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Types of Suppliers for your Craft Business

One of the things that I really enjoy in my craft business is hunting around for different products to sell in my shop. Well, it’s not always as enjoyable as shopping in the shopping centre/mall as suppliers can be unreliable, and hard to find, and sometimes not very reasonable, but most of the time I like it. Shopping for my business satisfies my desire as female who likes to shop, but I don’t experience the guilt of trying to sneak past my husband with a new (and unnecessary) pair of shoes :)  In this post I am going to look a different types of suppliers and some of their characteristics…

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Starting from the top of the ‘Food Chain’:

  • Manufacturers (the BIG league guys) – I’m not in the league of these suppliers, so I don’t have any experience of them. These are factories that you can commission to produce items for you. Often they will have a catalogue of products that they manufacture or you can commission you own designs for them to produce. They usually do not keep items in stock so you cannot order smaller amounts from such suppliers therefore, we are talking HUGE quantities (in the thousands) of a given product. If you can afford the investment this is by far the cheapest cost per unit option.
  • Manufacturers (business to business) - I do work with such suppliers. These are factories (usually somewhat smaller than the aforementioned manufacturers) sometimes keep a limited amount of ready made stock, they will have a catalogue of items they produce, and they will also accept custom work for production. The minimum order amounts are typically large (in my experience) varying from 300 – 500 pieces upwards of a given item depending on what the item is. If you can keep a tight control on quality issues and you can afford the investment using this type of supplier is very cost effective solution.
  • Wholesalers/agents to manufacturers – I also work with these folks. These suppliers aren’t quite the same as typical wholesalers as they usually work with a very small number of factories. These suppliers will hold ready made stock to sell to you and they will also act as agents for a small number (or one) factories taking your order and passing it onto the factory when the minimum order amount is sufficiently large enough. They will do all of this for a fee. The benefit of purchasing from an agent to a factory is that the minimum order amount will be somewhat smaller. The downsides are that they cost more than the above, if items are not in stock lead time can be a guessing game, and they are devilishly hard to find!
  • Wholesalers (not direct to the public) – I also work with this kind of supplier. These suppliers will typically have a large and varied catalogue of items. To be able to purchase products from this type of supplier you will often be required to open an account (which usually involves proving to them that you own a business). The minimum order amounts are for this type of supplier are usually much smaller than that of manufacturers and they vary wildly from minimum cash amount (e.g. £50 – £250/$100 – $500) to minimum units per product. It really depends on the individual wholesaler. These suppliers cost a fair amount more than manufacturers, but the choice of items is usually very good, and the quality of items is usually more consistent than that of manufacturers. Wholesalers are also devilishly hard to find (goodness knows why!)
  • Retail /Wholesalers – I also work these suppliers. Some business run a wholesale operation alongside their retail operation. These suppliers are similar to the guys above except the minimum order amounts are usually yet smaller, and they may not be so formal about opening accounts in order to buy wholesale.
  • Retailers – that’s what we are! We hunt around for our supplies (and in my case I sell them on) and we process them by turning them into gorgeous handcraft before selling them to the public :)

I hope this was useful and it wasn’t stating the obvious to you. I didn’t know too much about suppliers when I first started my business and I know I must’ve sounded pretty naive ditzy when dealing with them for the first time!

Next time: I will talk about to approach suppliers and how to deal with them – like what stuff do you ask them in the first instance and what things to expect when dealing with them.

 

What are your biggest challenges regarding running your Craft Business? Tell us & win some Amy Butler goodness!!

One thing that Wendy (the founder of eMoms) and I noticed very quickly from your responses to CraftBoom! is that there is a huge crafting business community out there that isn’t being supported on the internet as well as it could be. Your response to this blog has been wonderful and I want thank all of you for that :) Wendy and I both feel that more could be done to support the craft business community and very exciting plans are afoot to do just that.

