Meet the Maker – Josef and Grace of Blue&Grae

Meet the Maker – Blue&Grae

Meet the Maker – Blue&Grae

 

This week in our ongoing Meet the Maker series, we’re getting to know Josef and Grace, the craftsmen behind boutique brand Blue&GraeJosef and Grace live and work together in the suburb of Teneriffe in Brisbane Australia, and are in the midst of transitioning from working at their day jobs to full time artisans. We’re excited to share their story with you!

 

Meet the Maker – Blue&Grae

 

LBC: What inspired you to take your leap as entrepreneurs?

Josef and Grace: Several years ago Grae dared me to make a camp-sit – a little leather and hardwood camping stool – so I did, and immediately saw the potential in what I had just done. The business was born soon thereafter and we are now in our third year part time. The real leap is happening right now as we strategize our leap from our day jobs to full time artisans. Its a very exciting time for Blue&Grae.

 

LBC: When you first got started, how did you envision your business would be defined?

Josef and Grace: We have always wanted our business to be defined by the quality and robustness of our craftsmanship. It’s never been about being rich; for us, it’s about fulfilling our need to create and staying true to the essence of the materials that we use.

 

LBC: How would you describe what you create?

Josef and Grace: We hand-craft a variety of leather, canvas, and denim goods. Every piece is designed and made by us in our Brisbane studio/workshop using age old techniques and time-honoured sewing machines. We use only full grain Australian leather from Australian animals – it’s amazing stuff.

 

LBC: Where can we find your products?

Josef and Grace: In our Etsy shop.

 

LBC: Walk us through your typical work day.

Josef and Grace: Whilst we are planning and saving for our transition to full time artisans, we both still work full time, so that takes care of our 9-5. The real work starts in the evenings; we are both hardcore night owls, so that suits us. Our golden time for creativity and productivity is 8 ’till midnight. During those hours, you will find us at the sewing machines, cutting materials, updating our Etsy shop, or working on new products. The weekends are reserved for photography, machine maintenance, coffee, and toast.

 

Meet the Maker – Blue&Grae

 

LBC: What are 3 things makers should think through when they initially decide to start a business?

Josef and Grace: 1) Try to identify what your strengths really are, and think about how you will deal with your shortcomings.

2) Think about your business’s core values, and then think about how you can achieve these, realistically and ethically.

3) Think about the integrity of your materials and processes. Where possible, we think makers should source their materials in such a way as to protect craft industries and local businesses.

 

LBC: When you’re overwhelmed, what brings you back to focus?

Josef and Grace: The smell of wood smoke. A long hot bath. A bike ride along the Brisbane river.

 

LBC: Tell us about a few of the best business decisions you’ve made to date.

Josef and Grace: I think our best decisions have been around the materials we use. For example, dealing directly with the two Australian tanneries that we use has enabled us to learn so much about their process’s issues and roadblocks. Often we can work together to prevent these in the first instance, and arrive at a better product and a better deal financially for both parties.

Investing in the best quality machines that you can afford is also really important. For us, that has meant buying older machines and restoring them to their former glory. It really is true in this instance: They don’t make them like they used to.

 

Meet the Maker – Blue&Grae

 

LBC: Please share one mistake or obstacle from your business experience. How did you bounce back/overcome it?

Josef and Grace: We still dread bad reviews as anyone would, but the more we talk honestly to people about our products, the more confidence we get that we are staying true to our values. You can’t please everyone with your products, and the sooner that is really understood, the better.

 

LBC: Is there a cause or organization that you contribute to that you’re particularly passionate about?

Josef and Grace: We have recently started collaborating with several education centres/craft organisations to share our knowledge of leathercraft to likeminded creative types. Its an enjoyable thing for us to be able to see other people enjoy the making and crating process and hopefully to spark their inner artisan.

 

LBC: What are 3 essential resources in your business toolbox that you can’t do without?

Josef and Grace: Google Drive – Enables us to store our documents in a central location and access them anywhere.

Our chalk board – We put all of our current orders and jobs on a chalk board in the workshop. It helps us to stay focused and prioritize our work (and its cool place to doodle).

Good old notepad and pen – Doodles become ideas, problems are solved, lists are written.

 

LBC: Suppose we had a time machine. If you blasted ourselves forward a few years, where would we see your company?

Josef and Grace: All things being well in a few years, we should both be working full time at Blue&Grae. Our product line will have expanded, and hopefully the relationships we have built with our suppliers and our clients will still be going strong.

 

LBC: What’s one thing you would eat, if you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life?

Grace (Grae): Toast. Just Toast.

Josef (Blue): Roasted vegetable lasagne.

 

LBC: What’s your favorite quote and who said it?

Josef and Grace: “Look for the bare necessities / The simple bare necessities / Forget about your worries and your strife / I mean the bare necessities / That’s why a bear can rest at ease / With just the bare necessities of life.”  -Baloo the Bear

 

LBC: If you were given a million dollars, but were not allowed to keep a single penny for yourself, friends or family, how would you spend it or give it away?

Josef and Grace: We would love to create a craft co-operative for the underprivileged, perhaps giving homeless people or those less fortunate than us the opportunities to learn a craft, and produce something that they can then sell to work their way out of their predicaments. Not everyone wants direct charity; just the opportunity to earn their keep.

