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#055: How to Design and Manufacture a Product with Nicole Ketchum

Welcome to episode 55 of The Blogger Genius Podcast. Today my guest is Nicole Ketchum, the designer behind the glam acrylic chandelier.  In this episode we talk about how to design and manufacture a product in China.

We discuss what it takes to get the word out about your new product, what common mistakes entrepreneurs make when designing a physical good, what it’s like to have to take out a loan to fund your inventory, and so much more.

If you’ve ever dreamed of designing and manufacturing your own product, this is the episode for you!

How to Design and Manufacture a Product with Nicole Ketchum | MiloTree.com



Chandelier by NK
Oh Joy
Amy Atlas
Warby Parker
Away Luggage

Transcript: How to Design and Manufacture a Product with Nicole Ketchum

Host 0:03
Welcome to The Blogger Genius Podcast, brought to you by MiloTree. Here’s your host, Jillian Leslie.

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Jillian Leslie 0:11
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Today, I am interviewing Nicole Ketchum. And she is one of the first people I’ve interviewed who has built a physical good, a real product that she sells. She sells these beautiful chandeliers, you’ll hear all about it. She is incredibly honest with her journey.

If you are thinking of creating a physical good, you definitely want to listen to this. And even if you’re not, I think her story is incredibly interesting and insightful.

So without further ado, here is Nicole Ketchum. Nicole, welcome to the show.

Nicole Ketchum 1:47
Thank you for letting me be here.

Jillian Leslie 1:48
Oh, wow. So we met because you reached out to me about coaching probably a year ago.

Nicole Ketchum 1:57
Yes, yes. And it was a great call. You helped me in so many ways.

Jillian Leslie 2:02
Oh, I’m so glad. I’m so glad. And I think it’s really cool because you are one of the first people that I am talking to on the podcast about creating a physical product.

And so can you tell like what your product is and and how you got started? And, you know, I’m sure my audience will go and check it out.

Creating and selling a physical product

Nicole Ketchum 2:24
Yes. So I design acrylic chandeliers. That’s the medium I currently work in.

And I had the idea in late 2011 and spent two years researching the idea that I had before pulling the trigger. I made a prototype in late 2013 and threw together a website and crossed my fingers and launched, and four years later, here I am.

Jillian Leslie 2:58
Okay, first of all, what is an acrylic chandelier?

Nicole Ketchum 3:02
So basically, we created a design where two pieces get cut by a laser cutter and then there are slots on each of the pieces of the chandelier. And you take the two pieces and you slap them together. They have holes at the top where you put two S hooks and you can hang it anywhere.

And you can hang it with chandelier chains that you can get at like Home Depot or Lowes. Or even fishing wire. They’re very lightweight, which I’ve said a lot but actually people still ask me quite frequently, and they’re only three pounds.

Jillian Leslie 3:42
Okay. And they don’t light. They’re decorative.

Nicole Ketchum 3:46
They’re decorative and it’s a new concept. I apparently designed a product that didn’t exist.

Jillian Leslie 3:52

Nicole Ketchum 3:54
So that’s very exciting but it’s also been a learning curve. And they’re perfect because acrylic is basically plastic, and it can go inside or outside. It can go below 20 degrees. It can be in hot weather. You can put it up anywhere that you can hang. They’re perfect for weddings and parties.

Jillian Leslie 4:15
Exactly. That was my next question, which is, what is the use case? Where do people use them?

Nicole Ketchum 4:20
People use them for parties, events, weddings. I use them in my child’s play room. They can go over a bathtub, they can go over a bed or a nursery.

Jillian Leslie 4:36
I was gonna say I’d like to put one in my daughter’s room.

Nicole Ketchum 4:39
Yes, I have one hanging over my daughter’s bed.

Jillian Leslie 4:43
Okay. And your background though, is in product design. Right?

Nicole Ketchum 4:48
No, actually I went to school a long time ago for English and then I worked in marketing and graphic design.

Jillian Leslie 4:54
Graphic design, okay.

Nicole Ketchum 4:55
Yeah, for a very long time. But it was more like corporate design. So my fantasies were I wanted to design wallpaper and home goods. And in reality, I was designing annual reports.

But I eventually started to make that leap on my own and I eventually transitioned into surface design and I was designing patterns for stores. And it still didn’t feel like it was enough for me.

And I interviewed for Michaels Corporate a long time ago in 2011, when my husband and I had lost our jobs from the fallout from 2008.

And they had challenged me. It was between myself and another designer come up with something for Halloween that’s modern and that people can use. And for myself, I’ve always wanted to have a really fun chandelier for Halloween that I could just throw over a table.

I always lived in apartments when I was younger, you know, there’s no outlets and places. So that was the idea I had and I was going to do a foam core.

