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profitable tips for designers + indie retailers

by Sarah Von

Indie Boutique Guide: Park Slope, Brooklyn


This guide is brought to you by the talented Jessica Wright of  Ace Department, a community that supports women entrepreneurs.  Follow her adventures on Twitter or Facebook.

In the shadow of Manhattan and its five trillion interesting stores, it might be easy to cast Brooklyn aside as a waste of your shopping time.  But quite contrary, Mary, you'll find some of the best stuff in the city in our fair borough. 


We could easily put together a favorite independent shops list of almost any neighborhood in Brooklyn, but because Ace lives here, today we're going to focus on Park Slope. Which, unfortunately means we miss the South Slope, and Carroll Gardens, and [slightly farther away] Dumbo. Park Slope is located West of Prospect Park, Brooklyn's Central Park, and most of the major shopping opportunities are on 5th and 7th Avenues. However, if you do a little Park Slope shopping and feel like adding a walk, take a stroll down nearby Atlantic Avenue; it's lined with some of the most fantastic little stores we've ever seen. 



A store I've only needed to frequent recently, it's actually full of perfect gifts for yourself as your stomach balloons, and for any expectant mom. 



Cog & Pearl

The best gift shop in the neighborhood.  Incredible jewelry, artisan ceramics, and more.



Eric Shoes

Italian brands you can't find anywhere but Rome.  Seriously wonderful shoe selection curated by a guy who's clearly obsessed with footwear.  The boots I'm wearing right now come from this place.




Bird is one of the most popular indie retailers in the city, with three Brooklyn locations, but the Park Slope shop is the original. Bird offers a curated selection of high fashion clothes and accessories. Prices are a bit high, but even just window shopping at Bird will provide plenty of wardrobe inspiration.


Diana Kane

Diana Kane is a charming (and tiny) boutique with a unique selection of simple, but very high quality wardrobe basics with an emphasis on sustainable and handmade collections. I go in to drool over the delicate jewelry and chunky knit hats.



Two Lovers 

Just a few doors down from Diana Kane is Two Lovers, a newer re-sale (or vintage, if you want to sound fancy) boutique that offers the highest quality selection of pre-owned fashions that I've found in the Slope. Owner, Lynette Kirchner, hand picks each item and arranges it all by color in her minimal, but feminine shop.




All that shopping made us hungry.  Don't miss all the tiny wonderful eateries, bakeries, ice cream, and candy shops in the neighborhood.  We suggest Juvenito for a locally grown feast, Bark for quick, gourmet hot dogs, or Culture for handmade, artisanal frozen yogurt.  Yum. 


by Tara Swiger

MasterList :: Communicate Value

This week Jen wrote about quality in your work and how important it is to communicate it to your customers. But that might leave you wondering: HOW?

I know my product is worth the higher price, but how do I communicate that value?


Here’s a round-up of advice on communicating value (so your customers get it, and buy):

“If you can provide some simple, useful guidance about your product’s value, then your audience can more easily rationalize the need it satisfies – and accordingly, justify the purchase (you hope) as a compelling one.”


-Megan Prentiss, in a great two part series on Helping your Customer Value What You Do: (Part 1 + Part 2)

To make sure you’re talking about what your customer finds valuable (and not just what you love), focus on the benefits of your work (not just the features).

“What is the thing that makes your product and your brand unique in the marketplace? Why are your customers in love with it?”


-Mita Patnaik, on finding your Unique Selling Proposition.

How do you communicate the value and quality of what you sell?

by Piper Toth

Inventory Part 1 – Buying Inventory


I don’t know many retailers who don’t want to run away when it comes to talking about inventory.  It’s not the exciting, glamorous side of retail – it’s the nuts & bolts (i.e., the detailed, calculation based, ahem, boring, side).  But, it’s also one of the most important subjects for a retailer – whether online or brick & mortar.  Because in it’s simplest form, inventory is what you stand to make monetarily.  I don’t know about you but I’d say that’s pretty darn important!


Here’s the bottom line…when it comes to inventory, don’t overbuy!


Sure, easy to say, right?  But how does this work in reality?  Let’s say you found these gorgeous candle holders.  You know that your customers would love them just as much as you do.  You order 50 of them because you just KNOW they’ll sell.  A month later, 40 of them are just sitting on your shelves.  Because retail is part planning & part experiment, you can never know with 100% accuracy whether something will sell.  And now you’re money is tied up in those candle holders! 


