Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Spreading Out

My last post was a difficult one to write. It is not fun to share bad news. Yet, to omit it from what I am writing might create a false impression of what is going on in the world of craft today. It is not pretty. Very talented people are struggling, or at least feeling the pinch.

But it is not all bleak either.

One of the things I have learned in this business is the importance of having a balance. What kind of balance? A balance of price points, a balance of outlets for my work, and a balanced mix of products. Products tend to vary in how profitable they are, and their stage in development. Boston Consulting Group developed a matrix, many years ago, that placed products in various quadrants based on the product's growth or market share, and profitability, as a way to assess a company's portfolio of products.

A fast growing product, or one that has a good market share, and is very profitable is a Star. As much as companies want to have all stars in their portfolio of products, it is not likely. Stars may start out as Question Marks. Products that may have a good growth, but are not yet very profitable. At this stage, it is unclear if they will become Stars, or Dogs. Dogs are products that have a low market share or growth, and are unprofitable. Dogs need to either be rehabilitated, or dropped from the mix. Finally, there are Cash Cows. These are products that may not have the growth they once enjoyed but they are profitable. They generate cash to help fund the future Star products of the business. They do not need much investment beyond production, and occasional tweaking of design to generate cash for the business.
Thinking about where your products lie on this spectrum is a good way to start to think about what changes you might want to make in your product portfolio. Are there products that need to be shed? Are there products that need some more nurturing to be made more profitable? What are your Cash Cows and your Stars? What threats might exist to these products in the market? These threats can come from competition, new technology that can make a product obsolete, or from changes in the economy.
You may think new technology could not effect our businesses as artists/craftspeople. Well, what if you make cell phone or iPod cases or covers? Talk about a moving target! Yet, there has been good demand for these types of products. Being in a market such as this can be a wild ride, but a highly profitable one if you are quick to respond to the changes, and have a means to get your product to market very quickly.
A balance of price points is important as well. Low priced impulse items are important when the economy is soft. They could be great gift items, or personal indulgences. When the economy pulls back, these types of products can maintain their strength. A mid-point product is probably the backbone of most businesses. Although, I believe the midpoint is struggling the most right now in the craft market. Just as the middle class is being squeezed, the mid range of price points are selling more slowly. Some, such as Bruce Baker, have talked about the strength of the very high end of the market, as we have had an increased concentration in wealth at the upper levels. Do you have a product to offer this group?
Your focus might be on one price range, or on your Cash Cow. But having a diversified portfolio of products will give you more flexibility to withstand the economic strains of a tight market. It will allow you to adapt to serve the strongest part of the market. If you are selling all high end work, and the economy tanks, your business may have the legs cut out from under it. Strictly selling low priced impulse items might mean you are forever chasing the next trend, and looking over your shoulder to see who is trying to copy your success.

Finally, it is important to keep your eyes looking beyond the moment. What is your long range goal? Where are you heading? Are you still on the right path, in spite of some bumps in the road? If not, what adjustments do you need to make to get yourself back on track?

A bad show is just that. A bad show. Nothing more. Nothing less. Even in the worst of shows, something is learned, and connections are made. Having a broad base in your business means you are stronger to survive the economic swings. As much as I was disappointed in my sales at the show this past weekend, it is not a crisis. I have wholesale orders to fill, and interest from a catalog in carrying the cranes. In spite of the slow retail business, I have still grown my business over last year's sales. I am in this for the long term.
An investment advisor would tell you not to invest all in one stock or company. You should diversify your portfolio of investments. Your investment in your business should also be diversified. A range of products. A range of markets for your products. When the going gets tough, and it is looking tough these days, it is easier to withstand the shocks if you have a broader base.
Happy Halloween, and it is back to making cranes, for me!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Reading Tea Leaves

I don't know if it is reading tea leaves really, or being hit over the head with a mallet! But my current approach to retail shows is not working. Looking at the numbers, the average cost per show has increased, and the average sales per show has decreased. I am approaching a dangerous intersection.

I am not sure exactly where the problem lies, or if perhaps it comes from many places, but I know I need to rethink my approach. The show this weekend in Providence was a beautiful one. The work that was on display was a visual feast. There is so much amazing talent out there. And yet, many artists at the show struggled to cover their show expenses. Lately, I feel like I am making more of an investment in the business of the show promoters, and the collections of the craft buyers, than I am in my own business.

Is the overall craft market in need of a new model? Look at the radical transformation that has occurred in the music industry in the last decade. Does the world of craft need such a reformation? Will craft shows be replaced by Etsy and the Guild.com? There are fewer and fewer shows that have the following, and buyers, to sustain the $1000 or more booth fees that some of the "better" shows are charging. Perhaps two day shows, rather than three? Perhaps more affordable venues? I am not sure. I do know that I am not alone in my struggles in the retail craft world.