We know that there are quite a few excellent craft sites out there that cover craft in general, and there are a few sites (like this one) that focus on craft business too, BUT as craft business owners we need (me included) an inclusive site where we can meet, share, and support each other (lots of you are experts in you own right and we can learn lots from you). Such a place (at least like the one that Wendy and I have in mind) doesn’t yet exist. I am beside myself with excitement because judging from the emails I get from you, there is a big need to provide such a site for you, and it’s gonna happen!!!!!


So tell us what are your biggest challenges in running your Craft Business?

This one-stop-shop Craft Business meeting place is being created for you and we want to serve you as best as we can. We need to know what sort of things you would like in such a site. Whether you have a blog, or Esty, eBay, or your own e-comm shop or you are planning one please tell us (in some  detail):

1. What would you like help with: promotion & marketing, driving traffic, starting up, sales advice, setting up e-comm, or anything else, etc etc etc.


2. What kind of features would you like your craft business meeting place/forum to have (i.e) photo sharing, craft businessy tutorials, classifieds or any other features etc etc etc.

Answer the 2 questions above and you could win 2 yummy Amy Butler Home Dec patterns!!

Contest Official-ness

  • ONLY open to legal residents of the United States 18 years of age and older. No purchase required. One entry per person. Void where prohibited by law. Important contest rules and details.
  • I will send both patterns to 1 lucky winner after the random draw on 1st Feb. I’ll announce the winner on this blog the following day-ish. Good luck!
  • Sorry, I can’t notify winners so please keep an eye for the winner announcement. This is made easier for you is you subscribe to this blog (although it’s always great to have you drop in for a read :) ).
  • Sorry I can’t reply to contest comments, but I do love reading every single one.

“Arrghhh!!! I don’t live in the US!” I know that a lot of my readers are from outside the US and I’d love your feedback (and for you to feel not to feel left out) so for folks outside of the US I have set up the same contest just for you on my UK based U-Handblog.

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When the going gets tough; the tough go shopping (Online).

Switch on the news and read any newspaper and you’ll hear about fears of an economic downturn/slow down, at least I know this to be the case in both the US and the UK. My crafts e-commerce business is my sole source of income so I’m particularly mindful of what’s going on economy-wise. So amidst fears of a global economic slow down I went hunting around for articles online to see if there is still a good prognosis for folks like you and me who sell their craft products online, and this is what I found:

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Article dated: Jan 18th, 08: In the UK internet sales were up (54%) on last December’s figures. Sales figures for bricks & mortar shops were virtually unchanged in the same period. The growth in internet sales is said to be at the expense of bricks & mortar shops… “There is no growth anywhere else. Internet has become the dynamo of retail”. To see a larger version of this cheery article click here. I have stuck this newspaper snippet on my office wall!

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And in other UK & USA articles I found:

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So what might be the reasons that internet sales figures are bucking the trend? As an e-comm business owner I can make some informed guesses;

  • Lower cost of goods – setting up and running an e-comm business is sooo much cheaper than a bricks and mortar shop, and those savings can be passed onto customers. This makes the price of e-comm goods cheaper and obviously more attractive to the consumer.
  • Convenience to the consumer – e-comm shops are (normally) open 24/7, there’s no stressful queuing at packed tills, there is often better choice and more units per product available, it’s quick and easy, and you don’t have to carry the stuff home (even the post & packaging usually costs less than the bus/train fare, petrol & parking).
  • The lack of stress – (this is why I did 90% of my Christmas shopping online last year). I could choose unique gifts, get fun suggestions for presents on various blogs, browse loads of different products in loads of different e-comm shops without moving my bum and all the comfort of my pajamas, slippers, and a mug of hot choccie; how civilized!
  • The internet LOVES the indie store keeper - Look at your local shopping street, doesn’t the predominance of High St stores get right on your nerves? It’s true they definitely do have a place and most of us do shop in them, but it’s such a pity the small indie shopper just can’t compete. This means that local, friendly and specialist indie shops are fast disappearing and this means lack of TRUE choice for the consumer. Not so on the internet, the beautiful thing about the web is that it makes the gaming ground even so (with consistent marketing efforts) indie folks like you and me can open up and run our specialist shops.

