December 11, 2013

Are You Letting Stubbornness Get In The Way of Smart Business Decisions?

If you started your business purely because you really enjoy pulling a squeegee across a mesh screen or manually operating your vintage letterpress, this post isn’t for you. If you started your business to make money, then listen up! Every day I talk to artists who are convinced some aspect of their production methods or manufacturing materials is a must-have and that their customers care deeply about this thing they’re so stuck on.

Here’s the reality: Most of your customers probably aren’t married to wearing American Apparel t-shirts. Most of them don’t know what the heck “giclee” means. They cannot tell the difference between a notecard set that you made by hand with a letterpress vs. the set that was mass-produced using modern machinery to produce a similar effect. Your customer doesn’t view your products through the same lens as you. More often than not they are buying a product because they like the design of something, not necessarily due to the specific components or manufacturing techniques used in its production.

When evaluating your product manufacturing methods and components, ask yourself these questions:

 1. What Will Make Me More Money?
My partner and I sell t-shirts and accessories and we do not print on American Apparel; we print on blank shirts that cost about half as much as American Apparel. They’re perfectly nice and soft and well-made with a great fit, but don’t have the hipster cache of American Apparel. We sell thousands of shirts at live events every year and no one has ever decided not to buy a shirt from us because it wasn’t American Apparel. It’s very rare that we run into someone who has an opinion on our blank shirts one way or another. Mostly our customers are looking for a comfortable tee with a good fit that features a good design that speaks to them in one way or another. We also very rarely run into a customer who doesn’t like our shirts because they want a thicker, heavier weight shirt — it can happen, but it’s extremely unusual. We don’t expect to please everyone, so we try to design our products based on what will please most people.

If we chose to print on a more expensive blank shirt because we just assumed our customers insisted on it we’d make less money. We’d either have lower margins (less money for us) or we’d have to raise our prices (making our price point too high for many customers — again, less money for us). I’d print on a more expensive blank shirt if I had some evidence to support that my customers really wanted shirts made of organic cotton or a certain brand of shirts, but it’s simply not the case. I see no reason to adversely affect our income to add a product feature that the overwhelming majority of our customers don’t care or ask about.

2. What Is Scalable?
When you started your business, maybe advertising that all your products were handmade by you sounded like a charming selling point. But what happens when your order volume increases or a department store calls wanting to place a large wholesale order? Is it realistic for you to keep making everything yourself by hand when you have to sell thousands of pieces every month? Even if you could keep up with all that production, is that going to give you enough time to tend to the other parts of your business, like new product development?

A product is not inherently bad because it was made by a vendor or employees, and your customers certainly won’t enjoy the product any more or less based on who physically made the item. If your creative business is your livelihood (or you want it to be), think about how you’re going to keep up with production as demand increases.

3. How Do You Know What Your Customers Really Want?
Are you assuming your customers want you to use specific production methods or components or did you come to this realization based on their feedback? How do you really know your customers would *only* buy posters you designed if they are screen printed vs. printed digitally? How do you know your customers prefer a more expensive piece of jewelry with fine gem stones instead of a more affordable piece with faux stones? Selling at live events is a great way to get customer feedback in real time. What are your customers focusing on about the products? Are they actually interested in the manufacturing process? Are they more concerned with price than the quality of the materials? Are they buying your items specifically because they are handmade by the designer or 100% organic or 14 karat gold? Take note of what your customers seem to like about your items when they’re right in front of you, and think about ways you can lower your manufacturing costs while still producing a quality finished product your fans will enjoy

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November 15, 2013

Selling What Sells: How to Get People to Buy More of Your Art

If you’re an artist trying to sell art you’re leaving a lot of money on the table if you’re literally just selling prints or originals of your work. This is because home decor is one of the tougher categories to sell in general.

Don’t believe it? Check out this graphic from Target’s 2011 annual report. Target is a brand that works hard to promote their housewares line and yet apparel and consumables like food and laundry detergent outsell housewares both individually and as a whole.

target

The story is the same at Walmart, where home goods make up a mere 6% of sales while apparel comes in at 13% (more than double). Even health and wellness beats home goods.
walmart

JC Penny’s sales tell the same story.  Home goods make up 21% of sales, almost all the other sales are comprised of clothing and accessories.
jcp

Macy’s sales mix looks the same. Home goods make up only 16% of sales while clothing and accessories make up the rest.
macys

Why is it that retailer after retailer has less success in housewares than any other category?
All of these retailers certainly sell a lot of home decor products and do plenty to market these products in advertising, wedding registries, etc. The issue is consumer shopping habits. Home decor lasts for a long time and people rarely need to restock. People are in the market for home decor usually after they move or when they have a life changing event like a marriage or a baby. Moves, weddings and babies don’t happen for the average person all the time.