In the meantime, I know I need to reform my approach at a show. I have to rethink my merchandising strategies. My knowledge in retail merchandising and display is very limited and needs some rethinking. This is my Achille's heel.

I had the input of a good friend, Sandra McCaw, this weekend about problems with my display. She helped me start to see some of the pitfalls of my current set-up. Buyers need to be able to assess things quickly and easily, or they are on to the next booth. I had grouped things by color. I thought that people would be drawn to certain colors and could gravitate to that area of the display and focus in on that. The order I thought I had created felt chaotic to others. Different styles of jewelry here and there. When I rearranged the work by style, rather than by color, I saw the difference. Light bulb moment.

One of the things that you learn with interior design, and I had also been told was true with booth displays, was to have things at different heights. It helps the eye travel. But, when you have a pedestal and case display for jewelry, things are displayed more or less on the same level. The variations in height are more subtle. But, it works. Perhaps the process of shopping for jewelry is one that needs a more quiet and studied reflection. The levels might work better for larger objects. I am going to be going away from my current booth set-up, and look into cases with pedestals, or hanging my work on the wall in framed shadow box type displays. Cleaner and more elegant. Likewise, Elise Winters made the suggestion to rethink the background for my work, moving from black, to a white background.

The craft market is soft. There is no room for anything less than being spot on in this business, right now. I have not hit the mark. I am rethinking everything right now. Will I continue with retail? Where and how? Will I continue to make and sell my vessels? And of course, where am I going with those displays??

I had scaled back on retail shows this past year. I will cut back further still this coming year. My wholesale business has more than doubled this year, and is looking better all the time. I will spend more time nurturing the development of that part of the business. Right now, the retail side of my business is on life support. Changes are in order. Stay tuned......

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Check This Out

Have you been over to Alison Lee's blog lately, and listened to her podcast interview with Wendy Rosen. Wendy shares a lot of her insights and knowledge about the business of craft. She also gives her top ten list of mistakes that artists make as business people. Definitely worth a listen.

And have you seen this page on Lindly Haunani's blog/website? It is under the Visual Journal button on the top menu. I love playing with collage, and these are terrific. I am a real fan of her blog. Short posts. Well written. Great tips, and insights. Definitely a regular visit for me.

If you like collage, you must check out this work. The artist is Noli Novak. She apparently specializes stipple illustrations....pictures made of many small dots. They are nearly photographic in their accuracy. But the collages are what really entranced me. You must click on the images, and see in more detail to fully appreciate what she is doing. It could be interesting to try something like this with polymer clay...


Tonight I went into Boston to a reception being held for the alumni of my business school, Weatherhead School of Management, at Case Western Reserve University. That is a mouthful, isn't it? I graduated from there more than twenty years ago...yikes!!...with an MBA. My concentration was in marketing and finance. As it turned out, all my marketing classes were with one professor, Mohan Reddy. At the time he was not quite a professor yet, but he was one of those fantastic teachers that you never forget. Mohan recently became the Dean of the Weatherhead School. Thus the trip to Boston. I am setting up for a show in Providence tomorrow, and should have been home getting ready, but I had to take advantage of this opportunity to visit with Mohan.

I have not seen Mohan in more than fifteen years. But, what I learned from him, in school, and in contacts after I left school, has stayed with me. When I face a challenging business situation, it is not unusual for me to think about Mohan, and try and draw on some of the wisdom he imparted.

As I drove home tonight, I thought about how there are people in our lives, who have a profound impact on the way we view the world. What we learn from them, stays with us, beyond the time we are actually in contact with them. We carry that wisdom they have shared with us for the rest of our lives. A little voice in our head that can be a guidepost when we are stuck. They can be teachers, friends, co-workers, therapists, a parent.... Some come with baggage. But the exceptional ones are the ones that change us. They open up a door for us. They challenge us to go further than we might have thought we were able. Giving us a push when we need it. Celebrating our successes. Giving us encouragement to continue moving forward.

Off the top of my head, I can say I have had three people in my life who have played that role....one of them was Mohan. It is because of what I have learned from Mohan, and others, that I felt compelled to begin this blog, and begin to share some of what I have learned, and what I am continuing to learn. I hope you have had an inspirational teacher in your life, like Mohan. Someone that you would rearrange your schedule around in an instant, if you had a chance to meet up with them for a few hours. Everyone deserves at least one such person in their life.

True to form, he presented me with a few challenges tonight. The real challenge, finding a few more hours in the day to take those on, or at least begin to think about them. Weatherhead School is lucky to have Mohan as their Dean. And I am lucky to have had Mohan as a teacher. Thanks Mohan. And the other stuff will have to wait another six weeks or so.... Right now, I have some cranes to make!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Which Voice are You Listening To?

Remember the image from childhood of the devil on one shoulder and the angel on the other. You are being encourage to be good by the angel, and to get into some trouble by the devil. As we grow older, I think the devil and angel...or the voices of good and evil,...get replaced by the voices of doubt on one hand, and trust on the other.

