Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Selling One-of-a-Kinds in Today’s Retail Market: What are our Options?

For those of us that cannot wean ourselves from the love of making artisan crafts by hand, the constant dilemna is: How to market effectively and maybe…just maybe, have the chance of actually making a small profit through our businesses. Having gone the Craft Show, Home Show, Wholesale and Online Route, I cannot say I have the definitive answer, as it is different for everyone depending on how labor intensive your work is, how important it is that you are there to describe your process, and whether or not you have an item that can be mass produced in quantity or must be created as either one-of-a- kind or in small batches. But I have learned a lot in the 15 years I’ve been doing this since I left my position as a full time Art Teacher and set up a Ceramic Studio in my home. And I believe in Sharing because we’re not in competition, though it’s easy to fall into that trap. Really, We’re on the HVNY Etsy Team to encourage and enhance each others work and lives.

My business is making one-of-a-kind pieces of handmade ceramic and fused glass jewelry, and it is a multi-step process with creating pendant from raw clay, two eight hour firings, composing the necklace or bracelet or ring into a unique design. I plan to chronicle some of my ongoing marketing techniques, including successes and failures, and in so doing, hopefully shorten the learning curve for others. Currently, I have a Website, an Etsy site, I coordinate Craft Shows for others, (though am moving away from doing many myself), sell in some consignment boutiques, wholesale to Galleries and Crafts Shows and sell to a limited number of stores in the large Whole Food chain (in their Whole Body Depts.).

I guess what people might be most interested in right off the bat is how I got into Whole Foods as a vendor, which was an interesting process. I used to go fairly regularly to the Whole Foods in Ridgewood, NJ (where I lived until I moved up here to my little slice of Heaven in Warwick). I walked into their Whole Body Dept. one day when I was making a delivery to a consignment Gallery nearby. And of course, I was wearing one of my necklaces, which is always my most successful door to opening a dialogue about my business. I recognized the woman at the register and struck up a conversation.

Well, about 5 minutes into the convo, she commented that she loved the necklace I was wearing, and called over the Team Manager to look at it. The Team Mgr, in turn, said she thought the buyer would love the style and I made an appointment to meet with David. And I was IN. I said, “You mean I’m IN?” " Oh…you’re in", he said. Scads of paperwork, insurance forms, and getting UPC Codes later, I was selling at Whole Foods. Next, I approached another couple of stores in the chain who were eager to try out the line as well. And basically, that’s how it happened. So, the pros and cons.

The biggest PRO is the PR value of saying that you sell to Whole Foods, which of course, most people have heard of. Also, a lot of people with money shop there, and you never know WHO might walk in and discover your line, so to speak. It definitely inspired me to keep on my toes, bringing new designs all the time to keep the buyers interested. And now the CONS, of which there are many. Since my pieces are on-of-a-kind, I need to bring them to each store so that they can hand select. I have offered to email pics or send a “Pick Box” which I’ve done with other stores, but so far, No Go. I also need to sell my work to them at 50% of their Retail Price. Because my pieces are so labor intensive, and because I don’t like to move above the $50-$55 retail price, I end up with little or no profit once travel time, gas, time spent making the pieces, and materials are factored in. So, unless you can really rack them out, and have a great, easy to stock “Point of Purchase” display, it is very difficult to make any money, in selling handcrafted and “made with love” items to larger Chain Stores. Again, it’s nice to put in your Resume, and I’m grateful to have the opportunity, but for the type of product I market…definitely not a money maker. More of my musings to ponder next week….

Roberta Green from RGClay Creations


Marilyn Perez said...

That is so great about Whole Foods! Thanks so much for sharing your insight with us. :)

HuzzahHandmade said...

Great article Roberta, especially the description of all the pros and cons of consignment. Congrats on all your success.

Roberta Green said...

Kind of helps me get clearer to write about these things too. It's a tough sell when we are doing the "making", the "marketing" and the overwhelming job of trying to balance this all with the rest of our lives, but it's an ongoing lesson for me, and as long as I'm still loving what I'm doing, which I do....the learning will continue. More musings next month aboutother aspects of the Marketing Mystery of HandMade.

Martina said...

Really interesting article... I'm looking forward to the next one and wish you the best of luck with your jewelry!