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profitable tips for designers + indie retailers

by Jen Wallace

Indie Boutique Guide: Get Customers in Your Shop

Can your brick and mortar shop be described as the best kept secret in your town/city? Would you rather be described as the most well-known shop? Of course you would, but how to go about getting that moniker? Think about your shop as more than a place to buy stuff, but more as a destination by throwing events to draw the public in.

Here are some suggestions for new approaches to bringing customers into your shops.

Organize trunk shows with local designers who will set up for an evening in your shop. Your shop will get a portion of the sales (usually 50%) and as a bonus you can require that the designers send out a notice to their own mailing list.
Think about having weekend musical entertainment, along with some wine and nibbles, of course. Obviously you'd want to choose something that would be a good fit with your clientele, but some ideas include: a jazz guitarist, singer/songwriters, an acoustic indie band or a classical trio. Aspiring musicians are always looking for places to play. A good place to start looking would be the local university.

Beauty is Pain Party

Image Credit: Sireneflux

Also, consider having events like a fashion show, “girls night out”, poetry night or open-mic night.
Host off beat entertainers like a sketch artist, palm readers, burlesque dancers, belly dancers, etc.
Put together how-to events where some of your local artists/crafters/designers come in and offer a basic tutorial on their area of expertise.

Image Credit: craftivist collective

By the same token, organize demonstration nights where your artists come in and demonstrate how they make their work.
Partner with local sororities, roller derby groups, dance troupes, theater groups, and craft mafias for fund-raising nights.
Organize planned shopping nights with other local businesses for holidays and other special occasions, e.g. Valentine's Day shopping night or a Twelve Days of Holiday shopping. Each business can offer a discount or other promotion and include entertainment, door busters, promotion gift bags and more.

Image Credit: StyleLine Magazine

In the same vein, plan sidewalk sales on those big event weekends in your town/city.
Or consider setting up a booth at those larger community, community days, founders' day or homecoming events.
Think of your shop as an art gallery and plan “openings” for special new lines that you add.

If you are going to be planning any of these or other events, you will want to get a e-mail list together. Every time customers come into your store, give them an opportunity to sign up. Constant Contact and iContact are two services I've used in the past to manage my e-mail marketing lists.


Feature image credit: LIFE BY TAVIN

Jen Wallace shares her indie life at Indie Fixx where she writes about making, creating, cooking, learning, playing, loving, and pretty much anything else that strikes her fancy.

by Tara Swiger

MasterList:: Move That Product


If you're a retailer, either online or bricks and mortar (or both!), no matter how well you plan and manage your inventory, you're going to have a problem.  You will, undoubtedly, discover one product that just doesn't move.
Instead of slashing prices and cursing the loss, try some of these tips:

“- Feature the item on your website’s home page.
- Pitch the item to magazines, blogs and local media.  Be creative and offer suggestions for the item.  Is there a holiday coming up that this item would make a great gift for?  Pitch it!
- Create a newsletter showing all the ways you can use the item.”

-Piper Toth

“Try changing the location of the items in your display first to see if that will help spur some interest.”
-Carol Shroeder, in Made You Look!

The psychology of pricing is fascinating. Did you know that studies have shown that “when the prices were listed with the dollar sign, customers spent less. Conversely, when the dollar sign was absent, they tended to spend more.”

If you are going to lower those prices, do it slow, because:

“According to a study conducted by Kenneth J. Wisniewski from the University of Chicago, when the price of margarine dropped from 89 cents to 71 cents at a local grocery chain, sales improved by 65%. But when the price fell two cents more to 69 cents, sales jumped by an astounding 222%! Two pennies are worth a lot.”
-Psychology Behind the Sweet Spot in Pricing, Fast Co.

What do you do with a product that’s just not selling well? 


by Piper Toth

Inventory Part 3 - When Merchandise Doesn’t Sell


This is a three-part series of posts looking at the nuts & bolts of inventory.  You can read Part 1 here & Part 2 here.


We’ve talked about the ins and outs of buying inventory in Part1(in a nutshell, be conservative & don’t overbuy.)  We then discussed the importance of keep track of your inventory in Part2.  But what happens when, even though you’ve been careful not to load up on inventory, you still aren’t able to sell an item?


You’ve done the research, you have a feeling that your right people would just adore this item as much as you do.  And, okay, maybe you’ve fallen in love with this item.  With excitement, you list them online and then...nothing.  They just won’t move.  Has this happened to you before?


