Mathias loves his adopted city with a passion, from the ships moored on the Elbe and the bustle of the fish market, to the colourful street art in the cosmopolitan Schanzenviertel. The 33-year-old, who with his fiancée Dani and son Mika Pepe has lived in Germany’s northern metropolis since 2013, works as a press photographer in his main job. And even in his free time Mathias always keeps his camera close at hand. He’s constantly on the lookout for people, buildings or artworks that are interesting enough to be captured on film.
Alongside his passion for Hamburg and his original hometown, the city of Magdeburg in eastern Germany, Matthias’s other love is street art and graffiti, whether it involves large-scale designs and ‘tags’ on the sides of buildings, or stencilled pictures sprayed on city pavements. The vibrant street art scene in Hamburg provides him with fascinating new subjects for his photography virtually every day.
Having accumulated thousands of photographs over the last few years, Matthias felt it would it would be a shame if the best of them were simply left to waste away on his hard drive, never to be seen again. Instead of simply printing them out or making posters of them, though, Mathias began to look for a different way of presenting his photos. Finally, he hit upon an idea…
Mathias printed one of his pictures first onto a slide, which he then glued onto a square wooden plate in a 15-by-15cm format. The result? A little wooden picture, or Holzbildchen in German – the first of many hundreds to come. Since then Mathias has been producing his little artworks in a quaint little workshop in Hamburg’s famous St. Pauli district. There, Mathias cuts, planes and drills his wooden plates and edits, prints and glues his photographs. A pleasant smell of freshly carved wood and printing ink permeates the workshop.
What began merely as a hobby to meet Mathias’s own needs soon attracted the attention of more and more people. Mathias’s friends began to show interest in his pictures, and an increasing number of them asked if they could also get hold of a Holzbildchen, too.
This surge in demand got Mathias thinking: since he found photography and making the pictures so enjoyable, why not try and turn his hobby into a job?
In order to make his artworks accessible to as large a clientele as possible, Mathias therefore decided to set up an online shop. He registered the domain holzbildchen.de and started the process of getting his ePages shop up and running. After taking care of the basic site design himself, he sought the assistance of the ePages design service. After chatting with Mathias over the phone, one of the ePages web designers implemented the requested modifications, changes that Mathias didn’t have time to undertake himself.
Matthias’ shop holzbildchen.de has been up and running for one year. It now includes a constantly growing photo gallery showing the handmade wooden pictures that visitors can browse through and order. The business is doing well. Every day Matthias receives new orders and can only just keep up with the production of the artworks. And even though he can’t quite live off the sales from the shop yet, he’s enjoying being his own boss, planning out his own time, producing his products with patience and care, and presenting them in the style they deserve. Another important factor for Mathias is flexibility. All he needs to manage his ePages online shop, in fact, is a computer with an Internet connection.
Just like every other online retailer, Matthias is constantly learning, for instance about what products sell the best and what’s the most effective way of promoting them. One of Mathias’ main lessons from his start-up period was the importance of setting concrete milestones for getting the shop up and running – for example, for designing the shop, and setting up the delivery and payment methods. This can help you avoid spending longer than planned on the individual steps and consequently having to postpone the launch of your shop. Mathias had another ‘Eureka moment’ with regard to his products: his idea was to offer an additional service whereby customers could upload their own photographs for him to turn into a ‘little wooden picture’. What originally began as an experiment has now become one of his top-selling lines. As a result, customers can now hang their wedding photos or pictures of their children on their wall in the form of one of Mathias’s little Holzbildchen.
With regards to marketing, Mathas relies mainly on social media like Facebook, where he can present his works to a small but growing community of fans. His target audience consists mainly of people living in the cities he depicts in his photographs, as many of them like the idea of hanging their favourite images of their local areas in their homes. People who’ve moved away from Hamburg or Magdeburg are also attracted by the idea of owning a little wooden picture of their former hometown.
While many ePages merchants started off with a bricks-and-mortar shop before subsequently opening an online store, Matthias plans to do the reverse. His real dream is of moving his online business even more firmly into the real world. Currently, his wooden pictures are for sale in a few local outlets, and Mathias is soon hoping to sell them at street markets and tourist information centres. He’s also planning to make his biggest dream come true sooner or later, by opening his own real-life Holzbildchen shop to complement the online business. Guess where? In Hamburg’s trendy Schanzenviertel, of course, right in the heart of one of his two favourite cities.