How to Start a Successful Tumbler Business: 23 Expert Tips

How to Start a Successful Tumbler Business: 23 Expert Tips

You dream of the day you can turn your passion for crafting custom tumblers into a viable stream of income. đź”®

Can you start a tumbler business and succeed? On second thought, are custom tumblers even selling anymore? Or is the market saturated already?

We had the same questions, so we headed over to our MakerFlo Community on Facebook to find the experts: real business owners who have experience selling tumblers and are willing to share their insights with us!

We interviewed 6 tumbler business owners. They told us their stories, their biggest lessons, and what they would advise a new business owner today. Here are 23 practical tips they shared that can help you start your own tumbler business today.

Psst... Hop down to the bottom of the post to find links to each business! 👇

Tip #1 - Know your why

Running a business isn’t easy. You’ll face a lot of setbacks, which is why it’s important to be clear on why you want to do this.

Adrienne Reisinger, owner of M2C1 Designs in Los Angeles, CA, started her business after getting laid off from her job in marketing after a 30-year career. “I wanted a break from the corporate hamster wheel,” she says. Now that she works for herself, she has more time with her son and enjoys having a creative outlet every day.

Leticia Otten, owner of Customizable Surfaces in Las Vegas, NV, started her business after losing a baby and experiencing anxiety and depression. “I decided to focus on my kids who were here,” she says. “When my daughter graduated from high school, I decided I would grow this business for her.”

Tumbler Designs by Leticia Otten of Customizable Surfaces

Tip #2 - Don’t expect it to take off right away

Most of the business owners we interviewed run their customizing business on the side, maintaining full-time jobs as their main source of income. A few have turned it into full-time income, or at least enough to live on.

All agree that it takes time to build up a successful business. Kathy Burman, owner of Explicitly Yours in Merrillville, IN, started her business in 2015, but it didn’t take off until 4 years later in 2019. “I think shifting my business plan to focus on wine glasses and coffee mugs really helped it to launch,” she says.

Tip #3 - Keep business and friendship separate

One thing is for certain: when you start making custom products, your friends will want in on it. But it’s up to you as a business owner to decide how much you’ll do for free. You’re running a business after all, not a charity.

Leticia says this was her biggest lesson in running a business. “Not everyone is your friend, and you can’t help everyone.” When you set clear boundaries for your business, it’s a smoother experience for everyone involved.

Tip #4 - Tell the world about your business

Yes, the market is crowded. And yes, it’s sometimes difficult to find new clients. But nothing will happen until you go out and tell people what you’re offering.

“Just do it,” Leticia advises new tumbler business owners. “Get out there and show your face. No one is going to knock on your door and ask you if you sell tumblers!”

Tip #5 - Show your work on social media to attract new customers

Social media is one of the best places to advertise your business. It’s free to post, and viewing photos and videos of your work entices more people to buy.

Cyndi Stevens-Cox, owner of The Sister Souls in Carthage, MO, said she built her business on “Facebook and word of mouth.” Though it’s slowing more recently, she says, “folks contact me when they need a tumbler for a special occasion.”

Jen Burns, owner of First Order Creations in Alexander, AR, says she sells tumblers mainly through social media, including Facebook and Instagram, and word of mouth. When her customers share their purchases on their social media accounts, it sends a stream of new customers her way.

Tip #6 - Look for the needs in your community

Wondering what you should make first? The best place to start is by asking your local community what they want to buy.

Cyndi says some of her most popular designs are of a local mascot in her city. Now she’s looking for new products her community might enjoy, like epoxy keepsakes and other ideas. Even if tumblers go out of style or people stop buying them, she can find new needs in her community to fill.

Tumbler Designs by Cyndi Stevens-Cox of The Sister Souls

Tip #7 - Start by selling to people you know

It might sound scary to launch a business to the general public. Who will buy your products?

Take a small first step by offering your services to friends and people in your community. You’ll quickly figure out what people like, build your confidence and experience, then move on to selling to a wider array of customers.

The husband-and-wife team Madison and Jay Lauck, owners of Engravings by Jay in Pryor, OK, started out with custom orders from their kids’ daycare and friends and family. That helped them get started before expanding to a larger customer base.

Tip #8 - Consider adding other products to your line-up

Some of the entrepreneurs in our community make a living just by selling tumblers and cups. Others sell many different custom products, which protects them from the risk of one product losing demand.