 

Meet the Maker – Blue&Grae

 

Thank you, Josef and Grace, for sharing your talent with us!  We absolutely love what you’re doing and we look forward to all the wonderful things ahead for Blue&Grae. We’re cheering you on…

 

Want to see your brand featured in our continuing “Meet the Maker” series? Drop us a line: hello AT luckybreakconsulting.com. Please use “MEET THE MAKER” as the subject line and be certain to include your web address. We look forward to hearing from you!

 

Meet the Makers – Jennifer + Melissa of The Vintage Honey Shop

The Vintage Honey Shop

The Vintage Honey Shop

 

This week in our ongoing Meet the Maker series, we’re getting to know best friends and sisters-in-law Jennifer and Melissa of Nashville, TN, co-founders of The Vintage Honey Shop, a brand founded on stylish, functional teething and nursing jewelry for parents + babies. Welcome, Jen + Mel!

 

LBC: What inspired you to take your leap as an entrepreneurs?

Jen + Mel: When we started off, becoming entrepreneurs was far from what we had envisioned for our shop.  As we made little crafts here and there, we would share them on our Facebook pages, and a lot of friends and family members urged us to open up an Etsy shop.  We thought about it for a while and finally decided to open up a shop together as friends!

 

LBC: When you first got started, how did you envision your business would be defined?

Jen + Mel: When we first started off selling our crafts on Etsy, we didn’t have a business plan.  We just wanted to make cute things and have a place to sell them.  It was a fun venture…a hobby, really.

We had no idea that The Vintage Honey Shop would take off, and that we actually had great business skills that had been laying dormant inside of us. Our vision for our shop has evolved and changed for us over the years; and it still does, which is great, because being an entrepreneur is a fun adventure!

 

LBC: How would you describe what you create?

Jen + Mel: We make handmade teething and nursing necklaces.  The necklaces are fabric and wood-based.  Mom wears the necklace, and baby can safely put it in their mouth (because you know they are going to do that anyway).

Our necklaces are very popular with breastfeeding mothers as well, because when mom wears the necklace, their baby can have something to hold onto that will keep them focused on nursing – instead of looking around or pinching/scratching mom!

 

The Vintage Honey Shop

 

LBC: Where can we find your products?

Jen + Mel: We sell our necklaces on our website, thevintagehoneyshop.com.

LBC: Walk us through your typical work day.

 

Jen + Mel: There is no typical day!  Every day is new and different.

Because we are a partnership, we split up responsibilities. Melissa is in charge of our inventory and shipping operations.  We store and ship all of our necklaces from her home, which happens three times a week. On the days we do not ship, Melissa makes tags for our packages, preps orders for the next day, and does inventory on the necklaces we have in the shop.

Jennifer is responsible for the customer service side of the business, which entails emails, social media, collaborations, etcetera. She keeps all of the fabric, beads, and other supplies into making our sweet little honeys!  Jennifer also coordinates and oversees the making of necklaces with our two assistants we have hired to help us keep up with the production of our necklaces.

Since our first jobs are being stay-at-home moms, our business does come second.  We have to work around playing with our kids, school, laundry, and all the other errands that go with staying at home.

 

LBC: What are 3 things makers should think through when they initially decide to start a business?

Jen + Mel: 1) Figure out and find your target audience. Until you know who you are selling to, you will be spinning your wheels!

2) Focus on branding. It was a turning point in our business when we finally figured out our brand; it took a few years of trial and error, but once we nailed it, our business took off!

3) Make a list of short-, mid- and long-term goals. Every time we are able to cross something off our list, it is a victory! It drives us to keep working and dreaming larger.

 

The Vintage Honey Shop

 

LBC: When you’re overwhelmed, what brings you back to focus?

Jen + Mel: When we get overwhelmed, we usually take a break.  Even if it is a few days off, being able to shut our minds off of the business almost always sparks new ideas and inspiration for us! When we take a step back, a flood of ideas just pours in. And the good thing about being a partnership is that when one of us needs a break, the other one steps in and takes over!

 

LBC: Tell us about a few of the best business decisions you’ve made to date.

Jen + Mel: Hiring out has been the BEST decision we have ever made – ex. hiring a graphic designer, photographer, shipping assistants, seamstresses, and even a virtual assistant.  There is no way we could do it all on our own. Scratch that; we can do it all on our own, but it wouldn’t be at the quality we want it to be! We could make our own logo…but is it going to look as good as a professional graphic designer? No!

By giving up control in a few areas, it opened us up to be able to look at the bigger picture. Our brains have a hard time shutting off when it comes to our business; it is a passion for us. But being able to delegate a few things help us to better our business and prevent burnout.

 

LBC: Is there a cause or organization that you contribute to that you’re particularly passionate about?

Jen + Mel: We pick different charities to donate to, but there are two that we just love.  One is a local pregnancy center that helps out newly pregnant women during their pregnancies.  We also love Midwives of Haiti, which trains women in Haiti who go around to different villages to give proper care to pregnant and postpartum women.

 

The Vintage Honey Shop

 

LBC: What are 3 essential resources in your business toolbox that you can’t do without?