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Do you prefer to shop online? How do you feel about the reported economic down turn (in terms or running /setting up your own craft business?)

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Fabulous links & books for your Craft Business

The best thing you can do for your Craft Business (and any other business) before you make a single thing to sell is to do some research (and to keep on researching during the lifetime of your business).

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Fore-warned is fore-armed. Do your research and you’ll stay one step ahead.

Here are some excellent web resources for your Craft Business. Bookmark, read, and enjoy:

Here are some useful Craft Business, & Working from Home books (all have good reviews) :

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If you have any more resources that you think should be added to this list please put them in your comments and I will add them to the list with a linked credit to you :)

Dealing with supplier disputes in your craft business

For any of you who don’t already know I own a bag making supplies store. I have come to learn that one of the trickier parts of running a retail business is dealing with suppliers. Even if the suppliers are pleasant, efficient, and reliable (they are rarely ever all three) you can still have a quite a hard time tracking them down in the first place. This is because many wholesalers and suppliers don’t seem to market themselves that well or they don’t have a presence online. Ah well, I like a challenge and I must admit I like hunting around for new lines to add to my shop (well it’s shopping around isn’t it?).

I source my products from all over the world and one of my suppliers (a factory where I have some of my purse frames and handles manufactured) has recently become inconsistent with the quality of their products – which is a complete nightmare! This is made worse by the fact that this supplier is a factory based overseas, this means that I have to order items in HUGE amounts and items are manufactured for me (rather then bought from stock) it takes on average 5 – 6 weeks to receive a delivery, oh and they require payment upfront! So if you’ve ordered 500+ of a given item and you’ve waited approx 6 weeks for it to arrive, and when you unpack the order the items are less than perfect it’s REALLY ANNOYING!!!!!

The chances are if you are a retailer or you order items in bulk to produce your craft items this sort of nonsense will happen to you at some point. So what do you do if you’ve ordered something from a supplier, paid for it in good faith, and the items are less than perfect?

  • I wouldn’t go ahead and sell the item on at full price – your customers will have become accustomed to a certain quality and it’s best to be consistent and provide that quality as best as you possibly can (even if it means delaying delivery, or being out of stock).
  • I wouldn’t tidy up the item - It might be tempting to salvage what you can and make repairs, but why should you have to do that if you’ve paid full price for a perfect item?
  • Complain ASAP - I would take photos of the offending items and I would phone, or email the supplier as soon as possible, show them your photos and let them know that something is not right. Sometimes the problems are minor e.g items getting damaged in transit, the boxes have gotten damaged and they have sprung a leak en route, or you been sent the wrong item. Sometimes the problems are larger e.g. the quality of the items suck, the products really do not match those shown in the pictures (on the website or catalogue and there was no disclaimer), or you have been given a smaller amount of the item that you’ve paid for.
  • Have a good idea of what kind of resolution you would be happy with – and let your supplier know early on rather than waiting for them to offer you something. In my experience I have found that suppliers don’t alway give as good service as retailers (maybe it’s because suppliers don’t like me, but then I’ve heard this before, so hopefully it isn’t!). When faced with a problem with a supplier order I have found that it’s best to provide the supplier options for resolving the problem to your satisfaction e.g. give me a good discount (then you can pass the discount onto your customers) on the less than perfect goods, give me a full refund, or exchange these goods for equivalents or prefect items. I have found doing this saves time (because suppliers can be slow to get back to you) and also I think it shows that you mean business!

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…and not forgetting, Supplier Rage!!!!!!!

Crafting Heroes Interview with Jenny Hart; Owner of Sublime Stitching, authoress, and saviour of Embroidery!

