So you've created a beautiful craft and now you want to sell it. Congratulations! You've taken the first step from being a hobbyist to being a business owner.
But selling your crafts is much more than just throwing your product on a shelf at a craft show and hoping people buy it. So let's look at some retail marketing opportunities for craftspeople.
1. Be Seen
Successful marketing includes the element of visibility. People won't know about your products unless you're out there--in person as well as cyberspace--making sure your products are easy to find.
A local artist I admire takes the issue of visibility very seriously. He (or his wife) appears at nearly every arts or crafts function in the region. He holds tours in his studio. He doesn't merely paint beautiful pictures; he markets those pictures through a combination of uncompromising promotion and cheerful personal contact. If customers are going to spend money on art, they enjoy meeting the artist behind the painting.
The same applies to craftspeople. Make sure you don't hide in your studio all the time. Get out and meet your customers! They'll be delighted to make your acquaintance. You'll be delighted by the increase in sales.
Most craftspeople automatically think "craft show" when it comes time to sell. Shows are unquestionably one of your best venues for marketing your product, but craft shows can either be wonderfully rewarding or unbelievably discouraging. In our particular case, it was more often the latter than the former. That is, until we figured out a few things.
Before embarking on the craft show circuit, you must understand the demographics of the venue and recognize how well your product will fit. People tend to think of craft shows as being neutral and ubiquitous rather than catering to a specific demographic, but this is not necessarily true.
While obviously there are endless variables, the average craft show tends to attract middle-class women on a budget. Generally speaking, products that are family-friendly, in the mid-price range, and appeal to women will have greater success at craft shows. In my case, our products appeal more strongly to men and the price sometimes approaches the higher-end, so our success at most crafts shows was limited. Instead, we learned--through trial and effort--which shows met the criteria for our own particular demographic.
Our initial experience at craft shows was so poor that we were tempted to conclude that our product wasn't sales-worthy or marketable. As it turned out, it wasn't the product, it was the venue. We learned to tailor our sales efforts toward venues with a more compatible demographic. Now we can look back at nineteen years of successful business!
We have a delightful consignment arrangement with an old and trusted customer. In fifteen years, he has never failed to pay us promptly and in-full for the items we entrust to him. Sadly, however, this situation is unique. Beware of consignment situations; they can be troublesome.
In our naïve and more trusting days, we regularly consigned our crafts to a variety of people and/or stores--and regretted it every time. We finally wised up and stopped doing consignment altogether.
Your consignment experiences may have been happier than ours, in which case I salute you. However, I caution new craftspeople that consignment situations are fraught with danger because most of the power is in the hands of the person to whom you entrust your merchandise.
My advice is this: if you have surplus merchandise that's just taking up room in your garage and have nothing better to do with it, then feel free to consign it to a reputable enterprise. Just don't expect to sell much and keep a sharp eye on your consigned inventory.
In your admirable efforts to make personal contact with customers, don't neglect online contact.
The internet has been the biggest boon to artists since…well, since forever. No more is our craft relegated to the local or (at most) the regional market. Now, literally, our crafts can be marketed worldwide with the click of a mouse. Having a web presence through blogs, websites, Twitter, Facebook, Etsy, or other cyber opportunities allows your products to be seen by anyone.
In fact, I received a charming email a few months ago from a woman in China who had read one of my articles in The Crafts Report. She inquired about our crafts. I asked about hers. While no sales were made, we were each delighted with the instant communication possible on opposite sides of the globe.
So take advantage of the international possibilities of the internet by having an aggressive online presence. Blogs, websites, eBay, Etsy, and other venues are all cheap or free opportunities to let the world see your art.
5. Think Outside the Box
Many craftspeople limit their retail exposure to brick-and-mortar stores, craft shows, or galleries. Don't get me wrong; these are all important components, but consider widening your market outside these traditional venues.
If your craft can be personalized in any way, then individual businesses may be interested in purchasing something with their logo on it for promotional purposes. Wood items can be laser-engraved or painted; cloth items can be stenciled or embroidered; metal items can be etched. These are all ways to get your product greater exposure.
