today holly herring is sharing some great advice on a whole range of business issues. for those of you looking for some advice on getting a business started, dealing with retail issues, pricing, gift fairs, and reps (and much more!) this will be a great way to get some ideas that will help get your business off the ground- and hit it running.
CLICK HERE for holly’s full post after the jump!
“I’ve always believed in the idea that each of us has a particular place in the universe where we belong, and that if we find it everything will fall into place and we will flourish.”
—Patrick O’Connell, chef
I don’t think it’s uncharacteristic of creative minds to have a tendency to veer off into the land of ADD. If you’ve ever thought about starting a business – big or small, why not now? Don’t wait another day, don’t over think it, and don’t spend any more countless hours doing “research” or getting lost in the land of cyberspace surfing the blogosphere, checking your competition or analyzing it.
So it’s no secret that things have been better, but history shows, when the economy suffers, those entrepreneurial souls blossom and new businesses are born. Especially now, when large manufacturers and designers are limiting production, there is always room for small businesses to prosper.
Even if you’re not entirely sure what you’re doing or know how to do it, pretend to know. Most of what we all learn is trial and error. So be prepared to make mistakes, take notes and learn from them. I read somewhere Julia Child said that if something goes wrong in the kitchen, just pretend that was how it was meant to turn out in the first place. What’s worse is not doing anything at all.
While I’m not suggesting you go at this with any less than 110% enthusiasm, you have to start somewhere. Believe in your idea, product or plan and know that not everyone will embrace it but many will love you. Be ready for the good, the bad and the ugly. (there are other Simon Cowells out there – they will do their best to bring you down but prove ‘em wrong). Some people just like to see people fail. We are not on that team….
And don’t spend time worrying about the competition or the potential of people knocking you off. There’s nothing like a true “original” so stay true to your ideas or designs and stay focused. Most people who are knocking others off don’t have their own ideas so it will be short lived and “what comes around goes around”. Believe me, I know how hard it is to swallow when someone says “imitation is the most sincere form of flattery”. Yeah, that’s easier said than done when a former employee promises not to carry the same merchandise or open a retail establishment in the same zip code and does anyway….Oh well. The cream always rises to the top and people are pretty wise about imitations… Your fans, friends and loyal customers will actually fierce fully support you so stay on task- it’s wasted energy. And all of the energy it takes to combat the others is better spent on your own goods.
One caveat to this….I know a girl who now has a successful business currently but she did make a mistake early on by sending her design ideas to a very, very successful handbag designer. They said, “no thanks”. Ironically, these color combinations and designs all appeared in her upcoming season and sold tremendously well in places like Neiman Marcus and her eponymous NY Flagship store. My advice is don’t send your ideas unsolicited to anyone…That’s where you must do your research. Ideas are free. Attorneys are costly. You’re a little guy. These things are hard to prove and a waste of more time and money so just be wise.
If you are concerned about start up costs, business plans, and that scares you…Then start small.
The nice thing about diving into a creative venture is that you can have an idea and make it a reality in minutes if you so desire. So, if you’ve had the urge to do something but were afraid to take the leap, here is your opportunity to play it safe if that’s the encouragement you need to make it happen. The cost is minimal and it doesn’t require the expertise of a graphic designer, engineer or computer programmer. Just a few snaps of your digital camera, a few clicks of the mouse and VOILA- you have an online presence. It’s no longer just a thought or a dream- it’s a reality.
After over twenty years of having a retail store, we closed our bricks and mortar shop, robin’s egg blue in the summer of 2008. I was really struggling with what to do with myself. I have two children so although I had my work cut out for me, I also have a passion for hunting for vintage treasures, designing, collecting, and creating. I was used to working 7 days a week and many hours a day and all of a sudden I had no creative outlet. While some people can’t get through the day without coffee or a diet coke, and some feel the buzz from the burn or the endorphins from a long run, I’ve never understood that so much. I desired to make stuff. Oh, and a steady source of income is nice.
So, my little etsy shop was born. This is a great solution to put as little or as much effort/resources as your lifestyle will allow. If you’re among one of the lucky individuals who are still employed, by all means, don’t quit your day job yet. While Etsy is a lovely little alternative to the high cost of maintaining your own site or shop full time, to make this your primary source of income, can take a lot of work, time and effort. You must market your goods the same way you would if you had a stand alone boutique. Nice thing is I have really branched out and although I was once featured in INSTYLE Magazine 2 years in a row- that doesn’t sell your goods. Lucky for you, Grace has many tools and resources to market and promote your brand. It’s not difficult- it just takes TIME…. In fact, I had this silly idea one night at 2 a.m. to send postcard to some editors at InStyle Magazine….And POOF….3 months later, my postman delivered a magazine to the door and I was jumping up and down as if I had won the lottery. Before you start any of these hair brain ideas, just make sure you are prepared to deliver your product. Be certain that you have inventory, the colors or sizes you are offering and that you’re not guessing so much anymore.
