How do you fill your spare time if you have a Bachelor Degree from UC Berkeley, an MBA from USC, and a successful career in the facilities division of the second largest school district in the nation? Well, if you are Patti Gagan, you start a side business creating home decor items using seashells. Patti is a self-declared “beach freak.” Growing up, her family spent a lot of time on Florida and California beaches. A Los Angeles resident, Pattie is married and has an adult step-son. Vacation destinations are still usually near a beach. Patti has always enjoyed picking up seashells and other interesting, pretty items as she walked along the shore. Her collection of shells and love of the beach are the basis for her business, Patti Seashell.
Describe your business: I glue seashells on things. I make home decor and gift items using seashells and sea glass.
What set you on your path to your business? I have always picked up seashells and kept them in bowls in my house. I decided to make gifts one year, and people encouraged me to sell them.
What skills/talents do you have that compliment your business? The craft part of my work requires patience more than anything. I have always been good at jigsaw puzzles and I think the way I assemble my pieces is a lot like putting together a puzzle. My MBA has helped me with the business end.
What fears did you have getting started? My business evolved from a hobby, so I didn’t have anything to fear. I was making items out of love. When I started selling them it was tricky to know how to price them. I shopped a lot at stores that would be good candidates to sell my items, such as beachy souvenir shops, craft stores, and home decor boutiques. The scariest part was approaching store owners to gauge their interest in showing a few of my pieces.
What was involved in getting started? Each of my handcrafted items use a large quantity of shells, so I learned quickly that I can’t rely solely on shells I find myself. I started supplementing my own sea shells with quantities I purchased from wholesalers I found on the Internet. Later, I bought individual lots on eBay as well. When my condo became overrun with product, I knew I either had to stop making items or sell them. I rented space in a craft store where I created a mini-shop. At the same time, I started posting on Etsy and a friend recommended her sister-in-law to help me set up a very simple website.
What were your start up costs? What are your ongoing costs? I buy shells at about $100 at a time. I usually have an inventory of glue, ribbon, beads, velvet, and felt of maybe $150. Undecorated items such as wreaths and tissue boxes are worth about $150 and last me a long time. I buy additional items to decorate like picture frames, lamps, and clocks on eBay. My logo and website cost under $500. I buy small quantities of mail and packing material as I go along because our condo is tiny. So, in all, my start-up costs were around $1,000. Honestly, my sales just cover my ongoing material costs, so I come out a little ahead each year.
How do you get the word out about your business? My items are listed on Etsy and my Patti Seashell websites. I have a Facebook page. I have given up my mini-store at the craft shop but sell my items on consignment at some beautiful and beachy shops in Newport Beach and Balboa Island, California. I generally sell everything just as fast as I can make it.
How much time a week do you spend on your business? I work full time, so the only time I have for Patti Seashell is after dinner and on weekends. I will spread my stuff out in front of me while my husband and I watch TV, and put it away each night. On weekends, I visit craft stores like Moskatel’s for supplies and occasionally second hand stores for items to decorate. I try to visit my consignment shops once every couple of months. And of course, I head to the beach at every available opportunity.
What have you learned along the way? I have learned that to make money, I will really have to hire others to help me assemble my items. This is something I will consider in the future. For now, I find it is enough for me to sell what I make and to cover my own costs. That way, I can do what I love without expense and without the inventory crowding out our small home. We have beachy decor, naturally, but if I didn’t sell anything, our home could easily turn in to an over-the-top ocean themed disaster.
What do you like best about your business? I have gained many valuable things from Patti Seashell. I get to do something artistic and creative with materials that I love to surround myself with. I have a fun hobby that gets me to the beach regularly. I have an honest-to-goodness business that makes a little money. My husband encourages me and indulges me greatly. He recently had a carpenter build me a massive cabinet with lots of drawers and cupboards for my shells and supplies. And best of all, it makes me really happy!!
What do you see for you and your business in the future? For now, I am comfortable with the small scale of Patti Seashell. If I find myself out of work, I might find the time to put more effort into sales so I can grow the business.
You can see more of Patti’s work at her website, pattiseashell.com and at pattiseashell.etsy.com