Tell us about your business.In 2012, I was traveling through CA when I had the idea to start printing my travel photos onto wood. I had seen how popular canvas was and figured that wood might be a great medium for displaying my photos. I researched how to do it and started selling them locally. They sold really well and I found myself getting custom orders from friends and family members. I then worked on developing a website so customers could upload their own photos, design their wood print, and I would ship it to them. The business has grown extensively and now I am working with professional sports teams, beer companies, non-profits, and most importantly, customers. Each piece has a unique look because of the woodgrain, and I am getting daily requests for wood signage, point of sale, or family photos printed on wood. I see this business growing because of the availability of good photography and because people are always looking for new and unique ways to display their photos or promote their business.
Tell us about your workspace, shop, or studio.I work out of a 900sq. foot shop in West Ocean City, MD. I purchased the unit last spring and have been renovating it to fit my needs ever since. In order to house the (massive) printer, we had to move the stairwell, build a separate room, and make sure the dust collection was well maintained. Currently I do the order fulfillment from start to finish and have a friend of mine helping out with the woodwork. The shop has all the walls covered with prints ranging from nature scenes to car show trophies to notes about height parameters and wood warpage stats! Its a work in progress, but its cozy.
What inspires you?Handmade goods. I am always baffled by the amount of skill that goes into some of the wood and metal work I see when I go into stores and peoples homes. Since I started this business, I have learned a lot about woodworking, printing, and the difficulties in trying to get consistent results out of wood. Its alive, and when it warps you have to be ready to adjust to maintain quality control. My tolerances are low, but it blows me away when I see the intricate detail in cabinet and furniture making. It makes my little problems seem nonexistent because I know that whoever made the piece is a true craftsman.
What makes your business stand out?Plak That stands out in the online photo printing company because of the materials we use. First off, Plak That is the only online wood printing company that uses planked wood to give your prints a unique look. All of the other companies online use plywood, which has a much different look. In addition, Plak That is a member of 1% For the Planet, a movement of companies that are giving 1% of gross profits to environmental organizations. Plak That donates a share to the Arbor Day Foundation, which uses the money for replanting and conservation efforts. The last main thing that separates Plak That from the others is the attention to detail and customer service. We are a small operation which enables us to give very personalized service to each and every customer. Our website takes most of the guesswork out of the design process which leaves the customer extremely happy with their print.
What advice would you give an aspiring creative entrepreneur?Don't force it. Always be on the lookout for a new product or a new way to adapt an existing product, and when its the right one, you'll know. I tried multiple different business ideas before I came on this one, and the only reason it grew the way it has is because of the product itself. No matter how hard you might want something to work out, the market will let you know pretty quickly whether or not it will. Also, try to run your entire business operation using money collected from the business. This means growing organically, instead of tossing more and more money at the business in hopes of making it back. This will teach you to really think about each and every decision you make along the way.
What does American Made mean to you?American Made means being proud of your product and being willing (if necessary) to compromise a lower price point for a higher quality product. With Plak That, I could get cheap wood imported but the bride in the photo might end up with a knot in the middle of her forehead. Instead, I use high quality sustainable wood which increased my prices but its worth it in the end. Customer satisfaction and a strong urge for customer service really separate American Made businesses from others. We are all in this together, and the more business that can be done domestically will help us all. It means using your connections and networking with other businesses in America to promote, sell, and grow your respective products.
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