BIZ: Tips for Selling the Unique

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After posting about “Pricing the Precious” we got emails and comments asking great questions about other aspects of creative business. It’s one of my favorite parts about the blog, because it gives me the opportunity to think about the challenges that other artists face. I can only ever give advice based on what I’ve witnessed, but if we all share our experiences, it can only make us more happy and more successful. So! If you ever have a question or comment after reading one of our posts, please make sure to share with us.

In the day-to-day running of the shop I get to meet all sorts of working artists. Mostly I feature artists who are creating the same, or similar, items over and over- but that’s just the kind of store So, There is. Selling and producing one-of-a-kind goods, art, or goods that require a lot of individual production time definitely has its own challenges. It can seem especially daunting to try to recoup money for your time when the time you spend on your art seems endless.

Selling art has never been easy, but I hope the tips below give you a chance you look at your business from a different point of view. If you don’t already, right now is the time to…

Outline your goals

I am the most hesitant business planner ever. I hate writing down all the plans that are there in my head already, but I do it anyway. It’s extremely important to be in-tune with your own plans for the future of your business. Take some time to figure out what success for your business would look like. Do you want to be a well-known artisan who makes products from your studio? Do you want to turn your creations into a mega-business with lots of people working under you?

Take that picture of your perfect future, and work backwards to clarify the steps you need to take to bring your business to that point. You may need to make some compromises to get things started. Always keep that end-goal in mind, especially as you…

Adapt your line

Sometimes it seems to me the difference between “artist” and “artistic business person” is as simple as having the ability to step away from the things you are making and evaluating the success of each item. It’s harder for those of us who are really emotionally involved with our work, but unless you’re experiencing unbridled success, it’s absolutely necessary.

These mugs are offered with custom hand signs, so customers can have their own initials on a mug from the playful potter.

These mugs from the playful potter. are offered with custom hand sign decals.

Think about adding pieces to your selection.

I had some great advice from a gallery owner when I was setting the shop up. She said that I should make sure to include a few expensive pieces in the store, even if I felt I would never sell them. They might encourage the sale of a lower priced piece by the same artists, or they might just sell themselves.

The same is true for your line. If you take some time to make quicker, lower priced goods to fill our your selection, you will appeal to an audience who doesn’t feel they have as much money to spend. You get a sale that contributes to your company, and you are establishing a fan base. Those people will share your goods with their friends- and eventually someone will find your great work of art a necessity in their life.

There are lots of benefits from having a wide range of prices in your line. You’ll appeal to more customers, and you’ll be able to customize your line when applying to art shows and sales. Think about adding prints of your pieces to your line, selling patterns and kits, or smaller accessories.

Look for ways to reduce your costs.

Try to think of ways you can reduce your personal costs in time, supply, and overhead. Can you order supplies in bulk? Take a production line approach so that you can get pieces made more quickly and efficiently? (That is, do the same small task over and over again before moving to the next task. You’ll save time by not having to change you tools/setup/attention as frequently.) Sometimes the steps you take to reduce your costs will make you feel like you’re more a production person, and less of an artist– but might be necessary nonetheless.

Make your items even more special to your audience.

Sometimes all it takes is a quirk to get your line the attention it deserves. Take some time to think about if there is something you could change to make your goods so special that no one will want to walk away from them. (Or as I say to customers at the store “When you dream about it, give me a call so I can put it on hold for you.”) Think about popular trends, and other things that will catch some eyes. Can you use repurposed materials to appeal to the environmentally conscious? Can you up your packaging game? Can you offer a custom monogram or other custom motif that customers will love?

Reevaluate less popular and more expensive designs.

Over the years I’ve had to drop items from my selection that were too time-consuming and not popular enough. I don’t consider any of these things failures- because for me it’s the inventing and making that I enjoy. I try to take some time to figure out what the make-or-break details are, absorb the knowledge, and move on to my next big idea. I know artists who have decided to turn their whole business in a different direction because their line wasn’t as successful as they wanted it to be. Sometimes you have to stop embroidering hand sewn bags, and focus on your popular illustration style.