As we look at facing new challenges in our business, the voices might start engaging in debate. The voice of trust, believes in our abilities, and our readiness. It trusts our desire to take that step, and move forward to a new level. The voice of doubt on the other hand, is the one that we also may hear from those around us. "What if you bomb?" "You're not ready yet!" "That is for people who are more talented/experienced/prepared (pick your qualification) than you are."

Doubt may be based partly in reality. We may truly not be fully prepared yet. But our desire and trust in our ability, on the other hand, may be right as well. We may want it, and have the skills to acheive it. But we may not be completely ready yet. And yet, we may be as ready as we will ever get until we make the commitment to take on the challenge. Once that commitment has been made, we may finally take the actions we have been delaying to fill in the gaps. The emotions of doubt can start to overwhelm us though. What we lack in experience or otherwise will suddenly loom much larger than it may need to.

I have often taken that leap of faith, and then started to question my sanity. "What was I thinking?" But I have usually been able to channel this fear into preparation. Learning what I need to know, and doing the work I need to do so that I can be prepared. Letting the fear take over can freeze us into inaction. We end up under prepared, meeting our expectations of failure. We might be left saying, "I'll never do that again." We start to stay safe. We limit how far we stretch ourself. We lose that limberness and strength that we get when we go outside our comfort zone. It can start to translate into our work. Our work stops evolving because, "What if they don't like it?" Fear starts to creep into every opportunity, and we are left frozen in place. What if we no longer like what we are doing, but we are afraid to move?

I often espouse taking baby steps. But sometimes we need to make the leap across the canyon. We need to commit even when we are not 100% convinced that we are ready. Then, once we have commited, it is back to taking the steps, one by one, to be prepared for when we need to perform....introducing a new line, doing a show that is a stretch from what we have done before, approaching a new gallery, putting together a press kit, entering a contest. You name the goal. The thing that you want to do, but you are not sure if you are ready yet. But you are also not sure how you will know when you are ready.

Maybe, when you make the leap, the outcome won't meet your grandest hopes and ambitions. But maybe, you will be in a better place than where you were before you took the chance. And you will have learned valuable lessons, and built your confidence to try something else new and a bit scary.

This is how growth happens. Growth in our business. Growth in us as individuals. Leaps of faith that are both exhilerating and scary. It doesn't matter how old you are, or how long you have been doing something. There is always a new goal, a new challenge to be met. Will you let yourself take the leap of faith? Or will you stand on the side. Waiting for a sign. A big, bold, neon sign that is so clear and unmistakeable that you couldn't possibly be wrong this time. You might have a long, long wait if you need a sign that clear.

Take the time to consider any such decision fully. But if you have the desire, and believe that with some manageable amount of work you can meet the challenge, it may be the right time to leap into the new and unknown.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Resigning From Meddling

I handed in my resignation to my kids today. I am resigning from helping with any and all art projects they may have at school. I will provide materials and supplies. But beyond that, they are on their own, or must call on their dad.

I wonder if people who write for a living have a problem with this when their kids have a writing assignment. I can't help myself. They start describing some school project that is at all visual and creative, and I want to dive in. I try to just give a few suggestions for how approach it. But soon I find myself spilling out ideas, making suggestions for layout, or color, ..... I can't stop myself. Pretty soon I am thinking about the poster or diorama, or whatever, that I would make.

As you might imagine, this is not the best scenario for my kids. Inevitably they feel like I am taking over (no!), and are trying to figure out how to get me to just go away. So, in order to protect them, their work, and our relationship, I have resigned from helping with any and all artwork for school. I will help with math, science, writing, etc. It is easy for me to keep my distance there. But I am vulnerable to meddling in the extreme when it comes to art projects.

Sometimes our intentions to help someone, because we have the knowledge or experience, can be good. But we can lose sight of what help is wanted and needed. We can get too involved in someone else's outcome. Offering help is good. But needing to have it taken and acted upon crosses the line. Then it is no longer helping. It is meddling. Guilty as charged. I know this is not the only place that this comes up for me. But I am working on some of those as well.

How about you? Do you suffer from the need to help/meddle? How do you disengage yourself? What things are the hardest for you to resist? For me, it tends to be the very things I am most passionate about. I guess the passion can overtake our normal boundaries. All I can do is try to be conscious, and work to pull back when I sense I have begun to cross the line. It ain't easy, but neither is annoying those around you because you've gone too far.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

What Can We Learn from Those Stats?

There has been some serious grousing lately on a discussion board. It is about statistics. This is a discussion that happens regularly anytime someone is trying to sell something, and is using the services of another company to facilitate that process. If the outcome is not meeting their expectations, there is the inevitable outcry...."Where are the buyers?" "We want to see the numbers...." Attendance, visits, who is visiting?..... Raise the cry, and you will be sure to hear the back up chorus chiming in, in full harmony. I have seen and heard this over and over again, for wholesale shows, retail shows, on-line outlets (EBay, Etsy, and Wholesalecrafts.com), etc.

