By Stephanie Finnegan
It is fitting that Blake Warner can count Dungeons & Dragons and Warcraft among his adolescent pastimes. Those games heavily tap into a person’s ability to fantasize and tell a story. How perfect, then, that Warner would grow up and become a prolific entrepreneur who specializes in crafting molds that embody a sense of otherworldly adventures and eras. Pacific Molds is a company that invites aspiring artisans or even weekend DIY warriors to take a chance and get in touch with their own inner creativity.
Just like George R. R. Martin penned Game of Thrones and ushered in a make-believe world filled with heroes, knights, castles, and supernatural beasts, Blake and Monique Warner produce molds that make the implausible seem possible. In fact, the husband-and-wife team dreamed up the business based upon their own home-improvement experience. While tackling a backyard renovation, they realized that choices were few and imagination was hard to come by.
“Blake came from a tile and stone-installation background as a youngster. When we were remodeling the yard, it was almost like he was supposed to create this business. It resonated and lit a fire under him,” Monique pointed out.
“Basically, we resurfaced a retaining wall using a series of concrete molds that we found online,” Blake revealed. “Yes, you can buy stepping-stone molds and other statuary kits, but what about affordable planters for gardeners and artisanal molds for the folks who want to remodel their kitchen backsplash or BBQ islands using unique tiles?”
A quest for more options
Recognizing that there were few options and choices, Blake and Monique had an epiphany. They realized that they were not the only folks who wanted a way to express themselves but were restrained by the
available marketplace. “Your options really are limited to big-box retailers or contractors that charge a fortune,” Monique observed. “DIY-ers want to be in control of their projects and we have given them the affordable tools to do just that.”
In 2017, Blake and Monique began to work on making molds. After graduating high school, Blake had begun to work in the tile and stone industry, so he had a feel for the business and its demands. “I was always an artistic human and installing flooring material for several years really helped me understand what we needed to do from a size and shape perspective,” Blake stated. “I knew we had to keep our molds simple and functional.”
Besides those two basic pledges, Blake was also determined to ensure that their designs would appeal to people who didn’t want to be confined by the ordinary and the expected. Both Warners wanted their mold designs to break the mold of typical patterns and commonplace silhouettes.
Fierce beasts — like lions, wolves, and bears — skulls, haunted faces, and cherubs, these are some of the unique characters that are available at Pacific Molds. Their easy-to-use molds allow homeowners to dress up their properties in frightfully original and beautifully unique ways. Blake and Monique make plaque molds, paver/tile/accent molds, garden-art molds, and more. The old saying “A man’s home is his castle” becomes a reality when a Pacific Molds creation is utilized.
“I suppose cement is a rather hardened material, so many of the current designs are rather ‘manly’ and stoic,” Blake reviewed. “Specifically, our lion plaque designs may be intimidating. Hanging from a gate, they might ward off an intruder, but really it was more of a coincidence. We do plan to expand into a more universal series of planter designs to fit all personality types.”
These days, Blake and Monique are both still working other, full-time jobs and devote their off-days and hours to this enterprise. Their joint goal is to “get to a place where we are both focused on making molds full-time. We have so many ideas that are on deck to be made. Baby steps will turn into big kid steps.”
Rolling the dice on success
The couple work side by side as they design their molds and figure out where to steer their business. “We craft most of our master molds from solid wood before we convert the parts into a production buck. I suppose that would make me the Lead Mold Maker and Production Manager,” Blake surmised with a chuckle. “In truth, Monique is the organized human. If it wasn’t for her, we would be a complete disaster.”
Monique acknowledges that she is a master at keeping details in check and assuring that everything runs smoothly for their business and their clients: “Most days, I am working alongside Blake, except for when he travels for his day job. I am there pressing molds for our customers.”
Juggling schedules and ensuring that the quality of their work — and of their lives — doesn’t slip is a difficult task. The pair does admit that it is a challenge to fulfill orders while also fulfilling their daily obligations, but it is a pitfall for many self-employed people. “Because we both work full-time, this means late nights and bypassed weekends. We spend many hours during the evening pressing and cutting orders for customers,” Blake admitted.
This hectic routine would topple many individuals, but handmade business owners are a sturdy and indomitable bunch. They understand that this is one of the prices paid for creative freedom and integrity. Artisan entrepreneurs have to sacrifice much of their time in order to make their art and make their marks.
“We are patient and proactive,” Monique shared. “Business is a living and breathing thing that needs to be tested, treated, and analyzed constantly. This is especially true in the early stages where you have to introduce products and services to the marketplace. During this time, your website will crash, questions will be asked, and you may lose a few orders because you broke a piece of machinery. The critical piece is to learn from the challenging instances and know how to remedy the problems before a customer is directly affected by them.”