And my husband who is a designer as well, he said, “Why don’t you do acrylic?” So I designed a raven and moon chandelier for Michaels Corporate along with competing the patterns that they could use for journals.

And I presented it to them and I believe they must have been on the cusp of transitioning from where they were to where they are now, and they said I was too modern.

I thought that was really interesting because I know I would fit now.

Jillian Leslie 6:35

Nicole Ketchum 6:36
Yeah. But back then, I thought it was still a great idea and I couldn’t get it out of my head.

Designing a product in AutoCAD

So I spent every weekend just researching, talking to people, going to stores and eventually harassed my husband into going to his office on weekends and working in AutoCAD to come up with the two lines that I have currently, which is the octopus and the fancy.

Jillian Leslie 7:04
Okay. And what is AutoCAD just for the people who don’t know.

Nicole Ketchum 7:07
it is a computer-based software that allows you to design in 3D. And that is not my foray.

I was able to sketch the idea but he took it and made it real. And then I think we must have done that for six months straight and eventually pulled the trigger and ordered a prototype through a company that I found on the internet. Then we got to see in real-time how that worked.

Jillian Leslie 7:38
Okay. And was this a company in China? Was it here in the United States?

Nicole Ketchum 7:42
It’s in Las Vegas. They’re such a great company. I worked with them when we made our Disney chandeliers.

So then we realized that we had a product that actually worked and so I ordered two prototypes — one for the octopus and one for the fancy.

Then I basically, when I totally believed this and I push it all the time, it’s fake it till you make it.

Jillian Leslie 8:06
I love that.

Nicole Ketchum 8:07
I changed the colors in Photoshop and pretended that I had a full catalog.

Jillian Leslie 8:11
I love it. Love it. Love it.

Nicole Ketchum 8:14
I didn’t tell anybody. But I was like, whatever, what’s going to happen?

And nobody ever found out and people started ordering. I mean, of course, I changed the colors to reflect whatever the Las Vegas company had and then I would get an order and then I would place the order with them.

And it was both time consuming and very expensive, but it was perfect for me to just start to see who my customer base was, who was ordering my product and what they were using it for. And that was really fascinating.

Jillian Leslie 8:48
So what was your assumption going in? And then what did you start to learn based on what your customers were ordering?

Nicole Ketchum 8:57
My assumption was that they were going to be like me, where they were just going to use it for maybe a holiday and it took on a life of its own.

Getting your first order of a product you design

My very first order was from Nordstrom for a party and they used it on the table. They didn’t even hang it. And I was shocked and delighted, and I even asked them. They said that they were just perfect centerpieces.

I was like “Oh, okay.” It’s not what I designed it for, but that’s awesome.

And then I noticed that party stylists, event planners, they got it immediately. I didn’t have to explain to them at all. And I did have to explain to like the average person at home that was just looking at home decor.

So I noticed there was just that interesting correlation and also a disconnect happening between where I thought they were going and where they were actually going.

Jillian Leslie 9:55
Right. So it seems like more sophisticated designer-y people got it.

Nicole Ketchum 10:00

Jillian Leslie 10:00
And moms might have needed more education. Is that true?

Nicole Ketchum 10:04
Yes. Because they don’t have lights. There is that learning curve. “What do you mean they don’t have lights?” “Well, what do you do with it?”

Whereas the party stylists and event planners were like, “Oh, yeah, I’m just gonna put this over a dessert table.

Jillian Leslie 10:19
Okay. That’s very interesting. So what is the price point right now, if I were to buy one?

Nicole Ketchum 10:25
The price point for the octopus is $59.99. And the fancy is $69.99. And I have a limited edition gold that is new and one of a kind, and that is $89.99.

Jillian Leslie 10:41
Got it. Now tell me, I remember this from our conversation. Somebody… it was Disney. Somebody like got it and was like, “We want to order this.”

Nicole Ketchum 10:50
Yes. I basically had my coaching call with you and the very next day, I got an email from Disney. I kid you not. It was insane and so exciting. And they found me on Pinterest.

Yes. And I was like, “Score! I’m doing it right.”

And they asked me to make 21 custom chandeliers for a new store that was opening up for visual merchandising. And three different sizes. So it was imperative that I still had that Las Vegas connection.

We made a 12 by 16, a 24 by 20, and a 40 by 60, which is huge. And 12 different colors.

Jillian Leslie 11:37
Oh my god, okay.

Nicole Ketchum 11:38
Yes. So that was awesome. And they had a very, very, very tight deadline. I totally met that deadline. Overextended myself, over delivered, and under charged them.

And they were incredibly happy when I flew down in March to see them. So they ordered at the end of December, almost mid-December, and February 1 is when they needed it.

Jillian Leslie 12:07
Oh, wow. Wow!

