Vianza Blog

Exclusively For Wholesale Brands And Retailers


profitable tips for designers + indie retailers

by Sarah Von

Snapshot :: Kri Kri Studio


Kristin Nelson’s ceramics have been carried in stores like Barney’s for almost 15 years.  Kristin recently added a new line of dishes to her range and enjoys kayaking and learning new languages when she’s not firing up the kiln.  You can follow more of her adventures on her blog.



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

Making things is my life, so it is impossible for me to choose a most favored or prized creation. This doesn’t mean that I don’t have them though! It’s just that they are continually changing. While decorating multitudes of ceramics with my Kri Kri creatures, an extra super cute one pops out every now and then. That one will be hard for me to part with it for a day or two, but I comfort myself with the knowledge that someone else will be able to treasure it and then I move on.

If pressed, I will admit that I once made a circle skirt of ochre velvet, trimmed with mink and embellished with a rich turquoise, vintage braid. It hit at the knee and was very swingy. It looked great with boots. And, there was a pair of very, very tiny red ceramic mittens that I once gave to my husband when he wasn’t feeling well.



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

I have been fortunate to have received only good business advice and lots of it. Don’t be afraid to ask people with experience and knowledge. They usually love to share it.


What was the biggest entrepreneurial epiphany of your career?

Learn to delegate. There are others out there who are very capable who have different skills and can do things that you need to have done. When you are ready for it, hiring an employee can really help take your business to a new level. Free yourself up to maximize your creative energy!


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

Jil Smith at Insatiable Studios

Lauren Grossman’s Great Balls Fire jewelry

Kitten chops

What's the best way to navigate the world of wholesale?

I try to design my products so that they are efficient and cost effective to produce. That helps me to keep a competitive price point and assures that I earn a profit.

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

Try to identify what it is that inspires you and what makes your products unique. Have fun cultivating and developing this in your everyday life. If your passion is genuine, you will enjoy your job of creating and you will pass that positive energy on.

Thanks so much for sharing, Kristin!


Photo Credits :: Kri Kri Studios


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 :: Package Your Product For Wholesale


This week we had two different takes on packaging your product. On Tuesday, Julie Mack shared how to package a product you’re sending to your customer and on Wednesday, Amy Crook shared her process of picking her wholesale packaging.



In my experience, there are very few sources for information on packaging a product for your indie retailers, but I’ve rounded up the best:


How to Design the Perfect Packaging on Design*Sponge.



ShimTokk is a blog filled with packaging ideas (their most recent posts are holiday packaging, but be sure to scroll back a bit to see everything).


Devising a winning package for your product on CNNMoney.



5 people to consider when packaging your product on MogulMom.


How do you package your product for the boutique shelves? Share in the comments!


by Megan Prentiss

Help Your Customer Value What You Do


Let’s face it – it can be really difficult for creative makers to pinpoint the value they deliver. We’re not necessarily making people’s lives easier or improving performance to accomplish a critical task (although finding a designed item that makes you look more stylish or adds the perfect touch to any room can provide someone with great source of relief.) Mostly, you exist to delight.

Defining your value in plain terms, however, is critically important. It can set the direction, which will help you develop a stronger relationship with your design-conscious audience and resonate with them in a way that sets you apart. Defining your customer value also helps you to decide who is your best customer and how to reach them through communications and distribution channels.

And 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.

Many of us could use a little help in deciding how to describe the value of your creative product, though. So here are a few concepts to help think through this exercise:


What are all the reasons why customers have chosen you?


Can you rank them in any order of meaningful customer importance?


Several elements of your product offering may cater to your customers’ needs.


For example, are you all about a customized item that’s tailored for individuals?


Does your item simply stand out because of its superior design?


Is the use of your item for status – that is, does it help your customer display himself or herself as particularly trendy, wealthy or wise?


Do you exist as a lower-price alternative?

Sara Seumae started her all-organic clothing line made in Seattle, called SPUN, to offer affordable layering pieces and jersey basics that radiate with style. Her belief is that quality organic clothing should be more accessible without compromising her customer’s fashion sensibility. As a result, she’s carved out a great niche in the marketplace so more people can afford her designed items to enjoy.


