by Barbara Brabec
A mistake commonly made by beginners is to produce items in several craft mediums that are not related to one another. For maximum success, you need to diversify and have a variety of products in different sizes and price ranges, but don't offer a hodgepodge of crafts made from many different kinds of materials. Specialize in one or two major craft areas and be creative by combining popular craft materials that aren't normally used together, such as stitchery with ceramics or sewn items with wood. What's important here is that you give buyers the impression that you've "got it all together" and are not just a hobbyist who can't decide what to sell.
It's always better to focus on a particular craft area--not necessarily one craft, but a group of crafts that fall into a family or are compatible with one another. Beginning crafters typically go to market with a little of this and a little of that because they have many craft interests, but professional sellers quickly learn the importance of specialization. By building on their particular talents and art or craft skills, they develop one or more product lines that complement one another.
While its important to focus on an art or craft you love and do well, you must also consider the marketplace. Making what you love to make is not necessarily going to be what people want to buy, so you must do some market research before you begin to develop your product line. Many crafters do the same art or craft, of course, but they have each developed their own style, and that makes them stand out in the crowd.
In the first edition of this book, tole painter Barbara Dunn shared her formula for the perfect product. I've lost touch with Barbara, but her advice remains timeless. She said crafters ought to try to produce high-quality work that falls into one of these three categories: (1) so cute it can't be resisted; (2) functional with fair price (giving buyers further reason to buy); and (3) original and totally different from anything they've seen (keeping the market new). Here are other things you need to consider in the development of a successful product line:
* Think in categories. In developing a line of products, learn to think in general product categories such as home decor, toys, clothing, gifts for men, collectibles, dolls, Christmas ornaments, bath items, etc. Or, concentrate on one or two crafts and create separate product lines within those categories.
* Listen to your customers. Often the best and most profitable product ideas will come from your own customers. Marj Bates of Glass Things added drawer pulls to her line of lampwork glass beads and jewelry only after an open house client expressed interest in buying the ones Marj had designed for her own cupboards. "I never dreamed to sell them," she says. "I just wanted a splash of color in my kitchen." After adding knobs to her line, Marj kept rolling with the idea by adding Make-a-Knob kits to her growing product line.
* Stay up on colors currently popular. If your products colors are not "in tune with the times," they may not sell well. Newsletters and magazines for professional crafters generally report on color trends each year, but you can get a good idea of what's hot simply by spending a day in a shopping center and browsing clothing racks. You can also research current color trends from the Color Marketing Organization, on the Web at www.ColorMarketing.org.
* Study your profit potential. Do some careful figuring to determine the profit potential of each new product you're developing. List all raw materials costs, packaging, printing and postage (if it's an item you plan to sell by mail). Consider how much of your (or someone else's) labor will be involved. Set a retail price appealing to buyers and profitable to you, then double it to see if you'll be able to wholesale it. Finally, consider the market for your product to make sure you can produce the volume that may be necessary to satisfy it.
* Have more than one supply source. Always locate more than one supplier for any raw materials used in products for sale so you'll never get stuck if one supplier goes out of business or stops making a particular item or material. If you are not qualified to buy supplies at wholesale, stock up on supplies when they go on sale and also look for ways to lower the costs of your products at retail by comparing raw materials prices from a number of suppliers. Buying in a larger quantity may get you a discount while buying from a supplier closer to you may lower shipping costs.
* Name your products. A name gives a product personality, which in turn increases its salability. In developing new products, give both your product lines and individual products names of their own. Use humor whenever possible or appropriate and be sure to create hangtags for everything you make.
* Check legal issues. Thinking about offering limited editions of a new product? Many states now have laws that impose strict disclosure and warranty requirements on sellers who offer limited editions of art or craftwork that include certificates. Before doing this, check with an attorney who can answer your questions and help you draft certificate forms that will comply with your state's laws. If you are developing products for children, be careful to comply with consumer safety laws. (A wealth of consumer product information is available from the Consumer Product Safety Commission's toll-free Hotline at 1-800-638-2772 and several publications related to toys and children's products are offered.)
* Protect your creativity with copyrights. Fill out the appropriate copyright form and register valuable designs, patterns or other written or drawn material with the Copyright Office. (Photographs of finished handcrafts can be submitted with a copyright form instead of the actual craft items.) Request free booklets and registration forms from The Copyright Office at 1-202-707-3000 or online at www.loc.gov/copyright.
An excerpt from Barbara Brabec's book, Handmade for Profit-Hundreds of secrets to Success in Selling Arts & Crafts (2nd ed., M. Evans).