(BA, Film Studies & Production ’10)
Q & A:
- What was your favorite class, who was your favorite professor, or what is your fondest memory of Hofstra?
My favorite class at Hofstra was my senior-year, half-year film class. We were given the opportunity to direct our own short films, but had to write the scripts and compete to direct them. Directing people is tough. You kind of have to just do it and learn from the experience. It was intense.
I had a few favorite professors at Hofstra. Professors Noschese and Katzman taught my first film classes at Hofstra, and I continued to take as many of their advanced classes as I could. They weren’t so rigid in their assignments as to stifle creativity. With school schedules, projects, tests and homework, it’s hard to be creative and put serious thought into your assignments. But they didn’t micromanage us and that inspired a lot of creativity. I also had Steve Kussin as a professor for one of my fine arts requirements. It was a television class, and his teaching style was impressive. I learned techniques in his one class I still remember and apply today in my web videos and commercials.
My fondest memory from Hofstra is still that senior-year short film. It really was quite an experience, first competing, then budgeting and finally directing.
What was your first job after graduating from Hofstra, and what was the most valuable thing you learned there?
My first job after graduating from Hofstra was completely random. I was a client services manager at a law firm in Oyster Bay, NY, and I actually learned quite a bit there. While I was in college, I had a part-time job as a legal clerk at another law firm. I worked hard for them, but they didn’t treat me very well and there was no opportunity to advance. When they no longer needed me, they let me go.
When I got this new job after graduating, I told myself I wasn’t going to let anyone walk all over me like they did at my job during college. I worked just as hard, but was a lot more competent and confident. I made sure my employers valued and appreciated me as much as I appreciated the opportunity to work for them. I took initiative, and my employers appreciated that.
However, the most valuable thing I learned at my job after college was from my boss. I was always debating whether or not to pursue a film career, but couldn’t pull the trigger and leave my job. My boss encouraged me to tear down that wall of uncertainty that was always holding me back and just to go for it. You can plan and prepare for every big decision, but sometimes you just have to take that leap of faith and learn as you go, because it’s impossible to plan for every contingency. I didn’t end up pursuing my career in film, but that mentality is what got me to take the leap of faith needed to start my own business.
What is your field of specialty, and how did you come to work in the industry?
My field of specialty is search engine optimization and branding. I came to do this work again, pretty randomly. After leaving my legal job, I worked on films for a year, but just didn’t like it. So, I moved back to Boston and got a job with a marketing firm. They were looking for someone with film production experience to do some web videos for them. This marketing company was using the videos I created to search engine optimize their clients’ websites.
That’s how I learned what search engine optimization was, how it was done and why internet marketing was so important and pretty much the way of the future. After a year I decided to go off on my own to start my own marketing company, and I learned a valuable lesson from that experience; it doesn’t matter how good you are at something, if you can’t sell it, no one is going to buy it. I was good at the work, but didn’t focus on sales. I couldn’t get my own clients, failed miserably and eventually lost all my money.
Shortly after that, my brother came to me and said he wanted to start a product company and had dreams of building a lifestyle brand, but he didn’t know how to market it or get it set up online, which he knew he’d need to do to have any chance at succeeding. So, we partnered up and American Bench Craft was born.
What advice would you give Hofstra students?
Do as many jobs and internships related to your field as you can. When you graduate from Hofstra, you’ll leave with a treasure-trove of knowledge. Applying it is a whole new ball game. You’ll have a huge leg up over others if you’ve already had experience in applying what you’ve learned by taking jobs and internships while you’re in school.
In one word, how would you describe Hofstra?
How did the idea of American Bench Craft come about?
My brother’s wallet fell apart and he wanted to make one that would last forever. Most products today are designed and made with a plan for obsolescence. Companies want their products to fail, or go out of style, or get old quickly so consumers have to buy new and buy often. Products today just aren’t built like they were in our grandparents’ days when you purchased something and expected it to last forever.