For whom are you creating value?


Grouping your most important customers will help you make decisions about who to target.  It’s highly unlikely that they share broadly similar needs with no geographic or socio-economic difference. So your work is to discern their specialized requirements and characteristics.

Once you’ve determined the answers to these questions, the insight can help you figure out the best ways for your audience to discover you and evaluate your worthiness.


So next week, we’ll address how. Until then, please send me a note if you have any questions at megan.prentiss (at)


What makes your product or brand stand out? Share your insights in the comment!


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. 


by Tara Swiger

Indie Business 101 :: Retail vs Wholesale Packaging


This is a guest post by Amy Crook, an artist and graphic designer, who makes whimsical cartoons and original abstract art, and sells handmade greeting cards and monster-themed coloring books retail and wholesale.


In addition to selling my handmade cards direct to buyers, I've started selling them wholesale to a small selection of brick-and-mortar stores. This has presented two different packaging challenges, with different costs and benefits for each of my solutions.


First up, Mail Order (aka direct to customer retail):




Here you can see everything that goes with one of my cards when I sell it online:

● The card itself, with my info printed on the back
● A matching A7 envelope
● A post-it note thanking them for their specific purchase, which also serves as their receipt
● Two mini Moo cards with art on the front, and my info on the back
● A larger, high-quality A7.1 outer envelope
● Shop-appropriate return address labels
● A sticker on the back flap of the envelope


The card and matching envelope are the only thing consistent between the two packages. For the retail packaging, the specialty outer envelopes cost about 50 cents apiece, and the postage is another 44 cents, so I'm already paying an unavoidable $1 in shipping. The Moo cards are 20 cents each, the stickers are about that as well, and the post-its are a negligable cost ($4 for a giant stack, though I'm running low!). Overall, I spend about $2, out of the $6 retail price, on materials, including cards and ink.


The benefits I get out of this packaging are a memorable branding experience that's consistent and positive, with a hand-touched feel that's people expect from buying from an artist. I can charge more than Hallmark because my cards have a very luxurious feel to them that I carry through to the packaging, so the buyer's whole experience is one of individual, handmade care. The sticker even does double duty to make sure the envelope doesn’t come open in the mail.



For wholesale, the packaging is much simpler:




You can see the card back branding here, which hopefully leads some recipients to become customers in the future.


The wholesale packaging includes:
● The card itself
● The matching envelope
● A plastic outer sleeve to protect the card from shelf wear
● A small slip of paper indicating what's printed inside (most are blank, some are not)


This time, out of the $3 I'm getting per card, I'm only spending about 50 cents each on materials. I also include a printed invoice for most wholesale orders, and a thank-you card, though spread out over the price of the order those are usually negligible costs. The “inside” paper is extra work, but it helps reduce shelf wear for the retailer, so people are less inclined to pull the cards out of their sleeves and get them dinged or dirty.


Both methods of selling have a built-in labor overhead, which accounts for the rest of the difference in pricing. I have to write out the note for each retail card I send, print and package a single card, address the envelope, and get it out to post. With wholesale, I can print the cards in batches, there's less assembly, and the buyer pays for the shipping. I usually hand-deliver to local businesses, which reinforces my branding and gets me out of the house.


A handwritten thank-you note gives both wholesale and retail buyers a feeling that I thought of them specially, and they aren't just part of an assembly line.


When considering your wholesale vs. retail packaging, keep in mind the following:

● How will the retailer display your product? Can you make this easier for them?
● Will your product have a long shelf life or be returnable, and if so, how can your packaging minimize shelf wear?
● How does the additional packaging add to your costs? Where do you save?
● Does the decrease in labor (batching, fewer handwritten notes) for a wholesale order, match the lower price that retailers pay for your product?

And finally, are all parts of all of your packaging reinforcing your brand?



Share your packaging solutions (or questions) in the comments!