Jen + Mel: Our phones, Netflix and lots and lots of coffee! You might think we’re joking, but it is true. The majority of our business is conducted on our phones, which gives us mobility and flexibility. Netflix keeps us entertained as we sew, ship and hand-make the tags that go onto every order. And coffee…well, that is a no-brainer for any entrepreneur – especially one who is raising  little kids at the same time!

 

LBC: Suppose we had a time machine. If you blasted ourselves forward a few years, where would we see your company?

Jen + Mel: Oh boy, this is would be mystery for us. Every so often, we say, “Wow…would you imagine us being where we are now a year ago?”  We hope that we find ourselves still happy, inspired, and growing!

 

LBC: Your musical playlist is full of…

Jen + Mel: We constantly have worship music blaring on our Pandora music stations as we work. It brings a calming and inspiring atmosphere to our workspaces.

 

The Vintage Honey Shop

 

LBC: Share one of your guiltiest pleasures.

Jen + Mel: Chocolate!  We keep little chocolates in dishes next to our desks; it fuels us.

 

LBC: What’s your favorite quote and who said it?

Jen + Mel: “Good, better, best…never let it rest, until good turns to better, and better turns to best!” We are not sure who originally quoted this, but we grew up hearing our Pastor saying this all of the time, and it helps keep us always make our business the best it can be.

 

Thank you, Jen + Mel, for sharing your talent with us!  We absolutely love what you’re doing and we look forward to all the wonderful things ahead for The Vintage Honey Shop. We’re cheering you on…

 

Want to see your brand featured in our continuing “Meet the Maker” series? Drop us a line: hello AT luckybreakconsulting.com. Please use “MEET THE MAKER” as the subject line and be certain to include your web address. We look forward to hearing from you!

 

The Problem with Selling on Handmade at Amazon

AmazonHandmadeIG

The Etsy platform has long existed in a state of inherent tension:  the sellers who depend so heavily upon it are often quick to criticize it as well. Etsy was roundly celebrated as it labored to create an unprecedented market opportunity for makes and product designers, effectively launching a retail rebellion of the very best kind. From its humble beginnings as a scrappy startup way back in 2005, Etsy has evolved into a juggernaut, racking up close to $2billion in sales in 2014 and almost single-handedly launching the “maker revolution.”

 

But a series of missteps and growing pains left many sellers with a less-than-savory taste in their mouths. Etsy sellers have struggled with:

 

    • An ever-evolving definition of “handmade”
    • A perceived lack of commitment to protecting their intellectual property
    • A recent flood of mass-produced products from overseas
    • A corporate IPO, which introduced public shareholder interest into the mix

 

So while Etsy pioneered this space, improving market accessibility for makers and artists over the course of the last decade, the relationship has soured for many of Etsy’s most ardent supporters. Sensing a potentially lucrative opening, Amazon launched a new “Handmade at Amazon” platform designed to compete head-to-head with Etsy.  Amazon wisely put together an attractive package for Etsy sellers and entered the fray with a public launch in October of 2015.

 

For the past four months, I’ve fielded the question “Should I sell on Amazon Handmade?” on a weekly basis as my clients explore all of their distribution opportunities.  And my answer has been a firm and consistent “no” from day one.

 

The debate surrounding Handmade at Amazon continues to rage and thoughtful articles have detailed Amazon’s less-than-intuitive user interface  and the company’s penchant for using the sales data of its own sellers to drive them out of business. While that possibility is deeply troubling, Amazon fans have remained steadfast in their faith in the platform, asserting that the exploitation of sales data of the handmade contingent is speculative at this juncture. Touché.

 

From my vantage point as a business strategist for makers and product designers, there are a host of more fundamental problems with the Handmade at Amazon platform.  I urge every maker who’s striving to build a sustainable business to proceed with extreme caution.  Why?

 

Amazon is a dictatorial platform that exerts almost total control over the sales process, stripping sellers of virtually all autonomy.  And it’s hella expensive, too.

 

AMAZON IS AN EXPENSIVE PLATFORM UPON WHICH TO SELL

 

Let’s start with the money discussion, because a clear distillation of the Amazon fee structure will likely dissuade many makers from sowing deep seeds into the platform. When compared to Etsy, Amazon Handmade takes a larger bite of the apple in virtually every scenario.  A quick side-by-side comparison is revealing…

 

HANDMADE AT AMAZON

    •  No listing fees
    •  $40 Professional Selling Plan, paid monthly
    •  Transaction fee of either 12% or $.50, whichever is greater
    •  Transaction fees are applied to shipping charges as well

 

As a launch incentive for Handmade at Amazon, the $40 “Professional Selling Plan” fee is being waived through August 1, 2016.

 

ETSY

    • Listing fee of $.20 per item
    • 3.5% transaction fee
    • 3% payment processing fee
    • Transaction fees aren’t applied to shipping costs
    • No monthly fee

 

AmazonHandmade
The fee disparity will deepen when Amazon Handmade begins collecting their $40 monthly fee in the fall of 2016.
AmazonHandmade2

 

It’s worth noting, too, than Etsy releases funds immediately, while Amazon holds funds until the order ships. For makers who are shipping premade items, this point of difference is likely insignificant. But for the artists working on custom commissions, this is a critical differentiation that will impact the cash flow of the business.