But wait, wasn’t there somebody else who had discovered them too? Maybe it was Nordstrom. I don’t remember. Where you were like, “Ooh,” like early traction?

Nicole Ketchum 12:20
Yes. I’ve actually had a lot of different celebrities use them.

Jillian Leslie 12:23
Okay, maybe that’s what it is. Okay.

Nicole Ketchum 12:25
Yeah, early traction would have been Nordstrom and then right after that Michael Buble’s sister used them for a book party that she had written some children’s books and bought a whole bunch.

And then I got picked up by the Associated Press and then I went nationwide. And then I started getting orders from there and more traction.

Outsourcing production to China — how to do it?

Jillian Leslie 12:47
Okay. So you were looking at then factories or outsourcing in China, that kind of thing?

Nicole Ketchum 12:55
Yes. When I had spoken to you, I was still stuck on kind of a hump of how do I do my next inventory run. My first inventory run had been successful but the company then came back to me, which actually happens a lot, you can’t order this amount. You have to order thousands And that’s how they get you.

And so I had to take a step back. And after Disney, I decided to go on Alibaba. com and just tell them exactly what I need as an RFP, and then have people just kind of send me their company information.

Jillian Leslie 13:39
What’s an RFP?

Nicole Ketchum 13:41
A request for proposal.

Jillian Leslie 13:43
Got it. So that means you’re soliciting companies to say hey, “This is what I want to make. Can you do this? You know, a factory in China, come and tell me how much this would cost.”

Nicole Ketchum 13:55
Yes. Now, I want to preface that with when you have a product or you have proprietary information, and I have all my designs registered with the US government, I can’t patent anything because the slot technology is not new.

So I had to have them sign NDAs so that I could send them my CAD files that my husband had designed because that is your proprietary information and you should never give that out willingly.

So they had approved that they knew what I was speaking about, what kind of product I needed beforehand. So there was a lot of back and forth of here’s some pictures of my product and what have you done.

And I eventually, surprisingly, to my delight, found the largest acrylic supplier in all of China who is my manufacturer.

Jillian Leslie 14:48
Wow. And then did you have to place one of these gigantic orders?

Nicole Ketchum 14:54
I did not. My first run back in 2014 was for 350 chandeliers. And this new company let me just place an order for 450, which maybe doesn’t sound a lot to the average user. “Okay, you only jumped 100.” But as far as money goes, it was a difference of $3600 to $8500. Plus shipping.

Jillian Leslie 15:21
Wow. Were you able to order them in different colors like for your inventory?

Nicole Ketchum 15:25
Well, that’s where they get you too. If I could, I would have done a ton of colors. Because people ask me all the time, “How come you don’t have other colors and another product?” but that’s what I was given.

So I had to order my bestseller, which is white, and a new one which I just had a gut instinct would do well based on I used to have a mirror chandelier that sold out super quick. So I ordered a gold. And that was $12,000.

How to protect yourself from knock-offs in China?

Jillian Leslie 15:56
Wow, wow, wow. And is there… because I’ve heard this, you come up with something and then somebody in China sees it and knocks it off. Do you have that concern or kind of how have you protected yourself?

Nicole Ketchum 16:13
You know, initially I did, but… not to say that our files are complicated, but they are somewhat.

And it’s interesting to note as a side note, when we first designed the product, it was great but we did have some breakage. And my husband and I could not figure it out. And his brother is an engineer.

And one night, he was looking at our chandelier and he was like, “All these points are pointed and they need to be curved.” And we were like, “What?”

And so that whole sort of cyclical thing with our design, I’m not afraid of China knocking me off because it’s kind of intricate. And I say, if you want to, great, you know, I have the paper trail. You know, I’m not going to worry about it anymore. I did initially and I’m just really not going to be worried about it anymore.

How to market your product

Jillian Leslie 17:06
I love that. I love that. Okay, so let’s talk about how you have gotten your product out there.

So you build this product, by the way, you did something interesting, which is you built this on a hunch. Now, again, you seem to manage your downside risk, meaning you didn’t order 5,000 of these to start and you started to see how people were using them so that it could inform you, or what colors people were interested in.

So I love that strategy that you were kind of going piece by piece and I love that you change the colors on your website to see what people wanted without going out and, you know, buying all this inventory.

Nicole Ketchum 17:46
Right. That’s a mistake a lot of people make.

Jillian Leslie 17:49
Two things that I have to give you props for. One is that you seem humble enough to know that you don’t know all the answers. Like that you’re working with your customers to figure out what they want rather than, “Oh, I know what they want.”

And two, that you are scrappy.

Nicole Ketchum 18:15
Yes, I am.

Jillian Leslie 18:16
Because when we talked and you were in that conundrum of, “What do I do? My company that I’m working with wants me to place this huge order, and that’s a lot of money. And I don’t want to take on that risk.” And you solved it.

