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Marketing (part 3)

When marketing people talk about placement they aren’t just talking about where you place your item to sell. They’re also talking about where you place your product within the market. Let’s talk about the actual selling spot first. When I started selling things online, Ebay was pretty much the only option. At the time, I used it like many people do, as a global garage sale for collectibles and such things. When I started selling handmade items, a few went on Ebay, but not many.

When I got ready to really sell handmade, Etsy was it. The end-all be-all of handmade online marketplaces. I don’t think I even knew about any alternatives. They are still the 800 pound gorilla, but they’ve run into some trouble lately (to put it mildly) that is off putting to many sellers. Ask your average consumer where they’d look for handmade goods on the internet and they’re still most likely to say Etsy.

Handmade – but maybe not so much anymore.

Most of my sales to date have been through Etsy, save a few Facebook initiated customs. I’ve tried other venues, but nothing’s come close to the amount of traffic and sales Etsy generates. That doesn’t mean I’m 100%  happy with them as a seller, but my current customer base is using this venue to look at similar items and it would be silly for me not to have Ruggles there.

Of course there is a veritable ocean of other handmade marketplaces out there, with more appearing every day. What you’re selling might also help determine where you should sell. If you’re selling cloth diapers (for instance) you better be on Hyenacart. If your item doesn’t dictate placement, then it’s up to you. Choose Etsy or one of the others. And although you might get a few views or even a sale just by being on Etsy, no matter what venue you choose you’ll have to do your own promotion work to really make your shop thrive.

Have a serious business plan in mind? Go straight for your own website with an integrated shop. Every seller should work toward this, and I’m currently in the process of redesigning my website to include a shop. Even if you use it as a backup, it’s there should you need it.

Other venues to check out:

There are also venues whose main market are Canadians (iCraft.ca) or Europeans (Folksy and Dawanda) although they’re open to everyone worldwide.

What about selling on consignment or at craft fairs? I can’t really speak to those. As a Mom of two young, active boys doing craft fairs is out of my scope. I like the idea, and know several sellers who do quite well at them. If you’re personable and a good salesman event selling might make sense for you. There’s a wealth of information on the net about setting up your booth and finding local shows. As for consignment, I’ve never tried it and never will. I don’t like the idea of putting my product in someone else’s hands to sell. I’d rather do the selling myself. I’ve also never heard of a seller who just loved consignment or had great success with it.

I’m going to touch a little bit on placement within the market. This is where factors like competition come into play. Actually, this stuff is pretty interconnected if y’all haven’t noticed already. I should go into target markets at this point, but that’s a whole ‘nother kettle of fish I’ll cover as part of promotions.

So let’s pretend the market as a whole for your type of item is a vertical line. You should narrow your focus market as much as possible. So for Ruggles it looks something like this: Toys> Blankets> Security Blankets> Animal Security Blankets. So Animal Security Blankets is my vertical line. I’m positioning myself at the top of that market. I do that with pricing, quality and branding Ruggles as a boutique item. I’d put things like Pillow Pets at the bottom of the same market. If you’re in a highly competitive market, your positioning becomes more important and is one way to help your product stand out. Mine isn’t really a highly competitive market. If I broaden the definition to include things like Taggies then it become a little more so, but nothing like the more saturated categories.

When you search “security blanket” on Etsy you get 7,015 items. Search “animal security blanket” and the field narrows to just 911. I actually don’t have to do much to make sure I stand out in that kind of crowd. I’m not going to lose a lot of business to a competitor because I have no direct competitors. Search for “jewelry” and you get 3,184,739 items. If you’re in one of those highly competitive markets, either your product, or your positioning, or preferably both will have to make it stand out.  I decided to do a search for “stamped jewelry” since I like those necklaces and that narrowed the field to 61,289. In a market that large, positioning yourself in line with your competitors is going to be a factor. Unless you have something super special that adds actual or perceived value, like your necklaces being sterling silver or a special shape.

You might think undercutting your competitors and placing yourself at the bottom of the market would be good, but that can backfire. If everybody else is selling their widget for $40, and you sell yours for $5, you may get some sales but you’ll lose a lot because your item will be perceived as cheap. Unless of course it actually is cheaper. It’s okay to occupy that position in the market. Just do it deliberately.

