Sheep of Fools

by Luann Udell

Courtesy of Handmade Business

Or, how I found myself drowning in a lake of lambs!

As readers of my column know, I've been clearing out my home and art studio as we prepared for our move to California. Most people describe their homes as X number of bedrooms and baths. We describe ours in terms of storage space--2.5 attics, 2 basements, a garage. We've been here 25 years, and we did our best to fill every single space. (My husband says I'm the clutter-bug, but I would argue my clutter is much more interesting than his.)

And now I'm paying the price. What seemed like a bit of heaven--unlimited storage--has turned into a daily horror show. Unfortunately, this particular "horror show" doesn't feature Tim Curry or an entertaining troupe of cross-dressing chorus boys and girls.

However, there are wonderful lessons to be found in this process, if I am open to them. While attacking an attic this week, I found a couple of invaluable lessons to share with you.

First off, I found a lesson on child rearing, which is this: When you tell your kids to clean their rooms, and they do it in 30 minutes--a miracle--be sure to check the attic later for strange black garbage bags you didn't put there. I guarantee you they are full of Legos, jellybeans, and dirty underwear. (The kids' dirty underwear, not mine ... Well, maybe some of mine.)

The other lesson I discovered--I was like a crafts Christopher Columbus, finding new things everywhere I turned--has to do with wholesaling. You see, knitting is my hobby, not my craft. When I stumbled upon two huge bags of yarn in natural sheep colors recently, I recalled my first wholesale experience.

The first products I made to sell were small knitted sheep. Each one took two hours to knit, stuff with wool, and then tie a tiny bell on with red ribbon. I'm not too sheepish to admit: They were adorable!

The bags of yarn were inexpensive "mill ends" from a local wool spinnery. I bought them by the pound. The low cost of materials let me sell the sheep at a profit of $10 each.

My shows were small and few. I could maintain my inventory happily by knitting in my spare time. I was sure these lambs were my creative destiny. That is ... until the day I got my very first wholesale order for fifty tiny sheep.

Fifty. Tiny. Sheep.

Suddenly I was knitting sheep every minute of the day. "Fun" turned into mind-numbing agony. I couldn't take a break to power nap, and my nights of sleep were invaded by half-finished sheep leaping over fences. After two weeks, I was heartily sick of knitting sheep. Too late, I realized I was also making just $5 a lamb at this point.

I delivered the sheep and picked up my check. I did like the check.

Months later, a new manager took over that shop. One day she asked me to come by. When I arrived, she handed me a dozen sheep in a bag.

"Please take them away," she said haughtily. "They're just not selling."

I knew why. The sheep had sold well when they were displayed attractively and strategically. But the new manager had stuffed them in an ugly basket parked on the floor, obscured by a skirted table. And, of course, sales dropped.

"I'm happy to take them back," I replied. "But you do know you've already paid for all of them, right?"

Stunned, she said, "You didn't consign them?"

Nope, I told her. The previous manager had paid for them all upfront.

Wholesale! Snap!

She paused, thinking it over. I waited--seemingly as docile and gentle as a lamb.

"Hmmmm," she said at last. "Maybe we should try again?"

The sheep were returned to their hot-selling spot. Sales improved, naturally. Funny how some stores put more effort into selling goods they own, isn't it?

But I'd also learned my lesson. I couldn't count on those sheep and the hours it was taking me to fulfill orders to be worth my time, my balance sheet, and my sanity. When the shop called to reorder, I told them I no longer made sheep.

So there it is: Everything I know about wholesale. Be sure you price and pace yourself accordingly. Otherwise, you'll be like a lamb led to slaughter. Should you decide not to take advantage of my experience, I have just one word for you: Baaaaah!