The latest discussion leaders want more statistics about the buyers. Who is coming? How often do they come? How often do they buy? The thinking seems to be that valuable information can be found in those statistics. If they had the statistics, they could then "prove" that the particular outlet is not performing. Or it is not their fault that things are not going the way they want. It is the quality of the buyers. The lack of buyers. The wrong buyers.

But at any of these places, you can also find artists who are connecting with buyers. Why? Is it because they are selling "cheap stuff"? Is it because they are lucky? There are endless reasons why they may be having more success than those who are focused on getting more statistics. But I am willing to guess that the main reason they are doing well, is they putting in the effort to promote their work. They are keeping their work fresh. They are constantly adjusting and adapting.

Etsy has become a hot place to sell your handcrafted work. But it takes a lot more than just putting up some pictures and waiting for the sales to come in. Successful sellers on Etsy are promoting their presence on Etsy elsewhere, on the web and off, and they are working the site. They are on the discussion boards. Showcasing their work. Active on the street teams. Success on Etsy just doesn't happen. It takes work.

At a retail show, you need to do the mailing, display your work to best advantage, and sell your work. Be present to the customer. Have a story to tell about your work, your inspiration, or your life as an artist. Have a good product at a fair price. Buyers are more selective than they may have been in the past. Being talented is not enough. In order to get a sale, you need to have the rest of the package in place.

On a site like Wholesalecrafts.com it takes effort to get sales. You might as well just put $400 in an envelope and hand it to a stranger if you are not going to invest any other effort...or money...into making the site work to your best advantage. Being on the site is only the first step. Anyone who has an on-line shop with their website will tell you that you must be able to get the traffic to your site to be able to have a chance at making a sale. Likewise, on a site like Wholesalecrafts.com, where there are over 1000 artists on the site, you need to do more than post images of your work to generate a sale. You need to keep your work fresh, run ads, online and in print. And being on the site doesn't mean you shouldn't be pursuing other opportunities off the site.

So, let's say the people raising the outcry get the statistics. And they find out that buyers are coming to the site. What then? Do they ask for a financial audit of the buyers? It must be that the buyers who are coming are just not buying enough stuff, right? Or they don't have a big enough budget to buy quality work.

It's the statistic thing again. Statistics can give us valuable information. But they don't eliminate the need to do the basic work. Develop a good product. Control your costs. Make sure you are doing the right shows, or are on the right sites for the work you are producing. Promote your work. And follow through. Be there for the sale. Better yet, exceed your customer's expectations. Those are the things that help you develop a following. And that, takes time.

I like statistics. They tell me a lot. But sometimes they tell me what I am doing is not working, and I need to do something differently if I want a different outcome. What are you looking to find in the numbers? Salvation? Justification? Or perhaps just a little information?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Stepping on the Stats Scale

One of the standard pieces of advice you recieve when you go on a diet is to not step on the scale everyday....let alone three or four times per day. It is misleading and can be distructive. Once a week or so is plenty....better yet, look at how your clothes fit.

Statistics have become the scale of the internet. Stats for our blogs, our websites, our networking site, our Etsy page or EBay listing. How did we ever live without all these numbers. Keeping score for us. How many people are visiting us? How long do they stay? What did they look at? Where did they come from? Our mood can surge or plummet based on our stats.

All this information can be helpful, but it can also be a distraction. We can get lost in a lot of details that do nothing to really inform us.....especially when we check the stats multiple times per day. It is hard not to be drawn to the numbers. Especially if we are starting up a blog, or getting set up on a site like Etsy. But is hourly checking of the numbers helping you accomplish your goals?? What if you checked every few days or once a week? Think of all the noise in your brain from all that data that could be quieted.

Sure, it is good to know if anyone is visiting your blog. And it is nice to know how they find you. But when we look at that information obsessively, it gets us off track of our true goals. Suddenly the numbers become our goal. We can become driven by the statistics. The reason we began our effort in creating a website, or a blog gets buried in the stats.

Just like we can have sudden drops or spikes in our weight from day to day, a sudden spike in the numbers can pull our attention away from where we need to be focusing our energy. If we get a big spike because someone with lots of traffic linked to our site, it can be heady. But it can also seem so empty when they all move onto the next link the following day. With a longer perspective we can see the base of our traffic.

I find myself falling into this stats trap. But since I have been so busy with work in my studio lately, I have broken the stats habit. And I realize that it can be a huge distraction. I have lived many years, very happily, without having to know how many visitors came to my page on that day, and where they came from. It is fun to know that I have links from a blog in Estonia. But it does not help me write a better blog entry. It is great to see the impact of a press release on PRWeb has had in driving traffic to my website. But it is only in the longer view that I can really see how effective the tool has been.

