Mosh pits, mohawks, and punk rock—a seemingly unlikely combination for most entrepreneurs running a six-figure business. But for Bay Area native Scott Hay, this countercultural scene was what inspired him to launch One Inch Round and stage dive into the world of entrepreneurship.
Starting out as a way to make money on the side, Scott’s custom button business has evolved from small batch orders to a large-scale merchandising operation. But growing a business from A to Z isn’t always as cut and dry as it sounds, especially for a young, first-time entrepreneur.
While many aspiring business owners choose to travel the path of entrepreneurship on their own, and find success doing it, Scott eventually decided to partner with someone who understood the common challenges facing ecommerce entrepreneurs — so he turned to Gavin Ballard, founder of Shopify Plus Partners Disco.
Together they’ve formed an unlikely partnership that has allowed Scott to reduce his online store’s operating costs by 34%, while simultaneously boosting revenue nearly 61%.
Here’s the story of how this punk rocker took his counterculture passion and grew it into a global business with the help of a Shopify Expert.
Getting One Inch Round Off the Ground
One Inch Round is a Portland-based manufacturer of 100% US-made custom buttons and magnets. Over the past 15 years, they’ve grown from a humble bedroom operation into a globally recognized brand, creating merchandise for the eclectic likes of Black Sabbath, Bernie Sanders, and Airbnb.
They also have a wholesale arm, Badge Bomb, an independent gift label that works with artists, brands, and illustrators to develop lines of merchandise that are distributed to over 2,000 retailers around the world including Hot Topic, Zumiez, and Urban Outfitters.
But things weren’t always this way.
In the early 2000s before launching his merchandising business, Scott found himself deeply entrenched in the punk rock scene in San Francisco. A high-school dropout, Scott set out to live his counterculture dreams and joined several bands that toured the United States.
“At that time, there was essentially a punk rock economy emerging in the Bay Area. I was in the middle of a strong, counterculture community of fiercely independent people who were finding ways to pursue their ideals and passions as a career, rather than work for someone else.”
Working as a musician, Scott found that his gigs and touring weren’t always enough to make rent. He knew he needed a way to earn extra income, but wanted to stay true to his personal values. So one day after returning from a tour in the summer of 2000, the then 22-year old decided to buy his first button-making machine and began producing merch by hand from his one-bedroom apartment.
Scott’s initial business model was as DIY as you could get. He’d bring samples of his buttons to shows at local clubs and would approach band members while they were hanging out after the show. Given the camaraderie of the punk community at the time, this approach proved to be quite effective for getting his name out there. After a few successful interactions, Scott had begun to build a strong reputation for himself.
A few months down the line, word had spread about the quality of One Inch Round’s buttons, and Scott started to see more demand than ever before. It was then that Scott got a call from punk-rock legends NOFX, who discovered One Inch Round through word of mouth after talking to Scott’s previous employer: a t-shirt printing company.
NOFX needed 10,000 buttons for their upcoming appearance at the Vans’ Warped Tour and, after hearing positive reviews about Scott’s workmanship, decided to place their order with One Inch Round.
“I remember receiving the check from Epitaph Records for that order. It was like an AHA moment. I instantly fell in love with what I was doing—making merch for the people I grew up with and looked up to. It was fun and I wasn’t ‘working for the man.’ I could work the way I wanted to, for who I wanted to, without someone else telling me what I could or couldn’t do.”
Growing Pains and Making the Move to Wholesale
After a wild summer buried in orders, One Inch Round was building some momentum and reputation beyond the punk rock market — working with brands like Reddit, Gama-Go, and Flickr. The company had evolved from a bedroom business to operating out of a old navy bunker in Alameda. Demand for their pins was the highest it had ever been, and Scott knew it was time to invest in a better online store to process the increasing volume of orders.
One Inch Round’s original online store was a custom-built HTML site that allowed customers to submit artwork, place an order, and checkout. The store was relatively “high-tech” at the time, and offered Scott and his team an automated process for accepting and fulfilling orders.
“What we had afforded us most of the capabilities we needed, but it came with the price of having to support development any time we wanted to add new products, change prices, or manage credit card processing.”
In 2008, after years of increasing demand, Scott launched his independent gift label Badge Bomb — the wholesale arm of his manufacturing company.
While the launch of his wholesale business was without a doubt exciting, the increased demand and order sizes came with an entirely new series of problems Scott needed to overcome. Since the company manufactures all of its products in-house, each order goes through several stages of production before shipping. The sudden increase in orders were becoming difficult to manage and the fulfillment that worked wonderfully for One Inch Round, just wasn’t cutting it at this scale.
