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 ( 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.

Oh Hai Thar!

So I was laying in bed with my 13 month old as he fell asleep pondering (as one does) and it hit me. Well, not literally of course. Actually, my internal dialogue went something like this: “Dentist appointment tomorrow means I should probably shower tonight or in the morning. I should really journal about the business and how I’m struggling with various things. Hey, I have that totally neglected blog for Bewhiskered. HEY I KNOW. I’ll write about all the things I’m going through as a newbie business owner. That might be fun.”

So there ya go. I guess I should start at the beginning so if that sort of recap thing bores you to tears you can skip to the end now.

I worked for 10 years as a marketing professional. Then I got pregnant. I’d always wanted to be a stay at home Mom. But I also love making things. And writing. But it was pretty obvious early on that writing was going to be more difficult for me than making things. I just couldn’t get the time and space I needed to get into another world in my head which is what I need to do in order to write. Making things it was!

And boy, did I make things. They started to pile up. So I figured I could open an Etsy store and make a little extra spending money. The initial concept behind Bewhiskered was to make things for pets. It just never clicked. I have a ton of books on making pet toys and even some materials for things like catfish shaped kitty beds, but nothing ever got made. Then I finished my son’s cloth diaper stash and had a ton of material left over, so I made some extra cloth diapers and opened shop. That didn’t click either. I sold a few, but I wasn’t really into making them and the competition was fierce.

They were pretty cute though.

Third time’s the charm, right? I had this tiger rug my Mom latch hooked for me as a baby. With Jake’s six month pictures getting close, I decided I wanted to recreate that rug. I looked for a latch hook kit, and no dice. So I picked up this great book of stuffed animal patterns, enlarged the pattern for a tiger’s head about 300% and whipped up a vaguely tiger skin shaped body for it.

It was terrible. But it looks okay in his pictures.

You'll notice the photographer wisely cropped out the head.

Other Mom friends of mine were talking up these tag blankets so I looked up a few on Etsy. I didn’t like them. They were all small, for one thing. And boring. Cue the lightbulb. I chopped the head off that first tiger rug and used the body material to make the first Ruggle. It belongs to Jake. It’s pretty bad. Thankfully they got better.

So anyway, all of that is to say the process that formed this business was a slow one. It’s actually only been very recently that I started calling it a business. Before I’d say that I sold things online or I made these blankets or some variation of the sort. It was more a hobby. An outlet for my creativity and a way to make a little extra money that was flexible enough to fit into my Mommy life.

The first decision I faced was whether to keep it more of a hobby, or transition to a proper business. I was making only enough money to pay for more supplies really, but I got a big order that let me buy annual passes to the Georgia Aquarium. That was actually really cool. That had me thinking that Bewhiskered could fund other cool things for me and my boys. So now it’s a business. Which means it has to be profitable. And I have to keep good records to ensure that it’s profitable. And there’s all these licenses and taxes and stuff that have to be dealt with.

My record keeping is a dollar spot plastic accordion folder from Target with the sections marked by quarter. I put any receipts for things I don’t buy with my Paypal card in there. I use to keep track of everything else, and manually enter the non-Paypal receipts about twice a year. I have an Excel spreadsheet for figuring out my product cost. I made it up so I’m pretty sure it’s lacking in a hundred different ways, but it works. I use free templates for just about everything and make up the rest myself.

I’m hoping 2012 will be the year I turn an actual profit. I’m going to end this post here, since it’s late and my kids still haven’t adjusted to daylight savings time which means I’ll be up at the ass crack of dawn.

I’ve got loads of topics for future posts, and I’m going to do my damndest to put them up on a regular basis. What do you want to know? I’ll be happy to answer with the perspective of a newly minted (bumbling through it) business person.

Meet Dusty of Inverness Studios

Once a week I feature other Etsy artisans on my blog. Most are fellow members of my Etsy Teams: Etsy for Animals, Attack of the Craft, Etsy Moms and the Georgia Etsy Team. Some are random Etsy sellers whom I stalk whose work I love and admire. All of them are unique and have interesting stories to tell. I hope you enjoy getting to know them!