Nicole Ketchum 18:33
Yeah, exactly. I was almost mad and so I took that anger. And I was like, you’re not going to stop me. But they did stop me for a while, I did cry for a little while. And then I just got mad.

And my husband and I are like, how are we going to pay for this, and we took out a home equity loan to pay for this run. But this run versus 25,000+ is more manageable over 30 years. I can do this, I can pay it off.

And that’s okay. That’s debt that’s manageable.

And so yeah, I wasn’t going to let them stop me.

Jillian Leslie 19:11
I love that. Scrappy.

Okay. So how did you start to get the message out that you made this product? You know, whether it’d be Instagram, email, what was your strategy? And what is your strategy?

Nicole Ketchum 19:26
Well, initially, my strategy was I basically sent it to every blog I could possibly find back in 2014. And I got free press from Amy Atlas and Oh Joy pinned my octopus chandelier and it went crazy viral.

Jillian Leslie 19:45
So wait, so you sent them a chandelier?

Nicole Ketchum 19:48
I didn’t send them a physical product, this is what’s so awesome. I just sent them my website and I was like, This is new, you’ve never seen anything like this. If it interests you, could you write about it?

Jillian Leslie 20:01
Good for you.

Nicole Ketchum 20:02
I know. I don’t think I could get away with that now.

Jillian Leslie 20:05

Nicole Ketchum 20:06
I think things have changed in four years. People are demanding product plus payment.

And four years ago, they were like, “Sure.”

Jillian Leslie 20:14
Right. Content. It was like cool.

Nicole Ketchum 20:18
Just to kind of like, yeah. And it was cool and I knew that, if anything, it’s different and no one’s seen it before so that had it going for it.

So that’s how it happened. It was just a lot of free press.

And then I hit a wall after a couple years. People wanted a lot of product and a lot of money. But initially, that’s how it got me started and that’s how my customers heard of me.

Jillian Leslie 20:46
Okay. And now then, how did you… again, this is very true to social media to what happens, which is trends come and go. You know, people see it, they love it. But then all of a sudden, that strategy doesn’t work anymore. So then what did you do?

Nicole Ketchum 21:03
I had a business mentor who I was stressing because I’m sure just like a lot of people, they look at Shark Tank and think that, “Oh, I’m not making a million dollars. I’m not successful.”

And I was stressing out bad and he was like, “Nicole, it’s better to build as slow as you can and as thorough as you can versus run hot and disappear.”

Yeah, so I took it to heart and I decided to slow down. I had paid off my whole debt for my first run. It was going slow, but I was like, nobody knows that I’m here because press had died down like you had said, so I started building my Instagram out and it’s been very slow.

Building my Pinterest out. I was on Facebook for a while. I’ve now gotten off Facebook and just focusing on Pinterest and Instagram. And now I’m trying to build my email list.

And really what I did about two years ago is I reached out to party stylists and bloggers and I said, “Here, I’m going to send you some free product. Could you just test it out and use it and maybe take a picture or two?” and it’s been working great.

Jillian Leslie 22:19
Really? Okay. Okay.

Nicole Ketchum 22:22
And now, some of them are my friends and they really tell me what they think about them. And pretty much everyone, and I’m not tooting my own horn, I’m just saying that they love it.

And they’ve been telling me what colors they wanted and how they were using it. And then they’re giving me the photography, which as you know, photography is a lot of money. So I’ve been saving tons of money off of that and that’s how I’ve been doing it. It’s been super slow.

But I finally sold out of the best seller and the mirrored one sold out super quick. And I started getting orders from like Sugarfina and other companies like that, and I couldn’t fulfill the orders. And that’s when I hit the wall and then talk to you and then decided to take out my loan and find another company.

If I was on Shark Tank, they would be like, “See you later because you’re growing too slow at four years,” but I feel like I’m finally gaining some important traction and Disney has been able to kind of give me that tailwind that I need to keep going basically.

They validated me. And, you know, I’ll go to my grave just being so happy about that.

Thinking about the mom market to get your product out there

Jillian Leslie 23:41
That’s so great. Have you thought about the mom market, reaching out to mom influencers?

Nicole Ketchum 23:51
Yes. I have done that in the past and I’ve even run contests. And I’ve been in, I don’t know, 5 or 10 national magazines and done contests as well. And that’s worked okay.

But just so people know, just because you get press in a magazine doesn’t equal sales. In fact, it’s a misnomer and it usually doesn’t equal sales. Unless you’re in Oprah. And that’s not happening as much anymore.

Jillian Leslie 24:24
Right. And also then what you want is to be in a magazine and have them link to you in their digital form so that you can get some SEO juice.

