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Level 6

After 30 Years of Sheet Metal Work, Chris Cornatzer Is Jumping into Running His Own Small Biz



Chris Cornatzer spent most of his career as a sheet metal worker. He came up with the occasional business idea now and then, but nothing really stuck. Then, after discovering Etsy, he decided to create a side business making hilarious coffee mugs — and things are taking off in a big way!


We chatted with Chris about why SEO is important when you have an online store, making the transition from full-time work to working for yourself and the big open question he has for all of *you.*




Name: Chris Cornatzer


Business: TheMugLoft


Started: August 2015


What originally inspired you to create your business?


I'm a vendor on Etsy who, until about mid-2014, had never heard of it! I'd been working in sheet metal construction for over 30 years and I had tried a couple of times to start a business, but didn't have any success. For 10 years, I gave up even attempting to get something started. 


Then, one day at work, I overheard a conversation about a co-worker's wife who had, on Cyber Monday, made over $900 in one day printing coffee mugs.


That was enough to get me hooked!


I started investigating Etsy and whether I could make it work for me. I found that most of the mugs listed at the time just had cute quotes printed on them, so all I needed to do was find a phrase that was clever and witty and offer it to coffee drinkers out there. I've been a true smartass all my life, so I felt I was up to the task. 


I started looking into equipment and printers and found that by taking it slow and putting in a bit of overtime, I could create a shop online. After talking about it so much and dreaming of being able to quit my job and do something less backbreaking, the decision became simple. At 51, I started buying parts for the shop!


Who was your very first customer?


I called my brother and had him order a mug so that I could get a handle on what it would take to ship one all the way across the country. At the time, I was having a bit of trouble getting anyone to look at my products. That was the first sign that I had no clue about what I was doing as far as marketing went. During that time I was also still working a regular job and I didn't have a lot of extra time to look into what it was I was doing wrong when I listed an item.


I kept hearing the word "SEO" being thrown around, and that’s when I started looking into what Etsy was offering that could help me get found in the search engines. Basically, it tells vendors what they need to know to get discovered, but not how to get ranked in the top pages.


My shop had been open about a month and had three sales, which wasn't quite enough to quit my job! I took a webinar with eShop Marketer and about two weeks later I was laid off at work. That's when I was able to put it all into practice, to correct and fix everything that wasn't working on my listings.


When did you know your business was going to work?


I got things working and suddenly it was the Christmas season — I had no time to think until almost Christmas Day! My birthday on the 23rd was the first chance I got to look at the big picture. That was the day I believed it was going to work.




How do you price your products?


For both 11oz and 15oz mugs, it costs me around $2.75 to $3.25 per mug if my waste stays low — and if I don’t send the wrong mug to the same person twice like I did the other day!


With a cost factor that low, I have some room to have a continuous running renewal program, so my rankings in the search engines aren't affected by inactivity.


What does a typical day look like for you?


It all depends on what I need to get done. Sometimes I’ll run mugs, work on the custom pieces and tackle the day-to-day questions and running of the shop. Other days I spend doing design and product development.


How do you juggle other responsibilities and interests outside of your business?


I don't! The commitment to myself is to go ahead and do it. 




If you could go back in time, is there anything you would do differently when you were just starting your business?


If I'd done more research, I would have been a little more prepared to write a proper listing from the start. But, I caution against getting stuck in the research and not acting — let the research reflect how much will need to be spent and how much commitment needs to be brought to the game.


What would you like to learn today from a community of other small business owners and self-employed professionals?


The thing I want to know more about is how to cut the cost of actually making a product that may never sell. For the first few mug designs I came up with, I really needed to have a good idea of what would work and what wouldn't. 


After that, I needed to learn how to make mockups so I wasn't throwing the cost and effort of creating actual mugs out the window. I bet I built five cases of mugs to start with, and out of them all I might have sold a case and a half. Now I can’t seem to throw the rest of them away!




Do *you* have tips for Chris that will help him better manage his extra inventory and the cost associated with making products that might not sell?

How can folks like Chris make sure they aren't spending money on stock that might not sell? Do you have tips for how to streamline production and avoid these issues?


Share your own experiences with us in the comments below!

1 Comment 1
Community Champion

After 30 Years of Sheet Metal Work, Chris Cornatzer Is Jumping into Running His Own Small Biz

This is a very cool post. I think that from the pictures you are very creative and your talents are rewarding you. I like how you shared you took that class. I think it is very important to never stop learning and growing. 

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