Mini concrete sculptures and layered laser cut relief artworks

January 13, 2020
Adam Carthy and George Collins
laser cutting
3D design
3D printing
Revenue: $5000 / month
People working: 2

Tell us about yourself. What business did you start?

We're Adam Carthy and George Collins, and together we run spaceplay. We’re both in our mid thirties and met eight years ago whilst working together at an architect practice in Birmingham.

We design and create 3D representations of architecture with layered laser cut relief artworks and concrete cast sculptures. We have several growing ranges of products but we’re probably most know for creating a range of mini concrete sculptures. These are 3D replicas of buildings cast at a size of 5x5x5cm.

mini concrete replica of SOAS Library in London by spaceplay mini concrete replica of Welbeck car park in London by spaceplay mini concrete replica of New Street signal box in Birmingham by spaceplay

Spaceplay was initially set up to explore using the techniques and skills we’d developed in architecture to create artwork and sculpture. We became particularly interested in the controversy around architecture being demolished and the public response to losing particular buildings. We’re interested in the stories and experiences that people have of buildings and how memories can be preserved through representations of these buildings.

We do depend on other incomes and so take on combinations of part-time and freelance work to help cover living costs, and due to the business being completely dependent on us as individuals to develop our work we’ve had to take a slow but steady business growth to get it to a point where we can think about depending on income purely from spaceplay.

A look outside the spaceplay studio's window in Birmingham

How did you come up with this idea? What’s your background story?

Spaceplay came about through an almost organic process. It was all about having fun enjoying the types of work we wanted to do. There is incredible opportunity today to monetise doing the things you love doing. A good part of any success we’ve had has come about from simply being available and open to opportunities. Something will always come up and if you’re prepared to take it on it will lead to new and bigger things.

There is incredible opportunity today to monetise doing the things you love doing.

Our first project came about perfectly timed through a recommendation by a friend. We were commissioned to make a 1:500 scale architectural model of an existing building for the client to test extension proposals. I had no idea how to do it, or if we were capable, but I met with the client, somehow convinced him and quoted a price. That project set us on our way. We took an advance on the fee and found a small shared studio space to work from. It was an intense first job but we put everything into it and overdelivered on the project. The whole fee was invested straight back into the business and put us on a good standing for the first few months.

How do you design and make your product?

We usually have several products at various development stages at any one time. So most days are spent reviewing each product at its production stage and deciding if it's good enough to move onto the next stage. All of our production is done in our Birmingham studio so Adam will usually be making moulds or casting, as well as assembling, packaging and fulfilling orders. George works more on the design and drawing side, with some prototyping and testing also done in our Inverness studio.

We try to keep busy and keep things developing but it can be a struggle to manage all of the intricate tasks and detailed decision needed on a daily basis. It can also be challenging communicating with the 500 mile distance between us. But we are usually in constant communication throughout the day on text or video calls. We’ve also found that apps like Trello help us to track and manage tasks across multiple projects, so this is very helpful.

Casting concrete into silicone moulds

We will spend around one week considering a new product before we begin anything. When we’re happy with a selected building as a subject we begin more thorough research. It’s often possible to get hold of architectural drawings and then we’ll collect photographs to document the building. We then create our own drawings which begin as highly accurate scale drawings. These drawings are then developed into 3D drawings either as a virtual model to 3D printed, or as a series of layers to be laser cut. We then prepare the final piece in its final materials through laser cutting or casting in concrete, as well as the packaging or frame mounts.

We do all our photography in-house and then create all our own marketing material from website listings to process videos for social media.

spaceplay studio in Birmingham

Describe how you launched the business.

Our first product range was launched as a collection of five laser cut 3D artworks. We were put in touch with a local independent media company called I Choose Birmingham who had a huge subscriber list and released monthly online magazines about local arts and culture. We also approached a few local gift shops and negotiated stocking them during the launch to give us some outlets. But our main objective was to trade through ecommerce, so we set up our own website on Squarespace and also created a sales account on an artwork sales website called Artobox. We promoted the release through our own social media channels on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter but it was through the I Choose Birmingham feature that we had the most exposure and this helped significantly with sales.

Through persistent and consistent work and new releases we now have a reliable flow of sales and will continue to try to build on this with more ranges and ideas.

How do you grow your business?

The growth of the business is incremental and carefully controlled. It’s not something we’re looking to make quick money from, but rather a creative process that generates and tests ideas. It gives us the opportunity to completely commit to our ideas and to refine and fine tune products.

We grow our business by working to improve the number of people we can reach on our social media channels and through our newsletter subscribers. This is significantly helped with paid ads, particularly on Instagram and Facebook.

Concrete minis by spaceplay (photo courtesy of _filteredmoments)

We are usually running a least one ad with a minimum of £5 per day being spent. In order to have any affect this needs to be the minimum.

But it's much more important to understand who your customers are and how you want to communicate with them. Our content is created to connect with people and to share exploring and celebrating the buildings we love with as many people as possible.

Consistency and real activity engages people and turns them into customers.

It's good to test lots of platforms and use them to access lots of different types of customers.

Etsy is a very easy and cheap startup platform for handmade ecommerce. Our Etsy shop has always been a secondary sales platform though. There are many good platforms for selling unique artworks, such as Not on the highstreet, Artfinder, Folksy, we also sell through a local company called Eazyl Art.

But having your own website gives you much more control over how customers can find you and engage with you. We sell much more through our website, but that’s only because our whole marketing strategy is focused on getting customers to our website. It much easier to create a brand identity with your own site and curate a customer experience that you want.

How do you market your product?

All our marketing is done through social media. But this has been and still is a long term strategy. We’re not trying to sell through social media, just connect to people who enjoy our work. Through this we’ve developed an amazing group of customers, some of who could even be considered as fans. Certain people will buy anything new we make and really enjoy collecting our work. But this has come about through trying to connect to people in a real way. Social media has this incredible ability to connect you to strangers because of shared interests. It’s something you have to be committed to though to really get any value from it.

Social media is still a huge explorative journey for us. We see our social media content as part of our product range. It's about contributing actively to a shared idea or value, and so after building up a good connection with a broader audience we’re now able to target a larger audience through paid and sponsored adverts. We don’t push for sales, but our sales do grow as our reach and exposure has grown.

It’s really important to have a sound investment strategy for advertising your business, you do need to spend money on advertising, but a key part of this investment is also the time that you give and contribution that you make to a customer base.

How do you keep your customers happy?

We try to keep customers happy by including them in our journey. Our work is about exploring and celebrating architecture. We love how people feel connected to certain buildings and how these buildings form the memories and personal history of so many. We don’t use any of the typical marketing techniques, although these can be highly effective. Essentially the aim is to make a customer feel valued and understood, and our whole work and process is about doing this.

Gift boxed New Street Signal Box concrete sculpture

It's also done through how we communicate. Often people try to come across as being more established through professional communication. But we’re always quite clear that we’re just two people making things we love. Communication is often informal through social media channels and we try to respond quickly and informally to any emails we receive.

What do you recommend to others who want to start a handcrafting business?

Try to connect with others who are also interested in similar ideas and activities as quickly as possible. Through connecting to others you will get access to social networks to help share and promote your own work, but perhaps more importantly you will also get to share your experience with others that are going through similar business experiences and difficulties. Running a business is tough and can be very draining. So being around others that are managing and working to overcome this can be incredibly helpful.

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