For example, Adrienne makes sublimation pens and multiple types of tumblers, which all combine to earn her a full-time income from her business. Cyndi has learned how to create other custom works with epoxy to add onto her tumbler offerings.

Tip #9 - Do your research before launching

Instead of buying equipment and making tumbler designs, then trying to find someone to sell them to, it pays to do your research first. Learn what people are buying and what they’re not able to find yet in the market so you know you’ll find buyers right away.

Cyndi says this is her biggest advice for new tumbler businesses. She started by diving deep into tumblers that were selling, then figured out how they were made, with what materials, and what processes, so she could copy them herself. That’s how she built a reputation for high-quality tumblers among her customer base.

Tip #10 - Be a student of your craft

There’s always something to improve. The more you practice and learn your craft, the longer you’ll be able to stay at the top of your game.

Cyndi advises new tumbler crafters, especially epoxy tumbler makers, to “practice, practice, practice!” She adds with a smile, “Did I mention practicing?”

Tip #11 - Approach local stores with the possibility of carrying your products

You’re not limited to selling your wares online or at craft shows. Local stores in your community can also be great places to set up shop.

Kathy has found space in her local antique mall to sell her products, while Jen sells at a boba tea shop and an anime store at her local outlet mall. Local cafés, art galleries, bookstores, or boutiques are also potential options to showcase your products.

Tumbler Designs by Adrienne Reisinger of M2C1 Designs

Tip #12 - Make the most of shows and events

Craft shows and themed events are full of excited people, ready to experience a special moment. Most of them want to buy something as a memento of the event. If you can set up a booth at craft shows and events related to your designs, not only will you find more customers, but you can also become an integral part of someone’s experience.

Kathy, Leticia, and Madison & Jay say they get the most sales at craft shows. They also shared other events they’ve had success with, including summer markets, holiday events, pop-up shops, car shows, rodeos, and comic cons.

Tip #13 - Prepare for exciting ups and disappointing downs

Growing a business doesn’t always track in a steady, upward-moving line. You’ll experience exhilarating ups and discouraging downs along the journey to success. The best thing you can do now is accept the bumpy road ahead and expect these seasons to come. That way you won’t be surprised, and you can deal with each setback when it comes.

Jen shares, “It’s not easy. Some days are not so good, while some days are great.” Jay says his biggest lesson has been to “never expect defeat and always find new ways to push yourself forward.” As long as you keep moving through your setbacks, you’ll find a way to get ahead.

Tip #14 - Always ask for a deposit on large orders

This is a huge lesson businesses face, no matter what you’re selling. A client comes with a big order, which means a big payday for you. You get straight to work making the absolute best product for them, but just before you deliver the goods, they pull out of the deal. You’re left holding the bag.

Jay’s rule of thumb? “Always ask for a deposit on large orders, regardless of how big or small the client is.”

As a business owner, you’ve got to balance risk. If you take a big order without a deposit, all of the risk falls on you, and none on the customer. Charging them a deposit means they share the risk. And that’s good business.

Tip #15 - Keep costs down to stay profitable

When money starts coming in from your first few sales, you might be tempted to go out and buy the very best equipment and materials. But the most important thing is to keep your costs below your sale price, or else you’ll end up losing money.

Cyndi started by buying local, low-priced tumblers to customize with epoxy instead of the brand-name tumblers she was eyeing, so she could build up savings to buy better equipment and supplies. And Madison & Jay have been careful to keep costs at bay so their business can run efficiently on its earnings without running into debt.

👉 Looking for affordable tumblers to customize? See our full line-up of affordable and high quality tumbler blanks for crafting.

Tumbler Designs by Madison & Jay Lauck of Engravings by Jay

Tip #16 - Consider going beyond entry-level equipment so you have space to grow

Jay’s advice for new tumbler business owners is to think ahead to the next few years of your business. “Think of what you need to start off with,” he explains, “and if you can afford it, go up a step to stay ahead. I wish I would have done this.”

In other words, an entry-level machine might feel like a good choice right now. But if you want to make more items a couple years down the road, getting the next biggest machine might be a better investment.

Tip #17 - Everyone you talk to is a potential lead to a sale

It’s not easy finding customers. All business owners face this disappointing reality. But it doesn’t have to be as hard as you think to find potential buyers.

“Everyone you talk to is a possible lead to a sale,” says Jay. “Don’t try to sell them on it if they don’t ask,” but keep the conversation going so that connection can lead into a possible sale down the road. If you keep your eyes and ears open, you can find potential customers wherever you go.

