Journey of an Architect is a blog started by Tim Ung to document his journey to design 30 projects by the age of 30 (May 2020). His posts focus on his design process, thoughts, struggles, and successes throughout his journey.

My Journey to an Online Retail Company

My Journey to an Online Retail Company

If you’ve been following me over the past 5 weeks, you’ve probably been wondering, “Why is this architect’s blog focusing so much on handmade leather goods?” I know it might be confusing for many of my followers and I’m excited to finally share one of the biggest projects of my life with you in this post; starting my first online retail company whose focus is handmade leather goods. Although only a little more than a month has passed, I’ve already experienced so many ups and downs that I wanted to share with you in hopes that you can take a product idea that you have and turn it into more. Without further ado, let me take you through my journey of taking my hobby, officially starting a business in New York State, and starting my online shop.

Finding my Passion for Leather Working

This journey started when I realized that I needed a break from my 24/7 focus on architecture where my full time career as an architect continued well into my evenings and nights. I was constantly taking on more responsibility at the architecture firm and working on stressful projects that are under construction. At the end of every workday, I would go home and start my evening routine of developing my theoretical projects and competition designs for my 30x30 goal.

Although I made so much progress on my 30x30’s, I started to feel like I needed something new. Something fresh. Something that involves design and creativity, but isn’t architecture.

Within this small window of time, I thought long and hard about a new hobby to focus on when I needed a short break from architecture. Think of a sabbatical that professors take and apply that same idea to this new journey. After my time of reflection was over, I remembered that I was always fascinated by handmade goods. In particular, I’ve always been awed by luxury leather products. The amount of time it takes to learn the craft and be able to produce something beautiful to share with the world was something that I wanted to pursue.

From there, I designed and handmade several tote bags which you can see on my projects page and found my way into the world of leather working. I was excited to keep making more items and to learn different techniques, which reminded me of my time in architecture school from making physical models to learning new software. Needless to say, I found myself having so much fun with this new hobby.

Sharing my Leather Goods with my Friends

 
 

Once I finished the tote bag projects, I took a break from leather working to focus on architecture and writing my book, Starting an Architecture Firm, which you’ve probably read about in some of my earlier posts. This 4 month break brings us to the beginning of April where I decided to pursue a new 30x30 project of hand making 100 leather wallets to continue practicing my leather craftsmanship.

The moment I started this goal, I started sharing stories and photographs on Instagram with all of my friends and followers. In a very short time, I had several friends asking if they could purchase one of the minimal leather wallets that I was making as part of my goal. Although I wanted to say yes, I knew that there was more to it than simply putting my wallet in a bag and collecting the money in cash. There were business and tax licenses that needed to be applied for and approved.

Starting Mars Leather Company

During the first week of April 2018, I made the big decision to start a Limited Liability Company (LLC) for Mars Leather Company, which is the name of my new retail business! I was having so much fun making these leather wallets and pushing myself to reach my goal of continuing to practice my leather working craft and making the 100 wallets by the end of the month. If you’re curious about how I applied for my LLC, I used Legalzoom which is an online service where you answer some very simple questions and they’ll do the rest for you. I won’t get into this too much, but I really think that their services are great and they take a lot of the guessing work out of registering your business.

Once my applications were in, I continued making more leather wallets every week. On each day that I focused on stitching the leather wallets, my hand stitching drastically improved and became more efficient than the previous day. It got to a point where I could stitch one of the wallets in half the time than when I first started.

Two weeks after my business applications were submitted, I received all of my approvals including my Employer Identification Number (EIN) and all of the documents that I needed to make sure that my business was official. Legalzoom also sent a welcome packet that included all of my information, forms to send back, tax information, and a checklist that went over the other applications that I needed to submit.

I also wanted to mention that if you’re planning to start a business in New York State, you should be aware of one of the state’s regulations which require you to post a “Notice of Formation” in 2 newspapers; one daily paper and one weekly paper that is approved by your county. This means that you’ll likely pay more if you’re starting a company in a county of New York City because most papers will charge more for the small advertisement than in Buffalo where I started my company. As a tip, I recommend you email and call almost every approved newspaper for a quote. You might be surprised when you find that some smaller papers offer this service free of charge while others will charge you the price of one month’s rent (some exaggeration intended).

Setting up my Bank Account and Certificate of Authority

If all of that business stuff didn’t stress me out, the next few steps definitely started to make me feel like I made a mistake. At this point in April, a typical day in my life consisted of waking up very early, working as an architect, going home, walking my dog, going to the gym, cooking dinner, making leather wallets, filling out applications, and reading instructions and information forms written by lawyers for lawyers.

Nevertheless, my next step was to set up my business bank account so that I could register for a Certificate of Authority, which essentially allows you to legally charge sales tax on products that you sell. Otherwise, you can’t sell in New York State.

Using the forms that Legalzoom provided to give to a bank when opening a new business checking, savings, and credit card account, I filled out an online application with Bank of America and submitted it. Two things to note from that sentence; yes Legalzoom provided paperwork that specifically had a note attached that said “provide this form to your bank when opening an account”, which was very helpful. Second, I highly recommend that you do some research into the bank that you want to use. I slightly regret my decision to use Bank of America because they have so many fees attached to their accounts.

Moving on, I received my bank approval and account information within 5 days of submitting my application and forms from Legalzoom. Honestly, this seemed really fast to me, but I guess it means that I’m personally doing well enough to be able to apply for and receive new bank accounts so quickly. I used my business bank accounts to apply for the Certificate of Authority with New York State, which took about a week to receive my official certificate to display in my home studio so that I can legally sell my leather goods!

Designing my Online Retail Store

After the stressful month of setting up all of these various accounts and administrative aspects of Mars Leather Company, I was finally over the hump and able to focus on setting up my online store. I also finished my 100 leather wallet goal about a week before the end of April, so I had a little more time on my hands.

I quickly snatched up Mars Leather Company’s online domain (website name) and social media accounts and went straight to work on developing my online shop. I purchased my domain from Bluehost and an annual basic online shop plan from the website building platform Squarespace. I used these two services because they’re the ones that I’m most familiar with using to build any online website. Side note: if I could go back in time, I would probably go with Shopify or Big Cartel because they have an integrated shop that works with Facebook Business and Instagram stores.

I could go into more detail here about setting up marsleathercompany.com, but I’d rather let you check out my online store and let me know what you think!

Conclusion

Making this leap from being an architect to also being a leather worker with an online shop is something that I never expected to do in my life. By following my gut and taking one step at a time, I slowly found my way to a new area of my life that I’m fascinated by and excited to pursue. Every day, I’m excited to get back home and see what else I can produce with this company and through this blog, Journey of an Architect.

If you made it to the end of this post and you’re interested in starting something of your own, I hope I was able to help you take one more step to making it a reality.

Thank you for reading about my latest journey and feel free to let me know what you think in the comment section below!

Tim Ung

P.S.: If you use some of the links that I provided above to help you setup your business, I will make a small commission as an affiliate for Bluehost and Legalzoom, which are both companies that I’ve used and would always recommend. If you prefer not to use the links that I provided, you can search for those companies on Google and find them on there as well. Thank you again!


Why Prototyping is Important

Why Prototyping is Important

Inspired by Leather Working

Inspired by Leather Working