After Designing Her Perfect Surf Board Bag, Tasha Chapman Found A Market As Big As the Sea (Almost)
Everything Tasha Chapman does is influenced by the sea, from the aquatic themes that characterize her illustrations to how she found her husband.
After she created the small business of her dreams right from her beachfront home in Boca Raton, Florida, she learned a ton abouthow to pricefor wholesale customers and what herbig goalsare for her business.
We caught up with her to find out what a typical day looks like her in world and what she's hoping to learn next from *you.*
After studying illustration at theArt Institute of Fort Lauderdale, I became a freelance illustrator and graphic designer. I’ve always loved being in the water, and one of my biggest passions is scuba diving, which is how I met my husband.
A few years ago we made friends with some surfers who took me out, and I was hooked instantly. I found myself thinking about surfing and the beach all the time at work, and although I was able to bring a little of that into my art, it wasn’t enough.
When I got into surfing properly, I wanted a surfboard bag that suited my style. Everything was either super sporty or brightly colored, which didn’t appeal to me, so I drew my ideal bag and realized I already had it. I’d inherited my grandfather’s old army duffle and whenever I’d go traveling, it would come too, stuffed full of dive gear and whatever else I needed. It was the perfect adventure bag — simple, practical and made of this beautiful canvas that looked better the more I used it.
With the duffle as inspiration, my husband and I designed a couple of surf bags that turned out great. I realized that if we needed something like this, there was probably a wider market for them, so I made more.
When I launched Chapman at Sea, I wasn’t thinking about effective advertising or anything — more about creating a surf brand that I could be proud of.
Who was your very first customer?
I already had an Etsy shop — calledThe Atlantic Ocean— that sold artwork, pillows and jewelry, so I redid it and added the surf bags.
That was where my first customer found me, although it turned out she lived close by! She was the girlfriend of a guy who owns a local surf shop
and she was looking for a Christmas present for him. He didn’t end up stocking my products because I wasn’t set up for wholesale at the time, but he did give me some really useful contacts.
When did you know your business was going to work?
I just made things I believed in and put them out there, and that’s how it still works. I didn’t have any training, and there wasn’t any specific business strategy behind it — it was just something I wanted to do.
I knew it wouldn’t be an overnight success, but I was willing to commit to it and I’m really glad it’s paying off now.
What has been the biggest surprise so far after starting your own business?
The original goal was just to sell a few board bags, so the biggest surprise is how far beyond that it’s gone.
I still make all the bags myself, and when I look back, I’m astonished at how many I’ve made. It’s getting close to 1,000 now but still, every time a large order comes in, my first thought is, "There’s no way I can make that many bags!" Bu then I remind myself that I do it all the time.
How do you price your products?
In the beginning, I didn’t know anything about the differences between retail and wholesale pricing.
When I first started the website, our retail prices were pretty close to wholesale prices, so when stores started asking for a 50% discount on top, I quickly learned that wasn’t going to work.
I had to make some price adjustments just so I could have my bags in shops. There was one major shift we made in pricing a couple of months after we opened, but since then all production costs have been taken into account and it works well.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Fortunately, my shop is in my home, so I don’t have far to go to work.
I always start with coffee while I check emails and plan my day. Then, I go down into the shop to start cutting, sewing and making the bags. Sometime around lunch, I’ll take a break from sewing to pack up any orders I need to ship. Then I pop out for lunch, check the surf and take everything I have to send out to the post office.
When I get back in the afternoon, I usually do some more sewing until around 4 or 5pm, then it’s time to run off to the beach. If things go according to plan, we manage to catch some waves before the sun goes down.
If you could go back in time, what is the one thing you would do differently when starting your business?
I’m pleased with the way it started, and it’s grown beautifully. We’re very small and I can see potential for the company to be so much bigger, but I know that I’m not the person to expand it.
Keeping it small gives me time for work, creativity and surf — and I enjoy it so much that the motivation to change isn’t strong. However, from a strictly business standpoint, I know it’s time to take it to the next level. So, if I could go back in time, I’d be more business-minded from the outset!
What would you like to learn today from a community of other small business owners and self-employed professionals?
The big question I ask myself all the time is whether it’s better to stay small and keep it all in house *or* expand and hire people, grow and maybe lose some autonomy by doing so.
I’d be interested in hearing other people’s experiences with growing a business and how they built a team!
Do *you* have stories to share with Tasha about how you grew your business and learned to navigate having a larger team?
Tasha knows her business has the potential to grow into something a lot bigger than just her. Have you managed to grow your business without losing autonomy and decreasing the quality of your products?
If you have experience with this, share your story in the comments below!