Photo Credits :: Amy Crook


by Sarah Von

How To Package And Ship A Delightful Product


Designer and knitter Julie Mack of Rotten Cupcakes has been crafting gorgeous handmade goods for years.  And the packaging she uses to ship and promote her products is damn near as cute as her actual goods.  Here she tells us how to create a package that will thrill any customer.  You can befriend her on flickr or facebook.


Every package is a gift. Of course, your customer is excited to receive the awesome handmade product they've ordered but the little extra details and thoughtfulness show just how much you appreciate their business. Every piece of your parcel is a reflection of your brand. The more cohesive and thorough the package, the stronger and more memorable your brand.



Ingredients for the Perfect Package:


Business Cards

(duh!) Seems easy to remember, but that also means they're easy to forget. Make sure you include your business card so your customer can find you again!


Small free gift

It doesn't have to break the bank. Buttons with my logo are my personal favorite (who doesn't like cupcakes?!). Everyone likes a button! I use Busy Beaver and they’re fantastic.  Ordering is a snap, production and delivery are speedy and they save your product for the easiest re-order ever! Other ideas: a note card, stickers, maybe even a teeny sample size of another product in your store.



Tissue Paper

Wrap up that product! Your handmade item should almost never go straight into the shipping container; create a buffer! This is about presenting your product as special and to be taken care of. Other ideas: container within a container, glassine envelopes, simple cellophane sleeves for fine printed materials.



To tie it all together. People tend to gift me with cupcake-themed ephemera; so I use them on packaging. Other ideas: gift ribbon, leftover yarn or pipe cleaner, even cooking twine will work!


Thank you card/ care instructions

To thank your customer for their support and to give them the details on caring for their new item! Since I focus mainly on knitwear, I like to include the materials used and washing instructions on one side of the card & a thank you for buying the product on the other.




All of your products should have your logo/label on them! When asked where they got such a marvelous item, your customer can refer to the label if they can't remember your name off the top of their head. It's just another small detail that really helps polish your product and take your presentation to the next level.


Bonus Tip

Coordinate all of your packaging materials. Stick to one or two colors (usually those found within your brand identity), use the same fonts throughout all your materials and magically everything with coordinate & look more intentional and cohesive.


Buying handmade is not just about the unique and well-crafted items—your customers are investing in you! With the advent of many different marketplaces, it can be difficult to stand out. Your product is amazing but want to spark some loyalty? Do so by going that extra mile—you've taken your time and poured a bit of yourself into that product— send it out into the world with a little love.


How do you leverage packaging to increase brand desirability? Share your tips in the comment!


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 :: Me Two You


Me Two You offers luxuriously soft and stylish baby blankets that are made with the highest quality in the USA.   Me Two You was founded on a simple idea:  With every baby blanket purchased, the company will give a baby blanket to an orphaned child. Lovely!  You can befriend Me Two You on Facebook and Twitter.


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


Whilst at high school (back in the 80’s) I was one of four girls, amongst an army of boys that took metalwork as a subject. I made a 5’ tall wrought iron gate that still hangs with pride in my parent’s garden today.


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


Don’t worry about it; you can only do your best.



What was the biggest entrepreneurial epiphany of your career?


From the first moment that I read an article on TOMS and its one for one business model I knew that I wanted to start a company that would make a difference in the world. Inspired by the adoption of my daughter from China, the idea for Me Two You was born. For every blanket that is purchased, Me Two You will give a baby blanket to an orphaned child.

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


Karen Krieger a wonderful encaustic mixed media artist (multi-layered paintings using pigmented wax combined with other materials and techniques).

Lindsey Lang a textile and ceramic designer from the UK.

Muriel Brandolini a New York based Interior Designer.

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


Deliver what you have promised and ship your product on time.



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


Dream Big, Do Big!



Photo Credits : Me Two You

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:: Sanity and Success


On Wednesday Mita wrote about staying sane after you’ve become successful. There’s a lot of advice on getting successful, but if you’re like many of our users, you’re already rocking it. You’ve got wholesale accounts, positive cashflow, and are working at capacity (or over). The question for you is: how do you maintain the growth without going crazy, working too much, and burning out?