Do you have a stats habit that needs curbing? Do you walk around quoting the number of visitors your blog has gotten this week, and what your Technorati rating is up to? It may be time to walk away from the computer for a bit and start withdrawing from the habit. See how much more useful the information can be when it is viewed once a week instead of three times a day. And see what things fill the vaccuum. Perhaps you will not miss the stats much at all. And you wonder why you didn't do it sooner.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Making Choices

When I first started selling my work, I was thrilled to pieces any time anyone.....absolutely anyone....wanted to buy my work. When I started selling wholesale, and I would get an inquiry from someone wanting my catalog, I was jumping for joy. I still am thrilled each time I get an order. Or when I make a sale at a show. But I am starting to make more choices about where and how I sell my work, and where my time gets spent.

The major decision I made recently was to only sell my cranes wholesale. This is as much by necessity as anything. But it also focuses my efforts in preparing for a show, and at the show. It is fairly easy for me to sell a crane. I have stories galore about the symbolism of cranes, and people's connections with the cranes, and all sorts of justifications for buying a crane. But while I am making the crane sale, I am neglecting the rest of my work. And, sometimes I sell the cranes, and "hope" the rest of my work will sell. Not a good strategy. If my energy is focused on cranes, that is where the attention of potential customers will be drawn.

There is plenty of demand for the cranes from my wholesale business. I can sell every crane I make. This has also led me to prioritize where the cranes go. I have not gotten cranes out to my consignment accounts yet. I don't have the back stock to send them. I expect that by the end of November, I will be able to supply them. But if you pay up front, you get to the front of the line. It is that simple.

It used to be that when someone wanted me to send them a catalog, I was thrilled. They liked my work! They might buy it! Well, most of those turned out to be little more than catalog collectors. Some turned into orders. But I do not get quite as excited these days by those inquiries. I still respond, but it is not always the first thing to get done.

When I started out, I had to search out most of my opportunities. Now, I find more and more opportunities come to me directly. People who have seen my work at a show. People who have seen my work on-line. People who saw my work in a magazine. Do you remember when you were entering your senior year in high school, and you started getting all the catalogs from colleges that wanted you to apply to their school. It is not quite as dramatic, but the feeling is similar. People wanting me to apply to their show, or submit samples for their catalog, or design a product exclusively for them. But not all these opportunities may be a good fit for where I see myself heading.

It feels good to have choices. But, it means I need to make choices. Start figuring out in what direction I want my business to be heading. What do I want my business to look like in five years? Will this help you get there? When I was applying to colleges I would look at where a school was located, how big the school was, and how strong they were in my potential major. All the things that helped me to sort through the options. Figuring out what was right for me. A good school is the school that is the best fit for my goals. Likewise a good show or other opportunity is the one that best fits my goals. I have to go through a sorting process. Do I have the time? Does it fit my work? How much will it cost me to do? Does it fit my schedule? Do I want to do it?

Bottom line: We each have to make choices that are right for us. We are the only ones who know what will work the best for us. It doesn't mean we won't make mistakes along the way. Mistakes are a given. They are bound to occur as we try new things out. But if we take manageable risks, they can be information that informs our choices as we move forward. It is essential that we regularly check in. Stopping to figure out where are we going, and are our actions supporting our goals?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Wholesale Shows, How?...Part 2

So you've applied to a wholesale show....and you got in! Congratulations. Now it is time to start preparing for the show. If you have done retail shows in the past, it will be a fairly simple adjustment. How is a wholesale show different?

First and most important, at a wholesale show, you only need to bring samples. At a retail show, it is cash and carry. At a wholesale show, people will be placing orders based on the samples you have at the show.

In addition to having samples to display at the show, you will need to have a catalog or some sort of handout that will provide information to interested buyers about your work and your product lines. This may be four color printed material, or it could be simple copies of line drawings. It could be a collection of postcards, and some supplemental information about your work. How many? The advice I received before I did my first show, was to calculate how many sales pitches could I do per hour. Then multiply that times the number of hours the show will last. If over three days, there are twenty hours, and you can do 3 sales pitches per hour, you should have at least 60 sets of your sales literature.

Along with the sales literature, you will need a price list. I print my price list seperately from my catalog. That allows me to make any necessary changes to prices and terms easily and quickly. Have a copy for each set of your sales literature.

You will need to think through how you will want to display your work. There are not dramatic differences in display for a wholesale show and a retail show....except for pricing. You want to make your prices very visible. The buyers will be walking a large show, and will be making many, many decisions. You want to make the process as easy as possible when they come to visit your booth. Your wholesale prices need to be clearly displayed with your work.

You will need some way to write up your orders. This could be a customized order form that you can get printed up, or it could be a standardized order form that you purchase from an office supply store.

