Founder of Manready Mercantile
Photo by Chris McGee. Featured photos courtesy of Manready Mercantile.
This week, we’re sharing the forgotten American dream story of Travis Weaver—a small town guy from Zephyr, Texas.
Now founder and owner of Manready Mercantile—a curated shop for apothecary goods and menswear—Travis is fulfilling his ultimate mission of proving that no matter what your past circumstances were, you can very well come up in the world without a handout.
I was delighted to chat with Travis about his story of triumph, how he best utilized his lack of resources to make a name for himself, and the differentiations between a product maker and a business owner.
Also, the Manready Mercantile team will be hosting their three-year anniversary on the weekend of April 1st & 2nd, and Travis says you’re more than welcome to attend. So, be there.
A special thanks to Hover, our domain management provider, for their extended generosity in making The Modern Block possible. Readers of The Modern Block automatically get 10% off their first orders here.
How did Manready Mercantile come about? I know you have a really inspiring story behind it all. I’d love to get into detail. I guess I got my start in late 2012. I had a degree in advertising and marketing. I was living in an apartment and I had an idea to show people that you can come up from nothing—that you can make something of yourself—regardless of your past economic situation. I grew up on a farm in central Texas. We didn’t have much, we were a low-income family. So I wanted to show people that no matter where you come from, you can change your situation if you just work hard, do what’s right in the process, and stick to it. That you don’t have to ask for a handout to come up in this world.
Anyway, I started with $100 in my apartment by making candles and selling them in whiskey glasses. I went door-to-door, would go to flea markets, and pretty much anywhere else I could to sell my candles. I even started selling them out of my vehicle in my garage at the apartment.
Eventually, I started making more and more products with all natural ingredients and sold them on the little website I started. For a while, all the product photos were taken by me with my iPhone. And it worked. I started calling my friends, and at times, even neighbors over to fulfill orders because I was starting to get more orders.
By 2014, I had saved up enough to open a brick-and-mortar retail store. And even though I now had a store, I still didn’t have enough money to really fill it up. I had to make way by asking friends to let me borrow furniture. My buddies and I did everything by ourselves then. Fastforward to now, we’re carrying more than 140 brands in store.
It’s really kind of an American dream story that I think people have forgotten about. It does exist, and I’ve proved that. I wasn’t smarter than anybody else, I didn’t come from a prestigious academic background or anything. I just made a few small products, kept at it, and never gave up.
In those humble beginnings, did you ever feel discouraged knowing that you had less than what others typically have to start a business? I wouldn’t say that I ever got discouraged. I really didn’t have any time to think about failure. It definitely was difficult, though. What was going on behind closed doors—all those long and lonely nights when other people were out having fun and I was at my apartment pouring candles—people don’t really see. In those moments of not knowing if it all was going to pay off, those moments did get to me a little bit. I would say that’s the hardest part that people aren’t willing to go through. Most people are in love with an idea of starting something amazing, but more often than not, their tenacity wears out—they lose their interest. I just never lost mine.
How did you best utilize the little resources you had at the time to make sure you did your best to get yourself out there? I always made sure I had a good business card, I always made sure my flyers looked good, and I always made sure to tell my story.
I’d take those three things everywhere I went and give them out whenever I could. A lot of the marketing I did in those days were simple word-of-mouth. Then I started using Instagram, Facebook and what not—really like anybody else would. I never just posted products, though. It was never plain and simple “look, new candles!” I always made sure I told a story and shed light on the work that goes behind making the items. I think that’s a huge part that people miss out on—they think that products are just supposed to sell themselves. It just doesn’t work that way.
I would embed a more humanized touch to everything, and I think that the general consumer resonated really well with that. They could see themselves in that situation. They could look at what I’m doing and think “oh, well I’ve always had an idea, maybe I could do that, too.” I think it just struck home with a lot of people.
At the time, too, there was this ‘Made in the USA’, ‘shopping local’, and ‘supporting local’ movement, and I definitely ran with that, and it helped a lot.
“I always made sure to tell my story.
Now that you’re running a much more established company and have triumphed through those first barriers, what are some current challenges you’re facing in your work? As we’ve grown over the years, I think the biggest challenge is probably dealing with customers who come in, who don’t necessarily understand our “Made in USA” prices. They don’t understand why a particular wallet that is hand-stitched, made of shell cordovan leather, and took half a day to make would be priced at $200. Some people just don’t get it, so we’re constantly dealing with the mass-consumer who isn’t really able to appreciate that craft, and it’s very hard to manage. As much as we’d love to, we just don’t have that time to sit there and explain to everybody that some of these items have taken days, weeks, or sometimes even months to create. A lot of people will come in and say that we’re “the most expensive store in the world” because they don’t really see the significance of these processes. So the education process that comes along with selling our items really does take a lot out of us.
And then there are other consumers who are the complete opposite, and you’ve got to be very careful with over-explaining yourself, because then, they’ll just think you’re trying to push a sale. So managing expectations of a mass-audience has proven to be very challenging.
Then there’s the digital side of these same challenges, such as responding to those same questions on social media, emails, or phone calls, and doing those in a timely manner.
So even having great products comes with its consequences. A lot of people think that all there is to running a small business is having an amazing product, and that’s just not true. I can’t just sit there and make candles all day. There are lots of layers that come onto it.
And of course, you get those occasional negative Yelp reviews and what not. It’s just the small details and challenges that come along with growing. And after a while, you’re kind of just sitting there thinking, “All I wanted to do was create amazing, quality products”. But I’ve learned to understand that it’s not that simple, and that you have to manage all those layers.
“A lot of people think that all there is to running a small business is having an amazing product, and that’s just not true … There are lots of layers that come onto it.
Right. Let’s dive a little more into that difference between a product maker and a business owner. Sure. A lot of people who are creators and makers of products aren’t necessarily good managers—I would say that a large portion of them aren’t. And that makes sense—they’re on the creative side of things. But if you really want to grow your hobby into a business, you’ll have to come to understand that you’re going to have to manage people, and that you’ll have to learn how to manage every small aspect of an actual business. Otherwise, you’re going to have somebody else run your business for you. Then eventually, your personal touch that grew your business in the first place is going to get lost, and it won’t be yours anymore. You’ve got to be well-rounded in all the small details like social media, management, delegation, hosting events, selling, streamlining your shipping routine, understanding photography, trends, so on and so forth. Again, most people don’t understand this when they start creating products.
I want to conclude this chat by congratulating you on your recent announcement of the official “Work hard, Live well” trademark. What’s that feel like? It’s an unbelievable feeling. It’s just wild to think about—that was another one of those goals that I wrote down and just never gave up on. I think it’s a pretty dang good trademark to own. And it applies to everybody. Start where you are, work hard, live well.
“Work Hard, Live Well.