from a tannery in Chicago. He enjoyed the process so much he taught himself to make other items.

Old School Tools: Mr. Reed begins by creating pencil sketches in a moleskin notebook. His studio is equipped with two large rectangular tables and a variety of hand tools for making holes, a beveler for rounding corners, X-Acto knives for cutting pattern pieces on leather and a burnisher — a small, hardwood wheel attached to a Dremel rotary tool that smooths the leather’s edges. The studio also has three hand presses. One, a larger hydraulic press, is a standard shop press that a local welder modified for Mr. Reed, who uses it to carve patterns into leather. “It’s like a heavy-duty cookie cutter,” he said. Two smaller hand presses made by YKK Snap Fasteners America set rivets and snaps. Everything is hand-stitched using large needles. There’s also an electric branding iron Mr. Reed uses to burn his logo into the leather.

New School Tools: After Mr. Reed sketches, he draws his idea on his Apple Mac Pro desktop using AutoCAD, an architectural drafting program he used in his previous career. AutoCAD lets him draw very precisely — to 124th of an inch — and then he prints the drawing full size and uses it as a pattern. When he gets exactly what he wants, he sends the drawing and corresponding measurements to a company in Texas that creates a heavy-duty cutter, called a die, for his press.

For his e-commerce site, Mr. Reed uses WooCommerce, a WordPress e-commerce platform, along with MaxCDN, a content-delivery network that speeds up his Web site by serving it from the closest location to a customer. “I got my load time down from 35 seconds to two,” Mr. Reed said. He pays $10 a month to use Outright for bookkeeping, he uses a free version of FreshBooks for invoicing, he uses Google Voice as his free phone service, and he pays $25 a month for ShipStation, which provides shipping labels and tracking information. Some of his corporate customers still use a fax, so he employs a Wacom tablet — another holdover from his life as a landscape architect — to “write” onto PDF forms sent to him and then he faxes those back using FaxZero’s free service.

Pain Points: Cutting out patterns on leather would be a lot faster with a laser cutter, Mr. Reed said, but it could cost as much as $20,000. He also wanted to sketch directly on his iPad, rather than in his notebook, but he couldn’t find a pen that would work well on the screen. Another sticking point has been Web hosting. Mr. Reed said that in hindsight he wonders if it was the best decision to use a hosting service, DreamHost, that requires a lot of management on his part. “I’m not at the point yet where hiring an I.T. consultant is worth it,” he said, even though keeping his site up and running is crucial. “I wonder if one of the managed shopping cart/Web server services like Shopify would have been a better fit for me at this point. I have paid less on paper, but the amount of time I’ve spent keeping the site up and working correctly has probably eaten into — if not completely offset — what I’ve saved.”

Thinking Ahead: Mr. Reed continually wrestles with his opportunity costs. It’s been difficult for him to figure out which tasks he should contract out. Just because he is capable of figuring out how to do all of the things that go into running a business, Mr. Reed said, doesn’t necessarily mean he should do them. “I need to budget wisely to maximize my productivity and, subsequently, profits,” he said.

What do you think? Should Mr. Reed automate — or delegate — more of his operational tasks? Should he change his e-commerce platform?

You can follow Eilene Zimmerman on Twitter.

Article source: http://boss.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/06/12/an-old-fashioned-business-copes-with-modern-tech-issues/?partner=rss&emc=rss

Speak Your Mind