By Alicia Cunningham | Jul 10, 2016
Careful what you do well; a hobby may turn into a business.
Miriam and Craig Sheffield made wood blocks for years, starting with their own kids and expanding out to their nieces and nephews. When their first grandson was born, they made him his own set as a present for his first birthday.
“My son told us we should sell them, and he even promised to help us set up a website. But I was a nurse. My husband is an accountant. We didn’t know how to start a small business. We really had no intention of doing it.”
Until they did. Sheffield left her job as a nurse to run the business full-time, and her husband works an abbreviate schedule to spend more time with their business. Today, Back To Blocks provides handmade block sets, from basic 60 piece sets to super stacker 190 piece sets.
Each set is handcrafted from the Sheffield’s home. “We get our wood from a mill in Brigham City, Utah. They mill the wood to our basic dimensions, and they make some of our arches. But we make all of the blocks from there with our saws, routers and drills. We do buy our buckets from outside the state. But that’s basically all our business needs,” Sheffield says. “Wood blocks and a bucket.”
Back To Blocks are available exclusively online as the rely on Google and Amazon to help customers reach their site or purchase their products.
“Amazon is great because it gives you exposure,” Sheffield said. “But it’s a steep learning curve to figure out how to use them. They have a lot of rules. They want things done a certain way. And they change the rules of the game all of the time.”
Part of the steep learning curve for Sheffield has been figuring out how Google and Amazon utilize algorithms on their sites. “They won’t tell you when they change things,” she said. “It’s a challenge. You have to change when they change and it takes awhile to figure out what has been changed and what works now.”
Challenge: Competing with international products. Sheffield is committed to providing an affordable, quality product but acknowledges that products from China are cheaper. “They can just make them cheaper than we can. It is hard to compete with that sometimes. But we have learned a ton, and we are excited to see how it goes from here.”
Opportunity: A new Christmas season. As a toy manufacturer, the vast majority of Sheffield’s season is from October through December. The remaining months of the year are spent developing inventory to fill future orders. “We hope this upcoming Christmas season will be even bigger than last year, especially since we will be much more optimized on Amazon.”
Need: Time. Miriam and Craig Sheffield run all aspects of the business and acknowledge a few more hours in the day would be beneficial. “We’ve tried hiring out some parts of the business,” Sheffield said. “We had help for marketing. We made the blocks in a shop. But everything is so expensive, and we have found we can do it just as well ourselves, in our home.” Sheffield adds that the saw dust is well-worth the savings, for now.