At a wholesale show, there are fewer numbers of buyers walking the aisles. But those buyers are going to be spending much more money than the buyers who are walking the aisles of a retail show. They are not there to look. They are there to buy. They have a budget. But they want to buy.

Does this mean that if your sales presentation is brilliant that you will be able to sell your work to any buyer who approaches you? No. They will be assessing your work with how it will fit with their shop, gallery, or catalog. They will be evaluate the workmanship, the price points, and the appropriateness of the work for their shop. So you want to learn what you can about their needs. You may quickly find out they like your work....personally....but don't see it as a good fit with their gallery.

But, let's suppose that your work is a good fit. Then you need to be ready to answer the questions you are likely to get. What is your story? Why do you do what you do? What do customers like about your work? What are your best sellers? What is your minimum? Will you accept terms? What would you recommend as an opening order? These are the kinds of questions you need to be able to answer quickly and easily.

And when it comes time to write your orders, have a calendar. You will need to know when you can deliver the work, and determine when the buyer wants the work. As you commit to deliveries, mark off the necessary time on your calendar. You need to be able to plan your production schedule as your recieve orders.

One last thing. Bring your press kit. Kits, actually. There will be people from various publications who will also be at the show. The money you are spending on the show will be nothing compared to the free publicity you might be able to get from this one move. So far, I have had my work featured in New Age Retailer (at right), and Gift Shop magazine since the ACRE show this spring. Simply because I brought along my press kits. This was exposure I could not have afforded.

Those are the essentials. Definitely doable. Most importantly, don't forget the comfortable shoes!

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Where Have I Been??

I hear quite frequently from readers about how frequently I post to my blog....that is until the last several weeks! Usually people will wonder how I find the time to blog. Nowadays, all the blogging is virtual. Posts written in my head, and never entered into the computer. Thoughts about how I should come up with something to post...it has been awhile..but it has to be fast and easy. Then I realize all that needs to be done, and the days are flying by. Blogging gets put off once more.
So what have I been busy doing? This is the crazy time of year for me. First it is family crazy. Three birthdays in my immediate family of four...and one of them is not mine..all within a month's time. Birthdays are less demanding as my kids get older, but it still requires time and attention. Today we went to the afternoon tea at Cafe Fleuri in Boston to celebrate my older daughter's birthday. Tomorrow she turns 14. She and her friend sat at an adjoining table to my husband, other daughter, and me. We were her posse. Sitting in the background. There to transport and pay the bill. But we got to enjoy a quiet afternoon of indulgence. Tonight, her friend is sleeping over. Movies, music, gossip, and just hanging out.
Amidst all this, cranes have been flying out of my studio. I look in amazement at stacks and stacks of boxes in my dining room. The next thing I know, they have been packed into cartons, and are shipped off to all corners. And bare space again is in view. Dozens and dozens have left, dozens more need to head out this week. In those pauses of wondering what I should do next, invariably I will consider making a few more cranes. This big demand for cranes in the wholesale market has meant a decision to no longer sell them retail. I have more than enough demand from the wholesale market. And it simplifies my life. Make them, box them, ship them.

On our drive into Boston today, I was stickering and stamping postcards. I have added another retail show to my calendar. The Providence Fine Furnishing and Fine Craft Show. There will be several other polymer clay artists in attendance. Elise Winters, Sandra McCaw and Rachel Carren. And perhaps a few more that I do not know about. The show will be October 26th to 28th, at the Providence, RI convention center.
In addition to the Providence show, I will have my work at a few special holiday sales. The Brookfield Craft Center Holiday sale, in Brookfield, CT. Snow Farms in western Massachusetts has a sale for three weekends in November. Several other opportunities to participate in similar sales have come my way in the last few weeks, but I just don't think I have enough inventory to spread around.

I have been trying to build up inventory of the new pod work for the Providence show, and it has been a challenge to keep any in stock. I have brought work out to Serendipity in Hudson, MA, and the Fiber Art Center in Amherst, MA. In addition the Garden of the Gods Trading Post and Gallery in Manitou Springs, CO just recieved a large order of the new work. And Gallery Morada, in Islamorada, FL has a pick box of the new jewelry on its way right now. I have been pulling aside inventory for Five Crows in Natick, MA, and I need to put some together for some of the holiday sales coming up. The work for Brookfield has to go out in the next few days.
And then again, there are the cranes. I have a catalog company who is potentially interested in the cranes. I sent off a dozen samples this weekend. This could push my business into another place if I end up selling them through a catalog. I may need to consider hiring a high school student,...or my daughter??...to do some of the many tasks that could easily be transferred to someone else. But it may not even happen. So, I can put off worrying about that for now.