Mita has great tips in this article, and here are a few more, from around the internet:


“If I'm to realize my intentions, what I stop doing is just as important as what I start and continue to do. Stopping = the white space. Stopping = room to run free and create from the deepest place of being without restraint or compromise. Stopping = more time for what matters most.”

-Danielle LaPorte



“When you’re an entrepreneur, who inevitably wears many hats, managing your time can get tricky—especially when it’s tempting to work all day to grow your business. But being successful doesn’t mean being a slave to your work.”

-12 More Ways Successful Entrepreneurs Stay Productive



When you’re just trying to stay on top of everything, creativity and inspiration can be the first thing to go. When that’s the case, check out Elsie’s 5 Tips for Staying Inspired.


What do you do to stay inspired, creative and creating? 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 your IndieBiz for Cooperative Press and she’d love to distract herself by hanging out with you onTwitter.


by Tara Swiger

ILOVE:: Girls Can Tell


I love Girls Can Tell;



the hand drawn aesthetic,



the sense of humor



the way I’ve watched Sarah (who I don’t know + doesn’t know me) grow from a line of tea towels I coveted to a full blown wholesale business AND bricks + mortar retail  store. Watching a designer I admire grow and flourish is always satisfying..and Sarah makes it more so with her oft-updated blog and video-full about page.



Wanna share what you love? Just drop me a line and you can confess your love for a designer.


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


by Mita Patnaik

Successful and Sane  {or, What Happens After You're Officially Successful}  


You're finally there.

You not only defined success for your indie  business, you went ahead and worked for it and yes, reached it. 

 Now that you’ve reached the first milestone, what’s next? How do you sustain the momentum, keep yourself challenged to get to the next level without getting burnt out?


There is no point at which you can say, "Well, I'm successful now.  I might as well take a nap." ~Carrie Fisher


 Getting to the first milestone was a whole lot of blood, sweat and tears. There were parts that you didn’t enjoy doing but it was necessary to keep the business running. You had to bootstrap your business and did not have the resources to get outside help.

But with success comes more responsibilities. It could be in the form of building a brand, scaling production, serving more customers, managing more employees or chasing more sales.


How do you deal with all the additional demands on your time (your most precious asset) that comes with success and increased responsibilities?


How do you keep your sanity by doing less of the not-so-fun parts so you can focus your energies on taking your business to the next level?


Being successful means NOT being a slave to your work.



Stop doing list


I’m sure you already have a long “to-do” list for 2012.  Every year we make resolutions to do more. Have you ever thought about doing less? Jim Collins (author of Good to Great and Built to Last , two of my fav business books) has a great post on why  a "stop-doing" list is as important as a “start-doing” list.


Stop-doing could mean saying no more often


No to customers that give you the least business but demand the most service or never pay you on time.


Stop-doing could also mean re-assessing your priorities.


Does your current business look like something that you would enjoy running for the next 5-10 years? Abby Kerr, was a successful indie retailer when she decided to close shop (not sell) as she was burnt out. It takes a lot of courage to make such decisions, especially when your business is on the up and up. It freed her up to focus on her writing and working with entrepreneurs, which was more meaningful to her.  


What will you stop doing today (what weighs you down), so you can start doing something that is more fulfilling?



Makers vs Managers Schedule


For most entrepreneurs like you that juggle family, a successful business and wear multiple hats, the big question is how to be effective given the multiple demands on your time?


You might schedule your day in terms of “urgent and important” tasks, with the goal to pack the most into your day.  While that works well for managers, that may not work well for creative makers. 


Efficiency does not equal effectiveness.


Paul Graham has an interesting take on the difference between a maker and manager schedule.


In the real world, creatives are both managers and makers. The optimal solution is a blended schedule, where meetings and administrative tasks need to be batched and scheduled into the calendar leaving large chunks of uninterrupted time for “making”. Having certain days dedicated to long term planning or writing or creating where you truly focus on the process and not the outcome, where there are no interruptions – might be when you feel the most satisfied. {Some additional pointers on getting things done and staying inspired can be found here and here}.