The solution?  Be conservative & don’t overbuy! 



Start with buying just the minimum amount at first.  Talk to the artist, designer or manufacturer to find out how quickly you would be able to reorder so that you know the time frame it takes for them to make the item & send it out (i.e., getting these items in your shop quickly after they sell)


Once you see that they ARE selling, place a reorder when you see inventory getting low and within the time frame they gave you to restock those items. This way you can avoid being out of stock on the item.  For example, if they said it’ll take 2 weeks to make the item, you have to allow for that time in your inventory planning & ordering.


(And don’t forget to pat yourself on the back for finding an item that your customer loves!  Celebrate those wins!)



Don’t be afraid to talk to the artists & designers & manufacturers that you carry.  You can always ask if they’d be willing to lower their minimum amount to order.  It’s also always a good idea to ask them what they’re best selling items are.  You may love these particular candle holders, but find out that another one happens to be their best seller.  That may be an item you would want to consider carrying if it fits in with your brand.


Don’t forget - the designers want you to be successful, because your success adds to theirs!  Think of them as partners and don’t be afraid to ask them questions.  When it comes to inventory, there’s big risk involved – your money is wrapped up in inventory – it’s a debt you carry.  If it doesn’t sell, you take a loss.  So you want to make sure you do your best to manage that risk. 



Be conservative…and remember, don’t overbuy!



Images above: Design GlutBeth Leintz, Creature Comforts Flickr

Piper Toth happily traded the corporate world for the online world when she opened her online boutique, one sydney road. She authors the blog of the same name where she waxes poetic on the crazy roller coaster ride that is entrepreneurship!




by Sarah Von

Indie City Guide:: Santa Monica Venice California



Amy Tan is a Chicago native, Santa Monica transplant and creative scrapbooking guru.  Her work has been featured in the likes of People and Life & Style magazine!  Befriend her on Twitter or follow her adventures on her blog.

Santa Monica and Venice are well known for their fantastic weather, beaches, dining and shopping. There’s certainly no shortage of shopping. Between the Third Street Promenade offering an array of chain stores in an outdoor setting and the Venice Boardwalk with its’ eclectic mix of people watching and hand made creations, there are plenty of hip places to shop. There are also a number of fantastic streets with great eateries mixed in with galleries, like Main Street, Montana Ave and Abbot Kinney Blvd. It was difficult to narrow down, but here is a list of 5 favorite independent shops.



Looking for the perfect card or gift for a design lover? Head to the husband and wife owned Urbanic. With an amazing selection of unique papers and office accessories, it’s hard to leave this place empty-handed. Located on Abbot Kinney Blvd, one of the hippest streets in town. Be sure to stop into Lemonade across the street for a snack, a full meal or one of their signature lemonades.


Urbanic- Santa Monica



Highly coveted items from around the world are housed in this modern, colorful and ahead-of-the-trends shop. A+R scours the neighborhood and the globe and brings a range of unique designer items from stuffed toys, to fancy light fixtures, to toy cameras and items you never knew you ever wanted but now you must have.


A+R- Santa Monica


Ten Women

Ten Womenis an artist’s co-op that offers photography, paintings, jewelry and one-of-a-kind gifts. Founded in 1994, this delightful little shop sells the affordable works of some truly talented artists.


Ten Women- Santa Monica


Fred Segal Santa Monica

Fashionistas have long flocked to Fred Segal, and there’s good reason. This boutique-y version of a small department store has everything from designer denim to an array of skincare products to chic stilettos. And if you’re into that sort of thing, the likelihood is high of a celebrity sighting. Plus their café is one of the best burger joints in LA, Umami Burger.


Fred Segal- Santa Monica


Urban Craft Center


DIY lovers unite in this gorgeous space. Offering classes and a well-edited selection of craft products, this is the studio your grandma wishes she had available. 


The Urban Craft Center- Santa Monica


Sarah Von is a Vianza contributing columnist and interview wrangler.  If you follow her on Twitter, you’ll be privy to all sort of tweets about small business, good ideas and, um, cheese.

by Jen Wallace

Choosing Quality Over Quantity


In our mass-produced orientated culture, independent artisan-made goods can be a difficult sell because of the higher costs of those types of goods. Making and selling handmade and independently-made goods is a totally worthwhile endeavor though and  we just need to educate consumers on the pros of shopping indie.


