Vianza Blog

Exclusively For Wholesale Brands And Retailers


profitable tips for designers + indie retailers

by Tara Swiger

I LOVE :: Touch Screen Gloves


It’s the season of cold hands and new electronics.

If you want to use your phone, iPad, or even the touchscreen gas pump in freezing weather, you’ve got to take off your gloves or flip off your flip-top mittens. Either way, your fingertips are shivering.



Enter Polymath Design Lab’s genius Touch Screen Gloves (or you can get a kit to make ANY pair of gloves touch-screen-able). Keep your fingers toasty and your Angry Birds flying.


(If you want to carry Polymath Design Lab in your shop, sign up for a Vianza account and check out her catalog)


by Tara Swiger

Indie Business 101: Picking a Trade Show


This is a guest post by Nadine Lerner, the owner of BlueDogzDesign,  freelance designer, business and branding consultant and blogger.  I love how she used trade shows to grow her business and I’m thrilled to have her share her smarts. Read her story here (for inspiration) or follow her on Twitter.


In early 2001 I called the largest Canadian gift association to enquire about how to get a booth at their show. They told me I would need to be “juried-in” and expect a waitof several years. I hung up the phone and called New York.

Three months later, I came home from my first show with over 200 children’s rocking chairs to hand paint, a new client list and a crash course in business, selling and getting paid.  In August of 2010, I spent the better part of a week at what was usually my best show of the year trying to figure out what my next business move should be.


I have yet to meet anyone who will tell you that they LOVE trade shows.

There is preparation, stress and yes, the expense, but most of us who design and sell, will likely need them at some point.


Doing business today is not the same as in 2001, but if you want  to sell your products to  many retailers in one place at one time, do a trade show (maybe even many).


Which inevitably always leads to, “When am I ready to do a trade show?”

I have thought long and hard about this one and I always end up here: “You’re ready, do it”.


If you are quite certain that you can actually produce what you are selling, price it where you can make some money and have retailers price it where they too can make some money you are definitely on the right track. If you can then get your products to clients within a reasonable/agreed upon timeframe, I say go for it.


I have seen booths swarmed with buyers literally fighting to order a hot new product to later learn that the company couldn’t produce or never shipped. I have also seen booths seemingly empty at one show, come back time and again and grow into some of the most popular, cool companies in the industry.


I believe in the whole “journey” thing. I believe in putting yourself out there, I believe in learning on the job. 

And, I believe that there are so many talented people creating amazing things that need to be seen and sold.


Having said all this, just before you make the leap, do some homework.

It will definitely save you money, and possibly some heartache.


There are all kinds of trade shows. Here are a few things to think about before you chose one:


Large international shows vs smaller regional shows.

Most major cities have some sort of trade show or trade, center that sells wholesale to retailers. The 2 largest US Gift Shows are in NewYork and Atlanta


General gift shows vs niche market shows.

Will it be better to have a larger audience who may or may not need your product, or a smaller more focused group of buyers?


Little booth vs big booth.

Sometimes a large booth in a regional show can be less expensive than a small booth at a large international show. Can I make an impact with less square footage, or do I need more?


Close vs far.

This might seem like a detail, but seriously, think this one through. You are starting out, think about what a week-long trade show is going to do to you. If you can do a show close to home, sleep in your own bed, see your kids, your spouse or your best friend at the end of the day, or even simply pack up your own car with your stuff, and not worry about flights, shipping, restaurants and all the extra details, you might decide on “close”. If you want to get away, love the adventure, the unknown, not knowing exactly where the closest fedex drop off or quick copy center is in relation to the show venue or your hotel, definitely choose “far”.


Regardless of what you choose, where you decide to start or when you decide to do it, you are going to learn a lot, so go in with a smile on your face and confidence that no matter what happens, you are going to come out of the show knowing a lot more than when you went in.


Ten years later, I still get that giddy feeling when the buyers from Bergdorf Goodman or an In Style Magazine editor walks into my booth, it just never gets old.


Good luck!


Image property of BlueDogz Design


This is the sixth installment of our ongoing  IndieBusiness101 series.

If you’ve missed one, find it here:








by Sarah Von

6 Fresh Starts For Your Business in 2012


Can you believe it’s nearly 2012? Because it is, friends.  Most of us are running around like the proverbial chicken with its heads cut off during the holiday season (trunk shows! wholesale orders! holiday shopping!) and come January 1st we’re exhausted, uninspired shells of our former selves. 

Well, we’re having none of that.   Here are six ways to give you and your business a fresh start this year.


1) Give your home office or studio a big ol’ deep clean

That fabric you’re never going to use?  Donate it.  Those sheers that don’t really work?  Replace ‘em.  All that software that needs to be updated?  Download away.  And make the day more fun with a great playlist and maybe a pizza and a few glasses of Merlot.


