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Friday, May 22, 2009

Shop Talk Friday: Breaking the Wallflower Mold

What to Do When Nothing Works

So you’ve done it all. All the “must do” things that are recommended for developing a booming Etsy (or online) store. Twitter account. Facebook page. Project Wonderful ads. Your photos shine, your descriptions are really fabulous, and your customer service would make President Obama feel right at home.

But… you still have no sales.

If you feel like the girl who went all out for the prom, only to have her date come down with the flu, you aren’t alone. In a recession, there are often more wallflowers than dancers at the retail ball. The good news is that there are some things you can do to set yourself apart and attract good customers.
  1. Aim for the Limelight: Offer a discount to your first customer. Or a free gift. Retail stores do this when they open new stores because they know that people can be leery of shopping in a brand new store, and they want the store opening to be a big splash. You can join forces with another new store or one that hasn’t had any sales, and throw a “WallFlowers” party, offering giveaways, discounts, or anything else you think would be a creative draw to customers- the sky is the limit.

  2. Go Offline as well as Online: Sometimes the greatest defense is an offense. Make contacts with consignment stores, flea markets, art fairs, etc to show your work offline as well. Some types of work do best when they can be seen/felt/tried on by the customer, at least at first. So don’t be afraid to make your online presence only one part of your overall business plan. There is a jewelry designer I know who got her start marketing her work in office complexes at lunchtime. Don’t be afraid to look outside the box.

  3. Take a Long Hard Look at the Seasonality of Your Work: Some types of handmade items tend to be seasonal by their very nature, such as Christmas ornaments. Others may be seasonal more by customer association, such as knitted shawls or scarves. It isn’t that they can’t buy now for later use, it is more that they don’t. There is more than one way to tackle this concern. One way is to create products that are more likely to sell right now, such as knitted cozies, tote bags, lacy summer-weight shawls or all-natural face scrubbies. Another way is to expand your product line to include items which correspond with your main work, but are more likely to be bought at any time of year. A basic example of this is pairing knitted creations with yarn/supplies for knitters and crocheters, or offering organic soaps and bath supplies along with your face scrubbies.

  4. What’s Your Zing Factor? Are your products interesting? Do they say “unique and different” or do they look like many other products out there? Zing factor is a hard one to assess on your own, and it can hurt to get an answer to this question. But it bears asking. In the art world, work is called “derivative” if it resembles the work of other, more well-known artists, rather than reflecting the unique mark of the artist who painted the canvas. Does your work reflect you? Are you trying to follow a certain style or type of work without putting YOUR stamp on it? Customers are quick to sense “standard issue” and move on, so this is an important question. Zero in on what makes your work special.

  5. Don’t Go It Alone: Team up with a friend or colleague’s store and collaborate on a project that both of you can sell. (Got a friend who makes bath products? You supply her with face scrubbies, she makes you organic soaps, both of you win by having products in two stores.) This can work very well on both a large scale, and a very small scale. A person who sells beaded jewelry can team up with someone who works mainly in metal, for a way to expand the product lines of both stores into other areas, offering customers a wider range of choices and prices, and increasing the exposure of both stores. If you decide to go this route, have all the details written out, as well as a firm beginning and end date for the cross promotions. Making sure things meet everyone’s expectations on a business level is crucial to having a good joint collaboration.

  6. Give It Time: There are no quick fixes or substitutes for the exposure that time and familiarity brings you. Promotional efforts, sales, and all the other ways that you generate traffic for your store build upon each other over time. Some categories are crowded with competitors, such as jewelry or vintage items, and it can take longer to pull away from the pack. Don’t get discouraged during the downtime, use it instead to refine your products, get creative with your promotions, and spread your name.

  7. Look for Publicity: The direct approach is best here. If you have a friend or read a blog that you love, see if they would be interested in profiling you. Offer to swap interviews, put their blog badge on your blog, or tweet about them. Don’t be pushy, but there is nothing wrong with asking. All they can say is NO, but very often they say YES, and you won’t know unless you ask.
These are just a few ideas that you can try, and the world is full of even more ideas, some of which may well be just the right combination. Beware of buying into quick fixes and instant results, as selling is much like dieting- different combinations work for different groups of potential customers, and the miracle with one group is merely a waste of time with the others. In the end, experimentation, knowing what worked (or didn’t) with your particular customers, and creativity are your best assets in crafting a successful online business.

Etsy Twitter Team Co-Leader


sassypackrat said...

Great ideas! Thanks for writing this post!

photoadele said...

thank you so much. this is me to the T. except i do go into the outside world ;) i do craft fairs, hand out my cards and wear my products even. sigh....i've been on etsy since Nov. 2007.

Linda said...

Another terrific article. Hmmm, thinking of who I can team up with.

Thanks so much, K.

Crossmyheart said...

Great article! some people just do well offline than online, while others are opposite. we just have to find what works!

Shrimp Salad Circus said...

Great post, since starting out can be really overwhelming!

monkeyandsquirrel said...


i've been on etsy for about a month now and had no idea about project wonderful. don't know how i missed that. i'm taking full advantage of it now. thanks!

Jus Shar Designs said...

If there is a how-to article about improving sales, I am so reading it. Yet, I still can't figure out what my problem is. LOL

I just keep on keeping-on because I love what I do, and I can't keep all this stuff I'm making. I might as well put it on my website and in my shop, and hope that someone comes along who wants it.

It's hard when your creations don't do as well as you thought they would, but that doesn't mean that there is anything wrong with them. There is something for everyone out there.....your someone just needs to find your something. :-)

Blue Hair Knits said...

An authentic and fresh post about an old topic. Thanks for writing. I'm glad I found your blog.

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