On the other hand, the average person replaces their toiletries, clothing and accessories pretty often. That’s why these are such great products to sell. Once you have a customer who enjoys your brand they’ll keep coming back if you sell products they need to purchase more often.

If that’s not good enough reason to get into selling your art on apparel and accessories, there’s more!
If your customer is buying your art for her home, the number of people who will see that art, comment on it and go seek it out to buy for themselves is a tiny sliver. If your customer is wearing your art out in public she is showing your art to thousands of people every day just by walking around. Your customer basically becomes a walking billboard for your art every place she goes. She’s likely to run into more people who will see your art, notice it, ask her about it and seek it out to buy for themselves.

Do you want to make more money?
If yes, it’s time to look for ways to get your art onto products people consume every day. I know this strategy works because I use it for my own brand. While we do offer our art on prints and in the past we’ve offered a few other home decor items, our t-shirts outsell decor items 100 to 1!  Most of our online sales come from word of mouth. People ask our customers where they got their shirts and our customers send those people our way. Most of our traffic from search engines is people searching for keywords from our designs.

So how do you get your art onto products people want to buy?

  • Consider putting your art on functional items like t-shirts, bags, wallets, belts, pendants, etc. You can customize these products yourself or have them made for you.
  • Look for products with great margins. If you can make something for $2 and sell it for $15 that’s a great margin. If it costs you $5 to make something and you can only sell it for $7 that’s a less attractive margin. Only consider items like this if you think you can do a really substantial amount of volume to make up for the poor margins.
  • Look to other retailers for ideas. Take a stroll through a store like Pier 1, Macy’s, Urban Outfitters, Bed Bath and Beyond, gift shops, etc. Notice what sorts of products they offer that feature graphics — things like candles, t-shirts, soaps, pendants, belts, etc. Take note of what they are retailing these products for and think about whether you could produce a product like it featuring your art.
  • Get creative with sourcing. Sites like Etsy are full of makers, often based in your home country, who might be able to produce bespoke goods for you at a wholesale price if you order in bulk. Also check out sites like epromos.com and other promotional product websites. They have a huge assortment of items you can have customized to feature your art. Check our suppliers that specialize in custom products like Ink It Labs. They create custom laser-cut accessories featuring your submitted art.
  • Consider private label manufacturing on-demand, such as dropshipdtg.com, which allows you to sell your art on t-shirts without any up front costs. Or check out Art of Where which allows you to sell your art on device cases and leggings.
  • If you’re going to have products made featuring your art be sure to request samples, especially a sample featuring your art if possible, so you know you’ll be happy with the finished result.

 


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May 25, 2012

Doing What Your Best At (A.K.A How Not to Fail in Business)

Filed under: Growing Your Business — Tags: , , , — Meredith @ 7:45 am


From time to time we get to chatting with our manufacturers and suppliers and we’ll hear “I really want to do what you guys do, start a label. Can you give me any tips on that?” or “I tried to start a label, it never worked out for me.” While I can understand the appeal of starting a label, it’s not the job description most people think it is and it’s not the job for everyone.

A surefire way to fail in business is trying to take on a job that doesn’t play to your strengths and interests. While some companies succeed in wearing multiple hats, it’s not what works for most businesses. When you are working with products you usually are going to fall into one of the following categories:

1. Manufacturer
My very first attempt at entrepreneurship mainly fell into this category. I liked making stuff for myself and thought it would be fun to make a whole bunch of stuff and sell it online. I pretty quickly realized that I actually hate making stuff. I enjoyed making one or two things for myself, but making hundreds or thousands of things didn’t interest me in the least. It was repetitive, it was boring, it was tedious. I failed because I’d taken on the wrong role for myself. What I really liked was product design, not manufacturing.

If you’re truly happiest chilling in your workshop all day listening to music and cranking out products manufacturing is for you. Maybe you enjoy working with your hands or find the repetitive nature of that work soothing. The world needs makers, so if this is your strength this should be the focus of your business.

2. Retailer
Having a storefront is an entirely different job description than being a manufacturer. To take on this role you’ve got to enjoy working with the public and have a knack for curating and merchandising products. People often ask me if I’m ever going to open a store for Ex-Boyfriend. The answer is probably not. We have no real interest in running a store of our own. We’ll do pop up retail events every few weeks, but we’re always glad when they’re over.

