Monday, June 14, 2010

Suppliers or Cottages - dilema of growth and identity

We begin very small. We take our tireless small steps up each hill, and then down and up again, on the way to our 'destinations'. We improve ourselves and our work; and inevitably seek recognition and pay-back for those small steps that got us here - hopefully closer to where we want to be eventually.... Some of us will find that recognition, although not necessarily in the form we were hoping for.

Many of my friends, who are running their small businesses, as well as crafters in the on-line forums frequently discuss cautions and downsides of different growth models, which impact their time, dedicated for work and family, or quality of their product, even identity of their indie brand.

You need to choose carefully which route to take to expand your business and what role to play while doing it. Different products require different skills not only in the making, but researching and selling them too. It is when a third party gets involved in your sales, the dilemma of your role and identity arises…

Craft markets or retail are good ways to introduce your product to the public. Your goods will be displayed, seen, touched and tried by real customers, and those advantages are inevitably lost if shopping on-line. But with that come higher costs, risk of loss and obligation to share your proceeds.

Some believe, that being a true Artisan, or a true Cottage industry, means you must be manufacturing, packaging, promoting and selling your products yourself – be it in your own brick-and-mortar “Cottage” storefront, or a web-page, whilst also seeing your customers at home. Third party involvement is very minimal, as these brands refuse to be just another item on a retailer’s shelf and take great care in keeping their quality superior. The biggest advantage of this model is that you sustain nearly all your proceeds, and while PR and feedback is doing most of the work. This model is great for businesses, that make products, commonly reviewed by gurus of their craft, recommended by web-critics, specializing in that category or lifestyle. Think of organic skin care, natural perfumery, pet products. BUT – the catch is, if there is no established network of industry gurus, web-advise and reviewers, dedicating their attention to Indie artists, this model may not be possible for your category of products.

Some other Indie artists thrive by selling their wares through retail. They are quite happy wholesaling, focused purely on their craft and often not comfortable selling their stuff themselves. This model allows you to limit your efforts to what you like to do best – creating.

But, there are several cracks one can fall into while choosing to work this way. You will have to share your proceeds with retailer, and since they are doing all the selling, you inevitably take the role of a “Supplier” – your retailer will be in charge of what they want to carry in their store, what sells the fastest, what costs the least, and will let you know which products they’re not interested in, which could be subjective in the end. Some of your products may remain under-represented, due to the choice of a buyer; you may exhaust the market for your best –seller item all at once, and you will not be able to meet your customer, instead will have to rely on a third party feedback only.

Wholesale, even though paid upfront gives you the least control as an artist. The person behind the brand is just a supplier, providing quantities of a product, often at the cost of innovation, even quality, in order to meet deadlines and repetitive requests. In consignment, you sustain some of your freedom, as in most cases you will call the shots, as in which items you want to sell with this particular retailer. But that is sustained at cost of taking all the risk of investing in your products upfront, with no obligation from the retailer.

Perhaps, the best way is to do it all. Manufacture, promote, sell, consign and vend at the markets. The identity of your brand is the single most important thing, that will outlast your relationships with retailers, event organizers and even clients.

If you back your identity with continuously improving quality of your product, the relationships will only expand. Ultimately, markets – and retailers – want your business, and there is no need to compromise any part of your overall goal for anything less.

You can extend momentum for you best selling item, by not over-stocking it, and you can ensure your quality by taking caution during faster than usual growth. Be selective. There’s only one of YOU.

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