Matt Davis, Man Cave Basics Plus
For Matt Davis, Man Cave Basics Plus began as a hobby when he would peruse outdoor flea markets and vintage shows. Three years ago, Matt started developing the Man Cave brand in earnest. Throughout his career — from joining and then leaving the family business, to monetizing his fascination with patent prints, to now growing Man Cave Basics — Matt has taken some risks that paid off and some that didn’t, but he learned from all of them.
Episode 26 – Matt Davis, Man Cave Basics Plus
[00:00:55] Sanjay Parekh: Matt Davis started Man Cave Basics Plus seven years ago as a weekend side business. He started by perusing through outdoor flea markets and vintage shows. And about three years ago started developing the Man Cave brand in earnest. Since then, Matt has been adding more choices to the Man Cave Basics website and formulating new ideas for unique handmade items geared towards making the man cave a well decorated part of the house.
Matt, welcome to the show. I'm super excited to have you on and hear about the business.
[00:01:25] Matt Davis: Oh, thank you for having me. When I learned I was going to be on it, I was very, very excited. And so thank you for having me.
I appreciate it.
[00:01:32] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah, no, absolutely. So let's just start with your background a little bit, tell us, you know, where you're from, you know, what you've done for a career.
[00:01:42] Matt Davis: Yeah. Yeah.
[00:01:42] Sanjay Parekh: And what got you into thinking about the man cave?
[00:01:46] Matt Davis: It's been a crazy journey. I started in printing when I was 14. Family pulled me in, kicking and screaming.
[00:01:55] Sanjay Parekh: Where was this geographically located?
[00:01:57] Matt Davis: Philadelphia. Philadelphia. I'm sorry. Yeah. Yeah. Right outside of Philadelphia. I stayed in printing, got out for a little while, got back into it. Got married. I had a former partner do a lot of damage to my print company, and it basically turned my world upside down. I had to basically dust myself up, get up, and figure out what I was going to do. It was very bleak.
I started doing logo design for guys that have everything but their own logo. And being a limited business or a limited opportunity, I sat down with my brother, and we basically took stock of what my assets were. A back-and-forth large format printer, a laser, some woodworking tools and things of that nature. Stumbled upon patent prints, originally, and I was blown away by them. The images were amazing.
The history behind it was amazing. The ideas, crazy ideas, solid ideas, just the whole thing about it, was incredible. So, I started selling patents prints. Just the images on a very nice sheet, presented well.
[00:03:26] Sanjay Parekh: So, let's step back a little bit. So, you just went to the US PTO, the patent trademark office website and got their PDFs and used those or?
[00:03:36] Matt Davis: Yeah, exactly.
[00:03:36] Sanjay Parekh: Okay.
[00:03:37] Matt Davis: Exactly. It was, basically I stumbled upon it, you know. I got incredibly lucky. It's a government agency after all.
[00:03:49] Sanjay Parekh: Right.
[00:03:49] Matt Davis: And navigating it is, it's a government agency. And so, in the, in the years, since I've started this, I've taught myself how to navigate, how to search keywords, subcategories, things of that nature.
So now, starting out with five patents originally, I now have over 6,000 images in my library. So, I tell people the time, hey, listen, if you don't see something on my website, reach out to me. If I don't already have it, I find it. So, I'm doing the patents and I started looking at it, going, you know, I need to offer a little bit more, I need to do something.
And I'm very anti Michaels, if they're not a sponsor. I'm very anti Michaels, and I taught myself how to do framing. And the way I looked at it was, again, back into my company Man Cave Basics Plus, I wanted to keep everything basic. I wanted to keep everything simple, black and white. You know, straight to the point, frames, basic frames, no matting, no anything like that.
And it started to grow. Despite all my efforts, it started to grow.
[00:04:59] Sanjay Parekh: Okay. I love it. Let's step back a little bit in your history. So, you said you started at 14 and this was the family's print shop that you started?