Another opportunity is marketing to hobby enthusiasts. Even in a bad economy, people like to spend money on their hobbies. Whether it's quilting, miniature trains, motorcycles, cowboy memorabilia or wine tasting, if you can target your product toward people who are passionate about a particular hobby, you may be able to introduce a brisk sideline into your business.
Synergy is also another marketing opportunity. Synergy occurs when the result is greater than the sum of the parts, or when two or more things functioning together to produce a result not independently obtainable. In craft terms, this means you might be able to pair up with another artist's products and sell them together in ways that may not be possible independently.
We have a type of synergistic relationship with another artist who makes high-end wooden goblets. (We make mid-range wooden tankards.) Independently we both sell fine; together we sell like gangbusters. Our products complement each other, and when customers walk into a booth they can see how the products harmonize. Since teaming up, sales for both our businesses have increased greatly.
6. Craft Cooperatives
Sometimes artists will get together and form cooperatives. The idea is similar to the concept of synergy: a large display of multiple crafts will draw in more people than a single display of a single craft.
There are often fees or dues associated with craft cooperatives, but these make it possible for craftspeople to widen their markets in ways they may not be able to do individually. Cooperatives can make certain expenses--advertising, insurance, retail space, and even legal representation--more affordable. Cooperatives allow "many heads" to solve a problem that may elude a solitary artist. They also allow for your product to be available on a regular basis in a retail environment, which is an important factor for customers who need a little more time to make a buying decision.
While I don't believe an artist should market his products only through cooperatives, a well-organized cooperative can widen the potential customer base for individual artists.
You might remember "networking" as the buzzword of the '90s. While the dogged enthusiasm for the term has faded, the importance has not.
Simply put, networking is intelligent contact with people who might be able to provide sales opportunities. But rather than blindly handing out business cards to anyone and everyone, you selectively form relationships with people who might be able to offer assistance.
Networking implies a mutual benefit. You cannot make demands upon someone without providing an opportunity for the other person to benefit as well. The other party might have a chance to make some money, or market his own crafts, or increase his exposure, or some other benefit.
In our young and naïve days of networking, I thought all we had to do was present ourselves or our crafts to potential contacts, and they would gratefully do us a favor by promoting us in some way. I quickly learned very few people are so altruistic. Once I learned to couch our interest in terms that were mutually beneficial, our networking attempts became more successful.
So, if your jewelry will beautify models at a fashion show, or if your woodcraft items will draw attention to a nonprofit display, or if your custom T-shirts will promote unity at a fundraiser, then network to your heart's content!
8. Professional Organizations
We have a friend who took a derelict motel in a tiny town and remodeled it into beautiful upscale rooms. In a bad economy and in a tiny off-the-beaten-path town, this woman worked hard to get the word out about her business.
She joined a number of professional organizations--the Chamber of Commerce, the Rotary, even some fraternal organizations. She donates rooms for charitable fundraisers. She developed cordial relations with competing businesses (other motels, BandB's, etc.). In short, she makes herself visible in the community. She works on being pleasant and helpful and--not incidentally--she provides an excellent product. As a result, her business has thrived.
Artists can learn something from her efforts. Most artists don't think in terms of the benefits they can receive from professional business associations, but believe me, this is an excellent way to network. By becoming acquainted with other businesses in your community, you'll be the first person the Chamber of Commerce comes to when they need a craft display to highlight a bank window or fundraising event.
I realize this may come as a surprise for some people, but marketing is work--often hard and sometimes unrewarding--work.
This is the "grunt" behind the glamour. Many craftspeople have spent years perfecting their craft and creating a product they're passionate about. However, in doing so, they forget about all the boring-but-necessary tasks involved in getting their craft from workshop to customer.
Years ago I taught an adult-education class on starting a home craft business. During the course of the class I discussed such things as marketing, taxes, inventory, websites, and other mundane details. Finally a woman raised her hand and complained, "This is a whole lot of work. It almost sounds like a full-time job."
For a truly successful craft business, it IS a full-time job. That is the difference between a hobby and a business. There's nothing wrong with a craft hobby--hundreds of millions of people enjoy their hobbies immensely--but when you turn that hobby into a business, then those previously-mentioned mundane details become necessary.
But be of good cheer. Once you accept these necessities, then someday you may be in a position to look back with satisfaction at a craft business that has supported your family for nearly two decades. Happy selling!
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