 

AMAZON’S NOT AFRAID TO STRONG-ARM YOUR PRICING STRUCTURE

 

Amazon is well attuned to their power and the company isn’t timid about applying pricing pressure to those who play in its sandbox. In August of 2015, Amazon dispatched an email missive to an entrepreneur in my circle, effectively announcing that…

 

“We have identified that based on the current cost of some of your products, we are not able to sustainably offer them to our customers despite our highly efficient, high volume retail model.”

 

Mind you, the email was received after 4 successful years of selling via Amazon.  Brand managers hadn’t noted slacking sales, so the trigger for the communication is unclear. Regardless, Amazon offered the brand “suggested” new pricing which equated to a 15% reduction.  The seller was given one week to decide from among three options:

    • Accept the pricing presented, authorizing Amazon to implement it immediately.
    • Accept some of the new pricing “suggestions.” For products which weren’t accepted at the suggested price point, Amazon may elect to drop them altogether.
    • The seller could manually update the pricing themselves.  Amazon noted that if the seller was “unable to give us the costs we’ve requested,” then the products may be dropped from the platform.

 

Let that sink in for a moment: Amazon dictated the prices of an independent brand. Not the price Amazon would pay for the product, but the price they’d allow an independent retailer to charge the customer. Danger, Will Robinson!

 

 

AMAZON IS REVERED AS HOME OF THE CHEAP + READILY AVAILABLE

 

The sale of commodities forms Amazon’s very core… it’s the premise upon which the company was built and it embodies the concept for which Amazon has become famous: cheap prices, fast delivery, and access to an infinite stream of products. But that very premise is antithetical to the handmade movement.

 

Commodities are products that can easily be substituted for one another. They’re items for which a demand exists, but there’s no qualitative difference across a marketplace. For example: the scrubber sponges you grab because they’re on sale at the grocery store and the plant food you select because it’s the first one that catches your eye during a quick run to the nursery. The purchasing patterns of commodity buyers are triggered by two things: price and availability.

 

Amazon has become the largest retailer in the United States, with $89 billion (billion with a B!) in sales collected from 294 million users in 2014. And why do we patronize Amazon so faithfully? Because virtually every product under the sun is conveniently located in one centralized spot, available at our fingertips 24 hours a day at an uber-competitive price. Even better? We can have anything our hearts’ desire on our doorstep within 48 hours. As a shopper, there’s a lot to love!

 

But as a brand, the love affair is increasinly tepid. In contrast to commodities, brands create differentiated products that are highly desired by their ideal customers. Brand customers have some degree of loyalty, seeking out specific goods in the marketplace. These customers are less likely to substitute products based on price and availability.  And they’re precisely the kind of shoppers that handmade artisans need to sustain their business.

 

By pitching your wares via Amazon, you risk commoditizing your brand. And I don’t believe this is an obscure risk… in fact, I believe that makers who sell through Amazon inevitably erode brand value.  The value buyers of Amazon want things fast and cheap (which means their patience is usually in short supply) and they’ll shop next month based on price and availability (which means they’re not inclined to build loyalty to a specific brand). If another seller with a similar item sets up shop on Amazon at a lower price, then your buyers are likely to defect en masse. And if you step off of the Amazon platform, then you immediately decrease the availability of your wares and the Amazon customer isn’t likely to follow you.

 

In short: Amazon buyers likely aren’t your audience. And you likely wouldn’t want them to be. Please know that I’m not anti-Amazon! The almost predictable delivery of Amazon Prime packages to my doorstep is a sign of how often I patronize the platform. But I use it for quick + easy + cheap deliveries of my daughter’s vegan protein bars and the latest business book I want to digest. If fast + cheap + accessible ism’t the kind of customer you ultimately want to attract to your brand, then I’d think twice about crawling into bed with Amazon.

 

A few other important caveats to note: prestige products have no place on Amazon because they’re run contrary to the sales model that Amazon has so carefully constructed.  And as someone who helps makers build wholesale strategies, I can imagine few things which are less attractive to the independent shop buyer than knowing that your wares are available 24 hours a day via America’s largest discount retailer. Crawl inside the mind of a buyer for a few moments and meditate on that through their eyes.

 

AMAZON OWNS THE CUSTOMER + TRANSACTION

 

In essence, Amazon is a closed eco-system and makers are positioned as dropshippers of their own products. The progression of evolving an Amazon customer into a brand customer is a completely passive process over which Amazon sellers have no control.

 

When selling on Amazon, you…

      • Can’t include a link back to your site
      • Can’t include any promotional materials in your shipment
      • Can’t harvest the customer email address to add to your newsletter list
      • Can’t contact the customer outside the Amazon

 

In essence, the customer belongs to Amazon.  Any attempt to establish a relationship with that customer outside of Amazon is sufficient grounds for termination of your Amazon selling privileges.

 

Etsy policies are friendlier to the seller, at least in comparison to Amazon. While Etsy discourages “fee avoidance”, the platform doesn’t forbid you from linking directly to a website that lives outside of Etsy. And you’re free to tuck anything you like into the actual order.

 

the problem with selling on handmade at amazon

 

From Etsy’s Seller Policies page>> “You may receive a buyer’s email address or other information as a result of entering into a transaction with that buyer. This information may only be used for Etsy-related communications or for Etsy-facilitated transactions. You may not use this information for unsolicited commercial messages or unauthorized transactions. Without the buyer’s explicit consent, you may not add any Etsy member to your email or physical mailing list or store or misuse any payment information.”