Dusty is a fellow member of the Attack of the Craft Team and makes awesome items for book people.

Tell us a bit about yourself:
At this point in my life I won’t tell you my age, but I am old enough to remember when John Lennon was shot, when leg warmers were ‘in’ the first time around, and to have had a mad, passionate crush on The Two Corey’s. I am now much older and married to a wonderful man who lets me pursue this artsy passion of mine.

How did you come up with your shop name?
I was searching and searching for a name. I wanted something interesting, but everything seemed to be taken that I liked. I had almost given up and just going with the standard of using my name when one week the name, Inverness, started popping up everywhere. I heard it on a radio show (yes, I listen to those old things), then read it in a book, and finally an episode of Kitchen Nightmares did a spot in the town in Scotland. It just seemed like someone was telling me something. So I did a little research on the meaning which has two meanings – one being ‘A long, loose overcoat with a detachable cape having a round collar.’ (like Sherlock Holmes is shown wearing) or INVERNESS, from the Gaelic “Inbhir” meaning “river mouth” and from the old Celtic word “Nesta” meaning “roaring one”. Having such a love for Doyle and his character, Mr. Holmes, and having always had an obsession for Scotland I thought it was perfect. ‘Studio’ was added to keep my options open in my design process.

When did you start sewing?
I have been ‘crafting’ and sewing for as long as I can remember. My mother was a stay-at-home and always had us (my sisters, a neighbor kid she sat for, and myself) doing something to keep us occupied. I started sewing as soon as I could reach the pedal. Officially, I started way back in 2006 then opened my Etsy shop in 2008.

What made you want to start selling your creations?
I never thought I could sell anything. I just liked making stuff; it was family and friends that finally convinced me to give it a shot. I am still hoping they were right.

Please describe your creative process?
Pretty much just doing whatever and then the ideas come. When I try to think about an idea, they don’t come, but if I focus on something else they usually come around. A lot of the times they come while working on other projects which could be why I always have too many going at one time.

What inspires you?
Everything; mostly books and my emotions.

Does your shop have a theme or purpose?
Recently I have been making a transition from a Recycled purpose to an over-all Relaxing of the Mind, Body, and Soul theme. I feel my book related items still encompass that area so I will be keeping those items in the shop; I am just expanding to an area I have always loved – a low-stress life (who doesn’t right?). I still try to incorporate a recycled element into everything I do where I can. My bookmarks are almost 100% recycled (sealer and ribbon are the only ‘new’ parts), but others, like my ComfortRead pillows only have a small portion and my ComfortTherapy pillows concentrate entirely on the Mind, Body, and Soul.

Are your items custom or premade?
Most are premade, but I have done the occasional custom for clients.

Tell us two of your short term goals and one long term goal:
My two most important short term goals are to make this smooth transition to ‘Relax Your Life’ and make sure all clients are able to do obtain that element in their life. My long term goal is to be able to support myself and family on Inverness Studios.

Walk us through a typical day in your life:
At the moment it is pretty boring. On a perfect day:
Work the ‘Day Job’ (which is pretty flexible at the moment)
Within the said flexible ‘day job’ schedule I work on any ideas I have had.
Time with hubby

What is your favorite item in your shop at the moment?
My favorite would have to be my new ComfortTherapy pillows. They are so soft, warm, and comfy. I love making the cases and creating new aromatherapies.

If you had any super power, what would it be?
To be able to live on only a 3-4 hours of sleep a night.

Where on the web can you be found?
I look forward to seeing you around the shop!

Meet Stacie of The Clay Pony

Once a week I feature other Etsy artisans on my blog. Most are fellow members of my Etsy Teams: Etsy for Animals, Attack of the Craft, Etsy Moms and the Georgia Etsy Team. Some are random Etsy sellers whom I stalk whose work I love and admire. All of them are unique and have interesting stories to tell. I hope you enjoy getting to know them!