If you love the idea of decorating a space and filling it with your favorite finds and showing your space off to consumers and chatting with people all day, a retail store owner might be the perfect job for you. If those are the things you love, there’s no reason to get bogged down with tasks like product development or manufacturing.

3. Product Developer/Label Owner
This is what I do. My partner and I are most interested in designing and developing products and bringing them to market. We suck at making things, especially in high volume, but we love the design aspect and don’t mind the logistics of coordinating with manufacturers or finding stores to carry our line.

If your strong suit is design and you’re comfortable managing manufacturers and conducting business to business sales, this is the job for you. You can’t spend all day talking to consumers or making products, because you have to spend your time developing new products, coordinating their production and bringing on retailers to sell your wares.

You’re going to need partners…
While it’s possible to do two or more of these jobs, most business owners will find they are best suited to choose one or two at most. Your best shot at thriving is focusing on the role you’re best at and most passionate about. You can choose other businesses to work with to take on those other roles.

If you find yourself struggling with one of these roles, consider whether it’s really what you want to be doing. If you love making stuff but can’t stand sales and marketing, running your own label might not be the best fit for you. Consider working with other businesses that like that stuff and providing them your manufacturing services. If you want to start a store, don’t drive yourself crazy trying to fill it with your own exclusive wares, find labels you want to support and fill your store with those products. Think about what you enjoy doing most and excel with, that should be the focus of your business.


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January 9, 2012

Essential Tips and Tricks for Sourcing Materials and Suppliers

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Meredith @ 8:53 am

Getting good materials and suppliers can make or break your product-based business, so it’s something you must learn to do well. Your competitors all have their sources and they probably won’t outright give you their suggestions. So how can you get the perfect suppliers? With a little detective work, you can find your own sources. Here are 3 sleuthing tricks I’ve used that have turned up great results for me:

1. Industry Forums and Tradeshows
Your potential suppliers and manufacturers likely have their own community, just like entrepreneurs. They talk amongst themselves, go to events, etc. If you want to find suppliers, go where they are. If you want to find a supplier for metals, go where the metal suppliers chat. If you want to find the perfect imprintables, check out an imprintables tradeshow. Tradeshows and forums are a great way to discover suppliers who might be terrific suppliers but terrible marketers (A.K.A you won’t find them on Google.)

2. Google in Supplier Speak
Suppliers use their own lingo for talking about the things they sell and it might not be the words you’re familiar with. This is too bad for them because if they wrote their websites using copying their customers use, they’d probably get more customers from search engines. On the other hand, this is good news for you, because if you are googling in their language you’ll find suppliers you competitors might not find.

For example, if I wanted to make dog tags and I searched “dog tag chains” I’d miss all the suppliers who are calling them “ball chains”. If you aren’t familiar with the lingo your suppliers use, check out forums suppliers hang out on and try to get proper terminology.

3. Sleuthing The Competition
If a competitor is using a material or supply you really want to use, you might be able to figure out where they got it by investigating their product pages. Here are a two clues to look for:

1. Manufacturer tags on their product photos. (You’ll have to look closely, but sometimes you can spot these.)

2. Product descriptions — some people use their supplier’s product descriptions for items they sell on their websites. This is bad for their SEO but handy for you. You can google some of the phrases in their product description and see if you find a match at a supplier site. You might also find industry-specific terminology in their product descriptions, which can help you find suppliers on Google. (Again this is a dumb thing for your competitors to do. Their customers probably don’t know what the hell cabochons are, but thanks to their use of industry jargon, you might come away with a good new term to google to find a supplier.)

I’ve found suppliers for my own company using those two pieces of information on several occasions.


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June 28, 2011

Hitting a Production Ceiling? Maybe It’s Time to Work With a Manufacturer

Filed under: Growing Your Business — Tags: , , — Meredith @ 7:24 am

I know a lot of people who start out as creative entrepreneurs do it because they like making things. I know that’s how I started. At first it’s fun making cool stuff for friends and family, then you realize people like what you do and you can sell it. You go online and orders start coming in. At first it might seem like a dream come true, but as time goes on and you go from a trickle of orders to a flood, making stuff gets to be a chore. The bigger you get, the closer you get to max production capacity. You can’t make products 24/7. Plus, running a business is about more than just manufacturing. You’ve got other responsibilities like marketing, customer service, bookkeeping, etc.

One way to combat this issue is working with a professional manufacturer. I do not necessarily mean some factory in a 3rd world country. You can stick to your independent small business values and still bring on help. That’s exactly what we did with Ex-Boyfriend. This week on Vianza, I’ve shared my story about how we arrived at this decision and my tips on finding the right production partner.

If you’re starting to feel like a one-person sweatshop, check out these posts…

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