#LBCWantsToKnow >> January 2019: Product Development Planning for Makers

product development planning for makers

breaking business bad habits

 

We’re wrapping up our #LBCWantsToKnow series for January with a quick meditation on timing around product development planning for makers. Each month, I ask my Instagram community to join me in a focused, crowd-sourced discussion on a specific subject. For the month of January, we’ve been rolling up our sleeves to chat about the beginning of the year planning. And no discussion about strategic planning would be complete without thinking about product development and how to time product launch cycles.

 

Product Development Planning for Makers

Jan-3

 

THE LUCKY BREAK COMMUNITY SAID…

  • rockcreeksoaps: We are super excited about a launch we’re putting out in about 2 weeks!

 

  • stellachroma: We released a hand cream and coffee body polish at the end of last year. We’re going to sit on those for a while. We’re focusing on GMP this year.

 

  • zhibathandbody: I’m helping my kiddos launch their line of natural pet products. They say the dog deserves better…yay for them! And as for me…FINALLY working on natural deodorant.

 

  • shopmilked: I want to release home fragrances. Wax melts and/or candles. I’m kinda freaking out about it because there is just so much to learn about waxes + wicks.

 

  • gavinluxe: We’re launching a Love candle in about 2 weeks.

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5 Things I Learned By Opening a Brick and Mortar Shop

5 things I learned about opening a brick and mortar

Opening a storefront as a maker and product designer is no easy feat! Today I’m here to share the top 5 things I learned by opening a brick and mortar shop.

 

Hi there folks! I’m Angie and I’m a member at Team Lucky Break. In addition to working with some of the planet’s best brands at LBC, I also run a thriving product-based business called bobo design studio and I’m here to share the…

 

5 Things I Learned By Opening a Brick and Mortar Shop

 

In May of 2018, I was offered the opportunity to be part of a landmark retail experience in Downtown San Jose. I was selected by the city and an organization called San Jose Made to be part of an inaugural group of up and coming brands and artisans to bring quality retail to the area. I’ve spent the last nine months nurturing that shop. As my lease comes to an end, I’ve been meditating on the magical, complicated, exhausting experience of running my own shop.

 

Angie



The process of opening and running this store has been an incredible learning experience that can only be described as trial by fire. This was not a traditional brick and mortar where I had to locate a retail space, obtain permits, etc. My experience and reflection in this post focus on the operational side, being a maker, and opening a storefront.

 

With that said, I wanted to share some of these lessons. I hope they prove helpful if you’re considering opening a physical store for your own business. And if this isn’t in your business plan, don’t turn the dial just yet! There are good tidbits here that you can still apply to your business.

 

No amount of planning or preparation will get you ready.

When I was notified of the opportunity to have the store, I had almost no time to put it together. Running a brick and mortar was not on my radar, but when your home city says “you would be a great ambassador to our community and help bring quality retail to Downtown,” you just don’t say no to that.

 

angie blog_2

 

I had approximately 2 weeks from when the ink dried on the contract to the opening day which involved a massive street closure, big ribbon cutting ceremony, Mayor kissing babies… the whole nine. Those two short weeks was utter chaos. Creating enough inventory to supply an entire store, merchandising, finalizing packaging, and developing store operation procedures were things I had to learn and build quickly.

 

I could have easily obsessed over each minor detail and fussed over creating a wide variety of products to fill a shop, but the success is in being nimble as you go while staying true to your brand. The saying “done is better than perfect” could not be more relevant here.

 

You don’t get a return on the investment of a storefront unless you’re in it for the long haul.

There are investments you plan for, and there are others that you didn’t anticipate. There was so much I didn’t know about or factor into opening a store. The large amount of capital spent in setting everything up was rough to fork over. Even on my best sales weeks and months, if you factor everything in- fixtures, rent, parking, staffing, unforeseen maintenance, retail software packages, and insurance, there is a chance that you might not come close to breaking even. The investment in creating a quality, branded shopping experience in your store is one that pays back over the life of a lease that is closer to 5 years. But how many folks are ready for the risk of a 5-year lease?