But how to change shoppers views and get them to respect independently-made and handmade goods?


Here's a few ideas on selling the concept of quality over quantity to your customers.



It’s better for the environment. Less stuff = less packaging, less waste and less throwaway goods.


It helps us all to appreciate the things we already have and to learn to step off the treadmill of MORE.


Our dollars can have more of an impact on individual lives and businesses when we spend them locally and on independently as opposed to spending them at faceless big-box stores.


Purchases become more meaningful, so the goods we choose to buy are more likely to be treasured and handed down to future generations.


Artists and independent designers take pride in their work and strive to produce the highest quality goods. We as shoppers should take pride in choosing to further that tradition instead of rewarding the slap-it-together mentality.


Encourage shoppers to shop “outside the box”. Instead of buying exactly what everyone has, promote the concept of standing out from the crowd and buying goods that are truly unique and one-of-a-kind.


Finally, it feels better to buy handmade and independently-made goods. There is nothing quite like talking directly to the artist who made an item or a boutique owner who believe in an artist’s work. There is a connection there that just can't happen buying mass-produced goods at the mall. It makes it more than just a simple purchase, but makes it an experience and experience is what life is all about!


How are you communicating these points in your product description, sales page and marketing communications?



Jen Wallace shares her indie life over at IndieFixx where she writes about making, creating, cooking, learning, playing, loving, and pretty much anything else that strikes her fancy.


by Sarah Von

Snapshot: Global Handmade Hope


For three and a half years, Global Handmade Hope has been providing employment and income to artisans in developing countries and gorgeous handmade goods to Park Ridge, Illinois. With a huge range of gorgeous things for your home and closet, Global Handmade Hope has something for everyone.  Follow along with their adventures on their blog!

What is your more prized creation - the coolest thing you've ever made, with your own nimble hands?

While I do not personally make any of our items, though I wish I were that talented,  I help the artist take culturally significant items & skills, and tweak them for the US market.  Our goal is to help these families provide for themselves, without the need for charity.  I do have to say that my favorite items to design and work with are Christmas/Holiday items.  Followed next by handbags, and then by jewelry.



What is the worst piece of business advice you've ever been given?


Just keep busy and something will happen.  There is nothing to be gained in "keeping busy".  Yes, there is something to staying motivated and focused but not "busy".  While I find myself busy, honestly there never seems to be enough time in the day, it is not the type of busy that comes from "busy work".  Take a look at your tasks, prioritize them based on what outcomes you would like to see and then let the rest go.  You can never be everything to everybody.  Find what you do best, do it to the best of your ability and for God's glory and let the rest go.



What was the biggest entrepreneurial epiphany of your career? 

Don't try to force a situation or outcome before it's time.  I am definitely someone who likes things to come quickly, I don't like to wait.  My desire to grow and succeed before without a well thought out game plan and prayerful consideration has caused future growth to come at a slower rate.  I have learned that it is not always "the early bird that gets the worm" as the saying goes.  Yes, time is important and certain situations call for quick action.   But, as the African proverb goes "Hurry, hurry has no blessing"  (We have an elephant greeting card that is made of recycled paper and up-cycled fabric that says this, it is one of my favorites.)



What's your best tip for strengthening your relationship with your retailers? 

Learn about your retailers. Every retailer has different needs.  Find out about their business, their goals, how they see themselves reaching their goals.  After you have this information, then you can create a product or program that will meet their requirements and yours. 



If you could offer one sage snippet of wisdom to aspiring designers, crafters & artisans, what would it be? 


Keep your end goal in mind always. For Global Handmade Hope our end goal is to provide access to health care, school, a safe home and to share with people that God cares about them.  We accomplish this goal by offering customers in US our artists works. We fulfill the local markets needs and in addition our customers get to feel great pride in knowing that the item they purchased is leading to a better life for the artist that made it.

Also, remember that we all have our up days and down days.  Try to take the down days and learn from them.  Ask yourself what went wrong and what you could have done differently. 


Pick yourself up and move on, tomorrow is another day with great and limitless possibilities.


Sarah Von is a Vianza contributing columnist and interview wrangler.  If you follow her on Twitter, you’ll be privy to all sort of tweets about small business, good ideas and, um, cheese.


by Tara Swiger

Masterlist:: Content Marketing


This week, the ultra-smart Tegan McRae wrote about choosing the right online marketing for your indie business. She talked about choosing between Social Media, SEO and Content Marketing. Since we’ve already written a lot about using socialmedia (Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and Pinterest) and SEO, today I wanted to share some more information on Content Marketing.


