Michelle Hamilton is mom to two young boys who are seventh-generation Texans.
That Texan heritage is evident in her business, Buckaroo Style. She and her family have twisted their way into a thriving family business using an innovative method of rope making that would make any cowboy proud.
Tell me about your current business. What are you doing exactly?
Buckaroo Style is a website that sells rope art and cowboy baby gear. The rope art is our best selling item and we spend our days producing it for our happy customers.
Our family makes each one by hand using a special process and a lot of love. We spent over a year in product development, testing and choosing to use environmentally sensitive components and recycled, renewable resources. It's a very green-friendly production process.
I started this company in 2005. We have our operations in Round Rock, Texas.
What were you doing before this, and is this your first business?
I've started a couple other businesses, but this is my favorite and most successful thus far.
My last "real job" was working as a webmaster at Dell Computer. I quit to be a day trader, did that a while (not so well), had 2 boys, decorated their rooms in "cowboy" theme and saw an opportunity.
Where did you get the startup money?
I cashed out of my 401k after leaving Dell, but it did not take much at all to get the business going. When you work for yourself, you get to work for free. Working for free, you work hard to keep costs down.
Who are your main competitors? How do you compete against them?
We don't really have any competitors. Before I launched the business, I spent a long time thinking and planning. When I was decorating my son's rooms in cowboy, I spent dozens and dozens of hours scouring the internet and eBay in hopes of finding cool cowboy kid stuff. The results were pathetic. If I actually found anything cool, it was ridiculously expensive.
So, for competition there's lots of cowboy or Western stuff available, but we make a totally unique personalized piece of art and we target those decorating a nursery.
How has your experience in running the business been different from what you expected?
It took a whole lot longer to get on Google than I ever would have imagined. I swear it took a year and it drove me nuts. I thought I had this super great site and nobody could find me. Paid ads did not even work. I was so bummed.
Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
So far, so good. I can't say I wish I had done anything differently.
I learn as I go. In the beginning, I had some nice custom jewelry and ranch style home decor stuff on the site, candlesticks, lamps, that sort of thing. I spent hours and hours uploading products and taking photos. It was a RIDICULOUS amount of time spent. The stuff looked great on the site, but nobody wanted to buy any of it. The rope art was selling, and those customers were great about letting me know what they were looking to buy. So, I started adding more cowboy baby gear.
What have you done that has been very effective in helping to grow the business?
I am a believer in providing the best customer service as is humanly possible. That being said, I am very fast to respond to emails.
Getting listed on Google was big, but even just the addition of promoting a phone number on the website probably added 20% more sales. I was so surprised by that increase. Some people just really do not want to give out their payment information online. For me, I would rather shop online than ever call.
What advice would you give to somebody else who wanted to start a similar business?
I would say "find your own niche" and figure out something new you can offer to that niche. Find something with a high barrier to entry, so you can avoid competition. Go the extra mile. You can sleep later. Do not go into debt, do not pay lots of money for advertising, be like a turtle and let time take its course. If you have a winner, it will grow and you learn as you go, so do not rush things.
That's great advice. Thanks so much for sharing your entrepreneurial experience with us, and good luck in growing your business.