August 28, 2017
This week, the MSA blog debuts our new feature: MSA PRO-Files
With over 1,300 members of MSA – there are just as many interesting stories. We plan to regularly focus on getting to know our MSA “neighbors” by sharing their stories through PRO-Files of their lives, careers, businesses, and amazing career paths. We know that all of our Members value the networking part of MSA – it is one of the three pillars of our mission: Learn, Do Business, Connect! We hope that PRO-Files will be just another way to learn about (and from) the extraordinary individuals that make up the MSA community! Please enjoy our first PRO-File of MSA Vendor Member, Michael Epstein.
Name: Michael Epstein
Job Title: Company Owner/ Product Developer
Business Name: Modgy (inspired by Modern and Edgy)
Location: Cleveland, OH
Interviewed by: David Duddy, deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum
Where did you grow up?
Shaker Heights, OH – a suburb of Cleveland
What does your company do? How long has your company been in existence?
We started out producing a line of plastic expandable products – many different vases, both custom and production. We added luminaries and traveling dog bowls. We have expanded into silicone products like trivets and coasters as well. The dog bowls started out as an attempt to enter the pet market, which wasn’t as successful as we hoped. We added it to our regular line and now it is our #2 product in the line. I started the company about 5 years ago as a division of my family’s business, which produces more specific kinds of products for industry – I wanted something more exciting and design-oriented.
What is your role within your company? Have you changed positions within the company? Worked for another company?
Wearer of many hats? Jack-of-all-trades? I see myself as the chief problem solver and facilitator – and I work mostly on the development of products. I take on more things as our company grows, but my basic position is the same. And I work closely with our Sales Manager, David Stang.
Describe the life journey that brought you to this career (i.e. tell our readers about your interesting life so far …)
I went to Kent State for a time and then spent a year traveling the world — both the USA and abroad — Europe, Asia. I think travel had a lot to do with wanting to create a business of my own – and to utilize the kinds of resources I was finding in other countries. But I came back to work in the family business and then created Modgy as part of that.
Tell us about the first sale you ever made to a museum or non-profit institution… what was it? Who did you sell it to?
At this point, I cannot say exactly – But it was probably the Art Institute of Chicago and we sold them some of our flat expandable vases. We also spent some time developing product for the Smithsonian, which has become an outstanding relationship over the years. We made a line of cherry blossom inspired product that has become a great seller for them – and we recently developed a vase for the New-York Historical Society with Ione Saroyan that might become one of our luminarias! We did a great luminaria for the National Museum of African American History and Sculpture inspired by the facade of their beautiful new building.
Did you feel like a partner in that process? Are you still?
Always. We really listen to the feedback from our institutional customers – and they probably represent about 20% of our business at this point. That’s why being a part of MSA is so important to our business.
What is unique about your product or production technique or design or other aspect? What would the MSA Membership really want to know about you?
Most of our product line is really suited to the gift lines offered by museums and institutions. A lot of their visitors are tourists looking to take things back home with them. All of our products are COMPACT! They are flat, lightweight, and don’t break in transit! We have lots of fun designs that can suit a lot of tastes – and we can print practically anything on them for custom. And many buyers are thrilled with the fact that we ship free within the US contiguous states. That’s a really valuable thing for our buyers.
There is a lot of turmoil currently in the retail world. Can you tell us one exciting trend that you’ve noticed? Are you taking advantage of it?
I think that the current marketplace is always challenging – selling and competition are always tough. I try to research particular trends for merchandise by checking a number of “style” blogs about patterns and colors. What are the upcoming hot Pantone colors? What types of patterns are starting to show up and predominate? That kind of thing…
There is a lot of turmoil currently in the retail world. Can you tell us one thing that keeps you up at night? What steps will you take in light of that?
Fortunately for us, we are still growing – and that presents its own challenges. We try to “roll with the punches” and always do whatever it takes to keep moving forward. There can always be the unexpected – you do a fair or show and it doesn’t produce the level of orders you expected. A big vendor may take a long time to pay — and that has an effect on everyone’s business. We still feel like we are hitting our stride – but you have to be ready for challenges you DIDN’T see coming …. We also want to seek out those larger channels for our product, but not forget our smaller vendors who helped us to grow!
What are some concrete goals for your next three years working with members of the Museum Store Association? How do you see MSA helping you achieve that?
We want to continue to work with our MSA clients – they are very loyal and their feedback on product is terrific. We want to create opportunities for more custom and collaborative products. Our minimum for custom might be too high for some institutions, but – if we think the product will work in our own wholesale line – we might be able to create a situation that works for us both. We do read the blogs and newsletters so that we stay on top of what MSA is doing
Have you ever attended an MSA Chapter meeting? Tell us about that experience.
We have not – but I would be interested in finding out more about participating.
Just for fun —
What do you eat for breakfast? Why? Always the same?
Bagels. Every day. We have a great authentic company here and one of the guys picks them up fresh every morning.
Do you have a hobby?
Cooking. Hiking. I do all the family cooking – and they all seem pretty happy about it! With three kids and two dogs and a business – not much time for a hobby…..
No! (when asked if he was the local King of Karaoke, respondent gave an enthusiastic “NO COMMENT.”)
Michael Epstein/Modgy has been a member of MSA for four years. Modgy was the winner of the 2017 MSA Buyer’s Choice Award for Custom Design for their Louis C. Tiffany Dragonfly Vase inspired by a Tiffany lamp in the collection of the New-York Historical Society Museum and Library.