“Content Marketing means creating and freely sharing informative content as a means of converting prospects into customers and customers into repeat buyers.”




“A content strategy is a plan of action for all of the content on your website. It’s what to create. Who to create it for. How to create it. Which formats to use. How to facilitate the spread of your ideas. All with the combined purpose of reaching your most important goals.

-Sarah J Bray, in the first post of a fabulous 4 partseries (be sure to click “next post” at the bottom, so you get all the goodness)


And if you need some ideas on what to write about, check out Problogger’s 14 Types of Stories You Can Tell On Your Blog.


What’s your content strategy? 



by Sarah Von

Finding Your Boutique's Ideal Client


Julie Merriman Wray has owned three brick-and-mortar businesses, attended great schools and now rocks online business and blogging.  Here she talks about how she found the target market (and dream customer!) for each of her businesses.

Friends, I’m about to let you in on a big, fat, juicy secret.  The secret that every super expensive marketing workshop or consultant will start with - after they’ve cashed your check. 

Behold: The Secret of The Ideal Client

No matter what field you work in, you need to hone in on who - exactly - your ideal client or customer is.  Knowing this will bring you more business, more money and probably more professional fulfillment.

Once you know who your ideal client is, you’ll know

* how to market yourself

* what your price points should be

* where you should advertise
* how to display and merchandise your wares

* who you [italics] don’t want to work with

Sounds great, right? And how do you figure out who your ideal client is?

Devote an afternoon to this project

Sit down with a journal and have a really big think about this - let your imagination run free!  Who is this person?  Where do they live?  What are their hobbies?  How much money do they earn?  How old are they? Do they have kids?  Which magazines to they read and which tv shows do they watch? 

Create a totally, completely fleshed out profile of this person.  Give them a name and hair color even!

Write a journal entry as this person


Now that you know who your ideal client is, get inside their head.  Write a few pages in this person’s voice.  What are they feeling when they think about shopping at your boutique?  What are their hopes and fears?  Would they say “I’m so incredibly busy with work and the kids, I love being able to stop at Primp and buy gifts for every one in my family - and it’s all within my budget.”  Or would they say “I hope it’s obvious that this necklace was really expensive.  I want everybody at the party to know how much money my husband makes!”

Start marketing towards your ideal client


Now that you know exactly who you’re angling towards, you can start marketing appropriately.  If your dream customer is an internet savvy twenty-something, start targeting blogs and Twitter.  If you’re aiming at a local client base of middle-aged, high income individuals, maybe you should buy a sponsor spot on your local public radio station.

Now that you know exactly who you want to work with, you’re going to be nearly unstoppable!  Get out there are start marketing to those dreamy, perfect-for-you clients.



Sarah Von is a Vianza contributing columnist and interview wrangler.  If you follow her on Twitter, you’ll be privy to all sort of tweets about small business, good ideas and, um, cheese.


by Sarah Von

Choose The Best Online Marketing For Your Business


This is a guest post by Tegan McRae. Tegan is the Media Strategist for


Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, SEO, blogging – it’s all a bit overwhelming to a small business looking to jump into the world of online marketing.  So many options and opportunities make the internet the perfect place to advertise on a dime, but also mean a lot of trial and error to find what works for your company.


When deciding what route to take when marketing online, the first step is to know your audience. This is easily the most important aspect of advertising campaign building, and one that too many people skip over. “Everyone”, “Girls”, and “Adults” are not audiences. Audiences are a specific type of person your advertising is targeting, not the general sort of person who shops at your store. For example, though Target may be for everyone, their back-to-school advertising campaigns specifically target mothers in their 30’s with children in elementary and middle school.


Once you know your audience, figuring out the best channel to market online is fairly easy – assuming you know what each one does and what audience it speaks to. Not sure? Let’s go over the biggies:


Social Networks

What It Is: Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, and any other site that allows users to communicate and share with each other. There are plenty of social networks with broad audiences, but also many smaller ones dedicated to niche topics.


The Audience: The majority of social networks will have a B2C (business to consumer) audience much larger and more accessible than a B2B (business to business) audience. Most social network’s audiences will be the under 40 crowd.