[00:05:08] Matt Davis: Yeah.
[00:05:09] Sanjay Parekh: So, did you do anything entrepreneurial before then? Or was this the first experience for you?
[00:05:14] Matt Davis: No!
Well, at one point I left the family business, got married and left the family business, and my oldest brother decided to get out of it. Which was very smart. The equipment was there. He turned to me and said, listen, I'm either going to trash it, or you could take it and something with it. My then wife at the time, we had a one-year-old daughter, who was two, excuse me, two years old.
I quit my job, went home and told her, “We’re branching off and we're going to do this on our own," fully supportive.
[00:05:50] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah.
[00:05:51] Matt Davis: Was it the right move? You know, it's one of those things that taught me a lot. It taught me how to pull in my impulsiveness, a little bit. So, it taught me that.
Would I do it again? Probably not. If I knew about what I do now, I would've done that. Quick story. I was in Washington, DC. I was doing the Easter market and I have a golf package, it's beautiful. And my, the way I do things is, if it's damaged, I don't sell it. I don't discount it. It's one of those, hey you can go to my website and order it.
Young guys, really love this print.
Not to say I was fighting with him, but it was like one of those things.
He was like, please, I'm fine. And instantly I went back and I'm like, it's amazing that I have a product that I have a sheet here that's damaged and the person still wants it. Yet, on the other end, if the black wasn't black enough, who's complaining. And I'm like, why am I stressing?
[00:06:55] Sanjay Parekh: Right.
[00:06:55] Matt Davis: This is what I should be doing. And so that light bulb went off and I really turned around and looked at it.
Like, I found something that I love. I get to deal with great people every day. I meet amazing people. I've met so many cool people, so many other entrepreneurs. My phone contact list is very well stocked now with people that are just amazing and so I'm really fortunate, what I do now. It took me 53 years to figure it out.
[00:07:28] Sanjay Parekh: So, let's talk a little bit about the, balancing kind of the stress and demands of owning a business, you know, you've done this now for a long time as a print shop.
[00:07:40] Matt Davis: Yeah.
[00:07:40] Sanjay Parekh: You've had challenges with your partners and things have gone awry. And how do you balance that with family life? Because like you, you're talking about, you know, the bakery or whoever it was and the black wasn't black enough, like, you know, that ends up seeping into the rest of your life because of the stress of that stuff.
[00:07:59] Matt Davis: Yeah.
[00:07:59] Sanjay Parekh: How do you think about balancing those things and what do you do? Are there any tricks or tips, or things that you do for yourself personally, to help balance yourself?
[00:08:08] Matt Davis: I'm a work driven person. My father's 83 and he still is looking for things to do work wise. He just won't stop and it's just basically, it's built into my DNA. To a degree it's a problem. But just stepping back a little bit more. I went through a divorce. I was full time father 24/7. I've got to point out to my daughter, my daughter and my son was 12. My son was 12. My daughter was 17 at the time. Starting this new venture, trying to balance everything. Making sure they were okay.
She stepped up, my daughter was great, you know, was one of those, like, I wouldn't have been able to do this without the support of those around me. You know, my parents supported me, my brother supported me, I had friends support me. But I sacrificed a lot, you know. I really didn't date for 10 years. I made sure they were okay.
That was the most important thing, were my children. Now I'm in a spot where I don't have the responsibilities I did. Though, you know, as a parent, you never stop being a parent. That's always something that's going to be forever. But it's a different responsibility now that, you know, the kids are grown.
My daughter is 27, my son is 22. He's doing great. She's doing great. So now our relationship during all that was extremely tight. So, they understood, you know, hey, dad's got to drive up to Connecticut or he's got to drive up to Boston this weekend. He's going to be not here, but I trusted them enough where it was one of - my kids and I have a relationship where I know everything that they've done, in their short lives.
