Annie Oakley Waterman is an entrepreneur and owner of AOW Handmade. AOW Handmade, founded in 2015, is a unique business that connects artisan enterprisers from all over the developing world to buyers in the United States. Whether it is textiles, silver, brass, paper maché or other materials, Annie seeks out socially responsible producers and helps them to sell their products to the western world. Annie’s favorite places to find her goods are in Mexico and Nepal, but she has loved every place she has been. Annie’s primary focus is sourcing ethically made products.
Like many entrepreneurs, in order to establish her business, Annie found a small niche and worked off of a need. Annie recognized the growing demand for artisan made products, and also that there was no real platform to connect them. There are a lot of companies that work with wholesalers, but Annie saw none working with small-scale producers on a one on one basis. Thus, she decided to seek out unique artisans, and expedite the sourcing process.
Starting AOW was certainly not easy. According to Annie, “I’ve created something that no one has really done before, which is difficult and scary because there is no real business model for it.” Annie first reached out to the Boulder SBDC in April of 2015. She signed up for the Boulder SBDC’s Business Bootcamp workshop, then accessed SBDC consultants. At the time she was struggling with pricing, as she had to cater to the needs of the clients, and thus create unique proposals for each one. According to Annie in regards to the workshop and consulting, “it really helped me with the breakdown of pricing, and how to manage my case by case situation. The consultant was great at offering different ideas, and reminding me that I need different avenues and streams of income. Having a bouncing board to process my ideas with was vital.”
Annie’s biggest challenge has been finding her target market. Annie explained to us, “large retail chains cannot fit me into their business, and it is tricky to find right priced products. My target is medium sized wholesalers.” Although her job is tough, Annie remains ambitious. She explained, “My goal is to get at least one or two retainer clients for stability, but the smaller ones are adding up.”
Annie is currently meeting her goals in regard to capital inflow. She understands that the nature of her business is volatile, as demand is constantly fluctuating, but is taking her challenges in stride. Annie explained, “You never quite know what the projects will be but that’s what keeps them exciting.” It is this inspiring spirit that has helped spur her success.
Annie has also just achieved a consulting position with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for an artisan project helping refugees to gain market access. Annie, and AOW Handmade have a promising future, and the Boulder SBDC is happy to be part of her journey.