Eight Minutes

Sep 19, 2017

So with Glenn Fleischman's article out about us, it won't be long before somebody asks me where "eight minutes" came from. Why not six, or five? Or three?

For the moment, Amazon offers most of our custom products as Amazon Prime items. Like all new products on Amazon, momentum builds up slowly. Early on I was looking at the order queue, and we had, I don't know, five or six Prime custom orders in the queue. These days we have can have as little as two whole hours for those last few orders from the order being placed to heading out our doors. Back then we hadn't yet built the relationship that we have with UPS today. Our pickup was earlier, and our rates meant that we could only offer product in the Pacific northwest. And our fabrication and assembly processes were, well, umm, not quite soup yet. And I was looking at these orders thinking to myself that if this stuff gets to twelve trailing orders a day we'll have to get each one done in 8 minutes. Which meant we had some work to do.

Of course, that's kind of silly, because it's not like we're a one-person shop, and making ten of the same thing doesn't take ten times as long as making one of those things.

And I more or less forgot about the whole thing. But once or twice a week, somebody asks me what Buttonsmith does.

It's hard to answer, because our portfolio of products changes so fast that it's hard to keep up. In the past eight months we've launched several new product categories; brought our lanyard manufacturing in-house; made a significant commitment to "Made in US" manufacturing; established our first traditional retail channel; created new capabilities for customization; introduced new methods of shirt production; expanded our button, magnet, and badge reel options; expanded our merchant-fulfilled Amazon prime offerings from regional to national; and made a host of other changes I'm forgetting. If you think of a company as defined by its product categories, we just don't pigeonhole very well.

To make things even more confusing, Buttonsmith is neither an online business nor a brick-and-mortar wholesale business. Most of our revenue is generated online, but we are actively building channel relationships in traditional retail. As the person whose desk chair is perched across the division between those two worlds, I can tell you that's not a comfortable straddle. It's an exercise in incompatible systems and assumptions reflecting fundamentally different experience and world-views.

So what does Buttonsmith do, exactly?

Here are some of the answers people expect:

  • Buttonsmith makes lanyards. We created the category of premium artistic lanyards.
  • Buttonsmith manufacturers US-Made badge reels with swappable tops.
  • We're those folks who get custom business cards to your door three weeks before the competition, cheaper, better, and more of them!
  • We're that kid's badge reelcompany that can't really figure out what we want to be when we grow up (the kid being our founder Henry).

 All of those are true, but none of them really describe us. 

I struggled a while with this question, and eventually I settled on an answer: Buttonsmith makes things that can be individually personalized in eight minutes or less.

Way back when Henry was selling buttons at local farmer's markets, one of the things that made us different was making personalized items. Henry and Darcy didn't just take buttons to market. They took a printer and button making tools. They sold pre-made buttons, but the real attraction was buttons that were unique and specific to each customer. As we've grown, the equipment has become more sophisticated and the product set has expanded, but the idea of personalization hasn't changed.

I look at the order queue now, and we're way past the point where we can afford to spend eight minutes on each custom item.

Anyway, that's where eight minutes came from.

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