Meet the Maker: Ellen Schaeffer of Persistent Sisters

Ellen of Persistent Sisters

The U.S. has been in a frenzy lately, with women’s issues at the forefront of our minds (and on the tips of our tongues). We couldn’t think of a more fitting time to introduce you to Ellen Schaeffer of Persistent Sisters, a line of women’s history trading cards and gifts that celebrate trailblazing women and provide inspiration, motivation and education for girls of all ages. Now that sounds like something we can all agree on. Take it away, Ellen!

 

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Ellen Schaeffer of Persistent Sisters

 

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

Ellen: My background is in non-profit community arts development. I wasn’t really thinking in terms of entrepreneurship, but instead about how to develop a network of sharing around the topic of women’s history.

After the 2016 election I had a strong desire for my then 11 year old daughter to have a deeper understanding of how long and hard women have been fighting for equality in all fields, including the political. My son collected baseball cards and consequently developed an impressive knowledge of athletes, and a network of similarly interested friends around the country.

Trading cards seemed like the perfect medium to spread the word about trailblazing women throughout history. But I had never developed a product before. After creating the initial set of cards, I had so many women saying to me, “We need this!” I decided to go all in, and launched a Kickstarter campaign in the fall of 2017. I then found myself knee-deep in packaging, pricing, shipping and, of course, hours and hours of research. I drew a lot of energy from the enthusiasm of the Kickstarter backers that took the leap with me.

 

LBC: How would you describe what you create?

Ellen: Persistent Sisters is an ever-expanding line of women’s history trading cards so that girls can see who they can be.

 

LBC: Where can we find your products?

Ellen: Online at www.persistentsisters.com, on Amazon, and in many fantastic museum stores and several boutiques around the county.

 

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

Ellen: Simply as a needed and accessible resource to empower and inspire both women and older girls, and something to be collected and shared between mothers (aunts, grandmothers, etc.) and daughters. Pocket-sized sheroes!

 

LBC: Walk us through a typical workday.

Ellen: Recently I went back to work full time in the non-profit world, and my typical workday with Persistent Sisters is now very early mornings and late evenings and the weekends. It can be a challenge to find balance.

I have some fantastic graphic designers that I work with, and have brought in other illustrators for a few sets of cards. However, the day-to-day is just me. You might find me researching, running numbers, checking inventory, packaging, illustrating…all the things. Sadly there are many days when I feel like I am so enmeshed in the minutia that I lose sight of the big picture, and don’t take enough time to spread the word about Persistent Sisters. I’m always striving to find ways to manage my time more effectively.

 

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

Ellen: Everything BUT the creative. Learn what the tax implications are for an inventory based business. Choose and be very familiar with your accounting system (or find someone to do it for you). And find a way to absolutely love spreadsheets! Literally every penny counts. My life would have been a lot easier if I had taken the time to develop some systems before I was elbow deep in product development.

 

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

Ellen: I try to think about why I started the business. I pick up a few Persistent Sisters trading cards and reflect on women that have helped changed the world, often facing tremendous obstacles, without support, and on their own. A couple weeks ago, my daughter and two of her friends each submitted papers for National History Day about women’s history, inspired by the Persistent cards. This is what keeps me going on the hardest days, reflecting on the impact the cards can have on young women. The future is female!

 

LBC: Tell us about the best business decision you’ve made to date.

Ellen: I joined the Museum Store Association early on, and found an amazingly supportive group of both vendors and store buyers that were willing to answer my many questions along the way. For anyone with a product that fits in the museum store market, the Museum Store Association is a small investment with big returns. (side note from Lela: I whole-heartedly agree!)

 

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

Ellen: Oh, so many to choose from! In my first Kickstarter campaign, I wasn’t careful enough when I calculated shipping and went way over budget. I made it work, and am careful not to repeat the same mistake.

 

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

Ellen: Microsoft OneNote keeps me organized. And the library! I try to include lesser-known women, and sometimes that takes a little digging. Lastly, I would say my daughter and her access to other middle-school aged girls. They’re my ad hoc focus group and their feedback has been invaluable.

 

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

Ellen: My dream has always been for the Persistent Sisters trading cards to spark a little network of girls sharing their own dreams and visions for their future. Recently I started including blank make-it-yourself trading cards, encouraging people to share those on social media and maybe trading them with each other. There are so many more trading cards to make, but I’d also love to find ways to build and engage a community.

 

LBC: How have your interactions with Lucky Break influenced your business?

Ellen: Lucky Break provided me with some invaluable resources. I learned so much, from product descriptions to pricing strategies to line sheets. And I know there’s a lot more that I haven’t tapped into.

 

LBC: What benefits have you seen from taking classes, working with a mentor, and/or building community around your business?