Woo Hoo! Here is another fabulous Crafting Heroes Interview hot off the press. I am really loving these interviews. Like you, I am finding them so inspiring and full of great advice on how to run my own business. For those of you who don’t yet know, I asked the lovely readers of my other blog to vote for their favourite Crafting Heroes and LOADS of them responded, it was great! There are more wonderful Crafting Heroes interviews in the pipeline and this one is no exception…

This time the I’m featuring the lovely Jenny Hart. Lots of you will already know and love Jenny from her deliciously different embroidery. Not only is she deft with her own needle, she also provides tuition, embroidery supplies, and inspiration through her wonderful books and her one-stop embroidery shop. Read Jenny’s impressive bio here (woo, she works hard!). In our interview Jenny shares with us her experiences of starting up and running her own Craft Business.

You can also find Jenny here:

www.sublimestitching.com – her design company
www.jennyhart.net – her fabulous artwork
http://venuszine.com/users/JennyHart – her craft business advice column


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Here’s Jenny with her magic needle at work.

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CraftBoom! : How long have you been in craft business?

Jenny: I founded Sublime Stitching in late 2001, about a year after I took up embroidery.

CraftBoom! : Where/how do you sell your items, and do you work from home?

Jenny: I sell primarily online, although our wholesale accounts have grown enormously in the last couple of years. I work from a home office and studio, along with a staff of three. There’s also an extended staff of advisors and consultants (a financial advisor, a couple of attorneys, a literary agent) who are instrumental in making all I try to do actually happen.

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Want to stitch on your T-shirt? This stuff will prevent a lot of swearing and make it whole lot easier by preventing the fabric stretching as you sew.

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CraftBoom! : What made/inspired you to go into craft business, and what were you doing before?

Jenny: When I first took up embroidery, I had never tried it before and once I did, I became completely addicted to it. This was in the summer of 2000, and the handmade movement was just really starting up, with a heavy focus on knitting. No one was really doing anything with embroidery or decorative needlework of any kind, and there were no new resources for it. I was so taken with embroidery, and wanted to turn other crafters on to it as well, but knew they’d need updated patterns, starter kits and instructions that didn’t assume anything. None of those resources were available. My mission as a company was to change the way people looked at and learned embroidery.

Before doing Sublime Stitching full time, I was working in an art museum, archiving works on paper. I got to work with very old prints and drawings (17th and 18th century) and even had a sketch of Rembrandt’s on my desk once. I was responsible for the proper archiving, transport and display of works on paper for the museum’s collection. I did this work for five years, for two museums (The Spencer Museum of Art at the University of Kansas, The Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas).

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Jenny’s latest project with Chronicle Books; Craft Pad which is full of groovy iron on embroidery transfers – available in March.

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CraftBoom!: How did you finance the start-up of your business?

Jenny: With a very modest but generous loan of $1,000.00 from my parents. I had to outline an entire budget to my father and account for every dime, which I did. It covered my first manufacturing costs, shipping, packaging and my first print ad. They asked that I pay back half once I turned a profit which I did six months later. I never borrowed money again until five years into running the company. I have been very careful about the kind of debt I’ve acquired and have avoided costly loans or over-use of credit cards.

CraftBoom! : How do you decide what you are going to sell?

Jenny: I’d had the idea to do hip, updated embroidery patterns for several years before I actually did it. I love to draw, and that seemed like a logical way for me to support myself doing something I loved to do. I also couldn’t believe that contemporary designs for embroidery weren’t available. Everything was stuck in a time warp with bunnies and teddy bears- I felt the outdated look of the designs was contributing to the decline in interest. So, I decided I’d start my own design company offering the kinds of patterns, tools and kits you couldn’t buy anywhere that I wished were available when I was learning.

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You get get your mitts on cute designs like this and all of your embroidery needs in Jenny’s fab shop.

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CraftBoom! : When did you realise that your craft business had real potential?

Jenny: I knew it immediately from the response I got, which was overwhelming. People were starved for new designs, and those who’d wanted to try embroidery but couldn’t find anything they liked in terms of patterns, or instructions they could follow started visiting my site in droves. I also started to get national and international press which increased the demand greatly. I’ve continually faced the challenge of keeping up with the demand!

CraftBoom! : What things do you do to market your business?

