Bob Ellis is the founder of Bavarian Clockworks, an e-commerce business specializing in the sale of imported cuckoo clocks from the Black Forest region of Germany. Ellis started the company on a shoestring and has built it to more than $1 million in sales over three years.
Why did you start your business?
I have owned and operated my own businesses for over 25 years. I have a background in finance. I have owned retail businesses and been in the restaurant business. Bavarian Clockworks came about as a result of selling in other companies I was operating. I picked up technical skills along the way, so I wasn’t really new to the online world. E-commerce seemed to be the way to go. It really was a matter of trying to simplify things and get more out of my time. I also wanted to find something I was interested in that was a niche that was profitable and that we could compete in. That process is what brought us to Bavarian Clockworks. I felt like the industry was hard enough that the Average Joe couldn’t enter into the business, but not so hard that we couldn’t do it. I’ve always had a fascination with cuckoo clocks since I was a little kid. When the opportunity presented itself, it wasn’t a difficult choice for me to make.
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How did you finance the business at the start?
I did have personal savings, but I didn’t put that much into the business to start out with. I’d been down the road where you start with your overhead and then build the business around it to support it. It was important to me that this business didn’t take a lot of money to start. I didn’t invest my money all at once. I just started on a shoestring and then built it to a level where it could support itself. I also planned to not draw a salary from the business for at least a year, so everything went right back in. I relied on another source of income while building the business.
What’s the biggest mistake you made when starting out?
My biggest mistake was the amount of time I took to get the business off the ground. I went to great lengths to make everything perfect. I set out to produce a website that was better than anything that existed. I overdid it initially. In hindsight, while that is important, it’s much more important to get out there and get started. I should have gotten five or 10 products online and just started to develop our SEO and our marketing to begin to make our presence known.
What’s the smartest thing you did when starting out?
I spent so much time on images. On other websites, it was difficult for a consumer to get a feel for the items. When you can’t touch a product, images and videos are the next best thing. I think what really helped launch us forward was our great images and videos with a lot of detail.
Running the Business
How do you manage cash flow?
As far as finances go, it’s pretty basic. Other than using QuickBooks to keep tabs on where everything is at, I just make sure we have more coming in than is going out. I do have three small lines of credit in the form of credit cards. Should we need more inventory as we go into our busy season in the fall or should we encounter an unexpected expense, we have the ability to go to those credit lines.
What’s the most challenging part of running the business?
Letting the business run me. It’s the small stuff. It’s letting go of the things that I feel I need to be doing and putting those things in the hands of others. No one ever scaled a business by doing it all themselves.
What’s the most rewarding part of running the business?
Seeing people respond to your efforts. The growth and evolution of the business is my biggest reward. It’s not the money, but the fact that we’re able to tap into the market and supply more and more of the demand. That shows me we’re doing something right.
What advice would you give to a new entrepreneur?
Start only with what you need. I’ve started more than one business with a lawn chair and a cardboard box as a desk. Those businesses are the ones that tend to succeed more than others. Keep your overhead down in the beginning and focus on what’s absolutely necessary. I encourage e-commerce because, if you’re doing drop-shipping, you don’t need a physical office to work out of to get started. You can start at your kitchen table with a computer you already own.
What’s next for Bavarian Clockworks?
We have spent the last three years focusing on cuckoo clocks alone. As a natural progression of that, we’re going to be moving into other lines of German gifts like beer steins, smokers, and nutcrackers, since our demographic seems to be interested in those things as well.
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