Tip #18 - Carve out a niche for yourself

Do you feel like the tumbler market is saturated? One reason it feels that way is because a handful of designs and trends have hit the mainstream. It feels like everyone is making the same designs, and people are getting tired of them.

The antidote to this problem? Finding a new niche that you and only you can fill. What kind of designs are people not making? What do you wish you could find on a tumbler or cup? Keep experimenting and you will find what works.

Kathy found her niche in sarcastic sayings, often punctuated by curse words, that give voice to the things people are thinking but don’t always say out loud. “It was important to find my niche,” she explains. “I work hard to not sell what everyone else does.”

Tumbler Designs by Kathy Burman of Explicitly Yours

Tip #19 - Avoid copyright infringement

Yes, custom designs with Disney characters and NFL teams sell like hotcakes. But using licensed images without a license puts your business at risk for fines and legal action. In December 2022, Disney sued a handmade business in Florida for selling products with their copyrighted images in their Etsy shop.

Kathy says, “I avoid anything copyright protected as I worked hard to build my business and don’t want to risk it.” We agree. You can find tons of copyright-free images at Creative Fabrica, or see our post about where to find 1000+ free designs for commercial use.

Tip #20 - Don’t worry about competitors. Instead, focus on what you do best

If you’ve done your research, found what your community is looking for, practiced your craft, and are doing your best work, there’s no need to worry about the competition. Staying true to your gifts and your chosen business strategy is your best chance of success.

Kathy says: “If you’re doing an event and another shop 3 booths down also has tumblers? Don’t worry about that. Focus on your product and your work and the sales will come.”

Tip #21 - Try selling on a craft marketplace to get initial traction

Selling locally to friends, in stores, and at craft shows and events may be the best place to get initial traction, but you can also reach a global clientele through online marketplaces like Etsy or MakersPlace.

Adrienne has found her audience on Etsy, while also selling on her website, TikTok, Instagram, MakersPlace, and Facebook. If you’re interested in learning more about Etsy, we’ve explained the ins and outs and how it compares to Shopify in our Shopify vs Etsy article.

Tip #22 - Keep stock manageable

It’s easier than ever to get new tumbler blanks when you need them, so there’s no need to stock up on cases and cases of tumblers in advance. Having too much stock means that you might not get a return on your investment quickly, plus you need to manage all the stock in your home.

Adrienne says, “The biggest lesson I’ve learned is not to extend yourself too far. I used to carry a lot of stock with the concern of running out, but now because most of my vendors have very quick turnaround times, MakerFlo being one of them, I can keep less stock and manage my funds more efficiently.”

Tip #23 - Don’t give up!

If running a business were easy, we’d all be doing it. It’s going to take up time and energy, and you’ll go through cycles of scarcity, then prosperity, again and again.

Jen offers this advice: “Do not give up. Not all days will be good. There’s going to be lots of trial and error, and I mean lots.” A key to getting through the hard days is to ask for help. “If you ask a fellow tumbler maker a question and they don’t respond, there are tons—and I mean tons—of videos and articles online that will help you prosper.”

Tumbler Designs by Jen Burns of First Order Creations

If you need inspiration and community to walk alongside you in your journey, we invite you to join the Official MakerFlo Facebook Community, where you can share your creations and learn from thousands of other crafters just like you. We’ll see you inside!

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Interviewed in this article:

  • Adrienne Reisinger of M1C2 Designs creates engraved powder-coated tumblers, sublimation tumblers, and painted tumblers as well as sublimation pens. You can find her at her website, M2C1Designs.com
  • Leticia Otten of Customizable Surfaces creates tumblers with sublimation, epoxy, DTF and laser engraving, among other custom products. You can find her on Instagram @customizablesurfaces
  • Kathy Burman of Explicitly Yours creates epoxy and sublimation tumblers, mugs, and wine glasses. You can find her on Facebook at Explicitly Yours
  • Cyndi Stevens-Cox of The Sister Souls creates epoxy tumblers and other epoxy products. You can find her on Facebook at The Sister Souls
  • Jen Burns of First Order Creations creates 3D epoxy tumblers and sublimation tumblers. You can find her on Facebook at First Order Creations
  • Madison & Jay Lauck of Engravings by Jay create laser-engraved tumblers and other laser-engraved products. You can find them on Facebook at Engravings by Jay

*Some quotes have been lightly edited for conciseness and clarity.

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