And they've been able to come to me and tell me things, and we deal with it, you know, and thank God I've never had any tragedies for that and things of that nature. But it's important from a balance standpoint and a sacrifice standpoint that you have to prioritize certain things. And that's basically what I was able to do.
And they helped me along the way too. When I was doing a Christmas market in Philadelphia, and I was also running a Christmas market in Baltimore, and I had a storefront in a place called Peddler's Village in Bucks County. My mother ran the store in Bucks County, and they were popup stores. She ran Bucks County.
I went down to Baltimore, and my father, my son, and my daughter would occasionally run the Philadelphia. So, they understood how important it was to me. From everything, from the standpoint of just life in general, and they knew how much I was passionate about it. And they believed in me, they believed in what I was doing, and the way I've looked at things and the way I've approached dealing with people every day.
That's the most important thing, I think it is. It's just dealing with people and loving what you’re doing. But being honest about, you know, people could see through when you're not honest about it, you’ve got to love what you do and you’ve got to have courage. Got to have courage.
[00:11:39] Sanjay Parekh: And I think…
[00:11:40] Matt Davis: There's a lot, there's so much.
[00:11:41] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah, and that courage part is the biggest challenge, I think, for a lot of people because, they just, they're worried about failing, quite honestly. So, let's talk about that. So, in starting what you've done now, how did you think about failure? Like what if it had failed?
What was your backup plan? Was there a backup plan?
[00:12:02] Matt Davis: So, that's a great question, and I have an awesome answer for that. So, I launched it on, I went to this little flea market. It used to be huge. Bucks County. Rice's.
And it’s been around, around since the 1800s. And I had five patents and I started out with just big sheets, 23 by 35 sheets. Which if I had seen what I was doing then, and you know, I'd been like, oh dude, you’ve got to change your whole plan around. It started to snow, it was like, we were outside. It was me and my son. My son was 12 at the time, and it started snowing.
I was just so dejected, and I was like, this isn't going to work, what was I thinking? And a 12-year-old, my son said, he's like, dad, it's good. Just stay the course. And I was embarrassed for myself for a few seconds. It's like you know, I basically had this little mental breakdown in front of my son, and it was almost like, it was, it was an out of body experience for him.
Though he’s a wise kid. It was just like, it was great. It was a great statement. I've carried that since. And the cool thing about what I do is I can try something, and I can think it's a great idea and I can take it and get behind it, and if it doesn't work, I move on. I don't dwell on it. I don't go, oh, this is going to, this has got to work. It's got to work.
And so, I've been able to try different things, let them go. And so, it's funny, I don’t know who said it. I'm sure you do. About failure, but it's a continual experiment. So, is it ever really failure if you keep learning something? I don't know, I don't know if it was Edison or who it was, but somebody way smarter than I am. Their point was, it was like, you just keep, you don't look at it as individual.
You have to use it as a stepping stool. So, if you concentrate on failure, then that's the end of the road. You're done. But if you push on, you could take that failure and make it into success. So, it's really, I like the question because my answer is, you know, it depends on how you define failure.
It depends on how you state it. It depends on how you approach it. And I kind of approach it in a way where, you know, I've tried things and they haven't worked, but I've learned something from it. So, is it a failure? No, I don't think so. I don't think so. I think it's a matter of approaching things and going, you know, I'm going to try something. It may or may not work, but if I don't learn something from it, yeah, then you could say it, but if you learn something from it and you continue to build upon it. Yeah. It's never a failure.
[00:15:02] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah, I think the quote you're poking around at is, it's actually from Edison.
Where he talks about how, and I don't know how many numbers of times he tried to make the light bulb. And he said that, you know, I haven't failed a hundred times. I found a hundred different ways to not make a light bulb, until he found, until he found the one way to make the light bulb.
And so, it taught him things along the way in terms of how to build the filament for the light bulb to make it successful.
[00:15:30] Matt Davis: So it's.
[00:15:31] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah, go ahead.