To maximize production efficiency, Scott wanted a solution to help better track the status of each individual order. It was becoming apparent that his custom solution couldn’t keep up, and the costs to continuously update it were becoming tougher to swallow.
“It felt like I was running a software company and not a production company. I needed to work with someone who could manage our online platform, while I focused on growing the business. After some weeks of research, Shopify seemed like the right fit for what I was looking for.”
Finding the Perfect Partnership
Scott had enough development experience to be comfortable setting up his initial Shopify store, but he wanted the expertise of an expert to fully migrate and customize his store’s theme. He also needed help solving his order management troubles.
To find a trusted consultant to help with One Inch Round’s migration to Shopify, he turned to the Shopify Experts Marketplace — a curated directory of experienced third-party designers, developers, and marketers who specialize in providing custom Shopify solutions for merchants.
“Migrating a store that was bringing in $750,000 a year at the time was risky. We didn’t want to get burned again, so we turned to Shopify Experts. They were already familiar with the platform and had reviews from other merchants, so I knew they could be trusted with our business.”
Before reaching out to any potential developers, Scott’s team sat down and defined some criteria for what they wanted in a partner. They knew that they wanted to work with a lean team so they could deal directly with the developer and that the team had a record of successful ecommerce projects under their belts.
Scott eventually came across Shopify Plus Expert Disco, and after a few Skype calls with the owner, Gavin Ballard, he knew he had found the right person to work with. It wasn’t just Gavin’s in-depth experience with theme and app development that won him over, but his clear interest in the success of their business.
“We really liked Gavin. He asked a lot of great questions about our business challenges and immediately proposed thoughtful solutions. Right off the bat it felt like he was a member of our team and not just another consultant. I think above all that’s the most important thing business owners should look for when hiring a developer to work on their online store.”
Once Scott and Gavin worked out the details of their partnership, which included defining the scope of the project as well as the budget, work began almost immediately. It only took a few weeks and Gavin had successfully set up and customized One Inch Round’s new online store, but now the growing merchandise company was faced with a new challenge.
Up until this point, Scott had been calculating his orders, quotes, and production timelines by hand. This meticulous work really ate into Scott’s daily hours, diverting his attention from the growth and success of his two businesses. To overcome this challenge, Scott and Gavin worked together on a custom Shopify app that would automate his complex order management process.
Now when a customer uploads custom artwork to either the One Inch Round or Badge Bomb website, the order is processed and tracked through its various manufacturing stages: from artwork approval through to production and, finally, shipping. This gives Scott a great overview of the productivity of his business, allowing him to more accurately predict lead times for new orders.
“The custom order management app that Disco built for us has been a game changer. Tapping into the Shopify API has gotten us further than I would have been able to on my own.”
Working With an Expert Pays Off
Working with Gavin and his team to make the switch to Shopify has not only given Scott a higher level of autonomy when managing his company's’ online content, but there has also been a significant impact on his bottom line.
Since partnering with Disco, One Inch Round and Badge Bomb have collectively seen a 61% increase in revenue, along with a 34% reduction in website hosting, management, and development costs.
This extra income has provided Scott with the financial foundation necessary to expand One Inch Round’s and Badge Bomb’s operations. The company moved into a 5,000 square foot, purpose-built showroom and manufacturing facility in Portland, Oregon. The space is primarily used for production, but also boasts a storefront that is used to host special events with Badge Bomb’s artists.
“We love our Foster Road building! Our team is happier and our production capabilities are larger. Having our retail showroom has added a whole new channel to our business and we’re just starting to explore new, exciting ways to put it to good use with events and workshops.”
As Scott’s business operations have evolved, so has his relationship with Gavin and Disco. They have grown from simple one-off requests into a meaningful partnership and friendship.
The pair continue to work together to discover and create solutions to support the specific needs of Scott’s businesses, including a public Shopify App they created called Flexible Shipping.
Despite their immense growth over the past 16 years, Scott is determined to stay true to the ideals that inspired him to start One Inch Round.
“Chasing my interest, I inadvertently witnessed people building unconventional businesses as a way to create the world they wished for. It opened my eyes and deeply inspired me. How you conduct your business matters. It can shape your reality. Pay attention to details and make iterative improvements. We're always gravitating towards people, opportunities, and ideas we believe in. It's a strategy that continues to work as our businesses grow and has kept us happy.”
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