Try not to be discouraged by decisions like this. There’s a lot of luck involved in businesses like ours, and sometimes it’s just that you haven’t found the right audience (are you ahead of your time?)

Find the right Audience

Advertising, sales, and networking are extremely important in selling your work. As much as we want to, we can’t sit back on our haunches and wait for people to discover our online shop. We all know this– so we do everything we can think of to get a new group of customers to find us, and fall in love.

YEAR ROUND CO. (FORMERLY SLIDE SIDEWAYS) AT RENEGADE HOLIDAY SHOW IN SAN FRANCISCO.

YEAR ROUND CO. (FORMERLY SLIDE SIDEWAYS) AT RENEGADE HOLIDAY SHOW IN SAN FRANCISCO.

Go to your niche customer.

Sometimes your most successful sales spot is not the easiest. Take some time to think about your product, who loves your product, and where those people are. Are they at the weekly farmers market? Are they at conventions? In tourist spots? Do they go to stores? Shop online? This is a great time to talk to your friends and get their honest opinions about where you should go. (Be wary of suggestions that are self-serving; like school craft sales and the like.) Go where your ideal customer is. Try out as many things as you can stand to- and give yourself permission to have a couple of misses before you get a hit.

Teach what you love!

Sometimes the best way to prove the value of your products is to show people everything that goes into them. Think about teaching a class, or demonstrating your work. You give your well-crafted items more value by demonstrating the skill it takes to get them right, and customers connect with them because they “saw it being made.”

Donate to raffles and auctions when you can.

You can reach a whole other audience by donating to charities and fund-raising auctions. You get the double value of reaching a new audience, and showing that you care about _____. This is a great way to move an item you love, but hasn’t sold for what it should- or a chance to advertise that class you’re going to teach (above.) You can also write-off most charitable contributions, and you know that your piece is going to someone who will love it, and supporting a good cause.

Set Emotion Aside (for a minute)

Sometimes it just isn’t working, even though we’re amazing at what we do. We’re in pricing battles the big-box stores. We’re the only ones doing the work. And we’re also expected to find our audience and sell to it?

Try to look at your line and history and think of what you would tell a stranger. Maybe it’s time to shift your focus. Maybe it’s not worth selling at wholesale to stores. Maybe it’s time to open your own store! But don’t ever give up…

If you love what you do, usually it’s worth doing for the joy- even if it’s not going to make you a millionaire.

BIZ: How to get your work in stores (Pt 2)

BIZ: How to get your work in stores (Pt 2) #business #handmade #tips #craft

So, you’ve visited the store, done your research, and you’re ready to submit your work. Here are a few things to keep in mind when you’re reaching out to a store.

Sending a Successful Submission

Make sure to include all the things they ask for.

Chances are you will be able to send a very similar email application to a number of stores, so it makes sense to build a kind of form letter than you will add to or subtract from depending on the application guidelines. Including all the elements they ask for is a great way to show that you are organized, and interested in interacting with them.

Be compelling with your words.

If they want to know about you, tell them. Give enough positive details about you to make them want to know more. If someone likes you, they will be more diligent about representing your work.

If they want to know about your process, take the time to really explain what makes your work special. Don’t assume that the shop owner understands that you take very basic materials and do all the steps to make an amazing product. If you do all your own smelting, paperpulping, or scrounging for supplies make it known.
 
BIZ: How to get your work in stores (Pt 2) #business #handmade #tips #craft

Be thoughtful with your photos.

Pick quality images that represent your line, and items that you think would compliment the store. If there are specific elements that are special on your pieces, include detail photos as well.

Also be thoughtful of the size and quantity of your photos. High res photos aren’t usually the best option for email. Don’t send a photo of every item you have, limit your number to 5 or so (unless they specify otherwise) or fewer if you are also including a link to an online portfolio or shop.

Include details about your pricing.

This is another time that an online shop is helpful. If you don’t have one, be sure to include the retail price of the items you are showing. Remember that you will only get a certain percentage of this amount.