Before feeling that pinch of anxiety, know that there are things you can do. 


The first thing is to realize that you have some important data now on what will or won’t sell.  Analyze the item something that customers want to be able to see & touch?  Is the item heavy and shipping is now too expensive?  Is the item itself not in the price range that is typical for your customer?  Keep in mind that this will help you make future buying decisions and that’s always a good thing! 


The next thing to do is to get creative - brainstorm all the ways in which you can move this item.  From the easy (put it on sale) to the more intricate (pop up shop), there are lots of ways to generate interest in a particular item. 


To give you an example, one of the things I was excited to sell were candles - let’s just say that I am a candle fanatic!  Well, wouldn’t you know it - they were a slow mover.  But who doesn’t love a candle, right?  Once I got over the emotion, I really thought about it.  I looked at the questions I would get from customers and they all seemed to fit under one sentiment...”what does it smell like?”  Even though I had a description on the product page, customers still wanted that up close experience.  Perhaps it’s a matter of describing the scent in a different way - through images or memories.  Or maybe trial sizes are needed so that customers can get samples to test.


Remember - be creative.  And realize that at the end of the day, you may have to make that decision to get rid of that item.  You may love it but if it’s not selling, it’s not selling. 


Some ideas to get you started on moving merchandise:


- Feature the item on your website’s home page.

- Pitch the item to magazines, blogs and local media.  Be creative and offer suggestions for the item.  Is there a holiday coming up that this item would make a great gift for?  Pitch it!

- Put it on sale

- Hold a pop up shop with a local store so that customers can see the item in person.

- Create a newsletter showing all the ways you can use the item.  Customers love that!

- Get testimonials from people who have bought and love the item and post these quotes on the product page.


How do you move products? 

Tell us in the comments!


Image via Creature Comforts 



Piper Toth happily traded the corporate world for the online world when she opened her online boutique,one sydney road. She authors the blog of the same name where she waxes poetic on the crazy roller coaster ride that is entrepreneurship!


by Tara Swiger

A 3 part plan for building a business that supports a family


This is a Guest Post by Kate Gatski. She and her husband have been full time artists for nearly 10 years. Kate was raised by a full time crafter of 30 years. She is sharing her secrets in a project called, “All Craft. Real Income; Recipe for Making your Art Pay.”


It’s 7am. You wake up and get the coffee rolling. Your grab a mug and sip. About 12 minutes later, you settle in at your desk. There’s a timer there and you set it for 30 minutes.


You write a thank you note, scan your email (reply to anything that takes 3 minutes or less) and do a quick “like, like, like” on facebook.  Ding!  Write down any lingering thoughts (figure out a price for that custom life sized antelope head). Move on. Make something.


What does it take to support a family of five for 10 years with art & craft?


What does it take for craft to pay all its own business expenses, all living expenses including insurance and retirement, fund business growth and make a profit for future business (and fun) opportunities? It takes about 1 hour every day. 


It takes letting go of archaic ideas and a full embrace of three things

1. Planning

2. Seeking opportunities and

3. Relating to your people.


There is a recipe. It is about developing a daily practice. It is less about specific actions (in the beginning) and more about your effort. Eventually your actions will flow perfectly in sync with your plan.


How does it work?


Take a specific amount of time, I recommend 30 minutes to 1 hour each day. You will write a plan (if you do not have one already). You will ask yourself questions like, “What do I want my craft to pay for (retirement, new house, travel)? How much do I think it will take? Do I enjoy being around people? What motivates me- creative challenges, recognition or independence?”  Your plan will detail your dreams and include lists of possible actions.


Having a plan is not a revelation to you.
Make one.
Keep it nearby.


Now, connect with your people. In the beginning, we used good old-fashioned mail – a postcard, a newsletter, a catalog. These days, we’re going digital. No matter the method, reach out and relate. Think about what is it about you, work or your life that would be useful to someone else? Offer tips, inspiration and bits of humor. Make a small effort towards this end every day.


Now, seek a new opportunity.

This is a practice. It might be a simple as doing a google search.  Instead of waiting for things to happen to you; you are making them happen for you. You will soon be able to evaluate a new opportunity it in about 60 seconds. Does it fit your plan? Does it have future potential? How much time will it take?

A steadfast commitment to these three things (planning, opportunities and relating to people) will pay.


There will be up and down days. Some projects will take many days. Refer to your plan, remain diligent and when the timer ding’s – Move on! Make something.



