Small business success in creating a product or service as a single entrepreneur is hard unless you have a high-value skill such as computer programming, but what if you don’t have one? Then you need one of two things: target the high-end market with high margin products, for example, learn a simpler skill that works with a high-value material such as leather and start a leathercraft business or on the lower end do something in which you can make enough of given your abilities and the time you have in a day.

As I have said before, one of the few small businesses that single entrepreneurs can build, that has good margins is one that involves moulds and cheap raw material. In this case plaster of paris, while South Africa’s craft industry has been battered by the dire economic situation (people spending less money on non-essentials). Is there a business model that can work?

I first came across plaster moulds around 25 years ago, YOU magazine used to have a classified column and it was often advertised there and we bought a set of moulds. You would prepare the plaster of paris with water, put it in the mould let it set and then paint it (and usually finish off with a gloss coat) and you would have porcelain looking ornament at a fraction of the cost. Back then it used to be those thin transparent plastic moulds like the ones used in chocolate making.

The business
This business overall involves the supply of moulds, supply of plaster and the making and selling of the crafts. But the business that has the most potential is the selling of unpainted moulds with the paint as a DIY kit.

The supply of moulds
There are lots of different kinds of moulds that can be used for plaster crafts, you can even have your own designed. The material that has become the most popular for mould-making in recent years is silicon. We used to use the thin transparent moulds, almost like the plastic chocolate/easter egg moulds and you would get all these designs.

The supply of plaster
There are different types of plaster on the market but we used to use the cheap and widely available plaster of paris. Dental plaster (used to make dentures) is stronger but more expensive. I see plaster of paris running at R28 per kg at Builders, but I am 100% certain that it can be acquired for far cheaper bulk and sold to craft makers.

The making and selling of plaster ornaments
I don’t know how popular plaster ornaments is with the exception of one design:¬† the praying hands used to be popular in homes when I was growing up. I don’t know if it’s still popular in this godforsaken country. If you targeting the lower-end mass market you can try that and perhaps the hammer and sickle, communism give false hope to targets the poor so you might find a lot of support there.

The designs you are going to make has a serious impact on the moulds you buy. If you are going to make a lot of different designs (and I’m not sure that you should) then the cheaper moulds that we used to have is better as it is cheaper. But if you are going to specialise in a few designs such as the praying hands, then you might be better off buying a mould made from a strong material. Those thin plastic moulds do encounter wear and tear and do eventually break and need to be replaced. Any mould encounters wear and tear, just the other day I spoke to a guy that repairs the moulds used in injection moulding machines using a laser welding machine.

The plaster craft DIY kit
This is probably where the most potential lay both for kids and adults. The plaster craft is sold unpainted and it has a small paint kit with and a brush and the person buying it can paint it themselves (you can also add a magnet to smaller items to make fridge magnets). While a lot of craft stores has closed in recent years as people don’t have a lot of disposable income. We have seen a resurgence in DIY crafts lately (my suspicion is it’s driven by social media), where people are making or assembling their own crafts from a kit. Or maybe it could be driven by people wanting to keep busy and take their mind off the bad things. This also makes a great gift.

How big/lucrative is this business?
Selling the shovels in gold rush (the equipment and materials) instead of doing the actual work is always a lucrative business and even if you can’t sell these to South Africans the millions of foreigners from the rest of Africa is another potential market as it seems like something that they will make and sell (and they have the low cost of living to sustain themselves from this). How lucrative the actual craft making and selling is maybe not very, I don’t think the demand is that hot, as for the DIY kit, if you can secure a retail channel. There are mould businesses with higher margins such as the figurines business but this business requires less skill and attention to detail.

Related Business Ideas using moulds
Make & Sell Paving Bricks
Make and Sell Stumbelblocs
Make and Sell Miniature Building Supplies
Make & Sell Concrete Furniture
Start a Clay Brick Manufacturing Business

Image credit: auntannie, gostatue