The Handmade Business Reimagined
As a conscious, dedicated body-mind-spirit indie business, undoubtedly your mission-driven direction is clear. Yet, you’re hesitant to jump in to add handmade products to your inventory mix. Maybe you’re concerned about not getting enough merchandise from a small production source. Or, you may fear that makers won’t be businesslike to work with, or their quality won’t be consistent, licensing regulations or hygiene requirements won’t be met, or you’re simply afraid that you won’t receive your order on time. And, you just might be thinking ‘selling handmade is more trouble than it’s worth.’
If you find yourself feeling some of these apprehensions, brought on by either hearsay or personal experience, hopefully the following words will inspire you to reconsider your decision.
TO BEGIN WITH…
Let’s start with some inarguable reasons that carrying handmade is good: It’s innovative, unique and will never be carried in chain stores. Selling handmade helps keep money circulating in your local community as well as the nation. Although the contribution of a single small business to the gross domestic product is minuscule, together it’s responsible for almost half of the private nonfarm gross.
Handmade creations are inherently healthier for the environment, consuming far less energy than mass-produced items to make and typically utilizing safer, more eco-friendly materials.
Most importantly: Selling handmade can boost your shop’s bottom line since customers appreciate owning one-of-a-kind items. Not enough? It’s seriously good karma to pay it forward by supporting other small businesses and the customers wanting to support yours!
FACTS & OPINIONS
It’s not considered a hobby! There are mixed stories about the state of American manufacturing, some claiming it's dead or close to dying and some saying it's alive and well. Neither of those opinions account for the growth in the number of people making products with their hands and selling them as a business.
Handmade artisans no longer see what they do as just a fun pastime. Rather, the vast majority are approaching it as a serious livelihood venture with the goal of selling at a profit and building a sustainable business. Treat them like you would any professional vendor, but you may need to school them about business practices, in particular, yours.
Generally speaking, an indie shop with one or even two locations can’t compete against chain store prices, nor should you try. Your goal is offering a high-quality, distinctive, unique, innovative and stylish selection of products. In other words, nothing that your customers could find at a big chain store.
Whether they know it or not, more customers are buying handmade. Your job is to let them know how important it is to support independent artisans and American handmade. As more stores choose inventory that’s almost exclusively imports, the American economy struggles. No one wants that.
Handmade entrepreneurs sell a myriad of products including jewelry, bath and body lines, candles, perfume, pottery, paper products, artwork, furniture, tabletop outdoor accessories, and more.
Generally, artisans are committed to creating from a place that goes beyond just being profitable. They chose this direction because there’s a strong inner pull insisting that they do so, it feels important and meaningful to them.
Think locally and globally
Handmade creators act locally, providing an ecological benefit with products delivered from shorter distances rather than from across an ocean. Often, handmade means making things in a garage or a home studio as opposed to a factory, which saves oodles of energy.
Makers may sell things at farmer's markets or craft shows, but some have expanded to wholesale trade shows and/or often offer wholesale option on their websites. They might also sell on other handmade sites., If any of that is a problem for you, continue your maker search.
HOW & WHERE TO START
Here are some suggestions to help get you started carrying handmade:
Go to gift shows and visit the sections highlighting handmade. The best part is talking directly to the makers, connecting with their story. Sometimes they’ll even produce things uniquely for your shop upon request. Plus, check out wholesale handmade shows and websites focusing on items made specifically for retail shops.
Explore local farmer’s markets, local craft shows and open studios. A local vendor just might jump at the chance of being represented in a “real shop.”
Start small. If you’re nervous about jumping in feet first, take it one step at a time. Talk to a handmade soap vendor at your farmer’s market and order a couple of dozen to see how they sell. Or, add some handmade jewelry into your product mix; throw in a new line of hand-poured candles you discovered at a gift show. Not much to lose; tons to gain.
Just like anything else you bring in that’s new, reaching customers is the key. Post pictures on social media; display with signs in your window; frame a bio or story and hang it nearby. Stories sell, so talk to anyone stopping to look.