What frustrates you most about your schedule? Can delegating tasks instead of doing it yourself help? Will re-arranging the same tasks make you more productive?


Automate the Repeatable


Whether you are an indie retailer or wholesaler, there are moments when you’ve wished that you didn’t have to deal with the mind-numbing administrivia that comes with the deluge of customer orders. This is especially true if you don’t have systems in place to handle the unexpected demand.


Having to re-key all orders faxed/emailed by sales reps, confirming orders based on ship-by dates, tracking fulfillment, invoices & payment, sales rep commissions, product launch calendars etc using spreadsheets and post-it notes especially if your products are made-to-order can be overwhelming.


The more successful your product line or boutique, the more administrivia you have to deal with. Running a successful business is about doing more of the same in a repeatable way.


Automating the repeatable non-creative parts of your business lies at the heart of successfully scaling your business and taking it to the next level. Leveraging technology purpose built for small businesses is the only way to keep your sanity and not get mired in the minutiae of running the business.


What parts of your business can you put on auto-pilot that will save you time and money?



Spend Money to Make Money


Getting organized and increasing productivity by doing less helps keep your sanity but to truly stay successful, you need to invest in people and processes. Starting out as a DIY enthusiast, spending money on getting external help might seem optional. But as you are successful, it is imperative to pay for help and not try and wing it.


From book-keeping to getting a professional website to getting packaging designed for your products to creating your marketing brochures – might all seem like “I can figure it out”. But not only  it might take way more time than you originally thought, it might cost you more in the long run. Being honest about your strengths and building a support system to fill-in-the-gaps in the areas you are not-so-good-at is the winning combination.


What do you enjoy the least about your business? Can you get part time help to take it over?


Having a great product line might have gotten you the initial success. However being successful and staying successful need separate strategies. Staying successful is like running a marathon. 


Putting out great products season after season, that’s profitable and desired by your customers tests your endurance, motivation and creativity.


How do you handle success in your small business without getting burnt out? Share your tips in the comment!


Photo Credits :: Sam IIic


This is the ninth installment of our ongoing  Indie Business101 series. If you’ve missed one, find it here:




by Sarah Von

3 Things Exhibitors Should Know


Megan is a former Project Manager for an exhibit design company and currently works as a jack of all trades from marketing, beekeeper and costume designer. Feel free to email her with your questions at m.wannarka (at)


1. Know your ROI or return on investment

It’s important to understand what you’re putting in to this endeavor and what your expectations are. Don’t feel like you can’t or shouldn’t do a tradeshow, but this mindset will help you focus and brainstorm how you are going to drive more business to your company or product.  Are you planning to track the clients you get from the tradeshow?  How? What marketing materials, furniture, and people do you need to make your space rock?


2. Plan ahead

Tradeshows can have space and contract agreements up to a year ahead of time.  They can usually find you a space a month before depending upon the tradeshow.  Planning makes everything easier, smoother and makes you look much more professional.

Bring someone else with you!  When there are two of your it’s so much easier to eat, take breaks and handle lots of potential clients at once.  Know how you plan to set up your space.  Attend other tradeshows for inspiration, ideas and make contacts before doing your own.  Are there going to be other businesses there you would like to partner with? Make sure to introduce yourself or better yet, see if you can meet with them and go out to dinner.


3. Know your potential customer

Have wholesale prices ready and know your limitations on lead times and fulfillment. But don’t be afraid to think big! What if your dream client walks up to your booth and wants your business?  Expect that and be ready for it.

Try to greet everyone - just being personable drives business. More people in your space attract more people. I really don’t recommend baiting people with candy. But give-away products, like pens with your company name and logo, help the name of your business. 

Also try not to talk to one person too long. You are going to talk lots of people over the 2-3 days.  You’ll be exhausted,  so save your energy and give everyone a little bit. Having a person talk your ear off, even if they are a potential client, will only makes you tired and could miss talking to other more potential clients.



Try to enjoy the show as much as possible; they can be huge and very profitable for a growing or established company.


image credit: incase


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.


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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