Vianza Blog

Exclusively For Wholesale Brands And Retailers


profitable tips for designers + indie retailers

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.


by Sarah Von

Snapshot:: Mary Jurek Designs, Inc


Mary Jurek established Mary Jurek Design Inc. in 1998 after being presented with four international awards and working several years as a jewelry and watch artist designing for notable brands like Tiffany & Co. and Gubelin of Switzerland. You can befriend her on Facebook or catch up on her blog.



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


My entire life has been spent making things by hand so it would be difficult to answer your question.  I think everything has always been really special and fantastic.  Sculpture still is a favorite art medium of mine, so I’d have to say the most prized possession was a large figurative head of a woman that I sculpted out of terracotta in art school.  It’s so stunning that my parents kept it in their home for many years.  Now it’s in mine and still looks amazing!



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


Everyone has some ideas about running a business but I never listened to any of it.  Being an artist was most important to me and I concentrated on the creative process first.  Anyone who says running a business is easy - that’s the worst advice someone could give.



What was the biggest entrepreneurial epiphany of your career?


It took many years of working for other companies to feel ready to go out on my own.  My biggest entrepreneurial epiphany is that my skills were ready and that there is great merit in learning business while doing business.



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


Glass art fascinates me because it takes so much mastery to create the objects quickly.  I like the work of Devin BurgessApril Wagner and Ross Richmond.  There are so many talented designers and little time to see their work.



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


Good customer service along with good design is a winning combination.



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


Never give up on your dream.  The creative process is a personal journey and always has unexpected surprises for you.  The thrill of making something of beauty is the greatest joy in life.


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:: Do it YOUR way in 2012


Just as important as defining what success is for yourself, is figuring out how you’re going to get there. I found 3 posts about planning your business in 2012 that focus on just that:


“Make your own rules and challenge the “best practices.”  Remember it’s your business, your blog, your organization and you have to live with the results. No one ever made a difference by selling themselves short or preaching from the middle of the pack.”

-31 Pro Tips for a Successful, Satisfying, and Insanely Profitable 2012, on Copyblogger



“When it comes to running your business, there are no rules. (There are some laws, but there are no rules.) What works for someone else’s business may not work for yours.”

-4 steps to your business year, on Designing an MBA



“It’s an (annoying!) fact of life that things change. We may have to add, drop or alter projects as new realities emerge.”

-Planning a blue print for the year, on Design Sponge



What’s an ideal 2012 look like for your business? And how are you planning to get it there?




by Tara Swiger

I LOVE :: Old Tom Foolery



Between their clever, snarky cards,



their typographical ode to mustaches,



and their Shakespearan To Do Lists,
 can you NOT love them?


Best yet, the couple (Joel + Lauren) behind Old Tom Foolery are truly just as fun + clever as their cards would have you believe. No foolin’.


And retailers, if you’d like to carry Old Tom Foolery, you can find their wholesale catalog on Vianza.


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 on Twitter.



by Tara Swiger

Indie Business 101 :: Define Success


So far in the Indie Business 101 series, we’ve been talking about the practical steps you take to start  (and grow) your design business. While these  steps are important (and often urgent), just doing what you should do won’t be enough.  It’s easy, once you get in the habit, of getting up every day and setting to work at the tasks in front of you.


Creating products, streamlining production, filling orders, marketing, going to trade shows.

Once you know the basics of setting up your business and getting it going, it’s easy to get swept into the doing.


But what are you being swept to?

What kind of business are you building?
Is it the kind of business you really want to work in and on?


If you’re not sure, that’s ok. Before you know if you’re building the business you want, you first need to define what a successful design business means to you.


Other Definitions


The design world has many examples of success: from the packed trade show booth to landing Anthropologie, to showing up on Martha Stewart.

It’s easy to get caught up in those big dreams, in those outward signs of success.

To think: that’s what I should be moving towards.


But the question remains:


Is that the success YOU want?


If you were in an internet-less bubble, and couldn’t see what all the other designers around you were doing…what would you want from your biz?

It’s very easy (so easy!) to think that what other people are doing is what you should be doing. What they have is what you should want to have.


But would you enjoy spending your time in it?


If not, get real:


Right now, in your journal, or in the comments, or on Twitter - spill it:


What does your dream business look like?
Where do you go (or not go)?
Where are your goods sold?
Where do you spend your time? And on what activities?


Tara Swiger is our Community Wrangler, a crafter of independence, and a Starship Captain. if you wanna define your own success and then work towards it, she’s got a Map-Making Guide to help you do just that.

by Sarah Von

The Wonderful World of Wholesale Pricing


This is a guest post by AmyTangerine. She has been working in style and design for 10 years.  Recently she combined her powers with crafting company extraordinaire American Crafts to create a gorgeous line of scrapbooking goods.  Here she talks about how she navigated the world of wholesale pricing while staying true to herself and her vision.  Want to read more of her story?  Check out her blog or say hi on Twitter

Over a decade ago, I began hand crocheting arm warmers so I could wear them on outdoor photo shoots. At the time, I was working as a freelance fashion stylist in Atlanta. I happen to wear them into a boutique opening party, and the owners fell in love with them. They were interested in placing an order, and as soon as I got over the giddiness of possibly selling these, I had to figure out a few things. What would people pay for these unusual accessories and what amount did I need to charge to make sure I was covering my costs?