2) Reassess your client and vendor list


Do you have a client who emails you 17 times a day?  One who never pays on time?  A vendor whose work isn’t quite up to snuff?  If you have the luxury of letting them go - do it.  If not, craft a kind but direct email about how you’d like your relationship to work from now on.  And if you’ve got clients that you lovelovelove?  Let them know how much you appreciate their business!

3) Schedule in some post-holiday relaxation

November and December are crazy busy times for just about everyone, particularly anyone who works in the the retail world.  You deserve a break!  If you can’t take a proper vacation, try to shorten your work days, take a three-day weekend or at least take a working holiday so you can respond to email beach side.


4) Craft new, concrete goals for 2012

“Make more money” and “be more successful” are not quite concrete enough.  What about “hire a social media consultant,” “email three new boutiques every week” or “read up on small business tax deductions”?  Goals are more likely to be accomplished when we break them down into small, tangible, bite-sized pieces.


5) Redefine ‘work’ time and ‘play’ time

Most every self-employed person finds themselves working the occasional Saturday night.  And that’s okay - as long as it’s only occasional!  But if that becomes your everyday reality, perhaps it’s time to draw a line in the sand.  Choose a time after which you will not respond to business-related emails, texts or calls.  Don’t work weekends - and make sure your clients are aware of this.  Then schedule something fun into your evenings and weekends so you’re not tempted by the siren song of your inbox!



6) Freshen up you Internet profiles and devices


A fresh Twitter bio, profile photo and background image.  New product shots for your online shop.  A new header for your blog.  A fresh ring tone, a different screen saver, some great apps. You’d be amazed how much these little things matter!


How are you going to reboot in 2012? Share in the comments!


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.  And that cute calendar you see in the photo that accompanies this post?  She made it!  And you can buy it here.  



by Sarah Von

Small Batch Story :: Garden Apothecary


Jennifer Lee Segale is a professional in the fields of natural science. She owns a landscape design company Wildflower Farms, based in the San Francisco Bay Area, and specializing in organically sustainable gardens. She also owns Dirty Girl Gardening a “horticulture collective” with the organic beauty/bath line, called Garden Apothecary. Garden Apothecary  features organic whole botanical sugar scrubs, water refreshers and other bath products.


You use only organic ingredients in your products.  Why should people opt for organic body products over chemically-based ones?


Organic body products are much more beneficial than chemically-based (petroleum-based or synthetic)  body products for a number of reasons. Aside from the heavy environmental impact, and the terrible side effects you can get from chemicals and synthetic preservatives, the main reason I create and buy organic body products is because of how it makes me feel. Our skin is our largest organ, and as much as it helps shield us from harmful temperature, chemicals, and bacteria - it also absorbs.

Our skin is packed with nerves that keep our body and brain in touch with the outside world - what you put on your skin significantly effects your overall health. My products are made with healthy, organic botanicals, most of which you can see, touch, and smell. And in the shower, that small interaction with an organic vanilla bean or piece of red rosehip, sends messages all over your body - helping to restore your skin, energize your body and intrigue the mind.


Although chemical and synthetic products are often necessary in the materials and products we use and consume, I don’t think it’s necessary in bath and beauty products. What is more attractive? Using a product with ingredients defined as “vanilla fragrance” that have been manipulated in a lab - or using a product that has exclusively been fragranced with one solitary, whole vanilla bean that you can hold in your hand and enjoy.



Essential oils are nigh-on magical.  What are some of the things that they can do that might surprise us?


Essential oils constantly surprise and inspire me, and I’ve been especially fascinated with how clove oil works. Some of the properties in clove buds are anti-fungal, anti-septic, anti-viral and anti-inflammatory, and help health problems such as cavities, cough, blood impurities and even asthma. Such a fascinating plant with a vast ethnobotanical history. I love incorporating whole botanicals in my sugar scrubs for their unique healing properties.



What's the biggest business lesson you've learned so far?


I think the biggest business lesson I have learned so far, is that [italics] I am a limited resource, just like any other aspect of my business, and I need to constantly fine tune how I use my time and energy.



If you weren't crafting gorgeous organic body products, what would your life look like?

If I wasn’t making these products, my life would be fairly similar. I own a landscape design company, raise heirloom chickens, pick flowers and obsess over everything dirty. My life would continue to revolve around natural science.



Lastly, describe the type of world you'd like to design.

I’d like to design a world where bourbon, cupcakes and chocolate were mandatory food groups. Where flowers grew faster than setting concrete, bugs could talk back to you and everyone spent their time doing only what they loved.


Thanks for sharing, Jennifer!


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: Right People


On Wednesday I gave a quick rundown on how to define your Right People (aka, your Target Market, those people who want what you sell) and today I’d like to share some more sources for diving deeper.