If you’re worried that a handmade vendor is going to underprice you on their own website, talk about that right from the start. Explain that doing so won’t serve either of you, and that you’ll drop them immediately if they do.
Since you’ll be placing a retail-sized order, make sure they understand your pricing strategy. Explain having to keystone merchandise in order to make a profit, that your online purchases have shipping expenses, and the price for comparable items. Be ready to teach Retail 101.
Make sure they completely understand the importance of not selling to nearby competitors. Depending on your locale, give them a specific distance to not sell to.
Explain the importance of timely delivery. Are they able to fulfill large orders? Unlike larger suppliers, you may need to provide a deposit if they don’t have the supplies to fulfill quantities.
Get a well-written, one-page biography or artist statement to include with each sale and/or to post near their work. Spread the word! If you’re comfortable doing this, let them know you may not be the only one who would want to carry their work. Be a resource to help them find other shops or trade shows that could help them expand. Forming a few strong retail partnerships is best for them (and you) in the long run.
Before They Walk In
In order to help a handmade vendor before they even set foot in your shop, have an informative page on your website (or information to email) explaining how to go about pitching products. Here are some things to emphasize:
- Research First. Have them visit (if possible) and look around the shop to make sure they also feel it’s a good fit for their product. They can start by checking online to avoid a wasted trip.
- Read the Mission Statement. Each shop has a unique direction, theme, demographic or commitment. You and they should make sure these products jive.
- Contact Information. Let them know who to contact and when. Invite them to call to set up an appointment (unless you’re okay with drop-ins to prescreen). If not, emphasize they should never just drop in unless to scope out the shop first. If emailing first is okay, explain what you want in it, i.e. professional photos, contact information, a brochure if they have one, etc.
- Be Businesslike. Explain the importance of being on time, keeping the appointment to 15 minutes (or longer if you can), and being prepared to confidently talk about their products. Think of it as a job interview.
- Retailers make decisions by viewing, touching, smelling, and even trying out products. They need to see how things fit with the rest of their inventory in terms of pricing, selection, shelving, and store aesthetics. Artists should bring merchandise packaged and tagged so you can get a clear picture of how it will look in the store.
- Line Sheet. This is a one-page brochure with small pictures, titles, descriptions, and wholesale pricing. Artists should bring this along with an order form with contact information to leave with the buyer.
- Artist’s bio. Ask them to create a well-written, professional biography or artist statement to give customers and/or to display near their product. Offer editing help if needed.
- Independent artisans tend to overvalue their work or not understand that a doubled wholesale price might price it out of the market. Having a clear understanding of what it costs to make their product and confidence about what their time is worth is important. If they’re used to selling directly, they may think they will be losing out by dropping to a wholesale price, but assure them that the opportunity to sell in bulk, without having to do anything but create, should counter any perceived losses.
- If you’re uncertain as to whether their product will do well, or what they’re selling is a big-ticket item, offer to do consignment. Make sure they understand and agree to the terms, signing an agreement that explains payment and shop responsibility details. Consignment can be made sweeter by offering a 60/40 split, but don’t go higher than that.
- Make sure they’re able to provide the amount of inventory needed at the time needed. Emphasize that store orders cannot be late or incomplete.
- Presentation. They should have an effective logo, consistent branding, and professional tagging. Retailers want stocking and displaying to be fast and smooth. If the items are pre-packaged, make sure it’s beautiful.
- Encourage them to do their part in promoting their products by luring people to the store, both on their website as well as social media.
- Get an agreement from them to not sell to stores within a certain distance for as long as the items are being sold in your shop.
- Don’t give up. Remind them that if your shop isn’t the right one, there are plenty of others that might be perfect.
CHANGE IS GOOD
Hopefully, you now feel more confident about carrying handmade. After all, Etsy sure couldn’t be wrong! As an indie shop owner, your role is to be ahead of the curve, leading the way for the rest of the world. Even if customers don’t know it yet, they will buy handmade from you, but make sure to give them what they want!