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In an era when everything seems to be digital, physical keepsakes still have a special place in people’s hearts. Preserved baby items, in particular, are tangible mementos that stand out from many of the gifts that are available today. Bronzing businesses preserve cherished keepsakes in bronze and other platings, offering people a way to keep hold of cherished items from their children’s and grandchildren’s youngest years.
The bronzing business is far from an up-and-coming industry. One of the two largest companies in the industry, American Bronzing Co., has closed its doors, and so have many other established bronzing businesses. As larger businesses close, however, new opportunities open for small businesses that can operate in this industry while maintaining a lower overhead.
Who is this business right for?
A bronzing business is suitable for anyone who enjoys working with their hands, for bronzing is a hands-on process. This is also a possible business for people who have day jobs, as the bronzing work can be done any time. There’s no need to work traditional office or retail hours.
What happens during a typical day at a bronzing business?
A typical day at a bronzing business mostly involves bronzing customers’ keepsakes. This is a multi-step process that Caswell details as involving:
- Washing the items being bronzed.
- Affixing the items in their final position with glue.
- Tying a piece of copper wire to the items.
- Dipping the items in the sealer solution for 30 minutes.
- Allowing the items to dry.
- Dipping the items again and allowing them to dry again.
- Plating the items with DC power and a plating solution for 1 hour.
- Removing and sanding the items.
- Plating and sanding the items again, letting the items be plated for 3 to 5 hours.
- Rinsing the items.
- Finishing the items.
The full process takes hours, but it’s possible to bronze multiple shoes at once. Established businesses normally set up an assembly line. Several items can be at each step of the process, and a business might easily do dozens of items at once.
What is the target market?
The target market for a bronzing business is mainly composed of parents and grandparents of young children. These are the people who may want mementos of their child or grandchild preserved.
How does a bronzing business make money?
A bronzing business makes money by charging customers to bronze baby shoes. Businesses usually charge a price for one shoe and offer a slight discount on pairs of shoes. It’s also common to charge more for shoes that are larger than baby shoes. Bronzery has different price lists for shoes up to 6 inches, and those between 6 and 8 inches.
What is the growth potential for a bronzing business?
Most bronzing businesses today will remain smaller operations. There isn’t enough demand to support the overhead that comes with a factory and large workforce. For self-employed business owners, however, this is a viable and affordable business opportunity.
American Bronzing averaged over 166,000 orders annually during its 84 years. There may no longer be that kind of demand for bronzed items, but there still is enough to support a small business.
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful bronzing business?
In order to run a bronzing business, business owners must know how to bronze items. Learning the process is not difficult, and it does not require taking classes. Business owners can get the knowledge they need from their materials supplier, the directions included in the kit they purchase and books. Some good titles to read include Electroplating and Electroforming for Artists and Craftsmen, Decorative Gilding, and Handbook on Electro-Plating, Polishing, Bronzing, Lacquering, Enamelling.
What are the costs involved in opening a bronzing business?
The costs involved in opening a bronzing business are minimal. They include the cost of a workspace, vehicle and supplies.
Most business owners set up a workspace in their garage or workshop, and use their own vehicle to save on expenses. Some businesses, however, are located in low-rent industrial areas. Basements aren’t suitable workspaces because they don’t have adequate ventilation.
The supplies required for bronzing can be had for as little as $300, but more robust kits run around $700. Caswell sells one that has everything needed (chemicals, tanks, a DC power supply, an airbrush and buffering materials) for $746.
This kit doesn’t include a heat source, but heat is only needed when bronzing in a cold environment. The solutions need to be kept between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
What are the steps to start a bronzing business?
Once you're ready to start your bronzing business, follow these steps to ensure that your business is legally compliant and avoid wasting time and money as your business grows:
- Plan your business. A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. A few important topics to consider are your initial costs, your target market, and how long it will take you to break even.
- Form a legal entity. Establishing a legal business entity prevents you from being personally liable if your bronzing business is sued.