For now, it continues to be, head down, butt in my studio. Remembering to come up for air every now and then, and to breathe. Just breathe.
I promise I will post part 2 of the How of Wholesale shows soon. But my brain was just not up to the task tonight. Pardon my absence. I hope to be back to blogging on a regular basis sooner rather than later. But for now, it will have to be when I can fit a few coherent (or semi-coherent?) minutes together.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Wholesale Shows, How? Part 1

So far, I have posted about the Who, Where, What, When and Why of Wholesale shows. Now it is time to talk about How? I will break this into two parts. The first will deal with the applications, and the second will take on the actual process of doing a show.

So How do you go about doing a wholesale show? First you have to apply. The wholesale shows I am aware of require jurying to get in. But there are probably some specialty shows that do not have that hurdle. If you pay for the space, you are in.

The application process will vary, but more and more shows are jurying on-line. It is the easiest approach in today's digital world. Fewer and fewer shows are calling for slides, and more and more will not even accept slides, or will charge more to accept them. So the first step is get together a set of images to submit.

Before you begin picking out the pictures, you probably want to find out the image requirements for the particular show you are applying to. Some will ask for 300 dpi, 5 x 7 images. Others ask for 1920 x 1920 pixel images. It will vary from show to show. Find out exactly what the show requires, and meet those requirements. If you are not comfortable with formatting images to meet the requirements, then you may need to hire someone to show you how.

When a show is receiving hundreds, if not thousands, of applications to a show,...each with five or six images....and each artists submits their own ideas of what works..... You are smart enough to see why this quickly can become unmanageable. You need to conform to the criteria if you want to have a chance to get into the show. You do not want to be eliminated because you failed to take this important step.

Secondly, find out when the application deadline is. Ideally, you want to apply as early as possible. Why? Because then your images are at the beginning of the pack. You get the jury's attention when they are fresh and more easily engaged. Particularly in a category like jewelry, where there are many, many more applicants than there are spaces. By the middle of the category, a juror is likely to have their eyes glazing over, and tired of seeing things that do not inspire them. Your need to "wow" gets higher and higher the further back in the pack your application is received. Ideally you will have a group of images ready to go.

Now, let's talk about the images. Do not think range. Think story. Think style. You want to present a cohesive story to the jurors. What is your work about? Tie the work together by style and or color palette. Show your strongest work. The wow pieces that may be slow to sell but draw them into your booth. Jurors understand that you may sell lots and lots of simpler earrings at a show. But they want to see your best stuff.

Bruce Baker, as I have said many times, has a clearer understanding of this process of slide selection than I have seen anywhere else. I was fortunate enough to take his class on Slide Jurying, but you can get his CD's, if the classes are not possible. He will show you groups of slides that work, and that do not work. He will explain the subtlties of how slides are arranged and displayed, and how that will effect the order of your images. There is way more to this than it appears on the surface. I have seen a big improvement in the outcomes of my applications after taking his class. It works.

So, you have your images, formatted to the proper size. Now you need to apply. Take the time. Make the time. Sit down, and do it. Nothing can possibly happen if you do not apply. For those of you interested in applying to be one of the lucky artists at the ACRE show in the NPCG booth....the deadline is approaching. October 31st will be here before you know it. Do you want to be kicking your self in November for not even applying? I don't think so.

The applications usually will require the standard name, address, phone, email, etc. They will ask for information about the work you do. What is your technique? You do not have to get overly technical. Just layman's language of what you are doing with your media. When you upload each image, you will most certainly be asked to supply additional information about the item. Dimensions, price, the process. You can write this out in advance on a word processing program, and then copy and paste your responses in if you want to be able to refine and edit your text first. There may be character limits for each entry. Find out and stick to it. Otherwise your text may be cut off mid-sentence.

Finally, you will in all likelihood have to pay an application fee. This is usually somewhere between $25 and $50. This pays for the administration costs of the application process. It pays for the on-line service. It sometimes pays a small stipend to the jurors for their time spent jurying the show.

Then you wait. Wait and see the outcome of the jurying process. But regardless of the outcome, you took a positive step towards keeping your business moving forward. You submitted the application. Without that step, none of the rest is possible. Good job!

Monday, October 1, 2007

Setting Your Terms

Setting terms is an important element of wholesale business. Whether you do wholesale shows or not, you still need to have terms...and stick to them! There really are two facets to this issue. Deciding what your terms are, and then how you live them. This part can applies to far more than how we run our business...I will explain more later.

Let's start with the definitions. What are terms? How do you decide what they should be? Terms are the conditions under which you do business. They cover things like minimum order size, payment, returns, and delivery schedule. There are norms of one sort or another that can serve as a guideline. But in the end, it is your decision what your terms will be. Let's look at them one at a time.

1. Minimums. Why do you need a minium? First off, it can serve as a screen. It filters out the person who likes your work and has a resale certificate, and hopes to get a bargain. You want to make sure you are dealing with a retailer who is buying your work because they like it and think it will sell well in their place of business. Minimums can be based on a dollar amount, or a quantity.....or both. I started out with a minimum of $100 and/or six items. Since a few items I sell wholesale for more than $100 it was important to have the quantity minimum too. A grouping or collection of work is more likely to generate interest in your work and adequately represent your work. Over time I have raised my minimum to $250, and/or twelve items. This is still low by some artists standards, and a few shops will not buy from me because it is too high for them.