So, my brother made a Hammer Riveted Wallet. It was unique and stylish, and looked pretty cool. Friends and family began asking for one, so my brother thought it could be an interesting business opportunity. I had just fallen flat on my face trying to start my own marketing company, so I was looking for a way to apply my skills and make some money. My brother said he could build a workshop and design more products we could guarantee for life, if I could build the website and search engine optimize it. Other companies have had a tremendous amount of success making quality products without planned obsolescence; one such company being New England-based L.L. Bean, after which we’ve modeled our business.
So my brother and I became partners and started American Bench Craft. We’ve been profitable since our second year in business. We have continued to grow, and our products are made right here in the USA, using American materials, sourced as locally as possible, and designed with repairability in mind, so that our products will last a lifetime and are not destined for the landfill.
How has your Hofstra degree helped you in marketing and brand development for American Bench Craft?
American Bench Craft wouldn’t exist if I hadn’t gone to Hofstra or studied film. A lot of what I learned about film can be applied to marketing. You have to find ways to entertain and capture people’s attention if you want them to buy from you or take an interest in your company. It’s the same in marketing as it is in film. And because of my film production degree from Hofstra, I also got the marketing job in Boston, which is where I learned how to do search engine optimization. I probably would not have gotten that job had I not studied film at Hofstra.
I was also able to use the skills I learned at Hofstra studying film to make web videos and take decent product photography, which is crucial to building a brand, but expensive if you hire other people to do it for you. When starting a company from scratch, you don’t have a lot of cash lying around, so anything you can do yourself is a big help.
Now we have other people who take our photographs and shoot our videos, but doing those tasks myself in the beginning saved us a lot of money, and we were able to use our revenue to buy the equipment needed to manufacture our products in-house, which we continue to do today in our workshop just outside of Boston.
Who is the person who most influenced you, and how?
I don't think I can pick just one. I'd have to say both my parents influenced me most. They've always adhered to that work hard, play hard mindset. They worked hard and were quite successful in their careers. They took their jobs seriously, but never let work get in the way of family or fun. They were always at any and all events my siblings and I had growing up, whether sports, academic or extracurricular. We had epic family vacations and did a lot of fun family activities together throughout the year.
That influenced me, because it's the life-balance I strive for. I love my job and work constantly, which is necessary when starting a company from scratch, building it from the ground up, and constantly looking for opportunities to expand. However, I still make time for my wife and family. We continue to plan epic vacations every year, and when we're on break, we go all out. But then when it's over, I'm back in the office working around the clock to make sure we continue to succeed and grow. I'm fortunate that I love my job just as much as I love vacationing, so it never really feels like I have any downtime. I have my parents to thank for that life model of work hard, play hard, which has pretty much shaped my lifestyle.
Chris Angelini co-founded American Bench Craft, which began as a leather wallet company, in 2013 with his brother Jason. Chris used his film production education from Hofstra to create web videos and take product photography for the company website, while Jason used his engineering background to design the products.
Today, Chris continues to oversee American Bench Craft’s marketing and advertising campaigns, while managing the company’s wholesale and distribution channels. Jason continues to design and develop future American Bench Craft products while forming collaborative relationships with U.S. manufacturers to curate other quality, American-made goods. Whether products are manufactured in-house or by other local manufacturers, American Bench Craft’s goal is to offer made-in-the-USA products designed and crafted with the precision and care consumers expect, and backed by the customer service they deserve.
American Bench Craft was initially started out of Chris and Jason’s parents’ garage and was operated there until the end of 2014 when they rented office space in their hometown of Reading, MA, just outside of Boston. They’ve since expanded that space to include a full-scale workshop, offices, fulfillment center, and design and display room. With wholesalers and distributors around the United States as well as in Canada, the U.K. and Japan, American Bench Craft products can be found in all 50 U.S. states and over 35 countries around the world.