Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Part 6: Nooks, Crannies & Niches

Finding that Niche of Profit

When I first started attending craft shows, I tried to carry a little bit of everything I did: jewelry and crochet from small to large, cheap to pricey. I thought that might be the best way to see what would sell and a general price range...and my success was dismal; I almost always covered my booth rent, but rarely made more than the expenses of the entire weekend.

So I began to study all of the ‘professional’ craft show vendors; first of all, they attended a craft show every single weekend.

I discovered that they all had one thing in common: they had one thing or one category of things they sold.

The leather worker didn’t sell gold and silver jewelry; he sold hand tooled leather pieces.

The man who hand worked exotic woods, didn’t sell hand stitched dish rags; he sold hand crafted wooden bowls, pens, and such.

The couple that worked together: he sold his photographic art, she sold her knitted wash cloths and slippers- not blankets or baby sweaters... just wash cloths and slippers. The photographic art took up most of their double booth, and she had a table with all her knitted products.

From my experience, you must find a niche and do nothing but that niche to be profitable with crochet at craft shows or other sales venues.

I know of a family that does nothing by crocheted towel toppers, and wash rags. That’s it. But they have hundreds of sets of these on hand at all times. They have more variety of towel designs than most retail stores in our area.

They took their little niche, and they fill every nook and cranny of their double booth with a variety of that 'niche product.'

And they make enough money at it, that they have been doing it for years.

The key is: to have numerous copies of that one thing... in every color of the rainbow and every color for every style of stitch you do.

Inevitably, if you make a washrag in a shell stitch with blue yarn, someone would claim to want a dozen in yellow... if you had them right now. You will always have someone wanting a pink baby blanket in the same stitch of this green one- but they don't like the stitch of the pink blanket you do have... or they'll want this baby sweater in a different color and a larger/smaller size.

OH, and never commit to fulfilling these requests unless they are willing to put half the money down that day... or it is something that you normally carry and will sell another day. Rarely do these kinds of customers return to buy that item you rushed to finish over night.

Unfortunately, in my part of Texas, only a few crochet things sell very well: baby stuff and kitchen stuff and -later in the year- Christmas decorations. These are generally smaller items that can be sold at a smaller price and still make a profit.

In today's market, customers are accustommed to variety, and as merchants, we must supply that variety, or we won't sell what we do have. Whatever your research tells you is the niche of crochet for your area, you must have a large selection for folks to choose from. At least, this is what the most successful crocheters in my part of Texas are doing.

I finally realized that I simply could not handle the high level of repetitive stitching to sell finished crochet items, so I chose to do what I’m best at: writing books on crochet and designing for patterns. My book sales have been successful: I sold through the first printing of the book in 18 months, and I’m partially through the second printing that had 5 times the number of units from the first printing.

Now that I’m adding more pattern booklets, my sales for those are increasing... but these are all online sales. I sell enough online, that I don’t take the risk for doing a lot of craft shows in my area... yet. (I do have plans to start doing more sales events in the future, but my health/allergies tend to limit what I can do out of town.)

Finally, when you are writing up your pros and cons of trying to sell your finished crochet pieces, there are some basic things to consider:

  • Do you have a monthly sales event where you can develop a return customer base? Constant exposure is critical to developing a profitable crochet business. If they don’t want it now, they know they can buy it from you when they do need it.
  • Can you devote every weekend or at least twice a month to doing sales events?If not, you probably won’t be successful, and you should consider other ways of selling finished crochet pieces.
  • Can you afford to pay for the gas, lodging, and food to travel out of town to shows? Is the booth rent and other expenses (food & lodging) cheap enough that you can afford to loose that money? No matter how well the organizer advertises, there are no guarantees you will sell your crochet.
  • Is your family financially sound enough to cover potential losses for the first few years, until your business develops a steady clientele?

Tomorrow’s post: The Nuts and Bolts of Booth Design

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