Image credits: Kate Gatski



by Jen Wallace

Photography Tips That Will Get You More Product Views from Customers


You've got the products, you've got the website and you've got the traffic, but still customers aren't biting...and you're not sure why!?


 Have you considered the quality of your product images? It doesn't matter how awesome a product is in person, if you can't represent that to customers, they just aren't going to shop.

As a blogger, time and time again I am contacted by shops pitching their products to me, and too many times I'm disappointed by the quality of the photography in those pitches. It's downright frustrating. And, I've felt this disappointment as a customer too. I know we all have.



So, how can you make sure that your photography is showing your products in their best light?


Here are some DOs and DON'Ts and examples of the best practices below each tip.

First of all, I cannot stress the importance of lighting. Natural light is better and so too is avoiding harsh shadows.


image credit: Makool Loves You


Show products in use to give customers in use.


Most importantly, it makes it easier for customers to imagine adding your product to their lives. It can also add some context for the item, especially for things that it may be difficult to tell what it is, e.g. is it a bracelet or a necklace? Photograph clothing on a model, a tea set on a table with tea and crumpets and letterpress stationery on a desk with a pen.



image credit: YOKOO


Get creative with your angles. Don't just shoot your product head on. You want to offer as much detail as possible for customers to fall in love with.


image credit: Kristiana Parn



Include a variety of photos for customers to look—an in-use photo, a close-up and several showing different angles or to show special features.


image credit: Ferntree Studio



Use a macro setting to show more detail.


image credit: nestdecorating



Consider staging your photographs and including props for visual interest.


image credit: Three Potato Four Shop


If shooting products in a traditional studio setting, use consistent backgrounds or make them artfully different, e.g. all white or all patterned fabric.


image credit: rubygirl jewelry


Above all else, do not use dark or blurry photos or photos where clearly the color is off. If your photos did not turn out, try again another day. It will make a difference.



image credit: vadjutka


Finally, if you aren't a good photographer, consider hiring a pro or get a talented friend to help you out. Or investigate working with a student or new photographer who wants to build up their portfolio. Also, bartering goods and services for photography services is always a good option.


Feature Image Credit:  Ink & Spind

Jen Wallace shares her indie life at Indie Fixx where she writes about making, creating, cooking, learning, playing, loving, and pretty much anything else that strikes her fancy.




by Sarah Von

Indie Boutique Guide: LA


Rachel Andersson is an LA fashion and branding consultant.  She’s also knows her way around an indie boutique like nobody’s business.  You can befriend her on Twitter.



A plus R equals L.A.’s most captivating independent home decor shop (and visual nerd’s paradise). Design and culture junkies Andy and Rose are not only L.A. style icons, but also curate a flawless mix of modern and retro-modern pieces; in their words, “from clocks to carafes, slippers to stuffed toys, and baubles to bright lights, the constant is design that charms, functions and inspires.” A+R’s selection of Pantone homewares, DIY cardboard animals, mod glassware and impossibly cool speaker systems brings big and small names from all over the design world to the Venice storefront (not to mention their popular webstore).


An Indie Boutique in Los Angeles, CA




E.P.I.C., or the Echo Park Independent Co-op for long, is an eclectic, contemporary boutique on the ground floor of Echo Park’s historic Jensen’s Rec Center. It features solely independent designers living and working in L.A., as well as focusing on eco-friendly & ethically made items, and its selection of women’s and men’s clothing and accessories is perhaps the most avant-garde and fashion-forward available to L.A.-philes. E.P.I.C. gets points for promoting local bands and artists too, and the store itself is an oasis of minimal cool that eastsiders treasure – plus, their logo is two bunnies high-fiving.


An Indie Boutique in Los Angeles, CA




A lovely Silverlake boutique specializing in hand-selected clothing, apothecary, and home decor. Shopping here makes you into one of those chicly unreal women who wears small French labels and local artisan jewelry, and has collections of quaint things like old keys artfully arranged next to pussywillows in a handmade vase in her 1920s apartment that smells of organic candles.


An Indie Boutique in Los Angeles, CA




The best little paperhouse in Venice! Urbanic Paper Boutique is where all the event planners, wedding gurus and paper junkies go for their darling letterpress cards, stylish paper goods, sweet crafty gifts, gift wrap for days, hip desk accessories and custom stationery. Somehow manages to straddle that elegant/charming line with grace (and an abundance of ways to say “Happy Birthday” in print).


