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profitable tips for designers + indie retailers

by Piper Toth

Inventory Part 2 – What You Might Not Know


This is a three-part series of posts looking at the nuts & bolts of inventory.  You can read the first post here.


When I was starting my store, it took me hours of searching to find out how much inventory an online store should start with.  There are so many different thoughts & figures on this concept that you can end up more confused then ever!  For brick & mortar stores, this is typically a fairly simple formula - it’s all based on the square footage of your store front and the average sales per square foot in that area. For online stores, finding that sweet spot, the amount of inventory to have in stock, feels a bit like a stab in the dark!


A good starting point for inventory for an online store is 3 months inventory.


This means carrying what you estimate you would sell in a 3 month time period.  When you’re first starting out and even when you’ve been open a few years, estimating sales can be a tricky thing - it’s a bit of research & data along with making guesses and assumptions. 

That’s okay - it’s the only way to learn and grow.  If you start off conservatively with inventory (like I mentioned in the first post - don’t overbuy!) then you’ll likely not feel the pinch.


You need to keep track of your inventory.


 For many of you, this might bring up visions of calculations & spreadsheets & data, OH MY!  But it truly doesn’t have to be that hard.  All it takes is some time up front to get your system set up and then make sure you spend time regularly keeping it updated.  For me, this is a quarterly task.  I do a count of my inventory and adjust my shopping cart system for any returns, giveaways and damages.


Most shopping cart systems have an inventory component.  This will likely involve a few hours set up and then you’ll be good to go.  The important thing is to keep up with inventory - don’t make the mistake I did and find out at the end of the year when you go to file your taxes that you need to have an ending inventory dollar amount...aka Cost of Goods Sold.  What?!  That’s not something they tell you upfront!  I had to go back and recreate 2 months of items coming in & out - and I was lucky it was only 2 months!  Let me tell you, after a week of working on that, I’ve since made sure to make inventory a part of my regular tasks!


Let’s put it this way -  start tracking inventory as soon as you start buying and you’ll save yourself time, money and the need for stressballs! 


Now I want to hear from you!  Do you track inventory?  Have you found a system that works for you?



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 Tara Swiger

Be Lean - Experiment on Assumptions


The Lean Startup seems to be on the minds of our team this month, as we get ready to launch the beta version of Vianza. I'm reading the book, Megan went to a lecture about it (at SFMade) and the whole team is (quite naturally) practicing the Lean Startup method as we create, test, get feedback and tweak the platform.


For the next few weeks, we'll be sharing our take on the Lean Startup method and how it can work for all kind of businesses (not just tech start-ups). First, we're going to talk about the principles, and then we'll apply them to your business, whether you're a designer or a indie retailer. 


The first thing to get a handle on before you begin to launch anything new (whether it's your Fall line or a Spring 20% off sale), is Experimentation.  


When you experiment, you test your theories and your assumptions. And when you're done testing, you observe the results - were you right? Where were you wrong? What does that mean for what you do next? And the last step is take what you've learned and turn it into action. What needs to change based on what you've learned?


The author calls this validated learning and it's different from just trying stuff, failing, and moving on. In a useful experiment, you are intentional. You dig up your assumptions and you apply rigorous testing (note: you don't just think about them, you actually try them out).


Why experiment?


Experimenting may take some extra time, but it's well worth it. You'll save time on creating something no one wants. You'll save money on marketing in a way that doesn't reach your right people. You'll save your sanity by knowing, without a doubt, that your new product will sell, or your new promotion will get results.


Get those assumptions.

Don’t just experiment to see what works,  but also all your hidden assumptions. Take the big vision and break it down into its component parts. What are you assuming about each part?


The author points out two common assumptions:


●        the  value hypothesis (that your product or promotion actually delivers value to the customer)

●        the growth hypothesis (that new customers will discover it)


Some common assumptions I find in my work with creative businesses:


●        the price assumption (my customers couldn't afford that!)

●        the Right People assumption (my people are like this, not that)

●        the saturated assumption (when you assume that everyone is reading everything you do-  every tweet, every blog post, every email...and thus that they have already heard your marketing message, and you shouldn't repeat it)

●        the marketing is gross assumption (oh, I could never market, that's so gross!)


The only way to prove (or disprove) these assumptions is to experiment - set up a test, or look at the data you already have (in your web analytics, in response rates, in customer comments).


Most of the people I lead in experiments are completely shocked by what they learn - maybe your highest priced product is your best-selling, or maybe your people never read your blog, so they don't know about your new sale, or maybe they want to hear from you more, not less!



What are the assumptions you're making about your project?

How can you test them?


Tara Swiger is our Community Concierge, a voracious business book reader and a Starship Captain. Her upcoming book, Market Yourself, is all about finding what your people really want. She’d love to know what you’re reading, so tweet tweet

by Jen Wallace

Jump Start Your Creativity


Sometimes creativity just doesn't spark. No matter how late you are on your deadline or how much intention you have to be creative, nothing seems to speak to you. Most of the time these creative funks can be fleeting, but sometimes they hang around for far too long—just like the brother-in-law who crashed for far too long on your couch.


What to do about it?


Here are some ideas that will hopefully help act as a catalyst for moving your through your next creative dry spell.


Take a walk with your camera. Whether walking in the woods, down Main St., or along the streets of NYC you are bound to find something that inspires you while looking trough the photographer's lens.


Visit an art gallery or museum. Seeing the creative endeavors of others can often bring about your own. Just be careful to not be 'too' inspired and cross the line from inspiration to copying.


In the same vein, attend a poetry reading, musical event or even just listen to music while you work. All can have the intended effect of refocusing your own creative juices.


Nature is always a great way to snap out a funk. Whether getting out into the wild or visiting a park or nature conservancy, flora and fauna have a way of capturing our imaginations.


Take a class.Any class will do, but art and craft classes might be a great place to start. Anything could work though: yoga, the history of film, creative writing, language. Think about your local community college or look online—a lot of creative types are sharing online classes. In fact, I took one last year on basic sketching and it was a blast.


Keep a creative diaryin which you can write down or sketch out your inspirations whenever they may strike and then when nothing is striking your fancy, you can look back through your diary for all those ideas you haven't gotten around to yet.


By the same token, keep a mood or inspiration board (or Pinterest board). Fill it with tears from magazines, photos you snap, scraps of fabric, color chips, inspirational sayings that speak to you, postcards or anything really.


Finally, collaborate with other creative types. Work on a project with other creative, join an artist collective, get together for a weekly artist circle, but just make sure to interact with other creative people. They can be both a great resource as well as inspiration.



How do you stay inspired?

What are you going to try next?


Image Credits: Amy Rice

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

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? 



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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