The Pros: These networks and their communities are easily accessible, content-hungry, ready to share, and are always looking for the next new thing to show their friends. The wide audience allows for both targeted and broad marketing.


The Cons: You can sometimes be another voice in a crowd. With hundreds of other companies marketing on social networks, people become apathetic to advertising messages. If you can’t stand out, you can’t cut it on social networks.


Content Marketing

What It Is: Blogs in all forms. Personal blogs, community blogs, corporate blogs, news blogs, etc. Any website that consistently updates with new content. Marketing through content is generally done through guest posting.


The Audience: Every blog audience is going to be different depending on the content being produced. While the audience may seem apparent for most blogs, it’s important to check out the profiles of the people commenting and follow the blog for a while to see what sort of content they’re putting up. There is nothing that will kill your content marketing strategy faster than sending off un-targeted, broad articles to bloggers who know their audience won’t care for it.


The Pros: Bloggers are always looking for more fresh content to post. Generally, most blogs worth posting to will have a guest writer submission policy that will make the process easier for you. If you can write well for the right audience, content marketing is the way to go.


The Cons: It’s a lot of work. Writing a quality piece of work can take a few hours to research, write, and edit. There are also risks to writing for another audience, and if your work isn’t well received then commenters will let you know of it and chances are, you won’t be writing for that blog anymore.


Search Marketing

What It Is: Search marketing is comprised of Search Engine Optimization and Search Engine Marketing (paid and promoted links). This sort of marketing is done through either organic link building or paid promoted links (AdWords) that put your site at the top of certain search queries.


The Audience: Knowing who your audience is and what they are seeking when they come to your website is key in search marketing. Your audience is whoever is searching for what you can provide, so target your search terms accordingly (IE, if you sell organic makeup, a targeted search query would be “makeup with organic ingredients”).


The Pros: Search marketing can be very effective, and for many it can function as their main source of traffic. If you have the budget and/or knowledge to put into it, search marketing can be all you need.


The Cons: Search Engine Marketing (SEM) costs money, and that amount increases the more competitors you have. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) requires a lot of time, knowledge, and dedication and often needs social and content marketing involved to make it successful.


There are many other methods of online marketing available – banner ads, affiliate marketing, viral advertising, press releases and networking - but that starts to tip into the realm of expensive, outsourced marketing. For small businesses, sometimes the best method is the rawest – dedicated, in-house employees who know the message and product marketing it directly to the customer.


Whether you choose one, two, or all three of these methods, keep your audience in mind, your creativity flowing, and your dedication unwavering. Strong marketing comes not from the methods – but from the people behind them.


Sarah Von is a Vianza contributing columnist and interview wrangler.  If you follow her on Twitter, you’ll be privy to all sort of tweets about small business, good ideas and, um, cheese.


by Jen Wallace

Why You Should Share Your Story


Part of branding your business to your retail and wholesale customers and to blog and magazine editors is to share your story. And no, I do not mean create a piece of fiction about yourself, but instead tell the story of you and your business: how you got started, why you do what you do, your background, other interests, special training and experiences, etc.


In a world saturated with so many businesses, it is important to stand out. One way to do so is to personalize your business and intertwine the personal. Giving people a face to associate with your business can go a long way. This is especially true with small independent businesses where it's considered a real plus that you aren't a nameless & faceless mega-store.


Capitalize on what makes you different from the big box stores, and the other small indie shops, and tell people who you are.


Do you like salsa dancing or do you spend your off-time spelunking? Do you take vintage buying trips to NYC every season or vacation in South America to discover new artisans for your shop. Have you been a potter ever since 2nd grade art class or visited Japan to study the art of kirigami? These intriguing details should be shared on your about page on your website, posted on your blog, included in the backgrounder of your press kit and/or shared via Twitter and other other social media platforms.


If you want to stand out in a very crowded room, you don't wear a drab gray dress and stand in the corner, but instead you wear a smart little red number, walk right into the center of the room and start telling jokes. So, remember to share your story, because to get noticed you need to do things that will get you noticed!


Jen Wallace shares her indie life over at IndieFixx where she writes about making, creating, cooking, learning, playing, loving, and pretty much anything else that strikes her fancy.

why do so many product lines fail? Too many designers, indie retailers, & suppliers rely on creativity alone—and guesswork. This blog is all about taking the guesswork out of making what you love, so you can make a living. With tips! And checklists! Read more about our not-so-covert mission.

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