In our brand spotlight, we feature Abound brands who are ready for retail. This week we sat down with Jenni and Bobby Mills, owners of Studio 29 Eleven. Studio 29 Eleven sells wood and metal home decor, is based in New Market, Alabama, and has been in business for eighteen years.
Robin: Why did you decide to start Studio 29 Eleven?
Jenni + Bobby: We previously built high end custom cabinets and when the housing market crashed, we had no work. We actually got started in the wood side of our business first because I (Jenni) wanted a wooden monogram for our front door. We posted a picture to social media and the rest is history.
R: How did you get into woodworking in the first place?
J + B: Bobby’s father and grandfather both did some woodworking. When he first started the business he was still working in his family’s business doing industrial sales.
R: How did you make your first prototype? What changes have you made to your product since then?
J + B: We use a computer program to design our pieces. We started with a simple single wood letter and now we offer products in a wide variety of materials and designs.
R: How do you make your product? Yourself? A manufacturer? What’s your process like?
J + B: All of our products are designed and cut in house.
R: What’s your day to day like? Do you have any favorite and least favorite parts?
J + B: Some days it feels like – get up, work, go to sleep. We also do shows all over the country and manage 5 booths closer to home. We have online sales in both retail and wholesale. It would be easy to complain about little temporary things, but the big picture is it isn’t a bad way to live life. We are very blessed and happy with what we have been given.
R: What was your initial investment? How did you get the money?
J + B: Our largest investment was probably our large CNC router. We took a leap of faith and purchased it while we were building cabinets. When the housing crash hit us we only had a few payments left.
We managed to pay off the machine and since then we’ve worked to either pay cash or use short term loans to purchase new machinery. We’ve been able to add a plasma table and laser cutter, as well as make several additions to our shop and offices this way.
R: Where was the first place you sold your product? Where do you sell your product now?
J + B: When we began selling our product in 2008, it was just to our friends and family. We then started selling online and added a decent sized wholesale customer base. We added booths and fairs after that.
R: Where would you love to sell your products in the future?
J + B: I know some people can’t wait to be in Walmart etc. I’m just not sure that’s our customer base. We’ve always done so well with the boutique crowds.
Pinterest fans love our products so those are typically our people. We are a USA made product so we want to keep it that way. I like working with small business owners to help build their businesses too.
R: What’s your marketing like? Is social media an important part of your business? If so, how?
J + B: We currently market through social media and email blasts.
R: What social media and email blast techniques have you found most effective?
J + B: I use boosted posts for Facebook and Instagram. We have a business Pinterest page as well. I also utilize a program for emails, and automated marketing workflows.
R: What are some of the most frustrating challenges and/or moments you’ve had with Studio 29 Eleven?
J + B: Employees. We have had a few great ones and some not even close. It’s hard to find people who will make a commitment to something they don’t own. It’s a point of frustration for me, but Bobby doesn’t let it phase him.
R: Have you found any ways to have a better chance of hiring a good employee?
J + B: Bobby does most of the hiring, he uses Indeed and other social media to announce openings. I’d say the shop side of our business is more trade oriented, so our search is really for people who are interested in learning a trade.
R: What are some of your greatest achievements and victories you’ve had with Studio 29 Eleven?
J + B: We’ve been able to grow and add machinery, buildings and people by just reinvesting in ourselves. When the home building market was so bad in our area we didn’t know what we would do, God provided a way for us to stay in business and thrive.
We never want to be in a situation where we have one product again. We’ve diversified and offer a huge variety of products and services. We want to be the people that are thought of when someone needs something personalized or custom made. At the same time we can be the people you use to have parts manufactured for other businesses.
R: What advice do you have for people who want to sell a product?
J + B: Be true to your style and grow your creativity. It’s easy to ride someone else’s coattails but what will you do when they decide to do something else? Be passionate about your “thing” and do it well.
R: Is there any business advice or quotes you’ve heard that you think about often?
J + B: I’m horrible at remembering things like this. I have several bible verses on my desk that are inspiring and lift me up though. When I think of business people who interest me it’s people who are like minded to me. They love their families, they love God, and they are living the dream doing what they enjoy.
R: What are the pros and cons of working with a spouse? What advice would you give to someone thinking about going into business with their spouse?
J + B: Pros: you’re together all the time. Cons: you’re together all the time. We love being together and working together so it’s not bad. We did have to learn to work together though. My advice would be to learn each other’s work style and respect that you are each different. Complement and support one another.
R: What’s your favorite thing about being a business owner?
J + B: Freedom. But freedom doesn’t come without work and dedication when it’s yours.