When in doubt, keep it simple. After all, Crate & Barrel has stocked it’s shelves for years keeping like things together and the formula works. It’s easy to read- customers understand that the glassware is grouped together- just like the grocery store keeps canned goods together. Ever show up at a store where they’ve moved everything around- it makes you crazy, doesn’t it? Just remember that when you start merchandising your booth, online shop or layout. Even Anthroplogie, while they’re offerings might be more whimsical, there still remains a method to the madness so whether you’re presenting goods at The Brooklyn Flea or on-line- try to keep your story understandable ie; easy to read/buy.
Selling your goods retail….
Pricing your goods can be challenging and can be difficult..
1. You have to make a profit.
2. You can’t undermine your future customers/retailer
3. I often hear artists say “this took me X amount of time….Well, it’s very difficult to factor time because the first time you make something it will most likely take 10 times longer than the 20th time you make something so I don’t recommend using time as a gauge ever to determine how much something should cost.
4. Perceived value….How much would you pay for this item? How much is it at a dept store? This is when it doesn’t hurt to do a little research. Ask a friend or ask a retailer.
5. Materials and overhead….Figure what you have into it- hopefully, once you’re doing things most efficiently you’re buying materials wholesale or in bulk so this will cut down on your costs….Allowing you to provide the best price. It’s very competitive out there so now isn’t the time to be greedy, either.
Okay, well, now it’s recommended that you have your act together and winging it isn’t a good idea at this juncture. Although the perception might be that you’ll never get into the NY INTL. GIFT FAIR and the waiting list is years long, there is always room for new talent. The NYIGF has a panel of jurors looking for new and distinctive resources so why not you?
And if you have not yet attended the NYIGF then I recommend you hop to it! This is hands down, the best opportunity to find out what it’s all about. There are many other regional gift shows, but this is the best one in the U.S. It consistently draws quality buyers from around the world and offers a product mix unlike any other show. These shows typically take place twice a year in January and August.
The gift shows can cost thousands of dollars. So, if you were to put $8,000 into a booth, you must be in a position to ship at least double that, I would think, to make a profit or at least break even and feel good about your efforts. . The exposure you get will be greater than any other gift show. Many editors, international buyers and department store buyers shop this show so it will be a great opportunity to network. As well, the contacts you will make of fellow artists and designers will provide invaluable feedback.
If you are looking for more exposure but aren’t ready to take this on, there is always the alternative of working with a road representative or a national showroom. These options will also give you the exposure at national or regional gift shows. I always found it helpful to ask the buyers or store owners you respect for some feedback. Who do they like to work with? What showrooms have the product mix where you would find the best fit? Which reps follow up and follow through with sales as well as when there is a problem? There is a great amount of turnover with reps so it’s also a good idea to ask who has the most retention with their sales force.
If you elect to go forward with this option, you might be growing to the point where you are no longer able to design or keep up with production or perhaps you now have additional help and your inventory is greater than your sales? And maybe you just don’t like selling your own goods- that is a challenge in itself to put on the sales hat and take your feelings out of it. People say things that you would never imagine about price, appearance, and quality of goods so if you treat this like your first born, it can be hard to swallow so take a deep breath or allow someone else to help with this.
Signing on with a manufacturer’s rep is a big step- there are all kinds of legal things you must contend with to make this a partnership, primarily this includes paying out approximately 10-20% commission monthly. As well, you must train your reps or the showroom about all of the nuances of your product and story. Ideally, these reps will sell your goods as you would sell yourself so sharing the history of your product and all of the details that set you apart from your competitors should be part of this presentation. Another expense will be providing samples to the sales team – after all, they can’t sell the product without having the real deal (or I don’t recommend that). It’s very difficult for buyers to buy from a catalog or the internet so it’s a huge expense but one that will pay great dividends if you can provide enough samples so that your line is being represented the best it can without your presence. Bear in mind, these samples may not be returned in the same condition in which they were sent and there is always that chance you might not get samples returned so factor that into your overhead.
The greatest benefit of working with a rep or showroom is the exposure that one person can’t achieve alone. Hopefully, they have been trained to sell and have a passion for the goods you are creating. Most importantly, they have long term relationships with buyers and can help you attain a greater volume of sales now that you are ready to up your production!