 

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What is GMP? A Quick Tutorial for Beauty Brands

When I started my apothecary brand way back in 2003, I had precious little clue about what I was doing. I’d never heard of “GMP” (good manufacturing practices) for cosmetic companies. I understood that personal care brands in the U.S. were beholden to the Food & Drug Administration (FDA), and I was aware of the specific rules surrounding product labeling, but manufacturing protocols weren’t a primary area of focus for me.  That soon changed.

 

 

Over the course of the next several years, I worked hard to implement GMP protocols within my indie beauty brand. That work was a Herculean challenge, since these guidelines were written with huge corporations in mind (though even the tiniest of companies within the U.S. is obligated to comply with them). So I put my nose to the grindstone and crafted distinctive strategies for making these outsized regulations workable for a micro manufacturer like myself.

 

Teaching GMP to other beauty entrepreneurs has now become a cornerstone of my consulting practice. I often hear from indie beauty brands that they believe they’re compliant, though it’s apparent that they don’t truly understand the GMP mechanisms and how comprehensive they ultimately are. Here’s an analogy I often use to explain the actual scope and power of GMP…

 

IMAGINE THIS NIGHTMARE-INDUCING SCENARIO…

 

Imagine that you receive a call from a panicked gentleman who explains that his wife has been using your makeup remover. It was purchased at a local shop, and she’s having a bad reaction when it was applied as directed. He’s driven her to the ER and she’s being examined at the moment. Her eyes are red, swollen, and painful and she’s having visual disturbances. He needs you to send him all the information you can round up about that product ASAP.

 

That frightening scenario makes my blood run cold. If you own an apothecary company, I imagine that it makes your heart beat faster, too. I’m confident that you could send him all of your company’s contact information. You could probably send him an invoice showing when the product was sold to the shop, provided that John could tell you where his wife made the purchase. You really should be able to send him a complete listing of every ingredient in the product (I’m assuming your ingredient label is complete + accurate, yes?)

 

But could you send him…

  • The date on which that particular bottle of makeup remover was made by your company?
  • The origin of every single ingredient that was used in the formula (which supplier the ingredient came from, when the ingredient was received by your company, and the related documentation that shows it met your quality standards)?
  • The physical record which displays the exact proportions of ingredients that were used and the conditions under which the eye makeup remover was manufactured?
  • The results of any microbial testing that demonstrates that the product was free of bacteria and mold when you originally shipped it to the store?

 

I imagine that better than 90% of the artisan beauty brands in our sphere couldn’t provide that information. And that’s a HUGE problem. GMP applies to brands big and small. Brands that are created in your kitchen, in your home workshop, and in commercial space. In fact, there’s no brand that’s too big nor too small for GMP, according to the FDA.

 

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Where are they now: Sarah Samere of James Vincent Design Co.

Sarah Headshot

james_logo3_360x

 

Are you wondering what happens to my Brick House Branding alumni post-graduation? What they do with the momentum and new-found knowledge? Curious about where they take their businesses in the year following all that hard work?

 

I’m back with another installment in my “Where Are They Now?” series and I’m doing-cartwheels-excited to show you the serious waves my BHB graduates are making!

 

Sarah Headshot

 

SAY HELLO TO SARAH OF JAMES VINCENT DESIGN CO.

This week I’m thrilled to catch up with my Brick House Branding graduate Sarah of James Vincent Design Co.

 

 

Lucky Break: Why and when did you originally launch your company?

Sarah: I started my company in 2013 after the birth of my first child. I was not a fan of the clothing that was available for babies/children and decided to make my own. Several people told me that I should sell the things I was making for my daughter so I took my last $40 (hard times during that part of my life) and bought fabric, opened an Etsy store and when the first piece sold, I used the profit to buy double the fabric, and so on.

