Vianza Blog

Exclusively For Wholesale Brands And Retailers


profitable tips for designers + indie retailers

by Sarah Von

Snapshot:: Audrey Sterk


After earning a degree in Art and Design, Audrey Sterk moved to Nantucket, lived on a boat for four years and started a decorative painting business.  As if that’s not envy-inducing enough, her work has been featured in the likes of Architectural Digest and HG TV.  You can befriend her on Facebook.


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

That is a difficult question to nail down to one thing. I think there are small surprises often, as we are creating a larger decorative design business (Audrey Home Collection) from a one at a time hand painted project business. When we first started I was the one person production facility trying to make our products easy for a manufacturing business to reproduce, while keeping the integrity of our quality hand painted business as the role model. It was an eyeopening experience and I felt like the first table we covered successfully with our printed designs that looked as if we hand painted it was a grand feat!



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

I am a believer in trusting your intuition. I don't think I have been given bad business advice as much as I have had moment of getting tossed in the turbulence of too much advice. It is not fun to feel confused, but at the same time you need to ask people who have succeeded so you know the proper steps to take, then tailor it to your personal direction and take some risks. There is nothing better than reinforcing the choices you have made.


What was the biggest entrepreneurial epiphany of your career?

That there are other talented, creative people out there that might have similar concepts to yours. If you are thinking about an idea and want to try it, do some research but don't be afraid to go for it even of there is another company out there doing something similar. Chances are there will be a lot of unique differences and most likely you will develop a growing relationship together.



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

Reaching out and making an effort to stay connected is important. A personal email is always positive and some free little gift from your line is a nice touch. Something tailored to their style says that you appreciate them and you are aware of what they like.



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

This is your chance to take a leap and go for it. It is an amazing feeling to trust yourself, make a decision and see it blossom!


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: Style Your Boutique


This week the lovely Catherine of Hubshop wrote a great post for indie retailers on How To Make Your Shop Pop. Inspired by her tips, I went hunting for some more tips and tricks for indie boutiques.


Rena Tom collected inspiring and surprising images of retail shelving. 


image from Decor8


If you want to (virtually) stroll through a retail space, don’t miss Decor8’s Store Tours (there are dozens!) and our guide to indie boutiques in Encinitas.



Miss Birdie, shop stylist extraordinaire, guides you to more white space and tiny dishes.


Got a favorite trick to tricking out your shop?

Share it in the comments! 

by Tara Swiger

Indie Boutique Guide: Encinitas



If you’re going to Encinitas, CA, get off the 5 as soon as possible and get on the 101. It’s called the Coast Highway for a reason, and the drive is gorgeous (especially if you’re driving south). You’ll pass through tiny towns and thriving tourist traps.



As you drive under the Encinitas sign, pull over anywhere and park right on the street (free, easy, and within walking distance of everything I talk about here). As you walk, look down and enjoy the art at your feet.




If you’re near the Encinitas sign, you’re just a block from Gardenology.





Gardenology carries sumptuous bedding, home decor and yep, even a few things for the garden.





The shop was entirely black and white and gray when I visited, with bits of weathered wood and shiny marble.




For the full SoCal experience, grab a burger at Angelos.


Walk just another block south and you’ll see, ArtNSoul101a sweet boutique/co-op/charity. Check out their amazing mission in this video:




When I was there, there was an artist working!





Once you get your fill of happy, bright art, stroll back out to the 101, walk past a great big Whole Foods, curve around the restaurant to the left and you’ll find the delightful Bliss101.





It’s back from the sidewalk a bit, but don’t stop looking because it is wondrous. They carry art, furniture and clothing, all from indie designers.





I fell in love with the furniture made from old fishing boats, like this seat:




And, if Bliss101 doesn’t bliss you so far out, keep walking south! Grounded is a few more blocks (if you’re too tired, jump in your car and drive down...but I suggest walking in the warm sunshine, with the beach just a block away).




Grounded is full of handmade jewelry










and contemporary modern furniture.


And that’s a tour of the indie boutiques in Encinitas!


Do you have a great indie boutique (or 3) in your town? Tell us all about it on Twitter or Facebook!


Tara Swiger is our Community Concierge, a crafter of independence, and a Starship Captain. She’s right in the middle of a writing a book on Marketing for IndieBiz’s for Cooperative Press and she’d love to distract herself by hanging out with you onTwitter.



by Sarah Von

How To Make Your Shop Pop


Charlotte learned all about retail world when she relocated from Australia to Holland and opened a boutique called Hubshop with her boyfriend.  Here are her best tips and tricks to making your space stand out!  Follow their adventures on their blog or on Twitter.