 

In contrast, Amazon maintains a restrictive set of parameters surrounding the buyers/seller interaction >> “Any attempt to circumvent the established Amazon sales process or to divert Amazon users to another website or sales process is prohibited. Specifically, any advertisements, marketing messages (special offers) or “calls to action” that lead, prompt, or encourage Amazon users to leave the Amazon website are prohibited. Prohibited activities include the following:
•  The use of email intended to divert customers away from the Amazon sales process.
•  The inclusion of hyperlinks, URLs or web addresses within any seller generated confirmation email messages or any product/listing description fields that are intended to divert customers away from the Amazon sales process.

 

In fact, Amazon sellers never even see the email addresses of their buyers…

“Buyers and sellers may communicate with one another via the Buyer-Seller Messaging Service, which assigns unique Amazon-generated email addresses to both parties. Sellers are prohibited from providing or soliciting direct, non-Amazon-generated email addresses on the Amazon website or in correspondence through the Buyer-Seller Messaging Service.”

 

When selling directly through Etsy, you enjoy an opportunity to include promotional materials that fortify the relationship and entice customers to visit your own independent, ecommerce site. When selling on Amazon, however, Amazon controls the process from beginning to end, and sellers are forbidden from including any materials which might potentially “divert” the Amazon-owned customer.

 

Per the Amazon’s Sellers Guide >> “Now that you’ve read your Amazon.com seller agreement and associated policies and guidelines, we want to give you additional information that is key to selling successfully on Amazon. Things to Avoid: Including any marketing or promotional materials with packing materials.”

 

Note: This bit of guidance was originally posted by Amazon behind a password-protected area that’s exclusively accessible by their sellers. The version I linked above is a direct quote on a publicly-accessible Amazon seller’s forum, but the content is identical and the guideline comes directly from Amazon.

 

That policy binds the hands of Amazon sellers and leaves the ball firmly in the customer’s court. There’s no prompting or incentive for any single customer to track down your site, which is the typical catalyst for converting a customer who found you via a third-party platform into a customer whom you “own.”

 

 

AMAZON OFFERS NO HIGHER “HANDMADE” STANDARD

Etsy’s definition of handmade has been a persistent sticking point over the last several years, ruffling more than a few feathers. The “handmade” concept has been iterated in several ways by Etsy executives, and this is the latest incarnation >>

 

“Handmade items are items that are made by you, the seller, or are designed by you and made with the help of an approved outside manufacturer who complies with our ethical manufacturing policies. If you sell in the Handmade category, you must be able to demonstrate that your items comply with our Handmade Policy. You agree that:
•  All handmade items are made or designed by you. If you work with an outside manufacturer to make items that you have designed, you must apply for outside manufacturing and choose ethical manufacturing partners.
•  You accurately describe every person involved in the making of an item in your shop in your About page.
•  You are using your own photographs– not stock photos, artistic renderings, or photos used by other sellers or sites. Read more about using appropriate photographs in this Help article.

 

Sellers have long been frustrated with the ever-evolving definition of the word “handmade” offered by Etsy, but Amazon’s definition of handmade does nothing to “put teeth” into the concept.

“All products available in your Handmade at Amazon store must be made entirely by hand, hand-altered, or hand assembled (not from a kit). Products must be handmade by you (the artisan), by one of your employees (if your company has 20 or fewer employees), or a member of your collective with less than 100 people. Mass-produced products or products handmade by a different artisan are not eligible to sell in Handmade.”

Unfortunately, Amazon’s entry into the handmade world hasn’t helped shore up the definition so many of us seek. It’s interesting to note that the much ballyhooed Three Bird Nest fiasco could easily exist on Handmade at Amazon too, so long as the buttons are lovingly stitched one-by-one onto the fresh-off-the-Chinese boat headbands and assuming that the company constrains its growth to twenty employees or less.

 

NO HISTORY OF SUPPORTING THE HANDMADE COMMUNITY

 

While many sellers have become disenchanted with Etsy as it’s grown, there’s little debate over the amount of seller support that Etsy offers makers and product designers. There are a myriad of support systems in place at Etsy designed to help entrepreneurs get their sea legs beneath them and build more successful businesses.

Some of those support systems include:

    • The Etsy Seller handbook: a collection of 300+ articles on everything from product photography  to brand development
    • Etsy Labs: a “creative community space” in Brooklyn that plays host to craft and business development workshops
    • The Etsy Wholesale Blog: weekly profiles of maker-centric boutiques accompanied by posts filled with strategies designed to fortify your wholesale program
    • Etsy Street Teams: communities of supportive makers centered around common product categories or geographical locations

 

Etsy’s outstanding educational support has spoiled us and Amazon hasn’t risen to the occasion.  Their seller support is anemic at best. In the final equation, Etsy has raised a generation of savvy makers that Amazon can now monetize.  While that’s a brilliant business move on Amazon’s behalf, the maker community isn’t any better for it. Amazon’s roots aren’t in the handmade movement, and I believe they’ve jumped on the bandwagon simply because Etsy has proven the financial viability of supporting makers and artists. I fear that handmade sellers are little more than dollars signs to Amazon.