Nicole Ketchum 24:34
Yes, I recently linked with Life & Style magazine and J-14 magazine and did a contest for one of my octopuses. And it was the largest contest they ever had. There was 24,000 entries for this and they wouldn’t share any of the information with me. So, yeah.

So that was a good learning experience. A, it showed me people are probably interested in free product but also that there was interest in my product.

And B, I have to figure out at some point down the road, more of a marketing budget for that sort of thing. And also taking out the HELOC loan last year for the inventory, we decided to jump off the cliff. And my husband and I were like, we’re just going for it, guns blazing. We’re going to try everything.

And we hired a company that is like a Shark Tank company, so they are going to be working with me to kind of shrink my chandeliers, repackage them, approach buyers, and also kind of help me get into that mom market that seems to be pretty hard for me to get into.

Jillian Leslie 25:50
Got it. Now what about though trying to get into Michaels or trying to get into boutiques?

Nicole Ketchum 25:59
Yes. In its current form, they’re 24 by 20, and the box is huge and it’s not made for retail.

I was recently on a website called Fair and basically,it’s trying to be a middleman and knock out trade shows. So buyers would go in, look, buy your product and then test it out in their stores. And I was getting a lot of buyers. But they were saying, “Well, how do we put this in the stores?” And I was like, “Exactly.”

Jillian Leslie 26:35
What do you mean? You mean to put it on the shelf it’s too big?

Nicole Ketchum 26:39
Yeah, right.

Jillian Leslie 26:40
The actual box is too big?

Nicole Ketchum 26:43
Yes. If they wanted to use it for visual merchandising, that’s cool and that’s fine. They should buy it at a full price and not wholesale.

So that told me that my direction, I stopped selling on there and I pivoted with this company. And they’re going to shrink it to down to like, I think we’re going to shrink it down to like 12 by 16 or maybe even smaller.

So that it won’t have the giant glorious impact it has now, but those are mainly used by party stylists and wedding planners.

So the littler ones will be good for the little girls, teenagers, college students, moms. And I want to be able to have them packaged so they can slide right into the stores.

And yes, we have a whole target market that we’re looking at. Michaels. Target. Hasbro.

Hasbro is actually in Rhode Island and my goal is to get a face-to-face meeting with them and talk about designing some princess chandeliers for them.

Jillian Leslie 27:53
Oh, my god. Yes. Yes. And I feel like also somehow with Disney and all of their, you know, all that they do in terms of merchandising.

Nicole Ketchum 28:02
I know. I recently reached out to my contact there and we left on perfect terms. They were very happy with me.

But he also had let me know when they were there that they work at a crazy cycle. They used to work at 90 to 120 days and now they’re working 30 days for a project and he can’t even see straight.

So he never got back to me and I don’t want to bother him right now because I don’t want to ruin that relationship. So I’m thinking when I rebrand and repackage because I’ll be changing the name of my company too.

Jillian Leslie 28:38
From what to what? Do you know?

Nicole Ketchum 28:40
Yes. I just talked to the company today. So Chandelier by NK doesn’t work for me because it has my initials and I want to move past just designing chandeliers.

And it was hard for some people even in my Instagram like to look at it and get what it was. Not my pictures but just my handle.

So we decided on Hey Girl Decor.

Jillian Leslie 29:08
I like that.

Nicole Ketchum 29:11
And I haven’t come up with a tagline yet. Something like “modern and colorful” or something. That series or something like that. I have a trademark attorney looking now.

There are several companies with the ‘Hey Girl’ name, but they are like tea, jewelry, a nonprofit. So nothing in the sphere I’m in.

Jillian Leslie 29:30
Got it. And is that your vision? Is your vision to build out new products? Are you working on new products? In your mind are you designing them? Like, what are you thinking?

Nicole Ketchum 29:42
Yes, I designed a heart chandelier. Well, it’s basically just a hanging heart that slots in two. I wouldn’t really call it a chandelier.

And I’ve been dying to get that out and I’ve had some people buy it just on the side. And they love it.

And that’s the other thing that I want to impart to anyone that takes a company and is making a product. Sometimes I’ll see people and they’re cranking out a product, A, I don’t know how they’re doing that because that costs a lot of money. They must have like a slush fund or something.

But in reality, I’ve had to take a huge step back based on, you know, monetary budget. And so I’m hoping that I can get the heart out in the next year. And yeah, I have a ton of ideas that I’ve had to basically shelf because I just can’t do them, I can’t afford to do them right now.

Jillian Leslie 30:39
So what is your advice to somebody who says, “I have this great idea for a product” and they see companies like Warby Parker or, you know, these direct to consumer brands that have, you know, some sort of interesting story behind them like Away luggage.

Or just even these like, I just bought a bra from a company, I forgot even the name but it’s like, you know, designed by women and, you know, selling them. Everlane, those kinds of things. Like you’ve got this vision. And what is your advice to those people?