- Register for taxes. You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
- Open a business bank account. A dedicated checking account for your bronzing business keeps your finances organized and makes your business appear more professional to your customers.
- Set up business accounting. Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.
- Obtain necessary permits and licenses. Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.
- Get business insurance. Insurance is highly recommended for all business owners. If you hire employees, workers compensation insurance may be a legal requirement in your state.
- Define your brand. Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.
- Establish a web presence. A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers.
Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.
Where can I find a business mentor?
One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.
Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.
Recommended: Fizzle.co offers video courses and a supportive online community of like-minded entrepreneurs. Try one month membership for free.
What are some insider tips for jump starting a bronzing business?
Some bronzing businesses have transitioned from plating to applying a bronze-like paint. Although this is faster and cheaper, many people complain about the resulting quality and the durability of the items.
Business owners who want to have long-term success should avoid this imitation and stay with the plating process. This will ensure customers are happy with their orders, and it’ll help set the business apart from some competition.
How to promote & market a bronzing business
To reach a local market, business owners can sell through nearby retailers. Baby stores and jewelry stores may be willing to set up a display and take orders in exchange for a commission on each sale. A New York Times article noted that at least 20 retailers in Manhattan had entered into such arrangements with a bronzing business.
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How to keep customers coming back
The best way to attract customers is through referrals, and getting referrals is easy for a bronzing business. Many customers will have friends who themselves are welcoming new children or grandchildren. When customers are happy with their order, they’ll often recommend the service to their friends.
How and when to build a team
Most bronzing businesses today remain small businesses that are run by the business owner. If demand grows to be too much for one person, an employee might be hired to assist with operations.
State & Local Business Licensing Requirements
Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate a bronzing business. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.
Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, check out our informative guide, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.
For information about local licenses and permits:
- Check with your town, city or county clerk’s office
- Get assistance from one of the local associations listed in US Small Business Associations directory of local business resources.
Certificate of Occupancy
A bronzing business is generally run out of a small warehouse or factory. Businesses operating out of a physical location typically require a Certificate of Occupancy (CO). A CO confirms that all building codes, zoning laws and government regulations have been met.
- If you plan to lease a location:
- It is generally the landlord’s responsibility to obtain a CO.
- Before leasing, confirm that your landlord has or can obtain a valid CO that is applicable to a bronzing business.
- After a major renovation, a new CO often needs to be issued. If your place of business will be renovated before opening, it is recommended to include language in your lease agreement stating that lease payments will not commence until a valid CO is issued.
- If you plan to purchase or build a location:
- You will be responsible for obtaining a valid CO from a local government authority.
- Review all building codes and zoning requirements for your business’ location to ensure your bronzing business will be in compliance and able to obtain a CO.
How much can you charge customers?
A bronzed baby shoe today normally costs between $35 and $50, with pairs going for a little less than double that. Many businesses upsell customers with different metals and bases for bronzed shoes.
For example, Bronzery offers pewter, silver and gold finishes and several different bases. A single gold shoe runs $145.95, and bases can be hundreds of dollars.
What are the ongoing expenses for a bronzing business?
The supplies that a bronzing business needs aren’t cheap to replenish, but this is the only significant ongoing expense and it’s manageable. Getting more chemicals can be $500, and that will last for 100 to 500 pairs of shoes. Space and vehicle costs are minimal.
How much profit can a bronzing business make?
A bronzing business can bring in a handsome profit for a single business owner. With bronzed shoes costing between $35 and $50 per pair, bronzing just 15 shoes a week can bring in between $525 and $750. This doesn’t take into account upcharges for pairs, different metals or bases. When these are accounted for, a bronzing business could have a weekly revenue of $1,000 or much more.
How can you make your business more profitable?
Baby shoes are the most popular item to be bronzed, but they are not the only item that can be bronzed. Almost any non-conductive item can be plated, including flowers, butterflies, leather, plastic and more. Marketing these can help add to a bronzing business’ profit potential.