 

 

Lucky Break: At what point did you know it was time to further explore brand development?

Sarah: A friend of mine had introduced me to Lela Barker via Periscope and I would listen to her daily while I worked from my home studio. As a momprenuer I wanted to soak up all of the knowledge I could on how to build a better company, and Lela quickly became like a mentor to me. After hearing so many other people comment on how she helped them take their businesses to another level via branding I decided to take my tax return and jump on the Lela train. There were SO MANY other small shops popping up at this time and many were basically knocking off what I had been doing. It was breaking my heart as well as hurting my business. I knew I had to do something big to set my company apart from all of the knock offs. Lela made it clear to me that branding was the only way to do this.

 

JVDC 2

 

Lucky Break: You didn’t necessarily undertake a “rebrand” in the traditional sense… there was no renaming of the company, no new logo, etc. Instead, we focused on refining your product collection, understanding what the brand is all about, and raising the bar on the product photography.  How has that helped the brand?

Sarah: I started my company making rompers. As a small business, I needed money not only for my business but also to put food on the table, so when people would send me special requests to make custom pieces or “you should make this or that”, I would say “okay” to everything, and ended up overextending myself. I lost sight of what my brand was all about. Lela, via Brick House Branding, helped me get back in my lane, and take my company back to the bare bones of where it started and why my customer base fell in love with my company in the first place. I stopped trying to be everything to everyone and simplified my product collection.

 

Lela helped me narrow my scope & figure out what my story was. Through a LOT of research, I was able to locate a local photographer who was new to the area and whose photography gave me life. Thank the gods that she was willing to work with me and that we had a mutual love for each other’s talents. Her photography helped me take my brand to another level and set my brand so far apart from all of the copycat brands that I was being suffocated by at the time. Her photography style compliments my brand vision so well, I never would have guessed how much of a difference that would have made for James Vincent Design Co.

 

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Where are they now: Dawn Russell of Treats for Chickens

Treats for Chickens

new logo trans

Are you wondering what happens to my Brick House Branding alumni post-graduation? What they do with the momentum and new-found knowledge? Curious about where they take their businesses in the year following all that hard work?

 

I’m back with another installment in my “Where Are They Now?” series and I’m doing-cartwheels-excited to show you the serious waves my BHB graduates are making!

 

Treats for Chickens

 

SAY HELLO TO DAWN OF TREATS FOR CHICKENS

This week I’m catching up with Dawn of Treats for Chickens. It’s no secret that I’m a fan of backyard chickens, and Dawn really makes me wish I had a reason to purchase every single one of her products. Dawn’s post-Brick House Branding transformation is a great example of evolution, versus a giant overhaul, and I’m pleased as punch to share her story with you.

 

Lucky Break: Why and when did you originally launch your company?

Dawn: Treats for Chickens hatched in 2009 out of necessity.  Organic food for chickens was rarely available and at the time there were zero organic treats on the market, let alone supplements or herbal mixes for nesting boxes.

 

 

Lucky Break: At what point did you know it was time for a rebrand?

Dawn: I’m on the fourth brand evolution since my launch. In the very beginning, I used Avery labels on Ziploc bags.  I quickly moved to a more professional look when I put my products into distribution.  Funds for packaging were minimal in those days and I foolishly went with artwork that I did not have full legal rights to.  Within 18 months there were three companies in the animal feed industry using the same artwork, and I had zero recourse to differentiate and protect the brand.

 

I needed something ORIGINAL that couldn’t be copied.  Thankfully, my brother-in-law is a cartoonist and over the years had drawn fun chicken-related birthday cards and posters for me.  The new look was right in front of me:  the yellow chicken and various chicken sketches throughout the current brand.  At this time, I jumped into pre-printed packaging and moved away from labels and stock bags.

 

My goals for the most recent brand evolution were to stand out on retail shelves, to convey important messages to consumers, and to transition from costly/bulky buckets and into large stand up pouches.