Last year I was thrilled to take over an existing store together with my boyfriend. Between us we have a decent chunk of experience in both the retail  and creative worlds and this was a much-anticipated opportunity to realise our combined dream of creating our dream shop. We’re now the proud owners of Hubshop, a collaborative boutique in Rotterdam, Holland. It’s like a design store with a twist – we’re a platform for supporting and promoting small-scale designers & entrepreneurs. Every day in our new shop is an adventure & a learning curve.

Owning and operating your own boutique is extraordinarily rewarding. If you’re new to running a business, it’s equal parts terrifying and elating. It requires your full time attention; not to mention a whole lot of dedication and  passion.  

Here are a few ways we make sure our shop is un-pass-able:


Create attention grabbing window displays

I can’t emphasise enough the importance of your shop window display. It’s your constant, 3D advertisement; and if done well, will contribute greatly to the success of your shop.  Your window display is the sphere of interaction between the shop and prospective customers. You only have a few seconds to attract the attention of passers-by and so it’s essential to create an eye-catching display that will pique peoples’ curiosity. Luckily, I adore dreaming up new ideas for our shop window and seeing them come to life – it’s an instantly rewarding creative outlet.


Create a story with your merchandising

This can be as simple as grouping similar products together - think of it as a serving suggestion! This scarf and blouse with that purse. This vintage armoire with those imported Moroccan table runners. You want to showcase your most exciting products in the most flattering way. I’m kind of madly in love with everything in our shop, so this is a constant source of inspiration and creativity.


Balance your design elements

As with all visual merchandising, a combination of basic elements comes into play: colour, visual balance and a focal point. Take into consideration the size of your shop window, the products you want to display and your budget; and be as creative as your imagination allows.

Update your window displays for special occasions

Be sure to update your window display to include special occasions and holidays (Easter, Christmas, etc). Most importantly, creating your window display should be fun! Don’t rush the process: take time to think and plan what you want the window display to communicate. Don’t be afraid to play and tweak until you get it just right. Personally, I keep a little sketchbook to scribble down any ideas I have for window displays, or to put photos of other displays I find beautiful.


Continue the merchandising from the window into the actual store

Of course, divine visual merchandising shouldn't end with the front window. It’s essential to create the perfect shopping environment – this is usually a work in progress! Once customers step foot in your shop, you want them to feel at ease. Work to create great displays inside your shop too; and update them often. Customers DO notice repetitive displays or old, lingering stock. Boring! Depending on your space and store layout, this may be a series of small, cosy areas telling different stories; or perhaps a more airy, open-plan design is more appropriate.


Make the space cosy and comfortable

Consider physical factors like lighting and heating and cooling. Regardless of the season, it should be a pleasant experience entering the shop from outdoors. Invest in good quality, lively lighting – and avoid fluorescent lighting like the plague! Nothing is worse than customers having to squint or question if a shop is open because of poor lighting.

Offer amazing customer service

As you might expect, great customer service is key to making a positive first impression. Find the sweet spot of friendly, approachable and knowledgeable service. There’s a wealth of information available on perfecting customer service – always be open to making improvements.

Take time to build a really great team of staff – they are your greatest asset. Whether this team consists of 2 people or 10, ensure everyone is on the same page as far as customer service & representing your shop to its fullest potential.

Of course, every aspect of your brick & mortar shop will be a work in progress. Be persistent in your desire to make your shop better and brighter; be prepared to give it your constant focus and energy. Most importantly, be sure to enjoy every part of the process!


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

3 Steps to More Purposeful Online Marketing : Part 2


This is a guest post by Diane Gilleland, aka Sister Diane, of Diane makes ebooks, podcasts, and videos about what it means to make things, and what happens when you turn making things into your vocation.


In this three-part series of posts, we’re looking at three important questions to help you do more effective online marketing. You can read the first post in the series here.


Consider this: in the online landscape, we are all inundated with information. Most of us have more blog posts, tweets, and Facebook updates to read than we’ll ever realistically have time for. Not only that, as we mentioned last week, the internet is teeming with people trying to sell things.


In a crowded online environment, it’s not effective to simply mention your product or service over and over – it’s too easy for people to tune you out. Instead, with each post you’re painting a portrait of sorts – a portrait of what you’re great at and why you’re a valuable person to do business with.


In order to get at this portrait, we’ll want to examine this question:



What exactly do you need people to know about you?


Get a notebook and a pen (or, sit down at your computer) and make a list of every product or service you currently offer. For each one of these, you’ve had to develop particular skills and expertise so you could offer them to the world professionally, right?


