Michael Ball Shares His Insights on Being a Jewelry Supplier
Tell us about yourself in terms of producing jewelry supplies and how it came to formation.
Answer: It all started when I was a youngster, I found a discarded speaker on the curb and dragged it home, busted it open. I pulled out the copper wire and wound it around a pencil making a coil, then cut this with side cutters to make rings. The copper was so soft I didn't need pliers. But I was hooked. I moved my way up to coat hanger wires, and have been searching for more wire ever since!
What started you on the path of becoming a supplier/manufacturer?
Answer: I have been making jump rings for myself and a few friends all my life. It was only in the last couple years I realized I could turn my hobby into a small business. I joined a chainmaille group on facebook, posted a few photos of some rings I had made, and the demand was there. I had no idea. I think I added about 300 friends to facebook on that weekend. I was not set up to sell anything. I didn't have ring count even for the most basic sizes. It was a lot of work to figure out what I needed to do, but it has been so worthwhile. My employment history is bizarre. I'm ex-infantry, carpenter/builder, I've rigged cell phone towers and lumberjacking. I was a firefighter for four years too. I've been overdue for a career change for many years. Maybe I make way less money ring making, but I can put in extra hours as much as I want, as it isn't beating my body to a pulp anymore.
Do you make jewelry? If so, what media? How long you've been making jewelry? How is it different from making jewelry to making supplies?
Answer: Yes, I do make jewelry, although much less now, as I've been trying to stay on top of ring orders. I work mainly with metal, and have done this for many years. I like to make jewelry to relax between ring making binges. Some of my pieces have become well known all over the world. For example, my 4awg behemoth JPL5 doughnut. These were the result of a collaboration with Michael Ybarra in Oregon. We worked on these for about a year in chat. You'd have to see these things to believe them, even then they are hard to believe. Haha. Relaxing.
What should people who make handmade jewelry seek when purchasing supplies?
Answer: Data. If the vendor cannot supply accurate ring data, move on. Their work may be good, but if you can't get competent measurements then what good is it? You know my repeat customers have gone through hell and back. They make their order and wait patiently for their rings to arrive only to find out the vendor didn't care enough to list accurate ring sizes. Now, the customer is stuck with a bunch of rings they didn't want, they store these somewhere. And guess what? That project they wanted to do is now further delayed. Find a supplier who delights in collecting good data, and who cares about what you are making. I'm sad to say there's not many. But I'm happy to say their numbers are gradually increasing.
For someone that's new to chainmaille and lack the knowledge of jump ring types, how would you explain the differences without overwhelming them?
Answer: Oh, that's easy. It all boils down to this. No one ring can do everything. Some rings can do many things. Others only one or two things. The thing with rings is you want those that bring the most bling. Most vendors will offer a starter kit. Explain the differences without overwhelming? Ok here's the thing, some rings are bigger than other rings. What you want, is the right sized ring for your project.
Do you provide any other services in addition to making jump rings?
Answer: Yes, I do medieval calligraphy like illuminated manuscripting, I do wood block carving, engraving, and small engine repair. I'm also building a catapult in the backyard to reduce shipping costs.
As a jewelry supplier, what is your ultimate goal?
Answer: I'd like to have a steady customer base that I get to know really well. I want to be so in tune, I know who is working on what project, what rings they will need next, know when they will need them, know their address without having to look it up, get their parcel in the mail and time it so it arrives the day after they message me asking for rings.
How did you reach your target audience in the beginning when you first started producing supplies?
Answer: It’s weird, people think I am some sort of marketing genius. They think I'm joking when I tell them I'm actually just a fool. There was no real attempt by me to reach anyone, I'd have the odd sale, these were good as they got my rings in the door. But after a while, I began to care less and less about reaching people and just focused on doing my own things. I think this is the secret in life, worry less what others think, and get your own things done. People gradually take notice.
Who are your customers (gender, industry, age, demographics, etc.)?
Answer: I'd say most of the bigger orders go to vendors. I always look forward to these, although they are a lot of work they pay the bills. I don't really know what the ages are, don't care really. About 92% of my ring sales are to the USA presently. About 4% overseas and the other 4% within Canada. I still get many people new to the craft, and these are always fun. They come to me thinking I am some kind of guru, but after this façade falls away they see I'm just a dude with a workshop who wants to help.
For anyone who's interested in jewelry supply making, what pieces of advice you have for them?
Answer: Sure, for one thing, go for it! The advantage to making your own supplies is there is just that much more of you in your finished piece. The disadvantage to me, is that I am less so. What else? Be prepared for failed results. These are valuable for you to learn from. Keep your motivation up. Try to get decent sleep. Reduce sugar in your diet.
You are in Canada. Are your customers based in North America? Worldwide?
Answer: Already answered this one but I want to add I'd like to do a lot more worldwide ring sales. I get a huge kick out of my rings being flung all over the world, it brings me pleasure when someone in some remote corner of the world is having fun making something from my rings. I get messages every day from everywhere from people, it's amazing.
Do you ever plan to conduct business-to-business commerce or remain business-to-consumer?
Answer: Can I select a bit of both?
Where can people find you on social media? website? blogs?
Answer: I'm fairly prolific on Facebook presently. I'm more a fan of anti-social media. My website is www.7marmoury.ca people can see what's going on there. I don't actually run the site, someone else does this for me. I'm not a fan of computers. For example, I've been using blackberry until two months ago.
What was your most difficult project you've worked on? How did you succeed?
Answer: That would have to be the ex. I simply stopped bathing until she had to leave. I made up crap like I was saving water.
What is the biggest lesson in business you learned? How has it helped you?
Answer: When you sleep in, your business does too. Helps me get back on the horse, keep rolling stones into the bush, clutching at straws. I'm running out of clichés. Keep your head up. Do your thing even when nobody is watching you, when no one is praising you, when no one is holding your hand and making it easier for you. Because someday, your hard work will pay off. Might not be today. Maybe tomorrow isn't looking good either. Just keep going anyways.
Michael Ball started off making jump rings for fun and decided to make a business of it. He is a man of many trades and marches to the beat of his own drum. In his words, he is just a dude with a workshop who wants to help.
What is YOUR favorite jewelry media? Comment below.