[00:15:33] Matt Davis: I was just going to say it's really, and that's the cool thing about, you know, startup businesses and side gigs is, you know, mine was a little bit different though.
I was still working full time for another printer.
[00:15:46] Sanjay Parekh: Right.
[00:15:47] Matt Davis: Because it just, that's all I knew how to do, or at least that's what I convinced myself to think that was all I knew how to do. And really, it's funny, like I said, I'm 53 years old now and I am now just really expanding what my potential, that was always there.
I just never looked at it. I never recognized it. I never gave myself credit and I’ve really got to, you know, thank my mother for that. It was one of those like, keep doing it, you know, we support you keep doing it. We believe in it, and I got that, again, I got that from a lot of people.
I got that from friends. I got that from mentors. I got that from so many people, but I just wish that I had seen in myself what I see now. And I guess, you know, you talk about failure, but there's a fear factor, you know. I've learned to remove the fear and try things. And it's funny, occasionally I still get worked up when I go to do a new event or I'm going to do something. And after I get there, I realize I know what I'm doing. And so you have to overcome that momentary fear of the unknown, I guess it is. I mean, I don't know quite what it is, but I don't like it all the time.
[00:17:22] Sanjay Parekh: For a lot of people, they've been conditioned to have permission to go do the thing that they want to go do. And there is nobody that's going to give you permission because you're doing it on your own.
[00:17:35] Matt Davis: Yeah.
[00:17:35] Sanjay Parekh: But on the flip side of it, there's also nobody to tell you, no, right? Like, as you, I've gotten to do a lot of crazy things and there was nobody to tell me, no, and I got to do those things because there was nobody to tell me, no, you know. I can email the CEO of a company and see if I can get a meeting. There's nobody to tell me, no.
[00:17:56] Matt Davis: Exactly.
[00:17:57] Sanjay Parekh: What's the worst that's going to happen? The meeting doesn't happen.
[00:18:00] Matt Davis: Well, I've told my kids, and this is what I told my neighbor yesterday that I said, listen, I said, if you don't ask the question, the answer is always no.
[00:18:10] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah, it's already no, now.
[00:18:12] Matt Davis: So,
[00:18:13] Sanjay Parekh: The only thing that'll happen is...
[00:18:14] Matt Davis: Why not? Why not ask?
[00:18:16] Sanjay Parekh: Maybe it's a yes. At the end of it. So.
[00:18:18] Matt Davis: Yeah, but you increase your chances.
[00:18:20] Sanjay Parekh: Right. Exactly.
[00:18:21] Matt Davis: Automatically, I don't know. I guess it's just, I've gone through a lot.
[00:18:28] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah.
[00:18:28] Matt Davis: In my years. And I am now at a point where I am, like I said, happy, and I'm excited, you know, I'm excited about working every day.
So, the balance there, it's, I'm still working on that, but at least I'm smiling.
[00:18:45] Sanjay Parekh: Yeah.
[00:18:45] Matt Davis: Yeah. You know.
[00:18:45] Sanjay Parekh: That's great.
[00:18:46] Matt Davis: It's just, I'm smiling.
[00:18:49] Adam Walker: Support for this podcast comes from Hiscox. Committed to helping small businesses protect their dreams since 1901. Quotes and information on customized insurance for specific risks are available at Hiscox.com. Hiscox, the business insurance experts.
[00:19:10] Sanjay Parekh: So, let's turn a little bit and talk about some tactical things for listeners that might be wondering. So, with building up Man Cave Basics Plus, and the website and all that, are there tools or apps or technology that you've been able to leverage that you couldn't live without? I mean, obviously the large format printing, but even more kind of tactical, since that's really kind of unique to your business. Are there things that really help you manage the business and help it grow?
[00:19:42] Matt Davis: Well, I'm going to tackle one thing, that's right there in front of us, you know, the machinery. Like since I've started, I started with the laser printer, a large format printer, and an actual CO2 laser. I've added a wood CNC wrapper that, it's just, it's a great piece of machinery and cost effective.