 

I took Brick House Branding in June, 2016 and ordered our first round of packaging from the printer in October, 2017.

 

Early examples of Treats for Chickens' branding

Early examples of Treats for Chickens’ branding

 

 

Lucky Break: Please share a significant realization about the brand development process that you discovered while in Brick House Branding.

Dawn: I have a tendency to get bored real easy and I want to change things constantly. Consumers get confused when the look and vibe aren’t consistent. I learned that I need to stay in my lane, stick with my brand colors, fonts, patterns, tone, and visual design elements.  I’m very specific about how we show up now.

 

 

Lucky Break: What professionals did you tag in to help with the process, and what pieces of the branding puzzle did you DIY? 

Dawn: I could not run Treats for Chickens profitably if I didn’t have a team of professionals handling the graphic design of my vision and thoughts, copywriters taking my ramblings and terrible punctuation and turning those thoughts into understandable, printable public copy.  I am grateful for web designers, photographers and more.

 

 

Lucky Break: What was the biggest obstacle you encountered during the rebranding process?

Dawn: My lack of patience for the process. I think of an idea/product/handout/flyer/shelf talker/door cling and I want it to launch tomorrow and as we all know – it doesn’t always happen THAT fast.

 

Treats for Chickens, before Brick House Branding and a packaging update

Treats for Chickens, before Brick House Branding and a packaging update

 

 

Lucky Break: How has your own perception of your brand evolved since graduating from Brick House Branding?  

Dawn: I’m happy with the direction we’ve gone and the places where we’re stocked.  Treats for Chickens is a brand with spunk, heart, soul and a story that our customers relate to and trust.

 

 

Lucky Break: Are your products are being received differently by others since the rebrand? How has their reaction evolved?

Dawn: Anyone can throw a bunch of ingredients in a bag (box, etc), add a UPC, sell it below market value and grab the attention of a buyer to get it on a shelf.  Customers, buyers, retailers know that as a company we take the health and happiness of backyard chickens seriously and it shows in every facet of what we produce whether it be ingredients or the way we show up.  It’s very clear that we aren’t a crappy, knock-off, commodity product.

 

 

Lucky Break: Can you share a recent win that you’ve realized because of the rebrand?

Dawn: I’m working on an account with 160+ locations.  He called and said that he liked the look and that it conveyed a message they were in agreeance with.  160 locations?  I’ll ship that.

 

I’m also fortunate that our look is just damn cute.  Most companies that we share shelf space with are so GENERIC.

 

Treats for Chickens, after Brick House Branding and a packaging update

Treats for Chickens, after Brick House Branding and a packaging update

 

 

Lucky Break: How did Brick House Branding experience help shape your branding process?

Dawn: I was able to go through the whole process and leave no stone unturned.  Lela’s course is thorough and even pissed me off a few times because I had to REALLY look at how my behavior (changing things, getting off-brand, off -tone) was affecting consumer/buyer perception.

 

There are steps to a successful rebrand and BHB walks you down the path, pebble by pebble.

 

 

Lucky Break: What do you wish you had known at the beginning of the brand development process? What advice would you give to someone who’s getting ready to start the brand development process?

Dawn: I don’t have a “wish-I-would-have-known” but I do have advice (or rather a request) pleeeeze don’t compare your process to anyone else’s and do not compare your business to another.  This thinking is fatal to the creative process.

 

Jump in, give it your all and follow through. Launch your beautiful rebrand and be accountable for the end results of your brand and your business.

 

 

Thanks for catching up with us, Dawn. We can’ t wait to see what comes next for you and Treats for Chickens… We’re cheering you on!

 

If you’d like to build a stronger, smart brand in 2019, then I hope that you’ll consider joining me in the winter semester of Brick House Branding. This 9-week brand development mentorship dissects awesome brands and then helps you build your own, brick by brick, with me working right alongside you to cheer you on and ensure that you’re on the right track. Enrollment is now open through October 12!