Redundancy is a scary prospect for anyone, but for 50-year-old Brian Carter it presented the opportunity to share his passion for collecting with the world – and turn his hobby into a thriving online business. Here’s how Brians launched Carter Collectables, an online emporium of nostalgic curiosities.
“I didn’t have a single negative thought. Instead of the obvious question ‘What am I going to do now?’, I asked myself ‘What do I want to do now?’.
“I realised in an instant, that this was the chance to turn my passion into a business,” Brian continues.
That passion (many would call it an obsession) was for collecting – anything old, interesting and/or beautiful. Brian finds it difficult to throw anything away, so he’s amassed a huge personal collection of fascinating and nostalgic objects from (mostly) everyday life.
This was an obvious starting point for an online business, called Carter Collectables. “I was thinking of downsizing my collection. Then I became unemployed, so I ended up buying some more stuff,” he explains.
Transforming a hobby into a business
But, while to you and I “some more stuff” might mean a few cardboard boxes-full, it means something quite different to Brian. He now needed to rent 300 square feet of storage space to accommodate more than 40,000 items he’d collected.
“Well, yes, I bought a few whole collections”, he admits, “which took it into a whole new league.” But this wasn’t just impulse buying. “I’d already formulated a plan to build an online shop”, Brian explains.
And he was fortunate to already have the skills required. “Designing and building the website has been one of the most enjoyable parts”, he says.
The result is a website in an appropriately retro – and fun – style. But Brian is quick to insist that looks aren’t everything. “The most impressive part is behind the scenes,” he insists. “Everything is very carefully categorised so that items relevant to a particular interest are grouped together.
“If you support a particular football team or you have a favourite car, say, then you can go to that section and find items relevant to it – including things that you probably wouldn’t otherwise have known about.”
Another unique and clever feature is the ability to search for items with a relevant date. If, for example, you’re looking for a 40th birthday present, then it’s easy to find a genuine item from the day that person was born.
But what of the dream of turning a hobby into a business?
“Getting any new business off the ground is a real struggle,” Brian concedes. “Letting potential customers know you even exist is extremely hard work and I work more hours now than I ever did before.”
But there’s no hint of regret. “The real test comes every Monday morning (and this is a good test for anyone): what’s your first thought when the alarm goes off – when it’s still dark outside? If you have a feeling of dread, then there’s something terribly wrong. I jump straight up and start working.”
Read more start-up stories in the StartUp Kit 2013
Our newly updated StartUp Kit is the essential guide to starting and running a small business in 2013. It’s available from the Enterprise Nation shop as both an ebook and a print publication. Click on the image below to find out more.