I've also added a plasma cutter, CNC plasma cutter. That's a 2 foot by 2 foot base, again for a very reasonable cost to get me into that market, to start to do some things that I can have some fun with. So, from a technology standpoint, I guess that's the first one is, the Internet speed, that has made information out there a lot easily accessible.
And there's people out there making some great pieces of product. From an actual software and apps and all that, the first one has got to be, you know, the cash apps, being able to take a payment from a credit card. Since we, as a society, I've watched, you know, everything shift, and now it's really heavy on the credit card side and the debit card side.
So, without having those pieces of equipment. Those, I use Pay Anywhere. Without having that, I, you know, couldn't take half the orders I take, when I'm out and about on the road doing events.
From the standpoint of organizing my business, Google Patent search has been, you know, a godsend. It's really, like I said, it just narrows, it just brought the scope down and, made it user-friendly.
[00:21:25] Sanjay Parekh: By the way it sounds like you've really started this whole business so you could build your own man cave with all of these toys and plasma cutters and all this stuff.
But we'll kind of ignore that piece of it. Okay. So maybe, maybe that's true. I want a man cave like you've got then. Okay. Last question. So, somebody that's thinking about taking the leap into turning their side hustle into a full time business or going from no side hustle into a side hustle.
What piece of advice would you give them?
[00:22:03] Matt Davis: Well, I've got a couple key pieces of advice. If you don't mind. The first one is love and have a passion for what you want to do. You know, I've seen people take other people's ideas and try to run with it. And it's just not the same. People know, when you're dealing with somebody face to face, they know if you love it or not. So, you find your talent. Like I used to, when I would print, I used to look at amazing artwork, and say I don't have it, I don't have an artistic talent. I couldn't find it. And I kept looking and now mine is woodworking and dealing with metal. So, again, it took me 50 years to find it, but I found it. But that would be the first thing I would say.
If you love baking, start baking. If you love making soap, if you love creating, you love doing something, people know when you're being realistic about it. I ran, and I'm going to diverge for one second. I ran a store years ago. A clothing store, and i would look at some of the clothing they would buy, and just say, oh my God, you know, what were they thinking? And then I would start to realize like, you know what?
Somebody designed that. Somebody loved that. Somebody bought it from a buyer standpoint, and then somebody decided to put it out for sale. What I mean by this is, you may have a talent, but you may not realize that there's other people that love your talent and that if you believe in it, you create your product, there will be people that will support you.
You just, you need to get out into the world, and show the world what you're doing. Don't just put it up on Facebook. Don't just put it up on Etsy. You have to get out there and show people what you're doing. If you're going to rely on strictly the internet for things to happen for you, it's not going to happen. You're relying on somebody to find you and go, you know, I need a doohickey, I think somebody's out there, they're not going to find you.
And that's what I do with patent prints is, I went out and I showed people. And I realized when I started to build my library, people would suggest to me, do you have a lacrosse stick? I was just like, my God, I don't know why I didn't think of that. Or did you have this? Or do you have that? My library wouldn't be anywhere near what it's today, if I didn't go out and see people.
And every time I do an event, the first thing I'm told by other people, other vendors, who see them, I've never seen anything like this. I've never seen anybody out doing this before. So, my advice is, find something that you love, find that inner spirit, that inner wealth of creating something, and go out and do it.
[00:24:43] Sanjay Parekh: Matt, thanks so much for coming on the podcast, this has been great.
Thank you for listening to this week's episode of the Side Hustle to Small Business Podcast, powered by Hiscox. To learn more about how Hiscox can help protect your small business through intelligent insurance solutions, visit hiscox.com. And if you have a story you want to hear on this podcast, please visit hiscox.com/shareyourstory.
I'm your host Sanjay Parekh. You can find me on Twitter @sanjay or on my website at sanjayparekh.com.