On a Limb was a company started in 1984 by two creative people who wanted to work for themselves and together. New products come out of a need or a want. In this case, the designers recognized that there were no creative, hand-painted, decorative home accessories made in the United States.
Marilynn’s background was in interior and fabric design, which built on her strengths as a “color guru” and an awareness of furnishings and home decor.
Dan’s background as an architect fused the knowledge of one of a kind furniture design into the product mix.
The uniqueness of their work was recognized in 3 national home decor magazines, a number of regional publications, and a retrospective exhibit at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.
Sadly, after 20 years the business could no longer compete with imports from China and other third world countries.
1. What role, if any, does a business plan play in building and launching an arts company (as a business pursuit)?
In our personal experience, we had no plan. We had an idea, $500 and a
passion. Our passion for using our talent, working for ourselves and creating something that made people happy was our “plan.”
2. What three pieces of advice would you give aspiring artist entrepreneurs about planning?
With all of your questions, keep in mind that an artist is a certain breed. It has been our experience that artists do not know how to market themselves. As far as advice, just know where you want your product to be, be aware of how to place your product, and be knowledgeable of the vehicles available to place the product. Artists by nature are not planners. Today, artists/entrepreneurs have a tremendous asset in the wide array of social media. The most successful take advantage of the reach and range that Facebook, Twitter, Tumbler, and blogs have to offer.
3. What do you believe are necessary qualities, if there are any, for artist entrepreneurs to possess or develop? An example might include a person speaking about focus, discipline, quality pitching skills, etc.
Artists tend to be somewhat blue sky, idea driven and one of the most important skills is to learn to be relatable. Word of mouth is highly important, along with being able to communicate on a level that the artist’s target market can relate to.
4. What is the name of your business and how/why did you come up with the concept?
The name of our business was “On A Limb”. Our initial product was a birdhouse and the name reflected our lifestyle. We seem to spend most of our time out “on a limb”. Marilynn loves to pun, a tongue and cheek sense of humor. The name eventually became a limitation as the product line grew. Looking back, it was important to have chosen a name that was more general and would allow the business to grow into. It is also important that the name not be too obscure.
5. Did you have any funding to the business?
6. How many pieces would you generate on a monthly (or yearly) basis?
Our product line ranged greatly in size and demand. On an average month, over the life of our business, we created between 1000 to 2000 pieces. It is important to note that we found it extremely important to limit the number of employees because our name was on the product. To grow the quantity and size of the business, adding employees becomes necessary, but they can ultimately lead to the demise of the enterprise.
In today’s marketplace there is the opportunity to take the production of the product overseas. Quality is sacrificed, but quantity and market share greatly increase. And then there is licensing, where the artist’s creation is mass-produced by another company and the licensee collects a royalty. The ultimate question…is it worth selling yourself and giving up control? In doing so, you get the ultimate result…increased revenue.
7. How did you market your company?
We started out doing trunk shows and personally calling on potential retailers and galleries. Once the product became a recognized brand, we had sales reps and showrooms in the major gift markets. Through this exposure, we were picked up by national design magazines, which further expanded the demand for the product.
In summation…plan or no plan, little money or well funded, the important lesson is that given a creative talent, it is a gift that you need to share. With belief and hard work the rest will follow.
Interview by Lexie Hammesfahr
Lexie Hammesfahr is a senior convergence journalism major at Southern Methodist University. Born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia, Lexie moved to Dallas 4 years ago. She grew up playing volleyball and baking, even starting her own company at the age of 16, Doodlecakes Bakery. Upon graduation in May 2014, she aims to be a broadcast reporter, eventually anchoring a national newscast. For contact purposes or more information, visit her website.