Ellen: There has only been an upside. Finding resources for all of the aspects of the business where I lack knowledge allows me to stay focused in the areas that I feel more comfortable. Additionally, objective feedback is so important. Because I am primarily a one-woman show, I have sought out workshops and other learning events that allow me the opportunity to hear what others think.”

 

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Thank you, Ellen, for sharing your talent with us. We absolutely love what you’re doing with Persistent Sisters, and we look forward to all the wonderful things ahead for you and your company. We’re cheering you on!

 

 

An Interview with Max Rhodes, CEO of Faire

Interview with Max Rhodes

An Interview with Max Rhodes, CEO of Faire

 

Over the last few months, I’ve been exploring the Faire wholesale marketplace (formerly Indigo Fair) in an effort to help readers determine if Faire is right for you. In an interview with Max Rhodes, the CEO of Faire, I invited him to the table to respond directly to some of my findings and the feedback gathered from the artisan community. I’m honored that he took me up on the offer and I’m eager to share our conversation about the pros and cons of Faire, alongside Max’s thoughts about the evolution of the wholesale landscape.

 

I’ve published Max’s responses in their entirety without editing.

 

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LELA: What does Faire look for in a maker? What factors do you consider when reviewing a brand’s application?

MAX RHODES: We carefully evaluate each maker that applies to join Faire, and there are several factors that we look at to determine which to accept. Among those are the number of stockists they are currently carried in, the category and quality of products, and their overall brand aesthetic. When appropriate, we will also cross reference a brand’s social media presence to gauge how well their products might sell on our marketplace.

 

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LELA: How does Faire vet potential buyers on the platform?

MAX RHODES: Like makers that apply, we also review every retailer to make sure they are a good fit for our marketplace. We fully vet each retailer to confirm that they are legitimate retailers, meaning that they must actually sell goods, ideally in a brick and mortar environment. There’s no shortage of fraud in ecommerce, so we have a team dedicated to making sure that doesn’t infiltrate Faire.

 

LELA: What can you share about the algorithm that predicts a brand’s visibility on the Faire platform? What factors into that algorithm and how can makers maximize their visibility?

MAX RHODES: The recommendations that retailers get are informed by a variety of factors, including: the type of retailer they are, their profile and products, the kind of items they have historically purchased, and conversion rates for a given brand (in other words, whether or not retailers are ordering once they visit a brand’s page and if those items are being returned or not). The recommendations can vary greatly by retailer because they are curated and catered specifically to their business needs.

 

 

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LELA: One maker I spoke with raised a concern about tax ID numbers as it relates to her responsibility to collect sales tax. Her concern was that if she’s ever audited by the state, she’ll need to produce the resale certificates from her in-state retailers that prove that those sales were exempted from sales tax. If she fails to do so, then she can be held responsible for not having collected the appropriate tax, leaving her to settle the bill and any related penalties.

As I understand it, artisans don’t have access to that information about their retailers via Faire. How would you instruct her to handle that? Could a Faire artisan contact Faire representatives if they were under audit and gain access to the necessary certificates to absolve them of any tax liability?

MAX RHODES:  Faire is a reseller and all purchases made by it from any Faire.com wholesaler are for resale on its platform and therefore should not be subject to sales tax. Faire exercises commercially reasonable efforts to ensure that any goods sold on its platform are purchased by resellers for resale in their ordinary course of business. As such, sellers should not incur any sales tax liability for sales made on the Faire.com platform. We encourage any maker who is in need of assistance regarding a tax related inquiry to contact Faire’s customer support team.

 

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The Disadvantages of Faire

disadvantages of faire

Over the last several weeks, I’ve been exploring the potential pros and cons of Faire (formerly Indigo Fair) here on the Lucky Break blog. Today I’m sharing some of the disadvantages as part of an ongoing blog series about emerging wholesale marketplaces. While there’s certainly a lot to love about working with this wholesale platform for artisans, there are notable disadvantages of Faire, too. I shared a few of those disadvantages in a previous blog, and I’m back with additional thoughts to help you determine if Faire is the right opportunity for your brand.

 

The Disadvantages of Faire

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I’m pleased to share that Max Rhodes, Faire’s CEO, graciously provided answers to a tidy list of queries I sent his way. In the final two blogs of this series, I’ll share his responses, my final thoughts, and the results of the Lucky Break community survey.

 

FAIRE FAVORS BUYERS ABOVE BRANDS

There’s a general feeling among many makers and product designers that retailers are getting the better deal when it comes to Faire. They enjoy generous ordering incentives, including free shipping, free returns on first orders from any brand, and $200 cash to spend when signing up through a brand’s Faire link.

 

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However, artisans often believe that they’re getting the shorter end of the stick. We’re enjoying an increase in exposure, but we’re also paying a princely sum (up to 28% of the order) for the privilege of being seen. Thankfully, we’re not saddled with the burden of product returns, though passing the baton to Faire on that front creates separate issues that are worth exploring.