Nicole Ketchum 31:16
I would say, go for it. And make sure that you love your product, know your product, know where your product fits, and who your potential market is. And then just go for it.

Jillian Leslie 31:32

Nicole Ketchum 31:34
And don’t worry, just like I’ve had to go slower than I wanted and I’m an impatient type A person, I’d say slower is better. The tortoise does win in the end, you know.

Jillian Leslie 31:47
Win at the end, yes. Win the race.

Nicole Ketchum 31:48
Win at the end. Give yourself that grace to realize that it’s not a straight arrow shot that just when you think you’ve climbed the hill, you are back down that hill. But don’t give up.

And if you hear any of those stories of the two guys that built Warby Parker or the Away luggage, they also struggled and had to raise funds and didn’t know if they were going to be able to pay everybody.

And then they hit their hump and they got over it. And so I would say just get that in your mind that not that it’s going to be hard or easy. Just that you have to be focused.

Jillian Leslie 32:32
Right. And you have to, just what you said, love your product because it’s not… It can’t be about the goal. Or it can’t be about like, you know, making this huge. successful company.

Nicole Ketchum 32:46

Jillian Leslie 32:46
It’s the long slog.

Nicole Ketchum 32:49
Yes. That’s perfect, Jillian. That’s so perfect. Yeah, it is a long slog.

And you have to love it because there’s been times that I wanted to give up but it wouldn’t let me basically.

Jillian Leslie 33:02
That’s so interesting. Now, do you sell on Instagram?

Nicole Ketchum 33:09
I am working with, well, let’s see. I lay out my Instagram on Planoly. It looks like Planoly has a way that I can link my shop. But because I’m not on Facebook, I’m actually kind of punished for that and I can’t put my prices on there.

Jillian Leslie 33:24
On to your Instagram?

Nicole Ketchum 33:26
Yeah. Squarespace is my website provide and they’ll work with, you know, and Facebook owns Instagram. So there’s all that.

But yeah, that’s what I would like to do. Some people, I do get customers from Instagram. But mainly my customers are either finding me online or buying through. I just got on Wayfair so they’re buying through Wayfair or Houzz or AHAlife. And that’s how I’m selling too.

Selling your product on Amazon

Jillian Leslie 33:57
And do you sell on Amazon?

Nicole Ketchum 33:59
That is what my company that I just hired is going to be doing next for me. I tried to do it on my own and what ended up happening is some of my vendors threw my stuff up there without asking me. And then when I went to approach Amazon about selling, they’re like, “Well, you’re already on there and who are you?”

And they’re just giving me the worst time. So I’m having my company represent me to go forward getting me on there.

Jillian Leslie 34:27
Got it. And have you ever explored Etsy?

Exploring Etsy as a selling platform

Nicole Ketchum 34:33
That’s so funny. Yeah, my brother-in-law even worked for Etsy when I was having trouble. They were absolutely horrible to me.

Jillian Leslie 34:41

Nicole Ketchum 34:43
I went on there and they were like, “Well, you’re not handmade.” And I said I understand that.

Then they had the wholesale, the Etsy wholesale, and I approached them for that. And they said, “Sure, send me all of your proprietary information, plus all of your manufacturing.”

And I was like, “Well, I can send you everything from my manufacturer.” Like documents, logs, pictures, you know, everything that’s proving that they are there, they are watching the workers. There’s nothing illegal, or, you know, like a sweatshop about it.

And that wasn’t good enough for them. They wanted my CAD files. And I said absolutely not, and they wouldn’t let me on.

Jillian Leslie 35:25
That’s so interesting. But now though, I feel like Etsy will let people with goods from China, for example, sell that it’s no longer as handmade as it used to be.

Nicole Ketchum 35:37
Oh, I agree. I thought that that was quite ironic and troubling to me that there were tons of China knockoffs and other things on there and they were giving me the hardest time and my brother in law worked for Etsy corporate.

Wow. Okay. And they told me to never asked them again. Seriously, because I was gonna say, go back to them. Yeah, I mean, I don’t know, maybe, maybe I can. But I got an email like a year ago.

And they’re like, you better not even think about asking us to get on and I was like, are you harassing me? Yeah, I don’t know what happened. But Etsy wholesale failed. So maybe those people are gone. I don’t know.

Jillian Leslie 36:17
Okay. So now what is your kind of like, it sounds like building a product is I mean, building a physical product, not a virtual product is a lot of pushing the rock up the hill.

How not to get taken advantage of building your own product

Nicole Ketchum 36:31
It is and you need to arm yourself with as much information as you possibly can. Because anyone and everyone can take advantage of you. And I don’t mean that in a bad way. And I’m not knocking China because everyone I’ve worked for in China has been wonderful and kind and hardworking. But the more you know about your own product, and that includes materials, how it’s made your your files, the better, you are able to push that rock up the hill.