Stacie is a fellow member of the Attack of the Craft and Etsy for Animals Teams and makes awesome Scandinavian inspired folk art.

How did you come up with your shop name?
I first made some Dala Horse figurines for my mom and sister in law as Christmas presents. I really liked how the figurines turned out and wanted to make more to sell, along with other animals. Around that time I wanted to leave eBay and open a shop at Etsy. Etsy seemed like a much better place for serious crafters. I wanted to create all new branding with a new name to go with it. I named my shop TheClayPony after the Dala Horses that inspired my new shop.

When did you start making jewelry?
I started making and selling jewelry on eBay in 2004, but I’ve been crafting for almost my whole life. The first thing I remember creating on my own was a crayon drawing of a robot with a picture frame I made of popsicle sticks. I think I was 4 or 5 at the time. When I was little I wanted to be an artist when I grew up.

What made you want to start selling your creations?
I took just about every art and computer graphics class at my college, I was wanting to be a Graphic Designer. In one of my Design classes we had to make tangible products, sculptures, and 3-dimensional mixed media art. I decided I liked creating things with my hands more than just designing it on a computer. I then took the plunge into starting my own handmade business. All my computer design learning hasn’t gone to waste, I still make digital artwork that I print and use as focal points in some of my polymer clay pendants, and on some of my animal figurines.

Please describe your creative process?
Usually something just pops into my head of something I want to create. After that I build a prototype with clay, then make a silicone mold, and cast the final product with either polymer clay or resin.

What inspires you?
Scandinavian folk art as well as cartoons from the 80’s. Sometimes I combine the two in my creations. My pastel animal figurines and jewelry are made with my Scandinavian animal shapes and painted with a small red heart on their butts, as a nod to Care Bears and My Little Pony.

Does your shop have a theme or purpose?
I love animals, and they often appear in my work. I’m a member of the Etsy For Animals (EFA): Artists Helping Animals street team. Items I create for their monthly themes have a percentage that I donate to the Etsy For Animals Charity Of The Month.

As far as eco-friendly goes, I’ve just found a new brand of clay called Pardo Jewellery Clay, which is eco-friendly and made with beeswax. I’m starting to make the transition of making my resin figurines and jewelry with the Pardo clay.

Are your items custom or premade?
All of my listed items are premade. I also custom make items as special requests.

Tell us two of your short term goals and one long term goal:
My short term goals are (1) to make enough different items to fill up 7 pages in my shop (the most I’ve had was 4 pages), and (2) to start doing craft shows.
My long term goal is to get my items into B&M stores, ideally in the Scandinavian shops in Door County, Wisconsin.

Walk us through a typical day in your life:
On a typical weekday I workout for an hour after having breakfast and checking my email. I reply to any shop related questions and thank customers for their orders. Then I look at the long list of sold out items that I need to remake and restock, and decide on which ones I want to work on that day. I’m also constantly coming up with ideas of new items to create, and have to decide if I want to work on something new or something from my sold out list. I stop working to have lunch and watch two episodes of Fraggle Rock on TV (I love shows from the 80‘s!). My shipping cut off time is noon, so everything that’s sold from the previous day after noon, and during the morning of the current day gets packaged and brought to the Post Office for mailing. I then write to all my customers with their mailing info. After that I get back to working until late afternoon, then I get to relax.

If you could have any super power, what would it be?
I would like to travel in time.

What is your favorite item in your shop at the moment?
My Neverending Story Auryn necklace. It took about 30 days to sculpt and carve the original prototype to perfection. I’m so pleased with how it turned out, that it’s rewarding for how long it took to make it.

Where on the web can you be found?
My website:
Etsy shop:
My geekery items are on this page at AtatckOfTheCraft:
My Artfire shop:
On consignment at MauStudio:
Creative Animal Relief, where 100% of the sales go to animal charities:

A small note on customs…

I had a lot of fun ordering a bunch of fabric today in advance of opening my custom slots again. I already have a waiting list which has filled the month of March and spilled over into April, so if you’ve been thinking of requesting a custom from me go ahead and let me know so I can put you on the list!

