This Side Hustle Spotlight Q&A features Alchemy Merch owner Greg Kerr, who was working as a musician when he started selling custom pins in 2015. Today, Alchemy Merch is a full-time business that creates custom products for companies including Apple, Nickelodeon, National Geographic, Nike and more, as well as independent artists looking for ways to monetize their artwork in new ways.

Image Credit: Courtesy of Alchemy Merch. Greg Kerr.

When did you start your side hustle, and what inspired it?
I’d been running a literary-inspired apparel brand, Miles to go, and had begun making enamel pins as one of the products we offered back in 2015. Some friends began asking me for help to get them made because of how confusing overseas production can be. Around that time, my wife and I decided we’d try to have a baby, and on the day we found out we were pregnant (Father’s Day in 2016), I bought a domain for Pin Game Strong. I saw there was a demand for help within the artist community, and I initially thought if we could put a few hundred dollars into our daughter’s 529, it would be a win. The original intention was that we’d keep running the apparel brand and help people make enamel pins on the side. I quickly recognized that there was a huge gap in the market to offer retail-quality merchandise. Everything was focused on promotional products, and with my background in running a brand, I thought it was important to focus on products people would be proud to bring to market. There was a need to go beyond promotional and into fully custom.

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What were some of the first steps you took to get your side hustle off the ground?
I’d seen a post on an episode of the Adventures in Design podcast talking about how someone should help people make pins. At that point, I had made thousands of pins for myself but hadn’t thought about offering it as a service. I offered to help anyone interested and got a quick response. Word of mouth spread, and I saw that people wanted a safe outlet for making pins. Knowing we had a child on the way was the catalyst to buy a domain and throw together some pricing. I was familiar with how promotional products companies price their products and decided I’d try to beat them. Once the site was up, things started happening quickly, and within a few days, I had an order for 1,000 enamel pins from someone I had no link to at all.

Image Credit: Alchemy Merch

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced while building your side hustle, and how did you navigate them?
As things started moving quickly, I had a lot of struggles with my time and how to balance it with the brand that had been paying my family’s bills for the past few years. We went from $0 to $1 million in sales in 18 months, and it was just me. I did all of it: managing the business, handling all orders, communicating with factories and all art. It was a lot to handle. We didn’t spend a cent on advertising in the first two years. Word of mouth was spreading and keeping me as busy as I could handle. My first step was to get some help on handling art files so I could keep working on customer interactions. I wish I’d looked for help sooner, but when I finally did get the help, it freed me up to focus on sales more.

Related: How to Get the Most Money Out of Your Side Hustle During Tax Season, From an Expert Who Raised $75.2 Million to Make Filing Easier

How long did it take you to see consistent monthly revenue? How much did the side hustle earn?
Within six months, we’d surpassed the monthly revenue of the brand I’d been working on for eight years prior — and it kept growing. Once we saw how quickly it was moving, the secondary goal became to replace my wife’s income by the time she’d have to decide whether to go back to work or not after our daughter was born. We hit that goal and kept on running upward.

You’ve since turned the side hustle into a full-time business, Alchemy Merch. What’s been key to that growth, and what does revenue look like now?
We hit a point where I needed to let go of the previous business so I could focus all of my time on making products for others. We started as Pin Game Strong and kept on adding new products in: patches, acrylic keychains, washi tape, etc., and the name just felt too limiting. We’d built up solid name recognition but knew it was time to grow beyond pins. Growth has been challenging for the past few years. When Covid hit, we got knocked back twice. First, we had delays in factories returning to work that caused a lot of refunds for events lined up. Then in March, they returned, and the U.S. got hit with lockdowns. A lot of our business is driven by events. Artists sell at fairs, cons and other events, and corporations will [make items] for conferences or team events. Pre-Covid, we were up only, and since then, we’ve been working hard to really focus on tightening up what we do and how we do it to help stand out. Although we have had growth the past two years, it’s not until this year that we are seeing the energy back in people to create again. We have been floating right under $2 million a year in sales for the past two years and are hoping to finally break past it and continue to grow.

Related: Don’t let your good idea go to waste. Subscribe to E+ today and get expert guidance that will jumpstart your success.

What do you enjoy most about running this business?
I enjoy helping people create. Making not only products, but also full-on retail-ready merchandise can have a lot of obstacles for creators, and our goal is to remove those and help guide them. Working with other creative people all day is constantly inspiring. Our goal as a team is to collaborate and elevate a customer’s project.

As you consider the business’s future, what are you most excited about?
I’m excited about expanding the types of products we offer and continuing to help creators. There is not a lot of direct competition in our field and at our size, so the chance of someone looking to acquire us is low. I hope to keep building a company that continues to provide for my family and our employees and keeps helping people.

Related: She Used Her Kids’ College Fund to Build a Side Hustle, But the Product Was ‘Unsellable’ — Here’s How She Got Back on Track for $100 Million in Sales

Image Credit: Alchemy Merch

What’s your advice for others hoping to start successful side hustles of their own?
Although I didn’t actively think about it at the time, Alchemy Merch is a marriage of all of my skill sets and hits on what I really want to be spending my time doing. It’s tough running a business in the after-hours if you have a 9-5, but if you really want it, you need to put in the work. If you are thinking about starting a side hustle, really think about what you want to do and if there is a need for it or space in the market for you to improve upon what is out there. The market told me how badly Alchemy Merch was needed, and I responded. When it became clear that this had legs, I never looked back. I’ve been self-employed for the past 20 years, so it gave me some clarity to run with the momentum and recognize what we were doing had real value.

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