Welcome to the wonderful world of wholesale pricing.


To help determine what I was going to charge for the arm warmers, I asked a few people in the business for some advice. Ideally, the basic formula consists of adding your cost of materials to your labor costs and then doubling that number to arrive at your wholesale price.  For example, a pair of arm warmers cost $2.00 in yarn and took 2 hours to make. If I were to find someone who would be able to make it for $8-$10 an hour, then the cost would be $18-$22. So after doubling, the wholesale price would be $36-$44. At first I thought this was just too much, but couldn’t figure out a way to get around this, as it was a hand-made item. Reassured by a couple mentors, I decided on a wholesale price of $37. Retailers typically do between a 2-3 times mark up.

Upon delivery, I told the store that the price, and they didn’t flinch. They sold them at $78 a pair, and while that seemed a bit outrageous to me, the moment I delivered them, a pair was sold right out of the bag.


Some things to keep in mind:


* Covering your costs is important, and since this is a business, so is making money.


* It’s okay to reduce or raise your price a little bit, so long as you are comfortable with the number.

It’s important to not price yourself out of the competition, but not covering your costs would be counterproductive.


* Be realistic and avoid getting too attached to what you are trying to sell.

While it’s important to be proud of your product, ultimately the focus should be on making it a viable sale. I don’t think I could have commanded a $78 price for my arm warmers on my own, the fancy boutique felt confident in doing so and were covering their costs and making profit as well.


In the spring, it was time to make a different product. I decided to take tank tops and add hand-embroidered flowers to them. They were all one-of-a-kind and took 3 hours to make. While selling them to a handful of boutiques was nice, the way to get more reach would be to attend a tradeshow. I kept this in the back of my mind while still pursuing styling jobs. When a call came in from a store buyer telling me that Cindy Crawford was in Glamour Magazine wearing one of the tanks, I knew it was time to take it to the next level.


After some research, I submitted an application to a juried tradeshow called Workshop NY. It was a smaller show held at Chelsea Market that focused on international emerging designers. Thankfully I was chosen and I immediately had to scramble to start planning for it.  I didn’t know I was ready, but I had to jump at the opportunity.



Don’t do as I did and scramble at the last minute. Instead, try these tips:


* Start planning early.


* Know all your costs involved early and make decisions based on a reasonable budget.

If you know you might go, book the hotel ASAP. You can usually cancel up to 24 hours prior.


* Make a lot of lists to stay organized.


* Take your time to do things right.

Rushing often leads to little careless mistakes that can add up and affect your bottom line.


* Make your samples as best as you can.


* Be armed with plenty of marketing material.

Even if you are on a tight budget, it is really important to have proper business cards and order forms. Make the duplicate or triplicate order forms and bring lots of clipboards and pens.


* Spend a little time and money planning your booth space, but ultimately the most important thing is your product.

Make it visible and make the buyers want to place their orders right there at the show.


* Be prepared to work hard, have fun, and smile!



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:: JHill Design


Jennifer Hill’s gorgeous designs chronicle ‘Places I Have Never Been’ appealing to the armchair tourist in all of us. When not designing prints of far-flung locales she enjoys tacos, patterns and her wee son Charley Arcade. You can befriend her on Twitter or Facebook.


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


 "Go with your gut." I think you should take your gut into consideration but always make sure you pair it with what your head. I've done things based on what my gut was telling me, but if I had looked at the numbers and thought about it a bit more I probably would have made a better decision.



What was the biggest entrepreneurial epiphany of your career?


Once I realized that both your life and career are long, I stopped being in such a rush to accomplish everything immediately. I became more settled and started enjoying the process of building a business more.


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


I think being accommodating and working with retailers is a great thing.  Being a small business I can do that relatively easily. If someone wants a smaller order, a specialized order, or something right away we try to always make it happen.



What’s your best advice for making the leap to selling wholesale?

You want to make sure that the store has the right audience, neither you nor the store owner wants your goods languishing on the shelves. Talk to the store owner and find out what their customers are looking for and how your line can fit in best.



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


Don't build a mansion when all you need is a house. Start small, test ideas, and build as you go. Your downfalls and mistakes will hurt less and they will lead to better overall results in the future.


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 :: Year End Edition


In this, the last post, and the last Masterlist of 2011 (Vianza's first year!), I want to round-up EVERYTHING awesome from the last year. Most Masterlists link to our favorite posts on other sites, and while we've got some of that, I also wanted to remember our own hits from this year.


And if you want to review your own 2011, we've got links to our favorite year-end-review guides.


Business Help for Designers


How to Sell Your Work To Designers – in this free book, we collected the best posts from Abby Kerr, former indie retailer, as she shared her secrets to getting your work into indie retailers.

Growing past DIY

IndieBiz 101 series


Business Advice for Indie Retailers


More White Space: How to Style your Boutique

The trifecta of retail greatness

Your retail concept


Your favorites (as evidenced by Twitter)


Working for yourself without going broke or crazy

Masterlist :: Get out of the sweatshop

How to make your website look like a million bucks



Review your own year


- Vianza's Year End Review for your Indie Business, part 1 and part 2

- Susannah Conway’s free guide to Unravelling the Year.

- Chris Guillebeau's Annual Review



Wishing you a Happy New Year!


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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