 

A WORD OF CAUTION

 

I encourage my clients to invest the bulk of their time and energy in building the only platform over which they ultimately enjoy complete control: their own ecommerce site. Depending on any third party platform (Amazon, Etsy, Facebook, Instagram, et al) is a risky strategy that leaves you in a place of vulnerability.

 

Each of those entities is a publicly-traded company with a primary responsibility to return profit to its shareholders. Their ultimate loyalty belongs to their shareholders, rather than their users.

 

Further, because we exert no real control over those platforms, we leave ourselves at their mercy. One round of bad press, one algorithm update, or one policy change could spell disaster. The platform could implode or their customers could revolt en masse. The Powers That Be could simply change the rules and decide that we no longer fit their model, banishing us from the sandbox altogether. If those scenarios feel like obscure or abstract concepts then you either haven’t been playing in these waters for long or you haven’t been paying attention. I say that in love, but I can’t conjure a kinder or more accurate way of expressing that.

 

In order to build a smart, sustainable creative business, I recommend:

    • Building your own ecommerce site as “home base”
    • Amassing a carefully targeted list of email addresses from those interested in your products
    • Sending regular newsletters, brimming with value, to that customer base to fortify the relationships
    • Attracting new customers through intentional, high quality social media content, and thoughtful collaborations
    • Investing at least twice as much energy in your own platform as you invest in third party platforms

 

Have you taken Handmade at Amazon out for a spin? Are you an established Amazon seller who predates the Handmade at Amazon platform? Have you been mulling over the decision to set up shop with America’s largest retailer? If so, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

 

What has your Amazon experience been like?

 

What attracts you to the platform?

 

What fears or uncertainties surround your decision to sell via Amazon?

 

Meet the Maker – Scott and Margi Higdon of Ms. Betty’s Original

msbettys1

ScottandMargi

 

This week in our ongoing Meet the Maker series, we’re getting to know Scott and Margi Higdon of Ms. Betty’s Original, a line of bad-ass soy candles that the couple manufactures our of their Woodbridge, Virginia workshop. Welcome, Scott!

 

LBC: What inspired you to take your leap as an entrepreneur?

Scott and Margi: This entire business started off as a creative gift to our friend, Betty. She was the recipient of the first Bad-Ass Bitch candle, but it took us several months of her encouraging us before we decided to actually sell that candle. However, once we did, it was an instant hit. We knew after the first holiday season that we were definitely on to something big.

 

LBC: When you first got started, how did you envision your business would be defined?

Scott: I can honestly tell you that in the beginning, we were not sure, and it was more of a ‘let’s see how this goes’ and not really a detailed plan. One thing that we have focused on from the beginning was staying true to the sarcastic nature of our initial product. We want people to see our products and laugh, then say, “This is pretty cool, and I want to get this,” or, “I want to get this for my friend.”

 

LBC: How would you describe what you create?

Scott and Margi: We create funny, sarcastic, and overall great products, but we also create an experience for the consumer. The experience is their interaction with the product and the person for whom they are buying. We receive great stories and feedback from our customers of how they gave the product as a gift and the recipient’s great reaction. Some are very funny.

 

msbettys1

 

LBC: Where can we find your products?

Scott and Margi: Since our initial launch in August 2013, we have grown quicker that we ever expected. Right now, our main selling venue is through Etsy.  We have expanded our availability through several retailers across the United States, as well as into several international locations. Our largest retailer was Urban Outfitters in 2014, and now in 2015, we have partnered with Brit+Co. That exposure has increased the interest in retail accounts and has led to fielding retail inquiries almost daily.

 

LBC: Walk us through your typical work day.

Scott: A typical day starts with going downstairs, turning on the wax melter, loading it up for the day, reading over any emails, checking inventory, and printing off orders. In between, we have to wash the hundreds of jars, order supplies, and answer inquiries throughout the day. The next thing is to actually fill the orders. This takes the most amount of time, but we want to ensure the products are packed properly and we also hand write notes for every order. Then in the afternoon, I load up all the orders and off to the local Post Office to drop them off. After that, it’s back to the basement for several more hours of filling orders to go out for the next day. The day usually ends around 9 or 10 p.m. – or later, during the holiday season.

 

LBC: What are 3 things makers should think through when they initially decide to start a business?

Scott: 1. Know your audience and competition. I researched the candle business, what was important to consumers and how our competition handled these issues. We purchased candles from some of the leading candle companies on Etsy. We analyzed how long it took, the quality of the product, their communication and packaging. We adjusted our expectations and processes based on this research.

2. Know the total cost of your products before you post publicly. This was one area I should have focused a bit more on. I was not properly accounting for shipping or production time; those have to be included or you are shortchanging yourself. When you start to price your products for wholesale, pricing becomes even more important. You should calculate both wholesale and retail prices before you launch.

3. Know how much time it takes to complete an order. Setting expectations for the customer is very important. I believe it is better to say it will take 5 days to process an order and then do it in 3 days, than to say it will take 3 days and do it in 3. Why? Because you are exceeding expectations when you ship the product out 2 days earlier than they expected. It conveys a positive experience for the customer. If you are doing this part time, it is even more important, as you have to balance the business with your daily life and other priorities.

 

msbettys2

 

LBC: When you’re overwhelmed, what brings you back to focus?

