Makers Spotlight: The Mug Bug
I'm so excited to be hosting a giveaway on Instagram with The Mug Bug! Founder and main bug her self, Nikki Ruggiero started her online custom mug business in 2014 and has faced many ups and downs when building her business into what it is today.
Do you remember who you sold your very first mug to?
Of course! I sold my very first set of mugs to Raphaela Mandel, a friend of mine from university who bought ‘his’ and ‘hers’ mugs for her parents.
Why custom mugs?
People love to customize things, so custom mugs (in my opinion) are just perfect. Whether you’re looking for a gift, or you’re looking to treat yourself, you can put your favourite quote, memory, nickname, etc. on a mug, and make it your own. Each mug is one-of-a-kind, and hand-painted with love.
What makes your mugs different?
I think people appreciate knowing exactly who is behind the products they buy. I work closely with each and every customer to make their visions come true. I also like to check-in with them throughout the process. That way, I get their feedback and I’m able to make changes as I work. Should their vision change at any point, I'm here for them!
What steps did you take when turning your hobby into a profitable business?
I started to use Instagram a lot. I utilized hashtags and noticed a great response from people. At that point, I noticed I was getting more and more orders. Things really started to pick-up. I started with small batches of mugs at a time, and then, it blew up. I eventually got in touch with my local grocery stores, and placed my first bulk order of 200 mugs. And then, 500 mugs. In 2 years, I had sold nearly 600 mugs. Through word of mouth and social media, I was able to turn The Mug Bug into a profitable business.
What was one of the most surprising business lessons you learned?
Research whatever a customer orders before selling and posting it on Instagram. I had a customer ask me for a quote once, so I made her a mug and was contacted by a small-business owner who had patented the quote. She threatened to pursue legal action if I didn’t remove the picture… Oops! With social media, it's always better to be safe than sorry. Intellectual property is huge and I hadn't really thought of it before an instance like this happened.
What’s been the most challenging part of running a business primarily online?
The hardest part right now is figuring out shipping and handling costs for orders outside of the GTA. Seeing as I have not set-up an Etsy store yet, and most of my sales have been through word of mouth, finding the cheapest solution for packaging, while ensuring that mugs make it to their destination safely is very challenging at this point in time. I'm also hoping to look into more sustainable options for packaging that won't break my budget!
Has social media been the friend or the foe?
Ahhhh… This is a very good question. A bit of both honestly. When I first started, it was way harder to get people to ‘like’ my mugs on social media. Now, after a 2 year break from business (and adding the new Instagram algorithm), the challenge is now figuring out how to grow my following. Slowly but surely, I am working on expanding my reach using better hashtags, and working with friends and influencers to promote The Mug Bug. I think social media can be both, but it has definitely kickstarted my success, for which I'm grateful.
What advice do you have for the DIY crafter just starting out?
If you are able to turn your passion into a business, do it! Whether it’s your full-time gig or a side hustle, if you do what you love and you’re able to make a couple bucks in the process, you’re golden! The second piece of advice I have to offer is that, if you ever face any setbacks in the process, feel free to take a break, but do not give up!!
The mug bug faced some setbacks over the years, what inspired you to always keep going?
The truth is, I was extremely overwhelmed and completely stopped The Mug Bug at a standstill for 2 years after finding that the paint markers I used stopped working. I searched for alternatives, and bought paint markers from all over the world, with no luck. It felt like I had given up. I was losing money, and couldn't afford to keep spending money on reviving The Mug Bug. Last summer, I sold most of my 500-mug stock because my parents were clearing out the garage, and my mugs were taking up too much room. When I came across the travel mug stock that had come in shortly after going out of business, I decided to hang on to it. I guess at that point, I realized that I still had a little bit of hope. I had felt like a failure long enough, and it was time to try again. So I started looking for solutions to the faulty paint markers… and I found one after almost 2 years! There is no feeling quite like the feeling of knowing the wait, and the break, were worth it.
How do you think your setbacks have made you stronger?
After spending some time off, I gave myself time and found renewed energy to search for a solution to my faulty paint-markers. Once I found a product that worked, I felt like I was on top of the world, and that against all odds, I had finally found a solution - and a better one, for that matter. My old mugs were not dishwasher-safe, and required lots of care. Although I do not promote my new mugs as dishwasher-safe, they actually are! I like to tell people to hand-wash them anyway, but if they end up in the dishwasher, they won’t get damaged. Every setback I faced truly made me (and the mugs) stronger.
What is your proudest accomplishment to date?
A friend of a friend bought a House of Cards-themed mug during exam season of my third year of university at McMaster. He came to pick-up his mug from me at the library, and tweeted it within 30 minutes of picking it up. Next thing I know, my twitter feed was blowing up. The official House of Cards Twitter account had retweeted me, and the mug went viral. I got orders from all over the world. At that point in time, I knew I had something really good going for me. A few of the Full/Fuller House cast members have also liked some of my mugs, which is a big deal for me because I am a huge fan!
What do you hope the future of the mug bug looks like?
My goal is to eventually have a completely online business, offering international shipping. Finding sustainable and safe solutions, while inspiring consumers to shop from grassroots makers is my future goal that I'm so excited to accomplish.
The Mug Bug is back and better than ever. Check out the official Instagram, Twitter or Facebook to place your order today. You can also reach The Mug Bug through email at email@example.com. I think what makes The Mug Bug's story so inspiring is Nikki's perseverance and ability to believe in her own magic. No matter how many curveballs came her way, or how close she got to shutting down her side hustle for good, she still held on. It's so important to believe in your capacity to reach your dreams. You can enter here to win your very own custom travel mug. This contest closes May 1st at 12:00PM EST.