How to start a homebased handmade sewing business pt2
Returning to this topic I started last week, if you have time and materials, this is a risk worth taking. The take away from the last entry is that sales are seductive; don’t be caught unaware midway up a slippery slope. Specifically, if you think you’re interested in growing if your foray takes off, your material costs (although “free”) must be included in your pricing at the outset or your sales will drop once you have to include them. To get an accurate reading of sustainable demand, price your items as though you had to replenish materials.
Tangentially related, I’ve been surprised at the number of Etsy sellers who say they’ve been approached for possible wholesale (DEs take note in the next paragraph). I see two reasons for this. One, the pricing is very low. Either buyers think you can knock it down some more (you have low overhead) or they think there’s enough room in supply/demand to keystone your existing prices. However, if you’re not rolling the cost of materials into the mix, you’re not going to be able to produce. In general, a wholesale buyer will want to pay half the retail price.
Second, I think that everyone should be paying close attention to this new trend of wholesale buyers shopping on Etsy, what are other reasons they might be doing this? Perhaps simplistically, I think it’s more than low pricing, it’s no minimums. Costs are so low they may as well order a sample to see if it’s a match for them. Getting a product sample at low cost is less hassle than having to go through a sales rep to finagle line sheets, get call backs, negotiate minimums and then you never know what the product is really going to be like until you get it -and that’s assuming you get it when you need it. This reminds me of an experience I had when I interviewed a store owner about a client. The buyer said the manufacturer was very good to small stores like hers. She said their minimum was one piece and they accepted returns, this was unheard of 12 years ago. This company is doing well in excess of 75 million these days so I think that grassroots strategy paid off. I’m not suggesting everyone can or should do this but it could be an option in today’s tough economy.
There’s intangible benefits too. When a store owner approaches a relatively unsophisticated seller on Etsy, the buyer has more opportunity to set terms to their liking. Knee jerk reaction would be to presume malfeasance is the primary motivator when DEs should be curious as to what those terms may be and how they can meet them.
On with practical examples, Mandi -who I think speaks for many- said in comments to the first entry:
What’s holding me back on this is sizing. I can make a pattern, though I’m rusty at it… but grading is so not possible for me. If I make anything it’s going to have to start at my size… if someone wants a similar style in another size, I can say no, but having to say no for that reason really bothers me.
I found an entry that talked about hiring a grading service, but again, that’s money that I may not need to spend, and it just means that I’m going to question my pattern making competence… is a grading company going to do the work even if it’s not a super professional pattern?
Off the cuff, this strikes me as a crisis of confidence and flawed risk assessment (no offense intended). There’s no easy answer for either except to blindly jump off into the abyss. As a practical matter, I’m currently reviewing two new-to-me pattern grading books and I’m not pleased with either. As my husband will tell you, there’s a lot of snorting and less than complimentary commentary involved. I really think there is a huge hole in the market for a diy pattern grading book but that’s a whole other animal. I am seriously thinking about writing one but it’s not going to be free and it’s risky because the diy community is notoriously reluctant to spend money. Once a segment of the market gets a reputation, it’ll be difficult to get anyone to cater to your needs (not speaking of you Mandi or my other lovelies specifically).
You can have a grading service audit your pattern and costs are relatively inexpensive so the question becomes, have you tested a style by selling it to see if the costs are justified? I realize it will bother you to get requests for other sizes you can’t sell yet but you’ll have to become accustomed to discomfort because no matter what you do, you can’t serve everyone. At this point it is academic, a what-if worry. Sell some prototypes. It could be nobody buys it so all your worry was for naught. Time to dust yourself off and experiment with another style. Painful but it happens.
I think a great deal of worry comes from being juried by professionals, we all fear it. I am telling you, there is no mocking pattern grader who will guffaw at your puny efforts. It is very flattering when someone wrests with the difficulty of our profession. We admire that, we don’t disparage it. I love to help people improve their pattern work, it is my absolute most favorite thing to do. It’s hard to do it from a computer screen, a forum or a blog. It’s easiest when we share a common reference point like your pattern and can discuss specifics. The only time someone gets into trouble is when they try to direct the work. By directing the work, I mean someone who is so consumed with their authority they can’t listen to the content of one’s objections. If your grade rules work out to increments of 39/64ths or 117/128th for a karate uniform (this really happened) no one will believe you know what you’re doing so it’s better to listen up so we can make this work for you.
Summary: The only thing to fear is fear itself and all that rot. Just get out there, put some stuff up and see what sticks. Take the first step. Anyone who would mock you is not likely a professional themselves so why would you care what they think?
PS. Long ago I was going to be a writer. From the time I was self aware, I never imagined I’d do anything else. Then, a teacher effectively killed that idea, said I was lousy and would never write. So I gave it up and was happy (really). I became a pattern maker. Came such a time I had no means to earn a living, I had a disabled child and couldn’t work. I had no other income alternatives than to write so I had nothing to lose. In the end my teacher is probably right and I really am a crappy writer but I’ve made a life of it. In other words, resolving to become a really crappy pattern maker could be your ticket to a comfortable livelihood you enjoy. What do you have to lose?