What have been the most difficult times in your business?
Whew, that's a tough one. We’ve certainly paid a lot of dues along the way. There have been many times when it seemed that there was no way to pay the bills, but somehow God has always kept us afloat.
Back in the very beginning, I had no tools, or knowledge, or money to get this thing started. Really, all I had was a huge desire to make great ocarinas and a very supportive wife. That first Winter was fairly grueling. I mean, I was working out in our unheated garage with just an old drill press my brother-in-law had given me, a hand saw, maybe a few exacto blades, without a clue as to what I was doing.
I had to bundle up with a few layers of clothing just to work out there. I'd take a break when my feet started to get numb. It was very cold out there. I'd spend all day working on an ocarina, and at the end of the day I'd wind up with another failure. But from each failure I'd usually learn something, or at least think I might have learned something, so I'd write down my results in a notebook, maybe formulate a new hypothesis, and try to test it out the next day. And by the end of the next day, maybe I'd have a new failure to learn from. This went on for months until I gradually started to get better and better results and to understand why I was getting better results. Meanwhile I was learning all I could about the tools that I needed to work with precision and efficiency.
Actually, it's kind of overwhelming to me to try to describe the incredible amounts of time I've devoted to prototyping off and on or the money that we've invested in this dream of making concert quality ocarinas. Honestly, without the tremendous hard work, patience, support, and sacrifice on the part of my wife, Susan, we wouldn't have been able to survive.
| Having known Karl through many of the tough years, he is in no way overstating the hardships their family has endured for the sake of the dream. Actually it's a bit of an understatement. His brief discriptions here aren't quite able to convey the depth of difficulties they have endured to bring concert quality ocarinas to their clients.|
What have been some other tough times? Yeah, there was our fruitless attempt at a bank loan. We spent tons of time and effort writing an extremely thorough business plan only to have banks reject us because we essentially had no collateral. That's the kind of information that I wish the SBA had stressed ahead of time.
Then, boy, we had a real tough time getting our new polycarbonate ocarinas to the market. Again, we invested huge amounts of time and capital in the new tooling --huge amounts of money for a tiny company like us, that is— and then when the mold makers ran behind schedule by a few months, we were barely able to survive financially.
| I had no idea how much money it costs to make high quality molds till I had some long discussions with Karl as he was going through it all. There are two generations of his plastic instruments. The first generation was what he affectionately refers to as the lego ocarinas. See below:Although they played very nicely, they were, to be candid, about as beautiful as a big piece of lego. |
Karl found that clients bought the lego ocarinas because they were significantly less expensive than the beautiful hardwood ocarinas, but that they really didn't like the looks.
So eventually Karl decided that he would need to make low cost ocarinas that his clients could feel proud to own, really nice looking ocarinas. So, without knowing quite what he was in for, he set out on the journey to make some really nice, affordable ocarinas out of polycarbonate (a high tech plastic) for which he would need to have some high quality (and very expensive) molds made. And without going into gory details it cost a substantial chunk of change, as well as hundreds of hours of work on his part to see the molds through. If you want more detail in what I consider a substantial chunk of change, I define it as what a decent house cost in the capital city of Arkansas several years back.
Interested in a simple lesson on ocarina economics? Having expensive tooling (molds) made to produce ocarinas only makes sense if you sell tens of thousands of ocarinas, and hopefully many more than that. e.g. If you spent $35,000 on molds to make an ocarina, and made only one ocarina, the cost of that ocarina would be $35,000. What's moral of the story? If you want to make an ocarina or only a few ocarinas, make it out of clay, or carve it out of wood, and it will cost you roughly the cost of the materials which might be anywhere from one dollar or less to maybe a max of one hundred dollars. How does this relate to Karl's story? Karl better sell a whole bunch of ocarinas or else he's in deep quicksand!
The new polycarbonate ocarinas are beautiful. There is absolutely no comparison between the new polycarbonates and the old lego models. What do you think?
The truth is that both my wife and I work more than the average bear, but at the same time our family is very united, and… so things work out okay. At this point, with the positive response to our instruments and our improved production methods, we're in a better position than ever before. Limited production has always hampered us tremendously, but we're finally right on the verge of clearing our production logjam, so the coming year looks very bright.
(Making an Exceptional Ocarina)
(Giving Up On The Ocarina Business?)