Finish it all up with your contact information.

Including your email, phone number, link to your online store, and your full name and business name.

For goodness sakes…

DON’T BE CRAZY WHEN YOU FOLLOW UP.

I try to respond to everyone within a couple of days, whether I am going to meet with them or not. If it’s been more than a week, I think it’s alright to send a follow-up email to make sure you didn’t get lost in the ether. If you want to be sneaky, this is a good time to send another photo, or another detail that you “forgot”. Whatever you do, don’t accuse them of ignoring you, or forgetting you. (This seems like common sense, right?)

Hopefully this will all come together for you, and you will get a meeting that boosts you into immense success.

BIZ: How to get your work in stores (Pt 1)

BIZ: How to get your work in stores (Pt 1) #business #handmade #advice or first steps to get your work in stores (and make people like you.)

Our brick and mortar shop has been open less than a year, but I feel like I’ve already seen everything under the sun. The advice below is directed mainly at approaching stores for consignment placing, but many of the elements can (and should) be applied to any type of interaction. It all comes down to starting with a great relationship.

Most stores will have much of the information you need right there on their websites. Take some time to look around, find out who the owner is, what their submission policy is, and the general feel of the place. It shouldn’t take too long, but I would recommend taking notes, and maybe keeping a spreadsheet or list with notes (you can also keep track of who you talked to, when.)

BIZ: How to get your work in stores (Pt 1) #business #handmade #advice

VISIT THE STORE (THE FIRST IMPRESSION)

If you’re approaching a [local] store without visiting it first, you’re missing a big opportunity. Visiting the store gives you a chance to see the general style of goods that the store owner is drawn too, which means you can send a targeted email with photos that you know they’ll love. It also gives you a chance to size up the owner, and see if it’s someone you’d want to partner with (more on this later.) You can do all this without even talking to the shop owner, if you feel shy or if the shop is busy.

There are a few things I think everyone should do when they visit a shop they are interested in selling products at. The first and most important step…

BIZ: How to get your work in stores (Pt 1) #business #handmade #advice

Take a look around.

When you go to the store, give yourself plenty of time to look around. Pick a day when you have a babysitter, some time to kill, and maybe a friend to shop with. Really spend some time taking in the store and its goods.

It isn’t absolutely necessary to buy something, but if you have the interest and the funds, pick something out. Whatever you do, take the time to absorb the feel of the store, the kind of products it carries, what its specialty is. If you make something exactly like a product they already have, you should keep that in mind. Don’t let it stop you from talking to them, but be aware that you might have to wait a little while to have product in their store.

Don’t forget to give yourself time to get an instinct. Do you feel comfortable? Does the store seem organized? Do the people working there seem polite and happy? You will be entrusting them with your beloved goods, and with your brand’s reputation. If it seems like a fly-by-night operation, let it go for now, and apply if you feel differently later.

If you have a hard time approaching the store owner, I think that it’s fine to skip that on your first trip. Feel free to reference your trip when you contact them later.

But if you’re up to it, and the shopkeeper is free…

Talk to them.

You might not be talking to the person who makes the decision, but there’s a good chance whatever you say will make it back to them. I like it when people express interest in my store. Ask about certain items, artists, etc. Once you’ve broken the ice, and introduced yourself…

Ask about their submission and vendor policies.

“How do you find your artists?”
“What kind of things are you looking for?”
“What are your terms? Do you take goods on consignment, or buy them wholesale?”
“That all sounds amazing, how do I sign up?”
You probably know all the answers to these questions, from the research you did on their website, but it’s worth asking anyway.

Listen, and do what they say.

Most likely they have a policy of only meeting artists by appointment; which means even if you are wearing your product, you should arrange to apply the right way. This sets the best tone to your interaction. As with most things in life, if you show respect and kindness, you will probably get it right back.

Then, when you have all these details flying around in your head…

APPLY!

Check out the second part of this series for my hints at making the best impression when submitting work.