Sign up for MiloTree and get added to my “Actionable Business Tips” email newsletter

Jillian Leslie 37:04
If you want to get weekly business tips. Small digestible business tips, head to military. com, sign up for an account, you get your first 30 days free. And you also get added to my email list. Each week, I send a little nugget that will help you move your business forward.

These are tips and tricks we’ve used to grow our two successful businesses. And now back to the show.

Mistakes made building a product

So what mistakes did you make the you would say, Oh, don’t do this.

Nicole Ketchum 37:38
Um, yeah, tons. Let me say, not knowing enough about acrylic.

Jillian Leslie 37:49
Okay. The actual material.

Unknown 37:50
Right? I’m not really the first time not the second time asking them point blank. What reorder number do you need?

Nicole Ketchum 38:02
And what is acceptable to you? I’m finding out what would you have done differently?

Unknown 38:11
I probably wouldn’t have used them. Okay. Yeah, basically, they were a middleman. The owner is an American citizen who lives in Berkeley and owned a manufacturing company in China.

And that China company also was like a middleman for because they have to source the acrylic, they have to source the crystal that I put in the middle of the fancy chandelier.

The they have to source the S hooks and everything has to be sourced. Okay, um, and then they send those things to you. And then you look at it and they you say yes or no, this isn’t fitting what I envision and I didn’t know enough back then. So when I approached this second manufacturer, this time around,

I had already my source all the materials from China and gotten it. Okay, so I knew exactly what it was. Yep. And I mailed them a sample, which I didn’t do the first time. Okay, I mailed the sample of what my box look like, what the phone that holds a chandelier looks like what the shadow looks like, the accessories for the chandelier so that they would not mess up at all open. It was perfect.

Jillian Leslie 39:26
Got it. Now, do you know other people like you who are creating products?

Nicole Ketchum 39:33
Um, no.

Jillian Leslie 39:35
Okay, to say it’s like, I feel like other people are probably going through a lot of the same stuff.

Nicole Ketchum 39:44
You know, it’s been really frustrating for me, because I’ve joined a couple mastermind groups and everyone’s either doing stationery and I’m not knocking any of that.

I’m just saying they’re doing like paper goods or, you know, other things that I’m not doing. And I at the level of I’m at, I need to find women or men that are already above me making more money and are where I want to be.

And I haven’t been able to, to find that and I need that so desperately that that camaraderie and that like ability to say, Hey, you know, I need to source this, or did you did you find I had I just had someone approached me who makes acrylic jewelry.

And she’s like, Are you okay, giving me that information? I was like, absolutely. Because it does nobody good for you to hold all of your sources close to your chest. You’re just being selfish. And I don’t believe in that kind of world. So I gave her my manufacturing contacts.

Okay. I wouldn’t do that. If, like some, if I’m teaching a class. I’m not going to give that to everyone, unless they pay for it. But because she was already making product, right? And was having trouble sourcing and acrylic. I gave that to her. Right. But I need that kind of, I don’t know, I need to find people like that. And I’m having the hardest time that’s so interesting. It’s lonely, right?

Jillian Leslie 41:17
Oh, I was just, I just recorded another podcast. And we were talking about that exact same thing, really general about being an entrepreneur that, you know, it’s like, it’s like the other moms at your kids school don’t know what you do. And they don’t quite understand it. And it can be it’s a lot of you at a computer, right?

And it can be lonely. And that’s honestly one of the reasons why I wanted to do this podcast because I wanted entrepreneurs to share the truth about their lives, and to talk about struggles as well as the successes.

But it’s so easy on Instagram to see everybody’s perfect life. Exactly. And it’s not like that. But the reality is, it’s the long slog.

right? 42:06
It is and I’ve challenged myself, one of the things that I did get away from the mastermind group I was in is that I challengde myself to take behind the scenes video. So this morning, I went down to my basement. It’s so glamorous, right? Show my inventory, right?

Here it is, when you place an order, I go down to my large basement, and I get a box and I bring it to FedEx ups, or the post office, right, and I drop ship, but you don’t see all the stuff I had to do to get to that point, or the money I had to spend, right. But here it is.

And I’m trying to do that. Because people are like, “Well, can you get it in a pastel pink?” And or can you just do this? And I’m like, that’s great. But I can’t because I don’t own a giant laser printer. Right. And cutter that I can put so right.

Going to China to build your product

Jillian Leslie 42:54
Right. Now, what about though either like, have you thought about going to China? Does that make any sense?

Unknown 43:02
Yes, I would. That is one of my dreams is to to keep my manufacturer that I currently have and build a great relationship with them and go over there. Definitely.