An Indie Boutique in Los Angeles, CA




Yolk’s motto is “Free Range Design,” and it’s not just punny, it’s true – this gem of a shop goes to the ends of the earth to offer all things charming for the home (the owner is Swedish, so there’s a focus on Sweden’s iconic designs, but you’ll see pieces sourced from Portugal, India, New Zealand… and even L.A.). After you fuel up with a latte from nearby coffee haven LAMILL, the Yolk folk will help you find a handmade wallet for the man who has everything, a Milanese beaded necklace for your mother, adorable wall art for the new baby, and those robin’s-egg-blue dishes you’ve been eyeing. The ultimate one-stop gift shop!


An Indie Boutique in Los Angeles, CA


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:: Stay Fresh Stay Inspired


In the middle of running your indie business - filling orders, shipping, answering emails - it can be hard to stay inspired and stay fresh, let alone gather enough inspiration to create a new product or a new line.


In preparation for this weekend, here’s the best of the web on staying inspired:


“Take a walk with your camera. Whether walking in the woods, down Main St., or along the streets of NYC you are bound to find something that inspires you while looking trough the photographer's lens. “

-Jen Wallace


(also inspiring - your Instagram stream of everyone else’s walks!)


“If you’re a creative type – artist, writer, maker of awesome things – you probably have a hard time squashing your creative instincts to focus on business. Who wants to worry about crunching numbers, answering email or marketing when there are beautiful things to create? Luckily, you can carve out the willpower to take care of all the aspects of your business without losing your creative spirit! “

-Justine Smith, for Outright


It takes a while before we truly, deeply learn that available time (by itself) is one of the worst gauges for our capacity. We have more time in the day than we have energy and attention, and this truth bears out substantially with the “just one more project” mentality.”

-Charlie Gilkey



How do you balance creativity and business? 



by Piper Toth

Inventory Part 2 – What You Might Not Know


This is a three-part series of posts looking at the nuts & bolts of inventory.  You can read the first post here.


When I was starting my store, it took me hours of searching to find out how much inventory an online store should start with.  There are so many different thoughts & figures on this concept that you can end up more confused then ever!  For brick & mortar stores, this is typically a fairly simple formula - it’s all based on the square footage of your store front and the average sales per square foot in that area. For online stores, finding that sweet spot, the amount of inventory to have in stock, feels a bit like a stab in the dark!


A good starting point for inventory for an online store is 3 months inventory.


This means carrying what you estimate you would sell in a 3 month time period.  When you’re first starting out and even when you’ve been open a few years, estimating sales can be a tricky thing - it’s a bit of research & data along with making guesses and assumptions. 

That’s okay - it’s the only way to learn and grow.  If you start off conservatively with inventory (like I mentioned in the first post - don’t overbuy!) then you’ll likely not feel the pinch.


You need to keep track of your inventory.


 For many of you, this might bring up visions of calculations & spreadsheets & data, OH MY!  But it truly doesn’t have to be that hard.  All it takes is some time up front to get your system set up and then make sure you spend time regularly keeping it updated.  For me, this is a quarterly task.  I do a count of my inventory and adjust my shopping cart system for any returns, giveaways and damages.


Most shopping cart systems have an inventory component.  This will likely involve a few hours set up and then you’ll be good to go.  The important thing is to keep up with inventory - don’t make the mistake I did and find out at the end of the year when you go to file your taxes that you need to have an ending inventory dollar amount...aka Cost of Goods Sold.  What?!  That’s not something they tell you upfront!  I had to go back and recreate 2 months of items coming in & out - and I was lucky it was only 2 months!  Let me tell you, after a week of working on that, I’ve since made sure to make inventory a part of my regular tasks!


Let’s put it this way -  start tracking inventory as soon as you start buying and you’ll save yourself time, money and the need for stressballs! 


Now I want to hear from you!  Do you track inventory?  Have you found a system that works for you?



Piper Toth happily traded the corporate world for the online world when she opened her online boutique, one sydney road. She authors the blog of the same name where she waxes poetic on the crazy roller coaster ride that is entrepreneurship!


by Tara Swiger

Be Lean - Experiment on Assumptions


The Lean Startup seems to be on the minds of our team this month, as we get ready to launch the beta version of Vianza. I'm reading the book, Megan went to a lecture about it (at SFMade) and the whole team is (quite naturally) practicing the Lean Startup method as we create, test, get feedback and tweak the platform.