Jenny: I do a lot of print advertising, trade shows, markets and always carry promo cards with me to tack up in coffee shops. I still do this! I keep business cards on me, and hand them out whenever someone asks what I do.

CraftBoom! : What things do you know now that you wish you knew from the beginning?

Jenny: Nothing. That’s what has made it all so rewarding- the learning process. I also think if I knew too much ahead of time, I never would have started! You get involved, get to the next step and then the next…and whoops! You’re in to deep to quit now! If I’d known too much in advance I might have said “Forget it! It’ll be too much work!” and it is an *enormous* amount of work. But I love it. It keeps me busy and the customers and fans keep me going.

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Yep, Jenny does work hard to forward the craft movement, she was a featured speaker at the last Maker Faire at which she also had booth. Her booth was surrounded by a wire fence which turned out to be just perfect for doing a spot of feather stitch. Contributing to the crafting movement like this is wonderful for craft in general and it also raises your profile.

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CraftBoom! : What do you love most about running your own craft business, and what do you like least?

Jenny: I love being creative and doing what I want to do instead of working for someone else’s approval or having to change my ideas according to what someone over my head thinks is best. I get to put my work out there as I see it. The hardest part is: getting your work out there as you see it! I’m constantly overwhelmed with ideas and lacking the resources to realize them.

The thing I like the least is administrative work. At the beginning, it’s so necessary that you do these things yourself, to at least understand how they work and affect your business. As you grow, you can bring in people you trust to take on those responsibilities for you (doing the books, handling customer emails, tax paperwork and other tasks that feel like chores for you).

CraftBoom! : What advice would you give to newbies who want to start their own craft business?

Jenny: This is the question I least like being asked, because there’s no easy answer! Educate yourself. Do it. Be realistic about your goals and stop if you don’t enjoy doing it any more. If your goal is to make money fast, don’t do it. If your goal is to be independent and see arises from something you’re passionate about, go for it. You might be surprised. My goal is, and always has been, simply to maintain my independence as an artist, a designer…a human being. I’m thrilled to be able to support myself financially, but I’m hardly rich in the conventional sense. I am however, rich with independence and freedom. That’s all I ever wanted. I want to do work that makes me happy and fulfilled and want to be sure those working for me feel the same way.

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One of Jenny’s WIPs, isn’t it just beautiful! Woman with brown hair.

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CraftBoom! : Are you satisfied with the income that your craft business brings?

Jenny: Yes, because I’m now paying myself a liveable wage through the company alone (which wasn’t the case up until a year ago). While I’ve been able to support myself full-time for five years doing Sublime Stitching, it’s been very up-and-down, with tax surprises and lean times. Which, I think any small business goes through. As a company, we are currently stabilizing our costs and income. But, I’m still underpaid (aren’t we all!), and so is my staff. We all know this, and also feel the likelihood that it will continue to change and grow is worth the work effort. But in order for the company to grow, we need to increase our income. That’s always on the table, for any business. We are still an independently owned and operated company who relies entirely on the support of our customers. And, they’re the best, they really are.

CraftBoom! : What are your plans for future growth?

Jenny: This might sound funny, but I actually want to increase our growth by reducing our manufacturing. I’d like to be able to offer more downloadable (for pay) goods via the website that prevent the need for using resources to create them (to lessen the impact on the environment for one thing), and continuing to focus on what we’ve always offered: information and resources for others’ creativity. While we’ll always offer tangible end-products, I’m very proud that our main product is re-usable, inexpensive and 100% recyclable!

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Check out this kit. The Ultimate Embroidery Kit is a complete starter kit that you can customize online with your choice of patterns (from 40 themes) and project (pillowcase, teatowel, apron, etc). Most embroidery kits only have the supplies needed for the project shown on the cover, and there weren’t any kits that offered all the tools in one place to get you started. This is that kit! It will make hundreds of projects.

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Thank you so much for your inspirational and informative interview Jenny; keep up the good work with your wonderful embroidery shop, your book writing, and all of the work that you do to promote the craft movement. Best of luck with everything you do. :)

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