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From Steve Martin to La La Land: How woman’s hobby turned into $600k in sales

Image: Queen of Snow Globes

For many successful Australians, the sign that they’ve “made it” is an award, a job title, a dollar figure or staff employed. 

But for Victorian snow globe maker Leah Andrews, that moment came while having a detailed conversation with Hollywood star Steve Martin, without realising it was him. 

“I was working from home in a little spare bedroom in the back of a house, when I received an inquiry through my website that said that my globes were wanted for Steve Martin's AFI (American Film Institute) Award that he was being presented with later in the year,” Andrews told Yahoo Finance. 

The form came with a “random name”, so Andrews thought it came from an assistant. 

“There was a phone number there for LA, so I called the number and asked to be put through to that person, and we were chatting away.” 

The design was complicated - a different snow globe for dozens of separate people. 

But Andrews wanted to find a way to make it work. 

‘Oh, that's very kind. I should tell you, this is Steve.’

“I said to him, ‘Look, these are the limitations, but I really want to make this work because I'm a huge fan of Steve's. I've been watching his work since I was a little kid, and the first standup video I ever watched was Steve Martin Live and I just love him, so I'll do whatever it takes to make this work for him.’ 

Leah Andrews didn't know she was speaking to Steve Martin himself. Image: Getty

“The voice replied, ‘Oh, that's very kind. I should tell you, this is Steve.’"

Martin listened graciously as Andrews babbled for minutes, completely lost for words. 

“He loved the globes in the end.” 

Those snow globes now grace the homes of comedy giants Tina Fey, Mel Brooks, Conan O’Brien and Dan Akroyd among others. 

That was a moment where Andrews realised she’d stumbled onto something really special. 

“If somebody like Steve Martin wants what I'm doing, I must be doing something right.”

The birth of the Queen of Snow Globes

The snow globes for Steve Martin's AFI. Image: Queen of Snow Globes

Andrews fell in love with snow globes after watching an episode of Sex and the City, where the main character Carrie held a large, beautiful snow globe. 

“Oh, that's so stunning. I'd love to try and find one of those and buy it, just to own one,” Andrews thought. 

But a Google search only turned up kitschy travel snow globes. So, Andrews decided to try to make her own using a snow globe kit. 

“And so I built the website and six months later, I had more orders than I could handle.”

“The first one that I made I just used these little figurines with two horses and this bare tree with a white ground, and I put it together and it was just quite magical, you know?” she said. 

“Because I only had seen these really kitschy pieces, I thought, ‘Why isn't anybody doing really beautiful ones like that?’”

From there, the passion awakened. 

She taught herself a bit about sculpting, online marketing and used search-engine optimisation (SEO) techniques to make a killer website: The Queen of Snow Globes

“I thought that if I built the website well, that I could get to page one of Google probably quite easily. I almost just did it as a test, because I just wanted to see what it was like to get to the first page of Google. 

“And so I built the website and six months later, I had more orders than I could handle.”

“What are you going to do? Dip it in some magic solution that gives different colours on every single bit? Just can't be done.”

As Andrews said, she did something right. Today, her resume includes work done for feature film La La Land, HBO’s Westworld, Calvin Klein, Anastasia the Musical, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Estee Lauder, TV series Narcos and film The Hateful Eight. 

Andrews’ ultimate goal would be to make globes for author Stephen King. 

Wait, how do you make a snow globe? 

At first, Andrews made them all herself. It included hand sculpting a mould in clay and resin and hand painting. 

“You can't machine that - what are you going to do? Dip it in some magic solution that gives different colours on every single bit? Just can't be done.”

Then, the snow globe has to be assembled including a process where the water mix has to be deoxygenated to prevent bubbles. 

Then, it all needs to be put together. 

The full process for a batch will take around 90 days, with shipping on top of it. 

From Sex and the City to $600k in sales

It’s a long time, but the payoffs are lucrative. 

“I had an experience where over a period of the first three to four years, I found that my sales were doubling each year,” she said.

“The first year I did around $18,000 in sales. The second year I did $40,000. 

“The next year I actually did about $120,000 - something like that - then $250,000, and then my best year has been $600,000 in sales.”

Andrews says she’s benefited by having mainly American clients. 

“Everything I do is in US dollars, because the purchasing is in US dollars, and 99 per cent of my clients are in the States, as well. At the moment, that very high US dollar to Australian is helping me out quite a bit.”

To make it work, she uses international payments platform TransferWise to avoid costly international transfer fees and unfriendly exchange rates. The platform allows businesses to receive money without fees and with the real exchange rate. 

“I just realised when the funds started coming in and changing over to Australian dollars, and I looked at the daily exchange rate versus what I was actually getting paid from the bank, I was really shocked at how much extra the bank was taking,” she said. 

“And fair enough, they're a business, I get it, but I just thought, ‘Man, there's really got to be a better way than this.’”

Andrews believes she lost around $15,000 before she switched.

The next steps

Image: Queen of Snow Globes

The Snow Globe Queen is at an enviable stage in her career. 

“I don't want to big-note myself, but in the last couple of years, I've achieved so much more than I thought that I would. 

“I'm actually at a bit of a stage where I'm going, ‘Okay, what is my next big goal?’”

Andrews plans to do more travelling “in a non-economy kind of way”. 

“But from the business perspective, I think I really just want to keep being exciting.”

She’s achieving that by turning her skills to mentoring. 

“I'm mentoring at the moment in a program with the Brotherhood of St Laurence, with refugee women or asylum seeker women who are looking to build their own businesses, now that they're living in Australia.

“I'm working with a young girl who's an artist and she wants to be able to put her artwork on different products and sell those online,” Andrews said. 

“I'm helping her build that up, and that's just something that I do once every couple of weeks. I go and spend a couple of hours with her, and I just want to be able to do more stuff like that, because that's actually what fulfils me.”

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