For the next few weeks, we'll be sharing our take on the Lean Startup method and how it can work for all kind of businesses (not just tech start-ups). First, we're going to talk about the principles, and then we'll apply them to your business, whether you're a designer or a indie retailer. 


The first thing to get a handle on before you begin to launch anything new (whether it's your Fall line or a Spring 20% off sale), is Experimentation.  


When you experiment, you test your theories and your assumptions. And when you're done testing, you observe the results - were you right? Where were you wrong? What does that mean for what you do next? And the last step is take what you've learned and turn it into action. What needs to change based on what you've learned?


The author calls this validated learning and it's different from just trying stuff, failing, and moving on. In a useful experiment, you are intentional. You dig up your assumptions and you apply rigorous testing (note: you don't just think about them, you actually try them out).


Why experiment?


Experimenting may take some extra time, but it's well worth it. You'll save time on creating something no one wants. You'll save money on marketing in a way that doesn't reach your right people. You'll save your sanity by knowing, without a doubt, that your new product will sell, or your new promotion will get results.


Get those assumptions.

Don’t just experiment to see what works,  but also all your hidden assumptions. Take the big vision and break it down into its component parts. What are you assuming about each part?


The author points out two common assumptions:


●        the  value hypothesis (that your product or promotion actually delivers value to the customer)

●        the growth hypothesis (that new customers will discover it)


Some common assumptions I find in my work with creative businesses:


●        the price assumption (my customers couldn't afford that!)

●        the Right People assumption (my people are like this, not that)

●        the saturated assumption (when you assume that everyone is reading everything you do-  every tweet, every blog post, every email...and thus that they have already heard your marketing message, and you shouldn't repeat it)

●        the marketing is gross assumption (oh, I could never market, that's so gross!)


The only way to prove (or disprove) these assumptions is to experiment - set up a test, or look at the data you already have (in your web analytics, in response rates, in customer comments).


Most of the people I lead in experiments are completely shocked by what they learn - maybe your highest priced product is your best-selling, or maybe your people never read your blog, so they don't know about your new sale, or maybe they want to hear from you more, not less!



What are the assumptions you're making about your project?

How can you test them?


Tara Swiger is our Community Concierge, a voracious business book reader and a Starship Captain. Her upcoming book, Market Yourself, is all about finding what your people really want. She’d love to know what you’re reading, so tweet tweet

by Jen Wallace

Jump Start Your Creativity


Sometimes creativity just doesn't spark. No matter how late you are on your deadline or how much intention you have to be creative, nothing seems to speak to you. Most of the time these creative funks can be fleeting, but sometimes they hang around for far too long—just like the brother-in-law who crashed for far too long on your couch.


What to do about it?


Here are some ideas that will hopefully help act as a catalyst for moving your through your next creative dry spell.


Take a walk with your camera. Whether walking in the woods, down Main St., or along the streets of NYC you are bound to find something that inspires you while looking trough the photographer's lens.


Visit an art gallery or museum. Seeing the creative endeavors of others can often bring about your own. Just be careful to not be 'too' inspired and cross the line from inspiration to copying.


In the same vein, attend a poetry reading, musical event or even just listen to music while you work. All can have the intended effect of refocusing your own creative juices.


Nature is always a great way to snap out a funk. Whether getting out into the wild or visiting a park or nature conservancy, flora and fauna have a way of capturing our imaginations.


Take a class.Any class will do, but art and craft classes might be a great place to start. Anything could work though: yoga, the history of film, creative writing, language. Think about your local community college or look online—a lot of creative types are sharing online classes. In fact, I took one last year on basic sketching and it was a blast.


Keep a creative diaryin which you can write down or sketch out your inspirations whenever they may strike and then when nothing is striking your fancy, you can look back through your diary for all those ideas you haven't gotten around to yet.


By the same token, keep a mood or inspiration board (or Pinterest board). Fill it with tears from magazines, photos you snap, scraps of fabric, color chips, inspirational sayings that speak to you, postcards or anything really.


Finally, collaborate with other creative types. Work on a project with other creative, join an artist collective, get together for a weekly artist circle, but just make sure to interact with other creative people. They can be both a great resource as well as inspiration.



How do you stay inspired?

What are you going to try next?


Image Credits: Amy Rice

Jen Wallace shares her indie life over at IndieFixx where she writes about making, creating, cooking, learning, playing, loving, and pretty much anything else that strikes her fancy.


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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