Check out the full shop at: materialsix.bigcartel.com
BC: Can you tell us what Material6 is and how you got started?
M6: Before I purchased my iPhone 4, I was pretty fascinated with the concept of adding a wood element to my iPhone 3GS, but I really couldn’t see any possible way (despite over 30 years of fabrication experience and a shop full of tools) to truly integrate the wood element without adding bulk to a really streamlined and polished design. I really appreciated what Miniot was doing with their wood cases at the time - the detail and craftsmanship involved, but I simply wasn’t willing to ever use a case on my iPhone, no matter how well conceived, due to the added thickness.
Naturally, when the iPhone 4 came out and I had one in my hands, the thought was still there, but it wasn’t until my brand-new iPhone 4 slid, unprovoked, off my flat countertop and onto the floor (luckily not breaking in the process) that I decided I needed to do something about it sooner rather than later. The next day, I removed the back of the iPhone 4 and carefully wrestled the glass from the frame, went to the local hardware store, picked up a solid walnut plank and got to work. I posted the finished piece on my Facebook and Twitter and was pleasantly surprised by the response! So much so that my business partner (Randy Lively, the brawn of the operation) and I started looking for ways to produce these efficiently, at a cost that the market would bear. We were in development for many months before launching Material6 as a product line in October of 2010.
BC: What is your process like from design inspiration to finished product?
M6: Well, there’s some of that in the above, but my aesthetic and motivation has always been that nearly every product I purchase is almost perfect, but I can always find something I would have done a little differently, or something that doesn’t quite suit me perfectly. I really like consumer products that are modified (cars, phones, motorcycles, televisions, clothes, etc) in such a way that you wouldn’t notice the modification unless someone pointed it out to you. I strive for an “it could have come that way from the factory” look in everything I build. Since I have the tools and experience, I’m typically able to solve these “issues” for myself.
There’s a lot of custom one-off stuff in my life that I’ve built for myself and my friends, but every once in a while, this drive produces something that is actually marketable, and simple enough to produce that we can turn it into an actual product. Our parent company - 2point5 - was created for this reason, and this is our second product line to date after roughly seven years.
BC: Do you have any favorite customized engravings that you’ve done?
M6: Definitely. I really like when a company owner has us put their logo on a back, as it shows pride in what they’ve accomplished business-wise. And we’ve had some really heartfelt ones that I don’t post on Flickr, as they’re pretty personal. My favorites are really the ones that are a bit whimsical. There’s one with a set of walking chomping teeth that I really enjoyed working on because it’s a little silly, and reminds me of a Stephen King short story I once read, but also because it probably means something to the customer, and that’s what really gets me the most. We actually charge quite a bit less than the engravings are worth, time and labor-wise, because I love when people like our product enough to make it personal to them, a friend or a loved one. Especially when I know it’s a gift, that really makes me feel like we’re doing a good thing over here.
BC: What have you done to successfully market and promote your brand?
M6: I’d like to think that the primary reason for our success is the product itself, but we put a lot of time into the product name and logo, the look and feel of the site, and more than anything else, the customer experience. We bend over backwards to make sure that we are easy to reach, communicative at all stages of the process, and helpful before, during, and after the sale. I feel that word of mouth has been the biggest key for us due to great customer experiences.
Being first to market doesn’t hurt, but that doesn’t really do anything for you if you’re not sending the right message on all levels, which we really strive for. We’re lucky enough to have had some experience with this type of marketing from our first product line, spec.dock, so we knew a bit about which blogs were important to get in touch with, and early on we had writeups from Gizmodo, Lucky Magazine and Wired, which really helped get the ball rolling toward some of the great press we’ve received.
BC: Why did you choose Big Cartel for your online shop?
M6: Big Cartel has a great control panel that lets us easily change products, descriptions, images, inventory levels and the like, but also allows for a great deal of customizability. We were able to design our own store without being forced into a templated feel, and simply upload it to Big Cartel. The integration between our custom front end and Big Cartel’s back end was exceedingly easy and has served us well on days when we have had 30,000 visitors, just the same as when we have had 100. No hiccups and no problems. Good job, guys.