In addition to the snafus that Monique lists, there are also the curveballs thrown by Mother Nature. While being interviewed for this feature, the Warners were evacuated from their California home due to brushfires. They had to postpone their photo session, reformulate their daily schedules, and regroup to get back to safety and business. It’s one of the unforeseen hurdles that handmade business owners must navigate.
Besides these external setbacks, there are also internal roadblocks that Blake and Monique had to circumvent. “Monique and I created an idea and made it into a physical product, but we had no idea about website function, customer relationship management, shipping calculation, and the list goes on. Really, learning to ask for help is what put us on track,” Blake admitted. “Up to this point, that was the hardest thing for me to do. Asking for help and then taking it allowed us to do what we do best.”
Because the Warners are the owners and operators of Pacific Mold Design, they do have their hands full with making molds, chatting about concepts, and dealing with unexpected emergencies. They had to step back and evaluate what their strengths were and what were their weaknesses. “We work with a marketing agency, ConversionOP Social, to manage our advertising efforts. Their monthly invoice rolls around and we prioritize their payments on time and in full,” the couple mentioned. “We believe in being a great partner with them because they are the lifeblood of our business income,” Blake emphasized.
“We rely on our incredible marketing team to cast a laser-focused series of ad campaigns on Facebook and Instagram. Sales have been steady, which has allowed us to focus on perfecting our production process. Further, we hand-make every mold that leaves our studio, so it’s imperative that we reinvest the revenue to purchase and maintain our equipment to take on the volume of orders,” Monique stressed.
Gaining experience points
After two years in the handmade arena, Pacific Mold Design does have a good feeling about what they’ve accomplished and what they still yearn to do. Neither craftsperson is afraid to take a chance or follow a risk. “We actually gave our local farmers market a shot but found it difficult to be the ‘mold supplier’ at this event,” Blake explained. “Most consumers would prefer to purchase a finished piece rather than the tools to make their own.”
Accepting that and figuring out where to peddle their wares, Blake and Monique have enjoyed enormous success with maker studios and Paint & Sip workshops. “They purchase direct from us and use the molds to create merch that their customers paint up and take home. Regarding wholesale to retailers, we know there is potential there, but we love the idea that our products are still ‘underground.’ Too much exposure can lead to knockoffs and certainly larger purchase orders than we can manage during this phase of our business,” Blake commented.
They have had their profile raised through their digital presence. “When we can break free, we attend local events, but we find that social media is a major influencer for us,” Monique said. Beyond the married couple cementing a name for themselves, they have also launched an online presence and storyline for their loyal dog, Chukoh.
“Chu is family and our business was built around doing creative activities as a family. He has such a large personality so we figured he would make a great addition to our team. We incorporate a lot of humor and reality into our social media content and he is just another piece of who we are as puppy parents. I believe we hear more about Chukoh than we do our molds at times. Go figure,” Monique revealed with a laugh.
The Warners know that they are still relative newcomers in the handmade field, but they are enthused that their artistic path is also allowing their customer base to mine their hidden potential. It gratifies them that they have created molds that permit fellow fearless folks to make their homes more “Addams Family–centric” than Brady Bunch or Partridge Family–friendly.
Casting the future
“Success for us is seeing and reading about our customer’s success using our molds. Seeing a post on social media about a skull being painted up and given as a gift or seeing someone’s finished patio filled with 400 pavers made from our molds is just crazy fulfilling. We had something to do with that. Our hands created that mold and someone else thought it was nice enough to use for their project. We are over the moon,” Blake expressed.
Continuing to collaborate, and remaining receptive to any and all opportunities, Blake and Monique Warner are overjoyed that they had the fortitude to forge this creative path. It was filled with unknowns when they began, and they still aren’t 100 percent positive about all of their decisions and maneuvers. However, they wouldn’t have done it any other way.
“There is no perfect way to start a business in ANY arena, but the handmade community is incredibly supportive. Our experience in other industries was not so forgiving and welcoming,” they both admit. “Creatives approach business with a helping hand and really are well connected. It’s been a really cool experience for us.”
The Pacific Mold Design duo is set to collect more customers, more feedback, and more confidence. As any handmade business owner will echo, that is a cool experience, indeed.
For more information, visit www.pacificmolds.com or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
All photos courtesy of Michael Coutts Photography
Stephanie Finnegan is a senior contributor at JP Media. A former editor of THE CRAFTS REPORT and SMART RETAILER, she is well versed in how commerce and creativity intersect. A contributor to HANDMADE BUSINESS and SUNSHINE ARTIST, Stephanie loves to showcase how artists rise to the challenge of being enterprising and entrepreneurial in today’s competitive climate. An author of several books on collectibles and American artists, she has also written a time-travel book and a series of short stories. Stephanie can be reached at www.stephaniefinnegan.com