This is far more “wall of text” than I intended. As always questions and comments are welcome! Promotions is up next, and is what I’m best at. That might turn into more than one post…

Marketing (part 2)

Pricing a handmade item really shouldn’t be hard but it is. I’ve struggled with pricing, and judging from the amount of posts on the subject other sellers have as well. My struggles come from wanting to make Ruggles as affordable as possible. I’d like everyone to be able to afford one, but I know realistically that’s not possible, since I’d also like to afford to make them.

My first Ruggle sold for $25. That was too low, even given I was using Velboa fur (less expensive than Minky) and they were a tad smaller than the ones I make now. I’ll never know for sure because I didn’t do the math. I just looked at it, thought “$25 sounds pretty good” and went with it. Very scientific, I know. When I finally did do the math, I choked on my coke. At that point “doing the math” meant coming up with a loose materials cost. Then I used the standard formula that most blogs, businesses and even Etsy recommend – materials x 2 = wholesale; wholesale x 2 = retail.

My very first sold Ruggle.

That number really did make me choke. It was north of $120 for a standard Ruggle. I wondered if people would even pay the wholesale price that equation had given me, but I did slowly start to raise prices trying to get to the point where my materials would be covered.

I still wasn’t paying myself for my time. I think it’s utterly ridiculous now, but like many other handmade artisans I didn’t think my time was worth anything. Of course, your time is the most important part of the materials equation. You can have a bunch of materials lying around, but without your time and talent it won’t amount to anything other than a stack of stuff.

The second time I did the math, I got serious about it. I factored in (almost) everything. Not just the things I’d taken into account before (fabric, thread, batting, etc.) but all the things I hadn’t (my time, pins, printer ink, and a ton of other stuff). I choked again. Then I turned to the Attack of the Craft forums and got several gems of advice that really helped me in pricing.

First, I am selling a luxury item. It’s not food or shelter and it’s not going to negatively impact the life of anyone who can’t afford it. Second, I am not my target market. My target market exists in an income bracket above myself, so just because *I* can’t pay that much for it, doesn’t mean it’s not worth the amount. Third, you have to trust the math. If you aren’t making enough money to make the process worth your time you will come to resent it. This is supposed to be fun and rewarding, not a pain in the budgetary ass.

And last, but not least, wholesale makes absolutely no sense for handmade. To be profitable in wholesale, you need an economy of scale that you just aren’t going to get with handmade. It doesn’t matter if you’re selling 1 or 100, you’re still doing the same amount of work. There are no savings for handmade in wholesale because there’s no automation in handmade. This lesson actually took me a while to really sink in. I had to do a few wholesale orders (losing money on each piece) and kill myself in the process before it hit home. I think for the longest time I equated wholesale with success. But it’s just not.

Wholesale orders were good for introducing new animals like this wombat.

I try to review my costs once a quarter, or whenever I know something I use is going up in price (like postage or fabric or what have you). My materials include fabric, thread, batting, stuffing, labor, fleece, pins, tags (which includes fabric, thread and printer ink), shipping envelopes (I pay a bit more for compostable/recyclable, reusable eco enclose mailers), business cards, thank you cards, ribbon and postage. I don’t include the cost of shipping materials to me, photography costs, internet access and website costs, licenses, gas and other things like that.

I’m pretty happy with where my prices are right now. I make enough to cover my time and materials plus about $10 in profit (sometimes less) on each Ruggle I sell, but because of those other expenses I don’t factor into pricing I haven’t made a profit overall yet. I have hopes for this year, but we’ll see. I have never charged what that original formula told me to, not even the wholesale cost and I don’t really ever intend to use it as a real pricing tool again. It may make sense for others, but not for me.

Writing this made me realize that I don’t have pricing on my website. That’s one of my big pet peeves – not being able to find out how much something is going to cost. So here’s a quick breakdown with a more detailed pricing structure to come on the main site…

Standard Ruggles $50 + $5 shipping (most animals who are simple, i.e., have two ears and a tail.)

Horned Ruggles $55 + $5 shipping (animals with ears and horns and maybe a fleece muzzle like this moose.)

Involved Ruggles $60 + $5 shipping (anything that is more involved than horns and ears. Critters with ridges down the back or wings fall into this category)

Pieced Ruggles $65 + $5 shipping (any animal with two or more colors of fur pieced together, like this fox.)

Mini Ruggles $25 + $5 shipping (I only do animals that fall into the “standard ruggle” category as minis, and they are always ready to ship. No customs.)

