Being an entrepreneur and creating a business is like making a fire. How did you know how to stack the logs, what to use for kindling, how to fan the flames, and how to maintain that fire for three decades?
Firebuilding and Maintenance:
Being a self-employed Artist has a lot of similarities to an outdoor survivalist. You must be self-reliant and think ahead and work through the different seasons, with their ups and downs. Constantly scouring the horizon for opportunities.
The art of fire is a simple concept. The spark starts the flame. You dream up your product and then you sell your product, get the money and repeat the process. Eventually making and selling more and more, building a bigger and bigger fire. For my spark it was an assignment in Ceramics class at Southwest Texas State University. Michele Conroy was my teacher, she wanted a “modular” piece. Something that included several similar pieces. I decided on making a school of fish. My friend Travis Barber was an avid fisherman and tropical fish enthusiast. His house was filled with fish tanks with exotic fish from all over the world. One tank was dedicated to freshwater fish from the San Marcos River, it runs through the Campus. He had several perch, a bass, and catfish. I bought a perch from him; it was still wiggling in the ziplock bag when I brought it into class to make a mold. I paid $10.00 for the fish which I thought was “highway robbery”! Over 30 years that one fish turned into 4 Million dollars of Retail Sales!! As far as stacking the logs we did several things to keep it going. In the beginning, it was Chuys in Austin, Tx was the main source of sales. Then came Deck the Walls Barton Creek Mall in Austin, Tx. This store helped us get into more Deck The Walls across the United States after a New Orleans DTW Trade Show. Then we went from 20 Retail locations to 150 Locations. At this point the fire began to burn out of control we had more sales than we had product. We hired more people and we were trying to produce 200 fish a day. We were shipping out daily!! The 5,000 sq.ft warehouse started looking small. We were building molds, painting fish, and packing fish. Over those 10 years the schedule was non-stop doing trade shows, Art Shows, and Personal appearances at different DTW across the Country doing Fish Signings!! And meanwhile trying to manage 25 employees. Then after 911 the Retail locations started dropping off. Then we decided the Website would be our main focus. We maintained our sales for the next 10 years via the Internet and Mike started part-time with the Power Plant work. However, we were able to maintain the fire and keep it going even though Mike had stepped back from the Art full-time. At this point, he started working on larger-scale Art and really enjoyed just making Art instead of managing other people helping to make his art. He still makes the smaller fish and this is our daily sales, but then he creates the larger Art too. The fire is much more manageable and enjoyable on a smaller scale.