For starters, I first heard the term “right people” from my friend Havi, in this post or maybe this one. If you are even a little shy about sharing your thing and growing your business, her blog is full of help for dealing with all the stuff that comes up when we do our thing.


“Resist the temptation to be too general in the hopes of getting a larger slice of the market. That's like firing 10 bullets in random directions instead of aiming just one dead center of the mark--expensive and dangerous”

-Entrepreneur, Target Market


Still not clear on who your Right People are? Check out this Inc article on narrowing your Target Market.


But remember: it’s not about only defining them - knowing your Right People means that you start talking to them. You speak their language, listen to their stories, and share your message.


Who are your Right People?

Tell me about them in the comments.


by Sarah Von

Snapshot:: Wraptillion


This is a guest post by Kelly Jones of Wraptillion. She was raised by encouraging entrepreneurs, engineers and artists. Naturally, she started her own jewelry design business, transforming American-manufactured hardware components and titanium aerospace industry waste into elegant industrial jewelry. Wraptillion jewelry is proudly carried by museum shops, galleries and boutiques, who adore its unique, comfortable style.


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


I’m always most excited about the newest thing, so I’d say the forthcoming Scarab Bracelet Encasing the steel hardware in titanium rings, with everything held in place by tension, yet keeping it flexible – it was a challenge! I’m wearing the test piece constantly these days to test durability and comfort, and am really looking forward to offering this design soon in a bracelet and necklace.



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


“No one makes a living selling art.” Hah! I’ve found it much more helpful to focus on making things happen than to assume my goals aren’t possible from the beginning.



What was the biggest entrepreneurial epiphany of your career?


That I love the business side as well as the art, and that I’m good at both. I truly enjoy making connections with retailers who delight in my jewelry and want to pass their delight along to their customers.
 For me, business is about those connections, and also about fair trade: just as I take pride in paying another artist fairly for their beautiful work, I am proud when someone appreciates my work and pays fairly for it. Business should be celebrated as an artistic community; I don’t enjoy making art in a vacuum. And I don’t find that good business people must be terrible artists, just as good artists don’t have to be terrible business people.



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


Madame Scodioli:Wonderful scent combinations and extremely clever gender-neutral products, perfectly packaged in her own inimitable style (Laudanum is a favorite)


A Need To Create: Colorful and oh so fun, this button jewelry is artfully designed and beautifully made, with tremendously wide appeal (I adore my custom bracelet, made from my grandmother's buttons)


Fossdesign: Creator of my logo and other printed pieces, and an absolute genius at interpreting a business style into art; also creates amazing posters and cards, occasionally made available for sale



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


Not to be afraid to truly try. I think sometimes we’re all afraid to put too much of ourselves into our work – what if we give it our all, and fail anyway? But I’ve found that every time I truly throw myself into things, new possibilities open so quickly and so numerously that it really becomes more about choosing the best path for me, not pure success or failure. The trick is, it only happens if you truly try.

Thanks so much for sharing, Kelly!


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

Indie Business 101: Right People


This is the fifth installment of our ongoing  Indie Business 101 series.

So far we’ve had Getting StartedTools of the Trade, Scaling Production and Marketing Basics.


Last week, I said that marketing was sharing your message with your Right People, in absolutely everything you do. Traditional marketers call this your Target Market, but my friend Havi coined the term “Right People” and I just prefer it so much. You’re Right Person is  your ideal customer. It’s the person who loves what you make, has the money to buy and then tells all her friends about it.


Your Right People are the people who will support you and share your thing and celebrate with you.The people who will be delighted when you share your true youness in your work.

I do not mean people with the most money. Or the most power. Or the people who will tell you what to change.


Your Right People may change as you change, but you will always have Right People.

You can sell offensive, ridiculous or downright crazy stuff and it will be just perfect for the Right People.

You never don't have Right People, they just might not have found you yet.


The only way to create something that doesn't have a Right Person is to create something bland, generic or vague. When you create things that don't come from your own strengths and passion (your youness!), you'll have a hard time finding your Right People....because no one gets excited about mediocrity.


Sidenote: if you don’t like the people who seem to love your work now (or if they’re always complaining about the price) - look at the message you’re sending and where you’re sending it. Are you aiming at the not-quite-right person?


How to find your Right People


1. Get clear on your message and the benefits of your thing (see last week’s email)


2. Communicate this everywhere on your site and in your descriptions.


3. Define the person who will need this. 

Where else does she shop?

What does she love?

How does she talk?

    (I’ve got worksheets to help you do this in this class)


4. Figure out where she is. 

What is she reading, listening to, or watching?

Where is she the moment she decides to buy what you sell?

Where does she go to look for your thing?