If you make pearl earrings, for example, then you’ve had to get good at working with metal and precious stones. You’ve had to learn to tell the difference between high-quality and low-quality components. You’ve had to develop an eye for jewelry design, and you’ve had to practice making pieces until you could make them consistently beautiful.


These skills and abilities are the things you need people to know about you – the more your potential customers can understand how skilled and knowledgeable you are, the more likely they are to become interested in your product.



How does this translate to online marketing?


Once you’ve identified the skills and abilities behind what you sell, it’s time to develop a little online editorial calendar for yourself. What blog posts, tweets, or Facebook posts can you develop that share these skills and abilities?


If we stick with our pearl earring example, here are a few ideas:


- You could write a blog post about what qualities you look for when you choose the pearls for your pieces.


- You could share pictures of jewelry in progress on Twitter and Facebook, and talk about how you solved a challenging design problem.


- You might blog the story of how you first learned to make wire loops, and how long you had to practice before you could do them perfectly.


- You could share sketches from your notebook on Facebook and Twitter, and ask your online customers for input as you design new pieces.



Do you see how much more interesting and engaging these stories are than simply mentioning your product over and over? Make yourself a schedule of these stories, so you remember to inject them regularly into your online postings.



In the last post in this series, we’ll talk about how to gently guide your online readers to make those purchases or hire you.


Image Credits: Martin Marcinski, via Flickr Creative Commons

Tara Swiger  is our Community Wrangler, a crafter of independence, and a Starship Captain. She’s right in the middle of a writing a book on Marketing for IndieBiz’s for Cooperative Press and she’d love to distract herself by hanging out with you on Twitter

by Sarah Von

Snapshot :: Melanie Grace Designs


Since 2003, Melanie Grace Designs has been designing one-of-a-kind or limited edition originals.  Inspired by her international travels and the punk rock/couture fashion aesthetic of her hometown, Melanie’s designs are comfortable, unique and totally, totally wearable.  You can befriend her on Facebook or follow her adventures on her blog.


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

Their were actually four hands involved! My husband and I built our house, from drawings to toilet installation, hammer and nail. It was one of the most difficult and rewarding things I've ever done and of course nine years later, it's still a work in progress.


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

Lower your prices. There is a pervasive thought in our culture that you have to undersell someone else in order to succeed. It's already hard to place a value on your work when you're just starting out and that message was hard to overcome. I think most burgeoning artists, myself included, don't value our time highly enough partially because we are doing what we love. But also because we forget to take into consideration all the time that it takes to source materials, market, ship, package, etc., which adds up to a whole lot more time than the creation alone.


What was the biggest entrepreneurial epiphany of your career?

For as long as I can remember I have always wanted to travel the world but also got the message that you could only do that if you had loads of money. When I was working as a teacher my husband and I decided to make a move and thought we would take part of the summer break to explore France. Once we started saving and researching for our trip it just kept growing. There were so many palces we had to see and we also realized that it's really easy to travel on the cheap. We ended up spending a year and traveled through Europe, the middle east and India.


That year completely changed my perspective on what I could achieve. I had always wanted to be an artist but didn't believe in myself enough to pursue it as anything other than a hobby. After we returned I started my business and we started building our house. Crazy but worth it!


Give us your top 3 indie artisans/designers to watch.

Leigh Young, Rebecca Bashara and Scott Macdonald and  Christy Aloysi and Scott Graham.

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

Don't over commit and live up to your promises.


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

First you must believe in what you have to offer and the rest will follow.


Thanks for sharing, Melanie!


Image Credits :: Melanie Grace Designs


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 :: Build Slow


This week we've been working away at our redesign (getting ready for the launch of beta) and so I've found myself drawn to posts about building, launching, and refining.



My favorite find of the week is the free In Treehouses manifesto. In it, Thom Chambers shares his inspiration for creating a lifestyle business. By that, he means a business that supports your life.


And Isn't that what you'd love your independent business to do: support a real life (one where you're not trapped in your studio)?


In the manifesto, Thom links to this classic post by Seth Godin: First, Ten. Seth encourages you to,

"Find ten people. Ten people who trust you/respect you/need you/listen to you..."


Those ten people need what you have to sell, or want it. And if they love it, you win. If they love it, they'll each find you ten more people (or a hundred or a thousand or, perhaps, just three). Repeat.

If they don't love it, you need a new product. Start over."



What would your design and prototyping process look like if you did this with EVERY new product?


