How to Cut Down Your Competition When Selling Your Crafts by Eileen Bergen

As a crafter and a small businessperson, you can do your own craft marketing or pay someone to do it for you. It's a balancing act. If you do it yourself, you must go to shows or run your own store or website. The more time you spend doing that the less time you can spend crafting.

Giving up some of the retail price of your craft items, gives you more time to devote to your art and generally a broader market reach for your wares. Gallery and shop owners advertise, promote your work and provide a place with regular hours where your work can be viewed by many more people than you can reach on your own.

However don't think of these approaches as the only options of craft marketing. They are merely the two ends of the spectrum: from doing all your own craft marketing and as much crafting as time allows; to using all your time crafting and paying your marketers.

Along the spectrum are a myriad of other approaches, some very simple, some quite high tech. If you're looking for a better way to sell your craft items, try thinking outside the box. Go beyond the traditional methods of craft fairs, galleries and retail shops.

Below are a few craft marketing approaches that have worked for me, as well as some intriguing ones I've read about, but haven't tried personally - yet.

Breaking Away from the Pack

After three years of doing craft fairs and flea markets, I noticed several negative aspects. My work was being copied by other crafters who saw it at the last show.

• I had to keep coming up with new ideas to differentiate myself.
• I got tired of lining up alongside and competing against very similar products.
• Plus I got just plain tired. Craft fairs are a lot of physical labor.

I needed a better venue and couldn't afford to pay a retail shop or gallery up to 50 percent of my sales. I needed to think outside the box and break away from the pack.

Leverage Your Relations with Other Crafters

One positive thing I did take away from my years of craft fairs was a lot of new crafting friends who are also struggling with craft marketing. We help each other out as opportunities arise.

One very well established ceramicist participates in a huge annual expo that draws importers from throughout North and South America. He wanted something bright and colorful to dress up his booth and draw people's attention, so he asked if I would like to display some of my oilcloth bags. We both did well and it was pretty exciting to think of my bags traveling to another continent to be sold.

My crafting buddies and I send each other business. They order business cards and signs from me. I recommend them and sometimes display their work in my little shop (no commission, no charge). When they have their own shops, I know they'll do the same for me!

Brainstorm Tie-Ins to Local Organizations

Brainstorm how your products can or could tie-in to some organization. If you do any craft that lends itself to personalization, such as embroidery or fabric painting or silk-screening, think about approaching local clubs or businesses and offering items with their logo. With their permission, of course. Logos are copyrighted material.

A tote bag that folds up into a pouch had been a big seller for me at craft fairs. The unusual thing about my design is that the pouch is custom designed. I've applied pouch designs using three techniques: screen printing; or printing on fabric using either Bubble Jet Set or Lazertran Silk decals and my computer printer.

I have made these for my local garden guild who needed gifts to give to a visiting group and I have also sold them to a moving company who gives them to customers as a token of appreciation for their business.

Craft Marketing Tie-Ins to Other Products

While other crafters are talking to gift shop owners about placing their gift items alongside all the similar work of other crafters, think about where your products would stand out and, at the same time, enhance what the store primarily sells.

For example, if you do make jewelry or crochet scarves, offer to assist a dress shop with their displays by accessorizing the mannequins. A nicely put together outfit increases the eye appeal of the individual parts.

If you make oilcloth tote bags, make some up with bright tropical fruit and vegetable patterns and see if your local farmers' market would let you place them for sale near the checkout. Add a sign: "Choose not to pollute - with our sturdy reusable market totes."

Take your wine gift bags to liquor stores and see if you can work out a similar display deal. Your dried flower arrangements, decoupage trays or hand made candles would give a more attractive and real look to display rooms at a furniture store.

Barter for Space

Once I was approached by the owner of a card and gift shop in a neighborhood mall. She had seen and admired my crafts. She thought they would complement her store's inventory and that my existing clientele would bring traffic to the store. She offered me a very modest salary and a small corner of the store in which I could display my products.

It seemed like an ideal match; but it was doomed from the start. [This was before I understood the importance of tie-ins and one person's product enhancing - rather than competing with - the other person's.]

My products dressed up the store. Traffic increased significantly. I honestly worked as hard to sell her merchandise as my own.

Then one morning, the owner came in and told me to remove myself and my crafts by the end of the day. My sales had been very good while hers had increased only marginally. It just didn't seem like a good bargain for her. I had most of the benefit.

With 20⁄20 hindsight, it might have worked out if I had suggested working on commission rather than for salary. That way, there would be less suspicion about where my efforts were placed.

I still thought bartering for space could work and decided that, if I found another opportunity, I would accept no salary. I also wanted to make sure that our products didn't compete. I came up with an idea but when I asked my friends for their opinions, they looked at me like I was crazy.

There is a small water treatment, garden and pool supply store nearby. Most of the time, the owner is out on jobs and his wife tends the store. But with young children at home, she frequently needs to leave at a moment's notice and would simply lock up the store, posting a "Back in 10 minutes sign". Customers were getting so frustrated that they were going to the competition.

I approached the couple and suggested I could open the store earlier, tend it until the wife arrived and stay until 2:00 so she (actually we both) could leave and run errands as needed. In return they would give me a small corner where I could display and sell my crafts. They loved the idea.

It has worked beautifully. I decorated my little niche like a garden to tie in to their pool and garden products - little wicker table and chair, a trellis on which I can hang some of my things, fake stairs going up along the wall (which I use as display shelves) with a trompe l'oeil door at the top.

OnLine Craft Marketing Co-Ops

This is something I haven't tried and which I'm a little leery of. The idea is to join other crafters on a website devoted to craft marketing.

Online craft marketing is hard enough without having five or six other crafters' works on the same web page. It's sort of a miniature craft show, without providing you the opportunity to stand out too much.

But more of these craft marketing sites are springing up. I think many crafters simply don't want to devote their efforts to online craft marketing, but want to see if there's any money to be made that way.

There are many co-op craft selling sites that you can locate with a web search. One has the improbable name of "Stars and Infinite Darkness." Other sites are "Wholesale Crafts" and "eCrafter."

Whether online or off, if there's a will there's a way to improve your craft marketing. Be imaginative and think outside the box.

By Eileen Bergen, the editor of The Artful Crafter, your guide to making and selling original crafts.

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