I was able to sit down with Noriko Maxwell, owner of ninety6nine, this past week and ask her some questions about ninety6nine. The transcript of the interview is below.
August 1, 2017 – Interview with Noriko Maxwell of ninety6nine.com
Q: Why are you in business? How did you get started?
A: I’m in business to follow a passion. My husband and I owned a business previously in Ohio and I enjoyed being my own boss. When we moved here I was a stay at home mom and started crafting realtor gifts for Steve’s clients and soon thereafter I was getting orders from his colleagues to make gifts for their clients. As for getting started, I have always had a love for art and being able to express your creativity. Ninety6nine allows me to do just that. Both my kids are out of the house now which means I can spend 100% of my time building my business and providing amazing items to my customers.
Q: What are the start-up costs for a business like yours?
A: Oh boy. Start-up costs are huge, just like any other business. You have the costs to become a legal business entity with the State of Arizona which run about $300 per year. Things like insurance, licenses, et cetera. When it comes to tools you have a plotter ($500), vinyl ($100), a sublimation printer ($700), heat press ($1800), things like mugs which come in cases, so the total there was about $200 for 24 cases. The paint I use ran about $1000 for the initial stock. That’s just a glimpse into what is needed and the cost. There are so many different items that if I were to list them all we could write a small novel. Some of these like the printer are one time purchases (at least until the machine wears out) and some of them are things that rotate in and out according to the season and need.
Q: What is your background? Education/Work Experience?
A: My educational background is in nursing. Prior to moving to Arizona, I was a nurse for 10 years. I worked third shift, and to be honest I just got burnt out. Working that shift is hard on you and when you throw in the child-birth classes that I did over those 10 years, it was just time for a change.
￼￼Q: Can you provide me with a description of your business?
A: Ninety6nine is all about high-quality homemade/hand-crafted home decor. I pride myself in producing quality pieces that are environmentally friendly.
Q: How long have you been in business?
A: Ninety6nine has been in existence for about two years now.
Q: What type of business entity do you have? Sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation?
A: It’s a sole proprietorship currently and will be evolving into a LLC soon. Probably in September of this year.
Q: What are the advantages of this form of business ownership?
A: The biggest advantage is working for yourself. You get to make your own schedule that fits into your lifestyle. As an entrepreneur, you must think out of the box for your business to thrive. There’s no marketing team or another group of people who you can go to when the season is slow or business is down. You must step up and figure out why things have changed on your own and figure out a way to fix it. It’s all up to you. It’s both scary and invigorating at the same time.
Q: How do the social, economic, environmental, technological, legal and political environments impact your business?
A: Running a small business from home is extremely reliant on the social aspect. You must get your name out there for people to see. That can be anything from word of mouth like when I was doing realtor gifts (which I still do and are available on my website), to a weekend full of craft fairs/markets where it’s all about meeting people and showing them what you have to offer; both as a business owner and when it comes to your product.
As for economic and environmental those are both very important too. When the economy is down people tend to buy less non-essential items like home decor no matter where it comes from. Environmental factors play a big role in my business as I try to keep all my supplies and finished products as environmentally friendly as I possibly can. I use shipping and packing materials that have less of an impact on the environment and reuse them when I can, scrap wood, environmentally friendly paints, stains, and fabrics. I’m also always on the lookout for ways to be eco-friendlier in everything that I do with the business.
Legal and political environments aren’t things that really play into my business as much as they do other small business segments out there. Just your basic keeping up with local tax laws, city ordinances, things like that.
The two things that I would be lost without in my business are social media and technology. Both of those things are super important to making and keeping ninety6nine successful. The internet is everywhere these days. We can shop just about anywhere and since a lot of my sales are from online orders that’s important. Technology plays a big role in the distribution side as well as the marketing side of the business. I couldn’t run my business without it in this day and age. Having a presence on social media channels like Instagram and Facebook allows me to get my name and product out there without having to spend money on gas and expensive physical marketing supplies (which ties back into being eco-friendly). Quite a few of my tools are also technology based like my Cricut machine which has a hard drive can take my digital designs and bring them into the physical world.￼￼￼
Q: Do you know who your competitors are locally?
A: The home decor market is saturated when it comes to things like wood signs, mugs, pillows. Things like that are very easy to find these days. It’s just a matter of if the artists’ design speaks to you and the quality of the product they are putting out. Some are very, very good and others not so much.
Now, when it comes to the paper cut items that we will be introducing to the store soon, there is only one other person that I know of in the state that uses the same techniques that my daughter uses to produce such an amazing and unique product. I’m very excited to see how they do.
Q: How do you market your business? How are people aware of your business?
A: Being social! Ninety6nine has a presence on Instagram, Facebook (page and group), and Pinterest. There also the website of course which is where I also house a blog about the industry/business. I also attend multiple craft fairs/markets every season. Those are a big help in building the business. It does make a difference when people can physically touch and handle the products. There’s just no substitute for that when someone is trying to determine the quality of an item.
Q: Where do you see your business in the next year? In the next five years? The next ten years?
A: In the next year, I see the business continuing to grow locally as well as growing to customers out of the state and even out of the country. The sky is the limit since we can be found online where ever there is an internet connection.
In five years, I would like to have a store front in addition to the online business that I have currently.
In ten years, I see my business fully established and being something that I continue to enjoy doing.￼￼
Q: Do you plan to compete in the larger market place? Globally? If yes, how? If no, why not?
A: I kind of touched on it in an earlier question, but yes, I see my product being available globally. I have had some orders from the UK already and I hope that they continue to come in. It’s kind of neat to know that something that you made with your own two hands is being enjoyed in a home overseas.
Q: Whom do you seek advice from for your business?
A: That’s a good question. I have a business mentor and belong to networking groups. Not only do I get to meet some amazing people in the groups, but my mentor and I have monthly conference calls that allow us to hold each other accountable. It’s nice being able to set a goal and have a cheering section that helps to keep you on track. It’s also nice (although tough to hear sometimes) when they call you on your goals that you haven’t quite gotten to.
Q: What do you do with your profits? Reinvesting in business? Saving for that special something?
A: Right now, because the business is so new, most of the profits I receive from sales are going right back into the business. There are still tools that I would like to purchase in order to offer new things and like all tools, the ones that I started with will have to be replaced at some point. A big thing that I would like to bring into the fold is a look book for realtors. I feel that it’s something that would be extremely beneficial to the business but it’s not cheap. Putting together a look book and keeping it updated and in the hands of realtors is an ongoing expense of about $50 a month.
Q: Do you have employees? If so, how many?
A: Currently it’s just myself and my daughter (who does the paper cut items).
￼Q: What are the biggest issues for running this type of business?
A: Going into the future (should I eventually have a need for employees) it will be the taxes and all that good stuff. Thank goodness for CPA’s, right? Right now, the biggest issue is that time management is harder. Small business owners like myself are not only running their businesses, they are also balancing that with having a family/normal life outside of whatever their business may be. I think I’m doing a good job with balancing and now that both my children are in college it does make it a bit easier to handle business stuff when it pops up.
Q: Does your business have a stated mission statement, the reason that this business exists?
A: Ninety6nine’s mission statement is to provide environmentally friendly, high-quality, handmade pieces that will withstand the test of time and can be handed down through generations.
Q: That is an awesome mission and from what I can see you are doing just that. Thank you for taking time to sit down with me and allowing me to share your story with the community.
Noriko does amazing work and so does her daughter Keiko. You can find her at the social coordinates listed below. Be sure to check out her website as well. I promise you won’t be disappointed.