Crafty Business Then and Now: An Interview with Meggiecatcomments (3) August 22nd, 2008
Meggiecat is one of my favorite craft bloggers. She is forever finding amazing resources and interesting new ideas for creative people. And once I got to emailing with her, I also discovered that she's had long experience as a craft-business owner, dating from the 1980s. She has a unique perspective: She was active in crafting before many of today's crafty business owners had picked up their first needles, and she's still actively interested in the craft scene today.
I got a chance to pick Meggiecat's brain on the differences between craft businesses then and craft businesses now:
Comparing your career in crafting to the current online craft-business boom, what are the biggest differences you see?
My market was all local. I sold at three Christmas fairs and had three retail outlets that carried my lines. I have a very short attention span and was more interested in design than production, so my products were different each season. I managed a small home decor and gift boutique, and was able to know my customers and get a good idea about the type of items they would purchase and at what price. I think it was much easier to stand out as a creative product maker before the Internet.
Today, a crafter who uses the Internet has a national and even international audience and a lot more competition. It's not enough to just be a skilled craftsperson. The product has to be original in design and fashion-forward because the customer has been exposed to many more products. Finding the "WOW! factor is a real challenge.
How does your approach to product design differ from what you see happening now?
I'm usually inspired by something I see and want for myself, and then start asking myself questions:
- Am I able to make something like that with my limited skills and the materials available?
- Who would be my market and where would I sell it?
- What price could it fetch? What would it cost to make? Can I make a profit on it?
Those last two questions are the most important and often are the point at which an idea will die. Then I ask: How many could I sell and how many could I stand to make? Production for the sake of just banging it out bores me to tears, so my products were always limited edition.
Next, I take this one inspiration, and think about creating a product line of different-but-related items at different price points. For me, each of the products in the line has to be joined by a story, either in color or theme. The more your products are visually related, the more they create the best-looking, traffic-stopping display. I don't think about having something for everyone in my line, and I don't try to use all my ideas at one time. There is always next season for introducing new product lines, and usually I would work on the next line while I was selling the current one.
One thought I would like to add here is that I think the audience for handcrafted goods is divided into two groups: those who can't or won't make things, and those who are your fellow product makers. I found that I could serve both markets and substantially increase my sales. Once I produced a product line, I knew I was done with that idea and would move on to something else for the next season. So, I would also create and sell a pattern, kit or a booklet for the product I was selling at the time—and this would appeal to those fellow makers.
I consider myself a product maker rather than an artist, so I don't "get married" to my idea or worry that someone else would copy it if I offered a pattern.
How do you see the Internet as a boon to craft businesses? And in what way is it a hindrance?
The Internet provides wider markets and more ways of driving customers to the products. On the other hand, it requires crafters to develop better marketing skills. When I was in business, I was able to have pure creative time between marketing bursts. An online business is constant customer service. Keeping up with your blog and store and interacting with your customers is more important than ever, but it's a lot of ongoing work.
Customers expect great photography, a good-looking web store that functions easily, creative packaging and labeling, and a high level of service. And I think shipping is the most difficult aspect of having an online business—it has to be figured into your product development from the start. What will your new product cost to ship? What kind of packing material will it need?
Based on your experience, what do you think is the most important advice to give a new crafty business owner?
Cultivate the repeat customer by continually offering new and different products. Give them a reason to wonder what new, exciting thing you are creating. Look carefully at the craft market, and strive to make things that aren't out there already. Follow fashion and home decor trends so that your product will fit with your customer's lifestyle.
Always remember that you are building a business for profit. Have a good idea of where you want your business to be in the future. Handcrafters are limited by the amount one person can make. Ask yourself if you want to build further than that, and if so, prepare and research the aspects of subcontracting and hiring help. I always knew that I wanted to limit my business to just myself and turned my thoughts to maximizing my opportunities. Know that you will make mistakes. Forgive yourself, learn from them, and move forward.
Most of all, be happy with your work. If you aren't, it will show in your product.