Jillian Leslie 43:15
And what would going over there give you? What’s the benefit?

Nicole Ketchum  43:20
Just seeing your product made in front of your eyes versus just having to do everything over the computer. And we used to do late night Skype sessions, right. As the time difference. Yep. Hmm. And they even walk me around the factory with their phone. So I could see that it was indeed a good place to do business with that would give me I don’t know more. I’m not confidence. I don’t know what the word is. Um, I would just feel more ingrained with my product. There’s a little bit of me being removed.

Jillian Leslie 43:53
I get it. Now. What about you investing in of laser cutter?

Nicole Ketchum 43:58
I looked at a GlowGorage and that’s something that I could probably use to make small products like, Yeah, but there I think their capability is like, till, like, 212 or something. Okay.

Um, we looked, my husband and I, before we, we took the loan at, we looked at taking a loan out for a laser cutter, and even just making them smaller, we would still need a giant size and you and I live in the northeast, you can’t put it in the basement, it would seize up and freeze.

So and there’s no room. Yep, yep. Yeah, so we definitely, he’s, since he’s a designer, he was able to, like, approach it. He builds dorms for colleges, so he was able to approach it with a very pragmatic, right, and he was like, you’re just gonna have to go through China again. And I was like, you’re right. So Wow.

Nicole Ketchum 44:48
Yeah. Well, I guess Yes.

Nicole Ketchum 44:50
Oh, I was gonna say the company that I had I hired and, and I don’t mind saying what, what company is, it’s called idea buyer. And they’re out of Columbus, Ohio, okay. They have their own manufacturing firm in China. And if things are successful with them, which I hope they will be, I could probably do a trip with them to go and see.

Teaching other entrepreneurs about product design

Nicole Ketchum 45:13
Yes, I eventually, along with having passion for home decor, and, and the stuff that I’m designing. I eventually want to teach other entrepreneurs. This, I discovered that I’m equally as passionate about that. And because I’m lonely, assuming other people are lonely. So I want to take the charge and lead because I am not seeing anybody really doing that.

Jillian Leslie 45:36
Okay. So if you’re interested in products, reach out, reach out to Nicole.

Nicole Ketchum 45:41
Yes. Or go to the all conference.

Jillian Leslie 45:43
Oh, yeah. So yeah, so let’s talk about that. Okay. Well, first of all, what are you most excited about right now in your business.

Nicole Ketchum 45:52
The possibilities with the company that I hired and with the connections that I hope to make it all conference and just the knowledge that I have, I have new inventory, new ways to sell it.

Getting on Wayfare took four months. That was a big slog, and that’s super exciting. I hope to be successful with them. So that’s, that’s what I’m excited about.

Jillian Leslie 46:18
Okay, so we are both going to be at AltSummit in March. I am going to be talking about how to start a podcast in a weekend. This is my first time at AltSummer.

And I had Gabby Blair on the podcast, you know, who is Design Mom and is one of the founders of AltSummit. And, you know, she said, definitely apply and I applied and so there, there I am, and you’re going to be a resident to explain expert.

Nicole Ketchum 46:51
Yes, I’ll be a resident expert. At some point, I actually reached out to to Gabby, just saying, hey, do you guys need some of my chandeliers like over a table. It doesn’t even have to be my table just for glitz and glam. And what did she say? I haven’t heard back from her. But I’m pretty sure she’s pretty busy. Yeah, okay. And one of my good friends. Olivia has been there several times and, and has worked in various ways with them. So I can always just ask her to how do I do that?

Jillian Leslie 47:27
Right. And if if anybody in the audience is looking for a very cool design element in their house, or for a party or for their kids room, I love one for my daughter’s bedroom. Definitely check out Nicole’s product because they are super cool, beautiful, you know, they’re very glitz and glam. That’s what I would say. Yeah. And modern.

Nicole Ketchum 47:49
Yes. Thank you. Appreciate that.

Jillian Leslie 47:50
Definitely. Okay. So how can people reach out to you and you know, find out what you’re doing connection with you and like pick your brain.

Nicole Ketchum 48:01
They can always go to my website. It’s for now. It’s ChandelierbyNK.com. Or you can go to Instagram and look up chandelierbynk is the handle. You can just email me at Nicole@chandelierbynk.com or DM me on Instagram and I’ll get right back to you.

Jillian Leslie 48:22
I love it. Well, Nicole, I am again really impressed with your journey. And thank you so much for being on the show.

Nicole Ketchum 48:01

Thank you Julian. I appreciate it. I look forward to seeing you in March.

Jillian Leslie 48:22

If you’re enjoying The Blogger Genius Podcast, please subscribe, leave a comment on iTune, rate us, share it with your friends, email me at jillian@milotree.com and I will see you again here next week.


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