Giant Ruggles $135 and up + $20 shipping (final cost dependent on the critter, but most “standard ruggle” animals will be $135 as giants.)

Even though it should be simple math, and easy, pricing just isn’t. There’s always an emotional component when you put a price on something you’ve made, as well as other factors that make it more difficult. But starting with the math is a smart way to go. As always, questions and comments welcome! Next up in the marketing series: placement.

Marketing (part 1)

The second most asked question I see (after taxes) is always about marketing – advertising and/or promotions. I spent 10 years as a marketing professional before becoming a stay at home Mom. Like all things I’m not an expert, but I’m pretty good at it. If I had more time (there’s that thing again) I could market the hell out of Bewhiskered. Since I don’t, and my marketing has been very limited in scope, I’m going to share a little bit about marketing in general and a lot more about what has specifically worked for me.

There are a lot of things that go into marketing, but it can be boiled down to the four “P’s”: product, price, place and promotion. I talked about product a little bit and my process of moving through various ideas before finding my passion and niche. That part’s important. If you don’t genuinely like and enjoy what you’re making, you can’t sell it effectively. In the handmade marketplace there are plenty of people selling (or trying to) crap glued to other crap, or variations on whatever’s hip, hot and happening at the moment. Sure, some of them make a little money. But look at the true powerhouse businesses in the handmade market. They all share one thing in common: they are making a unique product. Something that is truly theirs.

I actually have a policy of not favoriting or buying from resellers or people who have obviously copied an idea. If I’m going to pay a premium for a handmade product, I want it to be original. I want to know I’m supporting the artist that created it. I’m sure there are buyers out there who don’t care and will go for the cheapest version. Those people are not my customers.

How many of these octopi can you find?

If you’re a big corporation, you can look for holes in the market and manufacture whatever you think will make you money. But when you’re a one man band, you better damn well like the sound of the instrument.

Once you land on your product – and like I said, it took some time and false starts for me to get there – you still have decisions to make. Will you offer customs? How many variations are you going to make? For me customs were a no brainer. There’s no way I could make every Ruggle animal I’d like and have them all in stock all the time. I also let customs be the guide to what I make next. I have a long list of animals I want to make and if I ever had a week without a custom or a regular needing to be sewn I’d make one or two. It’s always good to have a backup. But I’d say 95% of my business is customs. It’s a double edged sword because I love doing them, but they also make me nervous. It’s the deadline aspect of it.  Ruggles lend themselves very well to customs. Other products might not.

This Deer was a custom, but will now become a regular addition to the shop.

Then you have to decide if you’re going to add any variations on the product. If you’re making bracelets, it might be a no brainer to add necklaces and earrings. I say might, because it might not. You might not like making necklaces or earrings. I debated for a while before adding the mini Ruggles to the lineup. The giant was actually a no brainer for me since the original idea came from a rug. It made sense to make one big enough to use as a rug. The minis were a different story. I was afraid everyone would want the minis and the regular size would languish (didn’t happen). I was afraid people would ask me to make all sorts of custom minis, which did happen. I got one request for a mini fox, which I politely declined. The fox is really complicated and becomes more so when downsized. I would have had to charge the regular size price for her mini, which is absurd. So I put a policy in place of not making custom minis. I plan to offer more minis in the future, as soon as I get around to them.

Up next: the biggest sticky wicket of them all – price.

Quick giveaway

I decided to do a small giveaway over on Facebook. If you share my page or tag me in a post on your own page or timeline, you’ll be entered to win a free Ruggle once I hit 200 likes. The winner can choose from the big cats (tiger, snow leopard, cheetah), bears (black, grizzly, polar), a monster, platypus or a duck.

Be sure “Bewhiskered” is in blue and that your share/post is public so I can see it. If you have trouble, you can leave a comment on the giveaway post ON FACEBOOK letting me know you shared. Don’t leave it here or I won’t count it.

Go, tag, be merry!

More challenging things

Time is obviously still my biggest challenge since I told myself I’d carve out time to post regularly and I’m not doing so hot on that front. But I’ve had others of course. Some anticipated, some not so much. I knew cash flow would be a problem. There’s never as much money as there are things to spend it on. I’ve had a couple difficult customers but I don’t feel like I can complain. My two weren’t really THAT bad and I know people who have the most assinine customers in the world. One in particular should write a book. They’re that bad. I’ve had issues with equipment failure though thankfully not that often. Most of the time if my sewing machine breaks I can take it to my repair guy and he has it back to me the same day.