Why have a low or high minimum? Part of it is how much risk there might be seen in carrying your work. A low minimum might encourage someone to try out your work when you are relatively new to wholesale. But a low minimum can mean more work for you. More orders, more paperwork, and packages for the same amount of sales. It is one of those balances that you need to check in with from time to time to figure out if you need to make any adjustments.

2. Payment terms. This is where the "greek" comes in for those new to wholesale and with little or no business background. Net 30 is the term you are most likely to hear thrown about. What in the world is Net 30?

Net 30 means that the buyer has 30 days to pay their invoice, with no interest or penalty. As a general rule, do not extend these terms to a buyer without first getting credit references. And when they supply those references...call them! Really. Call. Tell them you are working with XYZ Gallery, and they provided their name as a credit reference. Usually they will tell you they are a great company to work with, and have never had any problem getting paid. But it has happened that people call the references and don't hear that. Don't assume just because they provided the names and numbers it is all rosy.

One other form of payment, which I do not accept is C.O.D. I do not accept it because I have heard too many horror stories about artists paying to ship something C.O.D., which is more expensive, and the buyer refusing the shipment on the other end. So the artist then has to pay for the return shipment as well. They have work which they spent time and money creating, they paid extra to ship it, and then no sale. If someone cannot pay by check or credit card, then they are not someone I care to do business with.

What are my payment terms? Prepay on the first order by check or credit card, and Net 30 after that with references. Most people pay by credit card on the first order, and on all the following orders. I have occassionally given someone Net 30 on a first order when I have plenty of time to get and check references before the order ships. I have not had a problem with slow payments. I had one case where someone honestly thought she had already paid by credit card, and when I called the check was in the mail that day. People do make mistakes and slip up. It is when there is a pattern of this that you need to watch out for.

On wholesalecrafts.com there is a place where member artists can report your experiences with a buyer, and likewise check a buyer. It is a great way to make sure something has not changed with a buyer. A negative report does not mean bad news all the time. I have seen a buyer have one negative and five positive reports. The negative in context was not a problem. But if the negative was recent, and the buyer was difficult to reach and work with....that could be a warning flag.

Setting and sticking to payment terms can be a tough issue for many artists. We don't want to have to deal with this. But we have to. It is essential that we protect the interests of our business. Do your suppliers give you terms? Or do you have to pay for everything up front? Figure out terms that work for you and your business.

3. Returns and exchanges. Do you take returns? Or, will you exchange your work? Again, this is a decision you need to make based on what feels right for you. I take returns for full credit within two weeks. I figure if they get something, and then decide they made a mistake, that it was not going to work for them, they can ship it right back. No big deal. It has never happened. But it does give people a degree of comfort to know they have that option. I will exchange work for up to 6 months. At least my terms specify this time period. But I find this is one issue that needs to be decided on a case by case basis. If someone has a few pieces that just are not moving, I would rather take them back and send them new work that will sell better. And, they will usually order new work along with the exchange. Otherwise, each time they look at that work it is a reminder that it is not selling well. Is that what you want someone thinking each time they see your work in their store? On the other hand, you do not want someone to send you back shop worn merchandise a year or two later, and expect a full refund in return. Some may try. It does not mean you have to agree.

4. Delivery. When will you deliver the product to the customer? This is usually a bit of a negotiation between when you can deliver, and when they want to receive the work. Many buyers will want to get your work in their hands as soon as possible, but sometimes, they want to postpone delivery. I always make sure and clarify this issue at the time I receive an order.

5. You. Yes, you. Can you set your terms and enforce them? Too many artists have let themselves be bullied or intimidated by the occasional buyer who knows, or thinks, they can get away with it. I have read far too many sad stories on forums. Set your terms, and stick to them. Or if you vary, don't do it without fully weighing the consequences of a possible bad outcome.

As I considered this issue this morning, I realized how this extends far beyond how we run our businesses. Do you set the terms and conditions in your life? Or do you react to everyone else's demands? Life requires compromise and negotiation, but if you are the person who is always adapting to the demands of others, can you ever reach your goals? It is easy to forget about our own needs and goals if we are not making ourselves enough of a priority. And I am willing to bet, that if you have trouble with this in everyday life, it will be a problem in your business.

In business, and in life, we have to have some terms and conditions. And we have to be able to communicate them and make sure that when we let go of them, we do it with full consciousness and awareness of the consequences. We can't complain about the problem customer, or the fact that we have no time in our life for making our art,.....if we have allowed the situation to happen through our behavior. If we don't set the terms, others will. And we may not be happy with the outcome.