She probably doesn’t realize it, but over the years my wife has subtly expanded my stylistic range. It’s difficult to buy for a clotheshorse like me, but she did a particularly good job a couple of years ago when she got me this custom bracelet from Maven Metals. Coming from the custom world, I love made-to-order things for their superior fit, quality, and in this case, sentimentality.
I had the good fortune to catch up with / interview Ben Hanson, Co-Owner of Maven Metals, to talk about the product and the process.
The Interview With Ben – Co-Founder Maven Metals
Michael: So, how’s your life going, man?
Ben: (laughs) Busy! We just got off of the holidays which were crazy, but it’s still that time of year for us. We stay pretty busy; it’s full-throttle from September to June with Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and graduations.
M: Good for you! So what is Maven Metals? How did you guys get started?
B: We do custom laser engraving and leather goods. The business started with my wife hand-stamping jewelry in our back bedroom on a plastic table in her spare time. I was actually a Mercedes-Benz tech for 12 years; as she started getting busier, I got roped into helping her a little bit. I helped more and more and really saw that there was a need for men’s gifts at the time. The market’s kind of flooded with stuff now but at the time it was pretty lacking. I really didn’t like my job, so after I did some long hours here and at my full-time job for about a year, I quit and now we do this full time.
M: That’s great! And when did this start?
B: Oh, man. Off the top of my head, I’d say six years.
M: I know you said the market is flooded, but you guys make some pretty unique stuff. Was Julie (Ben’s wife and MM’s other co-owner) the driving force behind working with leather and metals?
B: Yeah, she started hand stamping on some pre-made blanks, and then got a request for a leather bracelet. She had to go
down to Tandy Leather, get some stuff out of the scrap bin, and figure out how to make a bracelet. She had no idea how to! Everyone down there was super friendly and helpful, and it just progressed from there. She was pretty busy setting up the business and hand-stamping things at the time, and I thought I could do a better job with leather than our competition. I’m super obsessive.
M: Really? Ok!
B: Yeah. This business is now pretty much all we do, it’s seven days a week, a lot of 100-hour weeks. It’s pretty involved (laughs).
M: So it sounds like you’re a Type A personality?
B: (laughs) Yeah, for sure. In pretty much everything I do. Speaking of obsessive, almost all of our leather products end up receiving seven individual coats of paint to achieve the finish we are looking for. This is insanely time consuming and doesn’t make much sense financially at our price point but we’re in this for a lot more than money.
M: That makes sense. Making made-to-order items, the detailing has to be on point. I’m wearing my bracelet right now, and the details are meticulous.
B: You’d be surprised how much better they are now!
M: You mentioned that your process changed. Is there anything you can share without giving away anything that’s top secret?
B: We were stamping for quite a few years, but we do laser engraving now. Our stamping got to be so good that people thought it was engraving. The thing is, stamping can’t be as precise as engraving. One letter would be a little off, and people would be like, “What’s going on here?” and we’d say, “Well, it’s stamped.” They didn’t really care, but it’s not the customer’s job to care.
M: So there’s a difference between stamping and engraving. Can you tell me more about that?
B: Stamping is individual stamps that get pressed into the metal. We used a process that no one else out there used, making our own fixtures and jigs. We ended up wanting to go with a laser engraving but it took me two years to find a company that would work with us. They made a specialized laser that allows us to do a multi-step finishing process that mimics the detail of hand-stamping, but it’s actually engraved. Different characters will catch light like stamping, but we get the accuracy, artistic flexibility, and consistency of a laser engraving. We are looking for super consistency. We want to make the best thing that we possibly can.
M: Does that make things easier for signature work and handwriting?
B: It’s the only way that can happen, actually. It makes it possible.
M: So is your “house design” the latitude and longitude on the bracelets?
B: Yeah, that’s where things kind of took off. We had a request for it from a customer years ago, and we were like, “That’s a really good idea!” We put up a few samples and other people agreed, and it took off. It got to be where that was pretty much all we were selling. It’s still pretty popular, but we do other stuff too. The handwriting is popular too, but it’s a lot more involved.
M: I love my bracelet. My wife gifted it to me on our first Valentine’s Day as a married couple, and it’s the coordinates of where we got married. I joke that it comes with a remote detonator she can keep on her in case she catches me looking at other women.
B: (laughs) You know, the cool thing about that is that you can have something that’s really sentimental and maybe a little bit mushy, and a guy can wear it because it’s just a string of numbers. It doesn’t mean anything to anybody else, but it means a lot to the person that’s wearing it. It’s not overt, I guess.
M: I agree. Having that backstory makes it more interesting and meaningful to wear. So…Richard Branson and I have the same bracelet? How did he hear about you guys?
B: We actually made some stuff for a company called MaiTai Global that does events on Necker Island. The people on Necker Island saw and wanted to talk to us about having stuff made. We’ve been making things for them for three years now.
M: That’s very cool!
B: Yeah, it’s pretty bizarre. It’s pretty far from the people I’m used to hanging around.
M: I’d say Richard Branson is probably pretty far from the people that most people are accustomed to hanging around. What a far cry from stamping leather in the spare bedroom!
B: Yeah, it’s taken off here. It’s going pretty well, hopefully we can keep improving. That’s the constant drive.
M: What’s the craziest thing you guys have been asked to make?
B: We don’t do too many fully custom things. We mostly stick to what we do, though we’re getting set up a bit better for more custom stuff. That said, we try and keep that internal. I like customers to feel free to put whatever they want on there and know that it’s not gonna get passed around. We did make some bracelets for the Necker Cup, the most exclusive tennis tournament in the world. We had to engrave the Rolls-Royce logo in there.
M: Would you say that the “Made in America” trend has been helpful for you?
B: I think it has. The shipping has gone up quite a bit, but we were even selling a lot to Australia for Australian Father’s Day. I think people all over the world value at least the idea that something is gonna be better if it’s made in America. I think the fact that leather is super trendy right now has really helped us too. I’m just glad we got in before a lot of these other shops started selling stuff!
We are 100% made in America, too. We design and have all of our raw stainless tags and blanks custom made for us here in the Pacific Northwest, and we use Wickett and Craig premium grade leather sourced here in the USA.
M: One last question: any advice for folks looking to start a business?
B: Anticipate everything being ten times harder than they think it’s gonna be, and don’t be afraid to work really hard. It’ll take you a long way.