How it all got started:
My name is Dave Sheffield. I started Buffalo BottleCraft back in 2013 as a side-business while I was working full time as a mechanical engineer. That same year I quit my job to work on the business full time and haven't looked back since. At the time I was making drinking glasses from used wine, beer, and liquor bottles but soon made the pivot to the bottle openers you see on the site today. It started with the PuckOpener in 2014 and expanded with the BeerWedge and BaesballOpener in 2015. If you want to read more about how the business started click here or scroll further down the page.
The Longer Origin Story
I started Buffalo BottleCraft because I like to make things.
It all started in college when I decided to pursue mechanical engineering as my degree and really got jump-started when I joined the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Baja Club where we designed and built off-road racecars. I spent a lot of time in the machine shop getting my hands dirty and breaking stuff.
My first job out of college was in the proposals department at a mid-size engineering firm. We'd get a Request for Proposal for something like a tampon assembly machine and I'd be responsible for sourcing and pricing all the components, specifying how we would build it, and figuring out how much time it would take. The next week we'd be working on quoting a machine that assembled water filtration units. To make a long story short I got paid to learn about hundreds of different manufacturing methods and equipment.
Once I had this sweet job I did lose access to the fully equipped machine shop at my old college, which really sucked. So I built a little home shop in my one-bedroom apartment. I started making drinking glasses from used wine, beer, and liquor bottles. I would cut the bottles using a tile saw then stick them in a wood lathe I modified and use sandpaper to smooth out the edges. I started going to local craft shows and hawking them on etsy and my first side-business was born.
Meanwhile at the engineering job I was put into project management. The big projects I was responsible for were large steel vacuum chambers used in the semiconductor and imaging industries. I learned about managing manufacturing projects from the planning stage all the way through to delivery. It also gave me my first set of gray hairs due to dealing with vendor f*%$-ups , missed delivery dates, unrealistic schedules, and a lot more general unpleasantness that goes with project management.
In the August of 2013 I walked into my bosses office and told him that I was quitting to pursue my side-business full time. I gave six-weeks notice so we could get all the projects handed over as smoothly as possible and on Friday, September 13, 2013 I cleared out my desk and my former co-workers proceeded to get me quite inebriated at what I guess you'd call my going-away party.
That fall I did a lot of digging through recycling containers and ended up manufacturing over 700 drinking glasses which I sold through local retailers, at craft shows, and on Etsy. I was barely making enough cash to support myself and I came to the conclusion that the business just wasn't scalable. It also had a lot of competition because anyone could go out and buy the equipment and dig up some bottles just like me. So during that fall I was on the lookout for different ideas and that's when The PuckOpener came into being.
A friend of mine was making bottle openers out of wood. They were round and had another round cutout in the center where they added a toothed metal plate which acted as the opener. They really did look like little wood hockey pucks. I had a few pucks lying around from begging for souvenirs as a kid so I threw a prototype together. That was in November 2013. At the time I was working 60+ hours a week making drinking glasses and I had to keep doing that to pay the bills. But once January rolled around I notified all my retailers that I was no longer manufacturing drinking glasses, pulled all my listings from Etsy, and sold off the equipment to a friend. From January 2014 onward it was all bottle openers, all the time.
It took about three and a half months to go from a rough prototype to something I felt comfortable selling. At the time I had to order printed pucks, then turn them into openers, so I picked a few designs, made some listings on Etsy, and then posted to the r/hockey subreddit. They loved it. I poured any profits I made into more designs and more inventory. I spent full days writing email after email to reporters, blogs, gear sites, anyone who I thought might write about a cool new product. I worked with a web developer in Poland and set up a Shopify site. A few of those press outreaches panned out and sales kept growing.
One of the big bottlenecks I faced starting out was I didn't have in-house printing. I would have to buy pucks in batches of 50 and 100. But I was getting people who wanted a few custom openers for their team or for their bachelor party. So I started talking to my puck suppliers to see what kind of printers they used and in September 2014 I signed a lease on a Mimaki UJF-3042FX UV Digital Printer. It was the single biggest purchase I had ever made in my life, but it was worth it!. I came out with a ton more designs and we were able to break into the wholesale market since we could come up with designs for retailers on the fly.
The 2014 holiday season went really well so when Spring 2015 came around I decided to dump all those profits right back into the business. That's when I started the product development cycle for the BeerWedge and the BaseballOpener. I spent a bunch of cash putting together some rough prototypes then made the initial inventory orders. It turns out that these openers were quite a bit more complicated in terms of manufacturing than the PuckOpener. So much so that it took a full six months to bring them to market and they launched in October 2015 just in time for the holiday shopping season. A post about the BaseballOpener on reddit ended up going viral (120,000 album views on imgur) and that along with some other press kept us ridiculously busy for the runup to Christmas. I also made my first hire around this time. Tim started working for me in August 2015 doing things like assembling openers, printing on openers, and fulfilling orders.
That brings us to 2016. Instead of coming out with more and more products I decided to focus on improving our current selection. I developed some new equipment so we could print on the BeerWedge and BaseballOpener. I partnered with a local graphic designer to come up with team inspired designs for the BaseballOpeners and PuckOpeners. The biggest undertaking was just improving the manufacturing process for all three products. I partnered up with a local subcontracting company to do most of the BaseballOpener production so we wouldn't outgrow our little 500 square foot shop.
Right now we're getting ready for the craziness that always is the holiday season. Hopefully we'll do well because I've got some new product ideas to work on in 2017. If you want to keep up to date with the new products we'll be offering and just hear about the fun little growing pains of our business sign up for the newsletter below and we'll drop you a line every month or so.