 

SLUGGISH CUSTOMER SERVICE

I frequently hear criticism about slow responses from the Faire team, especially as it pertains to reviewing applications for new makers. Despite those rumbles of frustration, artisan satisfaction with Faire’s customer support team appears to increase exponentially once we gain acceptance onto the platform.

 

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The Inevitable Downside of Faire

downside of Faire

As part of my ongoing blog series about emerging wholesale marketplaces, I’ve been exploring the potential of Faire (formerly Indigo Fair). While there’s certainly a lot to love about working with this wholesale platform for artisans, we don’t often hear much about the disadvantages. I’ve spent weeks studying this wholesale platform and speaking to retailers and brand owners who have a stake in the marketplace. I’m eager to share what I’ve learned about the disadvantages of Faire so that you can make an informed decision for your business.

 

The Inevitable Downside of Faire

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Faire executives have agreed to address my concerns, and I look forward to sharing their response in an upcoming blog.

 

FAIRE CHARGES A HEFTY COMMISSION, ESPECIALLY ON FIRST ORDERS

A significant downside of Faire wholesale is their fee structure, which has evolved over time. The rate for new makers onboarding in early 2019 is 25% on the first order from any buyer.  It then becomes 15% on subsequent orders from the same buyer. Faire frequently extends net 60 terms to shopkeepers, and makers can elect to pay an additional 3% fee for immediate payment. You can also choose to wait thirty days for payment and skip the 3% fee.

 

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That translates to a substantial commission of up to 28% on Faire orders. As a consultant who’s had the privilege of coaching hundreds of brands through the mechanics of product pricing, those margins make me cringe. Let’s explore how that breaks down for a product that retails for $30.

 

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How to Sell on Faire

How to sell on faire

If you want to know how to sell on Faire, then you’ve come to the right place! This blog is part of an ongoing, deeply researched series about selling on Faire (formerly Indigo Fair). The first post, What is Faire?, detailed how Faire works, how much Faire charges, and what kinds of products Faire sells.

 

HOW TO SELL ON FAIRE

 

 

How to sell on Faire

 

In this installment of the series, I’m unpacking some of the nuances of the platform. Because Indigo Fair/ Faire is a rapidly evolving marketplace, it’s important to recognize that this data is accurate as of the time of publication. The Faire executive team is pioneering in spirit and ambitious in scope, so their efforts are an ever-changing experiment. It’s akin to building the runway as you fly the plane, but that’s to be expected when you’re- quite literally- trying to “reinvent wholesale.”

 

Getting started with Faire is deliciously straightforward. Whenever I speak to artisans within the Lucky Break community, the onboarding process is something that earns rave reviews. Co-founder Max Rhodes has often boasted about how easy it is to use Faire.

 

“Makers can apply to join Indigo Fair, and once accepted, they just send us their product catalogue to get their profile up and running. Most makers receive an order within a week, and they get paid as soon as they ship the goods.”

 

HOW ARE ORDERS RECEIVED THROUGH FAIRE?

 

Buyers shop through the Faire interface from a seamlessly curated selection of products that are chosen for them based on an algorithm that considers numerous factors. While only the Faire executives and the software development team fully understand the mechanics of the algorithm, we do have some clues about how the system works. The aesthetics of the shop and the frequency with which any particular brand is ordered factor into which products are displayed for any specific buyer.

 

Faire dispatches an email notification to the brand once a buyer places an order. Brand owners then log into the system to discover several options at their fingertips, including:

  • Accepting the order and selecting a ship date.
  • Editing the item availability to backorder an item.
  • Canceling the order.

 

Payment for orders is settled upon shipment. Because buyers often enjoy trade credit (commonly known as “net terms”) via Faire, brand owners can pay an additional 3% fee for immediate payment. If they choose to agree to net 30 terms to settle the invoice, then they can forego the additional 3% fee. In all instances, Faire guarantees payment even if the buyer defaults on their obligation.

 

HOW DOES SHIPPING WORK ON FAIRE?

Shopkeepers often enjoy free shipping on Faire, and I can confirm that there’s almost nothing that they cherish more than zero shipping fees. But who pays for that?

  • When you notify Faire that an order has shipped, you attach the tracking number for the parcel and notate the shipping cost. This has been the process since Faire’s launch.
  • Faire reimburses for the shipping fees alongside the settlement for the merchandise, according to the schedule you’ve selected. (Immediate payment for an additional 3% or settling the invoice in 30 days for no additional fee)
  • Faire passes the shipping charges on to the buyer unless the shopkeeper is taking advantage of a free shipping special. In that case, Faire absorbs the cost of shipping.
  • In February 2019, Faire rolled out an optional, automated process for printing shipping labels within the program.  This eliminates the need to manually input shipping costs and tracking numbers.  Swing by the Faire FAQ to read more about Faire’s new shipping program.

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