Vianza Blog

Exclusively For Wholesale Brands And Retailers

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profitable tips for designers + indie retailers

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, mingzhuhii.net, 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 CraftyPod.com. 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.

 

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) vianza.com.

 

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.

 

String/ribbon

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.

 

 

Labels!

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.

 

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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