5. Go there.


Once you go there, where they are, you listen to them. You find out how they talk, what they’re searching for and how your thing changes their life. You ask questions. You make connections. You, above all, show them that you are a real person and that you are longing to serve them.


Who are your Right People? Where are they at? Share in the comments!


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

On The Reality of Working With Artisans A World Away


This is a guest post from Harper Poe. For four years, she has been leading Proud Mary, an online shop that brings gorgeous handmade goods from Guatemala and South Africa to consumers all over the globe.  Lovely throw pillows, sweet bags and neck ties + fair wages and professional development = win/win.  You can befriend her on Twitter or Facebook.


The most challenging part of my business is timing. Working with artisans in developing countries is extremely rewarding but with the rewards come a healthy dose of stress in regards to getting the products from the producer’s to our warehouse in time to send to retailers.


For example, we work with three different weaving groups, two sewing cooperative and a pom-pom cooperative in Guatemala. Our production goes through the following phases:  weaving fabric (this takes up to three weeks), at the same time the pom-poms makers start putting together by hand the pom-poms, then sending the fabric and finished pom-poms to the sewing groups to make the final products (bags, pillows), delivering final products to warehouse in Guatemala City, then to our storage facility in Charleston, SC. 


With each extra step there is room for something to go wrong.  In Guatemala most of our artisans take buses for town to town to deliver their part of the pie. Sometimes roads are down or buses are not running. This is all part of it so; to alleviate stress the key is to add time when you’re giving retailers a lead-time.  They should understand that unlike producing in a factory all of our goods are hand made throughout the entire production process. Humans make errors, humans have personal emergencies, humans forget.  Handmade is not perfect.  We will always try our best to deliver our goods on time but recognizing and appreciating the fact that “things happen” and it will get done (maybe not according to your initial plan) will keep you sane. 


Some practical ways to manage the process is to have a facilitator on the ground in the country where you are producing.  Our facilitators keep up with our production, update us on the status of our orders, and help arrange shipping.  We just started working with a small weaving group in the highlands of Peru.  Our facilitator is an amazing young lady who discovered the cooperative while doing a grad school project on environmental issues in Peru.  She was so taken by the group of weavers that she decided to work with them seeking out designers to collaborate with and get their goods out of Peru to other markets.  She is extremely passionate but also extremely efficient and organized, a perfect combination.




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

Snapshot:: Luminology


Inspired by the modern, peaceful beauty of over-sized cement fire pits, Angela Sands set out to design a miniature version to bring her love for the outdoors inside the four walls of her home. With porcelain as the vessel and scented soy wax for fuel, a large wooden wick creates the soothing crackle we’ve all grown to love. The result, Luminology,  is a unique and natural candle that engages multiple senses and inspires celebration in the everyday.  You can befriend her on Facebook and Twitter.

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


What comes to mind are two art installations I did kind of last minute - by the seat of my pants. I framed a large square piece of sod and hung it in an indie art gallery. Super simple yet it had a lot of impact. I thought it looked great in contrast to all the paintings.

I did another installation around that same time with fine gauge string. I wrapped the string, starting at one floor-to-ceiling column to another that spanned maybe 20 feet, spacing the string about 2" vertically all the way up. It created a wall you couldn't see right away but once you noticed it, it stopped you in your tracks.



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


I don't feel I've received bad business advice thus far. I've received a lot of great business advice! The advice I need seems to shows up for me when I need it to. Maybe I have received bad advice and I just haven't realized it yet!



What was the biggest entrepreneurial epiphany of your career?


The most important thing I've learned thus far is that, in any given situation, no matter how utterly hopeless or complicated things may seem, the simple act of making a decision will always move you forward. Decision making has been the hardest thing for me to feel confident about. I finally did something radical and decided that there is no such thing as a bad decision. Even deciding to do nothing is valid. From this point of view, I am free to make decisions without fear. Things move along quite nicely.



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


Lisa Jones

Ann Hartley


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


I have three:

1. Give what was freely given to you (advice, inspiration, time, etc.). In other words, share!

2. Realize that people buy the story behind the product before they buy the product itself. It's usually not about the money.

3. Make everything as simple as possible. But not simpler. ~ Einstein

Thanks for sharing, Angela!


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: Marketing Basics


This week I wrote about  the very first steps of marketing your indie business crafting your message. Today I’d like to share the best advice from around the web on making a clear, concise marketing message that can guide everything else you do.


CopyBlogger’s Marketing Basics include describing features, not benefits and making your marketing indespensible.


Improve your message by starting with why.


Megan Auman has a great tip:

Use customer feedback to refine your marketing message”


And if you’re thinking about changing up your message, remember that Seth Godin warns:

“Most of the time, creative entrepreneurs lose interest long before their marketing message loses its power.”


Write it, refine it and find new ways to share it.

And while you’re at it, share your message (or your favorite link of the week), in the comments.


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.

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