What would your marketing look like if you already knew shoppers and shops desired every product on this season's line?



by Tara Swiger

The Wild Practice of Creative Success


This is a guest post by Ming-Zhu Hii, an artist, writer, micro-entrepreneur & creative business consultant. Occupationally, she has also been an art and design retailer, a pro actor, theatre auteur and a cultural commentator. You can find her work at The Public Studio,, Superéthique & The Melbourne Town Players.


There’s a brilliant feeling of liberation when you start to turn enough profit from your creative work to be able to regard it as your main job.


Even when you’re still inching your way to this goal, there’s definitely a tipping point you reach where the work suddenly gets a lot more serious. Committed. The “Heck-yes, I own every inch of this puppy, and my success is 100% up to me” moment.


It’s priceless. Your operations start to amp up, you lock systems in, you get support, you crunch your numbers, you build your success team - hell, you even take a trip to the local office superstore and buy up big on new, colour co-ordinated suspension files.


You are the very definition of industrious and it’s beautiful.


And then something happens. The sales slow. Just a little. Just enough for you to start to quietly freak out at 3am.


You panic. You make Desperate Moves - you know the ones, they seem like a great idea for boosting turnover at the time, but the morning after they make you feel cheap and compromised.


Perhaps you introduce a new line you’re not that really interested in, or against all instincts you re-print a design because it was popular last season. You might go ahead and try on someone else’s marketing style because they’re “doing well”, while you sit in a corner of your studio secretly feeling like you’ve sold yourself up a very stagnant and unsavoury smelling creek.........


The sleep doesn’t come any more easily. The anxiety blows out. You’re a walking curse-machine.


This is the work cycle of an artist who is disconnected from their core creative needs.


Sometimes it isn’t quite this dire. Sometimes this period of ennui settles merely as a mild, inert blanket of “meh”. Sometimes it manifests as a “block”, jealousy, resentment or fear. You’ll know what it is for you. None of us are inured to its sneaky, sideways presence at one time or another.


The good news is, these symptoms are both curable and preventable.


The answer is practice. Doing the work. Not just pumping out the same best-sellers for the same kinds of trade fairs or seasonal promotions you’ve always relied on - but taking a risk. Forgetting about margins and COGS for a few hours; casting aside concerns about market positioning, ad rates, key-words and affiliates.


Simply practicing.

Getting out your sketchbook and going bananas for an hour straight to a little Bach or Satie. Hitting the streets and sticking your curious beak into any gallery that looks open. Scouring the shelves of your local video store for art-house classics you’ve never seen.


Your best work - and ultimately - your creative business momentum - is going to come from here.


As artists, we can pick up the stench of desperation and inauthenticity a mile off. So can your customers.


Your bright, original and inspired work is what’s going to keep them coming back for more.


So the next time you’re feeling panicky, lost, bored, envious or just a little... stagnant, reach for the nearest book of poems, whack an old LP of jazz standards on, grab a blank sheet of paper and a Sharpie, and play wildly.

Tara Swiger  is our Community Wrangler, a crafter of independence, and a Starship Captain. She’s right in the middle of a writing a book on Marketing for IndieBiz’s for Cooperative Press and she’d love to distract herself by hanging out with you on Twitter.



by Megan Prentiss

Help Your Customer Value What You Do - Part 2


My first post on this subject Help Your Customer Value What You Do – presented several questions to help define a clear value message that explains why potential customers should buy from you.  Now that you’ve answered those questions, what should you do?


Well, the goal is to influence how customers experience and evaluate your work. So delivering this value promise can take various forms. To start, you need to take stock of all the channels  – like a website or in-store display – that reach your best customers. Communicating your value to customers at the impressionable moment that each offers is important.


For example, is there an opportunity to tell your story during a customer’s online visit?


The answer seems pretty obvious if they’ve come to your website. But, many of us are selling products on partner-owned websites, such as the online marketplace that Vianza provides. The most basic description of your product should convey its value, which can be its specific design aesthetic, its affordability compared to others in your category, customizability or how it’s manufactured in a way to last longer or re-uses precious resources.


If you’re selling indirectly through a sales representative, how are they presenting your products online and in printed form? Well, your knowledge of the customer’s needs should be shared with them so every sales representative can represent your product in the best light.


The packaging of your product also offers a great platform to reinforce your value. A package can communicate a lot of valuable information to influence the customer’s purchase decision while they’re scanning it on a store shelf. Clever packaging also can reinforce the good decision a customer has made after the sale.


All of your marketing tactics – e-mails, Facebook and Twitter updates, advertisements and more – should reinforce the central idea of the value you offer. If you’ve collected your customer’s contact information during the sale, consider thanking them and even reminding them of their good decision again as they may be inclined to spread the word.