Scott and Margi: Sometimes when we are overwhelmed, we stop and take a break. It allows time to refocus and reflect. The reflection is reminding ourselves that we wanted to do this and now just because it is successful, do not get frustrated, but rather be happy that it is successful.

 

LBC: Tell us about a few of the best business decisions you’ve made to date.

Scott and Margi: The best business decision has to be going with the Etsy platform to sell. We had many options, including our own site, but using Etsy exposed us to many groups that would have taken a long time to find otherwise. In addition, Etsy is where Urban Outfitters and Brit+Co. picked us up.

 

LBC: Please share one mistake or obstacle from your business experience. How did you bounce back/overcome it?

Scott and Margi: Not having confidence in our initial launch. We were running the business week-to-week and not planning for long term. We kept thinking the orders would eventually stop, but they didn’t. After the initial holiday season in 2013, the orders dropped off, so we thought, “Well, that was fun.” Then in mid January 2014, things went haywire, and we didn’t know what was happening. The orders were flooding in. We finally realized that Buzzfeed featured one of our candles as a “Top 25 Gift Under $25.” We played catch up and had to waste money to express some of our supplies. We were pulling all-nighters to keep up with the demand.

 

msbettys4

 

LBC: What are 3 essential resources in your business toolbox that you can’t do without?

Scott and Margi: We use GoDaddy bookkeeping for our invoicing; Google has been a lifesaver in scouring the web for the best sources of ingredients; and of course, Etsy.

 

LBC: Suppose we had a time machine. If you blasted ourselves forward a few years, where would we see your company?

Scott: I would like to see our company grow out of the basement and into a large commercial location that will allow for an increased capacity from automated production equipment. We do almost every step by hand; mixing, washing, melting, labeling, etc. We also have several other brands we are looking to launch.

 

LBC: What’s one thing you would eat, if you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life?

Scott: Pizza.

 

LBC: Your musical playlist is full of…

Scott and Margi: There is really no specific playlist, but Pandora is tuned to the Chill Out or Lounge Mode station throughout the day. It’s relaxing, but occasionally a funky song will come on that gets things moving.

 

LBC: Share one of your guiltiest pleasures.

Scott: Double Stuf Oreos. Keep them away, or – I promise you – the package will be emptied by the end of the day.

 

msbettys3

 

LBC: If you could hire someone to do just one thing that you sort of loathe doing, what would it be?

Scott: Unloading the pallets of 50-pound boxes of wax and moving them to the basement. Yes, that certainly is the most unpleasant part of the job. My back reminds me the rest of the evening.

 

LBC: What’s your favorite quote and who said it?

Scott: I tell my college-aged son, “Be a leader and not a follower.” I have been telling him that since he could understand me. Whenever he is faced with a tough decision, I remind him that he is a leader, and to do what a leader would do.

I also absolutely love The Holstee Manifesto. It is certainly a keeper: “This is your life. Do what you love, and do it often.”

 

LBC: If you were given a million dollars, but were not allowed to keep a single penny for yourself, friends or family, how would you spend it or give it away?

Scott and Margi: Without a doubt, St. Jude for their cancer research and care of patients and their families.

 

Thank you, Scott and Margi, for sharing your talent with us!  We absolutely love what you’re doing and we look forward to all the wonderful things ahead for Ms. Betty’s Original. We’re cheering you on…

 

Want to see your brand featured in our continuing “Meet the Maker” series? Drop us a line: hello AT luckybreakconsulting.com. Please use “MEET THE MAKER” as the subject line and be certain to include your web address. We look forward to hearing from you!

 

Meet the Maker – Abbey Hambright of abbeychristine

meet the maker - abbey hambright of abbeychristine

meet the maker - abbey hambright of abbeychristine

 

This week in our ongoing Meet the Maker series, we’re getting to know Abbey Hambright, the Chicago-based artist behind abbeychristine. Welcome, Abbey!

 

LBC: What inspired you to take your leap as an entrepreneur?

Abbey: I’ve been a maker forever, and around 2004 I realize that I was making more than I could gift or house in my little apartment. I found out about Etsy, and started my shop just a couple months after the site launched. I got to experiment a bit with what I wanted to make and sell. The response to my finger puppets was so positive, and I enjoyed making them so much, it was clear that’s the direction I should go.

 

LBC: When you first got started, how did you envision your business would be defined?

Abbey: I had no idea! The first products I made were greeting cards with little paintings and vintage ephemera. Pretty far from what I make today, but the tone was always the same –  quirky and fun is pretty much my bread and butter.

 

LBC: How would you describe what you create?

Abbey: I walk that line between artist and brand, I think, and I’ve struggled with what that distinction means. But in the end, my work is intensely personal, both in subject and content. I choose characters and people who represent something I believe in, whether it be a movie that I think says something important, or someone who’s not afraid to speak their mind.

My work is intensely handmade. I make puppets in batches of just six at a time – cut six bodies, embroider six faces, sew on six little outfits piece-by-piece. Each piece takes a tremendous amount of attention to get it as close to perfect as possible. When you buy something of mine, you know that my heart is truly in its creation.

 

meet the maker - abbey hambright of abbeychristine

 

LBC: Where can we find your products?

Abbey: Online through my shop, and at a dozen or so great little handmade gift stores throughout the US and Canada.

 

LBC: Walk us through your typical work day.