The most irksome challenge I’ve had is a recent one and something I never imagined. Getting supplies. I needed plain white minky for a recent custom sheep.

The sheep in question

I went to my main supplier. Out of stock. Ummm… okay. That’s never happened before. Go to backup #1, and the website says they have it – yay! Only they call me two days later to say that no, they really don’t. That was pretty frustrating. Finally with the backup for my backup I found it and had it shipped. That process took a week, and thus made me a week late with the custom. Something that gives me stress hives.

But like everything, at least I learned something. Keeping basic supplies in stock at all times is an excellent idea. I’m going to have to get even more organized so when I use the last of something I’ll reorder immediately. I also found a better backup supplier, and the one I ordered from who called two days later has lost my business for the most part. They still have specific fabrics I can’t get anywhere else, but they messed up beyond just waiting two days to call me. I had two other fabrics in the order and they failed to ship them until seven days later after I called to complain. I’m actually still waiting on them to show up.

The silver lining of all this is that my customer was super awesome and patient. Also, I now have that new backup supplier that is fast with the shipping and has great customer service. I’m considering buying fabric wholesale, but the issue there is storage. Faux furs are bulky. I could pack 10 yard bolts of cotton in my dining room all day long, but a 10 yard bolt of minky is a whole different beast. If I come up with a way to store it without sending my husband into apoplexy, I’m going to do it. Just so I never again experience the panic of not being able to get what I need when I need it.

All in all I’ve been pretty lucky in that my challenges have turned a hair or two gray, but nothing overly serious. I haven’t had to track down buttheads using my pictures in their shops, deal with people who say hateful things just for the hell of it or had scammers who say the package was destroyed or lost in the mail or what have you – all things my circle of craft businesspeople friends have dealt with. Let me take a pause to knock on wood.

Hmmm… I’ve just noticed a trend. The challenges I think are the worst all deal with other people. I guess that’s because if it’s equipment or supplies or something like that, you just get it fixed or find another source. If it’s a person, then you have no idea what sort of crazy can happen.

Which makes me really, really grateful for my {totally and completely awesome} customers.

Time Challenges

It’s a common lament that there aren’t enough hours in the day. You’d think that would get better if you ran your own business, but it actually gets worse. I don’t call myself a “Work At Home Mom” because I don’t consider Bewhiskered to be my main job. I’m a Stay At Home Mom. My job is to care for and raise my boys. My part time job is to manage the household (a nice catch all phrase for handling everything from the dishes and laundry to scheduling doctors appointments to killing or relocating stray bugs). My other part time job is caring for our two cats which mainly involves letting Pilsbury in and out of the house hundreds of times a day.

Pilsbury, our brain damaged Manx

After all that, I have a husband who sometimes wants attention too. When I have free time (insert laugh here) I have to decide between sleeping, spending time with my husband, having “me” time or working on the business. I’ve gotten better at scheduling my time during the day so I manage to work a bit but it’s getting harder as Erik gets older and his naps get later. At one point I was getting so frustrated that I considered shutting Bewhiskered down.

I know other craft business people who have full time jobs (not involving kids) have the exact same problem. If anyone comes up with any sort of solution that doesn’t involve staying up later or waking up earlier please let me know. I’d love to stay up all night and work since that’s when I’m most productive, but on the rare occasions I’ve done that I’ve regretted it the next day. No matter how tired I am, I still have an energy filled three year old and toddler to deal with. And when I’m tired and cranky it’s not pretty. And I have never and will never be a morning person.

Almost human after hitting snooze three times and two cups of tea.

So until I come up with some magic way of doing it all (which personally I think is bullshit and something women put far too much pressure on ourselves to do) I’ll be bumbling around as I am now. I have found that the more organized I am, the better. When my space and supplies get disorganized I spend more time looking for things than I have to spare. I actually spent a couple of days last week getting even more organized which should help.

I try to keep in mind that running Bewhiskered should be fun for me. So I don’t schedule too many customs in too short a time. Being overdue on shipping them stresses me out big time. I’m going to give myself even more time when school ends and I’ll have both boys at home. Can I make a living working like this? Hell no. But that’s not what I’m going for right now.

It’s way past my bedtime, but this was the only time I had to update the blog. I’ve discovered it’s all about managing the tradeoffs. And naps. Naps are very important.

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