Start Small, Think BIG

Start Small, Think BIG
by Donald Clark

Courtesy of The Crafts Report
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"For several years I have been making jewelry from my own lamp glass beads. As I began wearing my pieces friends asked if I could make something for them. Over time I feel I have gotten good enough at what I do to begin selling my work to a broader audience. Where do I begin?"

  - Julianna R, via email

I'd suggest you start small, but think big. Build your line and brand one small step at a time. You'll probably want to begin by selling your work at retail. Further, I think it makes sense to choose shows that take place within driving distance of your home. This will help keep your expenses low while you're perfecting your line and building a customer base.

As you begin, it will be important to hone in on the brand you will be building. I suggest you emphasize that you make the beads you use. Remember that everything you show the public must be considered with the same creative eye you use when making your jewelry. At the outset you'll need to have a booth for displaying your work at shows. This could be as simple as a tabletop display, but it must be well-thought out and designed. I'd suggest you visit as many shows as you can and focus on the jewelry booths. Note the best features of each and incorporate these in your display and into the booth you will eventually want.

Visual materials--either printed or digital--are also going to be important. You'll need to announce your line and where customers will find it. You'll have to decide on the information you want to present and how. You could then spend your time developing the materials; or, I'd suggest you hire a designer to do this for you. You'll then want a whole series of materials including line sheets, order forms, business cards, and invoices. You'll also want a care card that also includes a statement about your work and why it's special.

The shows you do at the beginning may not be financially profitable, but don't despair, this is to be expected. You may have chosen the wrong show; you'll get good at this as your show savvy grows. Also, many shoppers don't purchase until they have seen the work more than once. These shows however can be very profitable in terms of the information you gather. Most important, you'll be able to get firsthand feedback by engaging shoppers in conversation about your jewelry. Further, you'll have the opportunity to learn from your peers. Ask how they do things and observe their interactions with shoppers and how they close a sale. Be sure to inquire about other shows they do that might be appropriate for your work. You'll find craftspeople ever so helpful.

Eventually you may want to begin selling in wholesale markets. This is another ball of wax with totally different players and rules. For now, focus on successful retail selling and when it's time the next step will reveal itself. Be confident in the knowledge that a well-designed line backed-up by a well-thought-out promotion plan will keep your business growing and will keep you busy in the studio and office.

"My business is in an area with a very short tourist season and during that time my sales are very strong. My challenge is to build my sales during the rest of the year when I depend on the local population. Are there ways to encourage locals to keep coming back to my shop?"
  - Todd B, via email

I believe there are ways to turn shoppers into loyal customers--just think about the people who will only wear a particular line of clothing or repeatedly dine at the same restaurant. The first step is to work with your staff on the essentials of fine customer service, an almost lost art--though lately I've noticed that even big box stores are beginning to offer a higher level of service. A knowledgeable sales person can help a shopper narrow their choices, close the sale, and create a customer. So now let's talk about how to keep that customer coming into the shop.

A customer's loyalty doesn't just happen--it takes time to develop. Offering deals for repeat purchases is one way to go, but I think this is best treated as a beginning step; you want the customers back when they're not enticed by a discount.

You want customers back because they were satisfied by the service they got and the product selection they found at your shop. This is the beginning of an emotional connection that is a major reason for purchasing decisions. You want customers to feel an emotional connection to your business and it's your job to build that connectedness.

For many people it's about a comfort level they have in a particular shop. They appreciate the personal attention they get and they enjoy the predictable product selection they'll only find in that shop. The gift they purchased for the last wedding was a hit and they're back for another winner. On the other hand, many respond to the unexpected as long as it's within their comfort zone. This is about keeping stock fresh while keeping the best sellers always in stock. Being recognized and perhaps being addressed by name always makes me happy when I'm in a shop. I somehow feel a part of the shop's community. It's also hard to resist an inquiry about how the last gift was received or if I'm enjoying the last item I purchased for myself. Showing me an item related to something I had looked at or purchased on a previous visit is often a direct hit. A customer's sense of community is built by staying in touch either by email or snail mail. These mailings can introduce new products and offer some benefits that are only available to customers on the list. In addition, be sure to use social media sites to stay in touch and invite the recipients to a special event celebrating an artist or new product line.

Since building customer loyalty is a team effort, be sure to reward your staff for their part in building loyal customers. A well-cared-for staff builds happy customers.

A customer's loyalty doesn't just happen
--it takes time to develop.

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