Abbey: I have a full time job besides running my business, so there’s no typical day when your “work day” is evenings after the kiddo’s asleep + stolen hours on the weekends. When I have an hour or so to work, I’ll often do quicker tasks – shipping, writing blog posts, scheduling social media, packaging, or photo editing. When I’m lucky enough to have a full day in the studio, it’s usually spent in “production mode.” This means hunkering down to binge-watch something on Netflix and focusing on getting a few batches of puppets made that day.

 

LBC: What are 3 things makers should think through when they initially decide to start a business?

Abbey: 1) When you’re first starting out, I would say that you should take advantage of that time to experiment. This may be before you’re officially a business, or before your brand is established. Figure out what you love, and what makes your business unique. Try things. Once you’re more established you can refine your workflow and make savvy business decisions.

2) I would also suggest being really strategic about what you decide to do yourself, and what you buy or hire others to do for you. This doesn’t mean that you should hire an assistant right away or bring in an expensive accountant right off the bat, but know that there’s a tipping point when your time may be better spent doing that thing that only you can do. Whether it’s investing in shipping software so you’re not standing in line at the post office, or letting someone else do your taxes, remember that your time is worth money, too, so make sure it’s being spent as wisely as possible.

3) And finally, make sure that your business is centered around something you truly love doing, and a world you really want to be part of. If things go according to plan, you’re going to be doing it a lot!

 

LBC: When you’re overwhelmed, what brings you back to focus?

Abbey: Going back to basics. Especially during the holidays or when I have a lot of deadlines, all the logistics can be a little much. Just making a list and figuring out priorities is huge. And if I’m not quite ready to tackle something big, I’ll just do something tiny. Completing even a small, stupid task gives me a feeling of accomplishment that’s usually enough to help me tackle the bigger projects.

 

meet the maker - abbey hambright of abbeychristine

 

LBC: Tell us about a few of the best business decisions you’ve made to date.

Abbey: Early on I discovered that, for me, the best business decision is to be true to who I am and what my tastes are. I remember I experimented for a while with debuting a collection to puppets every year, but found that it was really difficult to find that many people I really wanted to make as puppets. I ended up creating designs that I wasn’t totally in love with, and it wasn’t as fun. It’s when I let ideas find me that I happen upon the designs that really stand out. I remember when I first had the idea to make an Ira Glass puppet, my boyfriend (who is not obsessed This American Life like I am) scoffed and said that no one would buy it. I was undeterred, and that one became one of my most popular designs to date.

Another decision that’s turned out to be a good one is not running my business full time. I know that this isn’t really the narrative that people talk about since “quitting your day job” gets held up as the ultimate goal. I’ve had times in my life when I was working on my business 30 or so hours a week – so close to full time –  and it was really difficult for me. I know enough about myself to know that being alone in my studio all day isn’t going to put me in a great state of mind. It’s too isolating, and ended up putting a lot of pressure on my creative process that made it harder for me to work. Knowing that this is a part-time thing for me actually frees me up a lot. I can grow and shrink my business based on the time of year and what else is going on in my life without the financial pressures of keeping the bills paid, and I get to get out of the house and come home fresh and ready to go in the studio.

 

LBC: Please share one mistake or obstacle from your business experience. How did you bounce back/overcome it?

Abbey: Not a mistake, of course, but having my son was a significant obstacle to running my business. Clearly, all parents have to adjust to less personal time when they have a baby. For me, it was a real challenge to balance commitments I had to customers and my stockists, while having very real and very new challenges at home. I just didn’t have the energy or time to make anything for about six months after my son was born, and because being an artist is a big part of my identity, it was difficult to feel like myself without that aspect of my life. I had to allow myself to give up that part of myself for a while, and just learn to be okay with that. After the first year things got better, of course, but it’s still challenging to figure out the balance.

 

meet the maker - abbey hambright of abbeychristine

 

LBC: Is there a cause or organization that you contribute to that you’re particularly passionate about?

Abbey: So many! I donate monthly to Planned Parenthood and our local NPR station, and at the end of every year our family picks three organizations – two local, one national/international – to give larger donations to. Last year it was Streetwise, which helps people experiencing homelessness become more self-sufficient through entrepreneurship, The Chicago Food Depository, and Doctors Without Borders. We also foster dogs with an amazing rescue here in Chicago, One Tail at a Time.

 

LBC: What are 3 essential resources in your business toolbox that you can’t do without?

Abbey: 1) I am currently obsessed with Trello for project management and keeping myself on track with all my to dos.

2) Social media to connect with my customers and other makers.

3) A really good pair of scissors!

 

LBC: Share one of your guiltiest pleasures.

Abbey: Bubble tea. I’m obsessed.

 

meet the maker - abbey hambright of abbeychristine

 

LBC: What’s your spirit animal?

Abbey: Peggy Olson from Mad Men.

 

LBC: What’s your favorite quote and who said it?

Abbey: “Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.” – Kurt Vonnegut

 

Thank you, Abbey, for sharing your talent with us!  We absolutely love your work and we look forward to all the wonderful things ahead for abbeychristine! We’re cheering you on…

 

Want to see your brand featured in our continuing “Meet the Maker” series? Drop us a line: hello AT luckybreakconsulting.com. Please use “MEET THE MAKER” as the subject line and be certain to include your web address. We look forward to hearing from you!