Now all of this may make perfect sense, but you’re still curious about how others have been successful in doing it.  Some good examples include:


- Luminology is a Vianza member who describes its value on the site in very clear, compelling terms:


“With organic materials and a clean, modern aesthetic, our soy candles are as artisan as they are utilitarian. Because when the candle’s wick is finished burning, the vessel becomes homemade art for your home – a serving piece for your dinner table or a catch-all for the hustle and bustle of everyday life.”


- Yellow Owl Workshop is represented by Keena Co., which is a manufacturers’ representative organization. They describe this line’s value effectively as well,


“Stationary and gifts inspired by nature, pop culture and everyday objects represented with a sophisticated, urban slant. Ingredients: non-toxic inks, 100% PCW recycled paper, and rubber stamp sets incorporating reclaimed wood.”


- And finally, the folks at Lovely Package showcase many value-branded products on their site.


Even Amy Crook who sells handmade greeting cards recently explained to the readers of this blog how her wholesale packaging reinforces her brand here.


Are you proud of the work you’ve done to communicate your value to customers? If so, please share it with us as Vianza’s community craves advice and examples!



Image credits: sig hafstrom

Megan Prentiss has been connecting consumers to good products by good companies as a brand marketer for a very long time. She's especially passionate about working with indie retailers & wholesalers to help their business grow. Megan heads up Vianza’s marketing and is also working on her own entrepreneurial venture with designers who are manufacturing custom gift & home décor products for a collection that celebrates positive social change. Connect with her on Twitter or email


by Tara Swiger

3 Steps to More Purposeful Online Marketing - Part 1


This is a guest post by Diane Gilleland, aka Sister Diane, of Diane makes ebooks, podcasts, and videos about what it means to make things, and what happens when you turn making things into your vocation.

We’ve been using online tools like blogging, Twitter and Facebook to market our small businesses for several years now, and in that time, we’ve collectively evolved a number of rules for success: interact with lots of people. Build relationships. Share interesting content.


All this stuff is worth pursuing, of course. But you can spend hours online every day, sharing cool links and being friendly, without generating many sales. That’s because the internet is teeming with people doing exactly the same thing. To help your products or services stand out from all that noise, you’ll need to get more purposeful about what you’re doing online.


In this three-part series of posts, we’ll look at three important questions you can ask yourself about your online marketing. Whether you’re a blogger, a Facebook user or a Tweeter, your answers will help you build an online presence that highlights what you sell and how it’s valuable.


Today, let’s start with our first question:

Who, specifically, needs to be reading your online posts?


I think that often, small business owners assume that the answer to this question is “Everyone! As many people as possible!” We seek to grow huge numbers of “followers” so we can tell them to go buy our product. 


But actually, no matter what you sell – hand-knit socks, sewing patterns, handmade jewelry, or anything else – that product has a very specific customer. There are very, very few products in this world that absolutely everyone needs. Your product appeals to people of a specific age group, gender, income level, and set of interests. So your goal isn’t to talk to all people. It’s to talk to the right people.


Or, maybe your goal with your online presence isn’t to sell a product, but to be hired by someone specific – maybe for some freelance design work or a book contract. Well, in that case, you need yet another specific group of people reading your online posts: editors and corporate buyers who are in the market for your services.


Why is it important to know who who these folks are?


If you’re doing effective online marketing, it means you’ve identified that subset of people who really need what you offer, and you’re sharing your products and services with them specifically.

...Except that for many of us, our online circles are currently a jumble of real-life friends, family members, people we’ve met online, people we followed back out of politeness, and no small number of people who followed us because they hope to sell us something.


In other words, you may be talking to a whole lot of people online who will never really need what you sell. And while this may be fun (and it definitely consumes time), it may not get any effective marketing done for you.


If you know who, specifically, you need to reach, then you can get out there and initiate relationships with these people online. Comment on their blogs, respond to their tweets, and post comments on their Facebook pages. Get on their radar as a friendly, helpful person and many of them will be happy to follow you back. Put some effort in this direction over time, and when you talk about your business, you’ll find you have a much more receptive audience.


In the next post in this series, we’ll talk about how to hone in on the stories behind your product or service.


Photo Credits :: Melilab


 Tara Swiger  is our Community Wrangler, a crafter of independence, and a Starship Captain. She’s right in the middle of a writing a book on Marketing for IndieBiz’s for Cooperative Press and she’d love to distract herself by hanging out with you on Twitter.


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.

Syndicate content