Here are the details on how my custom orders work:

I love a challenge, but I am honest with customers about what I am and am not able to create concerning a custom. Customs generally take two weeks to create. If it will take longer I’ll let you know. I allow for one custom per week so if you have a special date contact me early. I try to keep in good contact with custom order customers so you know where I am every step of the way. If the Ruggle is highly specialized and would not appeal to anyone but you, I require payment in advance to start work. Otherwise, I generally hold off on client specific customization options (like belly stitching) until after I post your listing and pictures. That way, should you not like the way it turns out, there is no obligation to buy. I do ask that you let me know within a week of your reserved listing being posted if you have changed your mind and no longer want your item so I can offer the Ruggle to others.

Some customization options:

* Choice of animal (I’m willing to attempt any animal and so far have only found one that doesn’t look right no matter how hard I try – that would be monkeys)

* Embroidered eyes (note: these are done by hand, by me. I’m not an embroidery expert, but I do my best and promise to keep cross and wall eyes to a minimum.)

* Belly stitching (past examples of custom bellies can be seen on my flickr account:

* Satin or fleece belly

* A preference for certain colors or types of fabric in the claws or mane

To request a custom, just email me or send me a convo on Etsy.

Meet Janet of Amelia’s Soap Company

Once a week I feature other Etsy artisans on my blog. Most are fellow members of my Etsy Teams: Etsy for Animals, Attack of the Craft, Etsy Moms and the Georgia Etsy Team. Some are random Etsy sellers whom I stalk whose work I love and admire. All of them are unique and have interesting stories to tell. I hope you enjoy getting to know them!

Janet is a fellow member of the Georgia Etsy Team and makes wonderful bath and body products.

How did you come up with your shop name?
Amelia was my mom’s name and it’s actually my name too. We live close to Amelia Island, FL … when my mom moved here, you should have seen the look on her face when she learned there’s an island with her name!

When did you start making Bath and Body Products?
I took a cold process soapmaking class in Savannah in 2003. I’d asked a friend to go with me and she said, “That’s too hard. I’m going to buy the kind you can melt.” Then she looked over at me and said, “Oh, my gosh! You loved it, didn’t you?” And I DID!!

What made you want to start selling your creations?
One can make only so many batches of soap to give away. Also, soapmaking can become a passion and one has to pay for more supplies!

Please describe your creative process.
I make many types of body and bath products, and there is a deep level of research and planning that goes into each one. You wouldn’t believe how many people I get to test them …. some people now ask if anything is new! Often a formulation gets changed many times (or discarded). Then there’s the packaging stage to plan. Finally the new product is made and launched!

What inspires you?
I love to help people and so many have skin problems lately. The skin is the largest organ of the body so I believe what goes on it is very important. Handmade products can be so much healthier. I belong to a team on Etsy which focuses on safe manufacturing practices and that is very important to me also.

Does your shop have a theme or purpose?
To make beautiful products that help people.

Tell us two of your short term goals and one long term goal.
One goal is to make products that are above the norm in quality and design.
Another big goal is to stay organized and balanced …. it allows one to accomplish more in a day.
My long term goal is to be a business owner with a good reputation and one to whom people turn for excellent products.

Walk us through a typical day in your life.
Many days, I get up at 6:30 to exercise. I hurt my back in high school as a gymnast and learned it’s best to keep moving. I actually lift weights in a class with some of my testers.  I leave there and run errands, hopefully going to the post office with an order. From there it’s back home to get to work making products or whatever. I check in with my Etsy soap team, order supplies if needed, clean, and try to learn something new every day.

What is your favorite item in your shop right now?
I have two favorites! The Lux Silken Sleek Crème because it is amazing …. And I love my Face Polish, really any of my scrubs, because exfoliating old skin cells to reveal fresh ones is renewing. Both products make people feel better and that’s what I love!

Where on the web can you be found?

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