Jane Button knows the product industry and is a no nonsense consultant and coach who helps people start-up, grow or accelerate product businesses.
We’re thrilled to be interviewing her this week at Wickedly Chic. If you are a creative entrepreneur, you won’t want to miss one word of this interview. So hang on. Jane’s advice to the creative community is on point, as usual.
Jane, you are well known in the creative community. Can you please share with our readers what makes you so obsessed about helping creative product shop owners?
As time goes on, I have become even more obsessed and fascinated by watching creative product entrepreneurs start their own businesses.
Over the past 25+ years that I have been involved in the industry, I’ve seen many changes. And certainly some real growth within the creative community.
It used to be that a maker could sell wholesale to stores or direct to the consumer at fairs or shows; but it was taboo to do both.
Now you can do anything. Which allows for more opportunity, which allows for more confusion.
The confusion comes when makers begin the product and fall in love with the product and not the process of selling the product for profit.
In reality, the product itself is the tip of the iceberg if you want to have a business and not a hobby. And the difference between a hobby and a business is: “hobbies cost money, businesses make money.”
There are many hobbyists out there who think they have a business. And this drives me crazy. And even worse, everyone has an opinion and gives advice when they have not even had a successful brand or business themselves – so there is confusion.
That’s where I come in and why I am obsessed! My goal is to lead creative product entrepreneurs to become successful, sustainable and profitable businesses. I was probably the least likely person on the planet to create a successful product business, but I did it. Starting in my basement, I took a knit hat and turned it into a multi 7 figure business with no experience.
If I did it, so can anyone else! I made the mistakes for you.
Over the past 10 years, I’ve seen huge gains in the attention that’s being paid to buying from small brands and shopping local. In your opinion, what is the appeal versus purchasing from big box businesses?
Okay, so before we get started here, could I just clarify something?
A small maker business is not necessarily a “brand”.
They may have branding graphics, colors and logo, but that is not the same thing as what is traditionally considered a “brand”. A business creates a product but customers create a brand.
In the eye of the consumer, a brand distinguishes itself from all others, so a brand is built by the perceptions, experiences and expectation of the consumers. Anyway, a brand is not the same thing as a product or a business. It must first establish and distinguish itself.
I would rather call these small companies emerging designers or emerging businesses until they are truly brands.
When I teach people how to distribute their products, I usually suggest that they start at the local or boutique level. And the reason is, many of the smaller local stores are looking for products that are not sold in the majors or big box stores.
Their customer wants something that has a point of view. The buyers for small local shops work really hard, and are often the owners. They know what their customers want and they are very aware of what is sold in the bigger stores. These buyers also appreciate the craftsmanship of the work – as long as it stands out!
The true appeal of the indie product in my world is that (1) It’s different than what I can find elsewhere, (2) It’s usually more creative and (3) I am supporting a small creative business.
What I don’t care about is that it is local to a certain city or that it is actually made by the artisan. I feel emerging designers are just that – designers. They do not need to hand make every single piece themselves.
Successful local stores (ones that survived the recession) have become more focused and are careful about what they buy. These stores that survived have re-invented themselves as a shopping experience for the buyer; paying more attention to merchandising and customer service.
Where do you see the biggest room for improvement for indie shop owners? Are there some things that you find are often overlooked?
Oh boy – do I! Here is my list, in no particular order, on how indie shops and makers could improve their sales and bottom line:
1) Make sure you price your products correctly for your market. That does not mean competing with everyone else in the same category by lowering your price. There will always be someone who can sell a similar product for a lower price. If you think you will sell more by being the lowest price – you are mistaken.
2) Market consistently.
3) You do not need to be on every single social media platform. Pick two and be consistent. And do not have every single post be about “buy my stuff.”
4) Know what your core product or products are. Promote and sell those products so you are known in the marketplace as the BEST for that product. Only then start introducing other lines. So many people with start with way too many products – and all it does is confuse buyers.
5) Be really careful about carrying too much inventory. Look at your inventory as dollar bills sitting on the shelf doing nothing.
6) Business is about numbers – know your numbers and keep track of sales, inventory, expenses, etc.
7) If your sales are down, do not under any circumstances stop marketing! You’ll only make it worse.
8) Know your competition, so you can differentiate yourself from them and not be a copycat.
9) Outsource and do what you do best and delegate the rest.
10) Plan in advance – at least 6 months to one year. I teach the TIMING IS EVERYTHING method of planning and find it is incredibly productive for creatives.
11) Have your very own website – that is maintained and run by you. When you have an Etsy or Amazon site, you have no control. Very important!
What is your prediction for indie brands and products over the next 5-10 years? Do you feel that the trend will die out or are you anticipating more businesses emerging?
I definitely think the trend will continue.
However, I do think one area that emerging designers need to be aware of, is that the big brands and designers are also seeing that the consumers and buying patterns are changing. Already you see companies like Target and Amazon promoting handmade; and even larger companies making fast fashion are a reality. Competition can be fierce.
The small creative start-up in some ways has an advantage because they can be flexible. But they will have more competition and it’s going to be very important for them to learn how to stand out with their product as well as stand out in their marketing and operations.
Do you personally enjoy purchasing from indie shop owners? If so, what are some of your favorite items to shop for?
Oh yes, I love creative products and emerging designers! Some of my favorite items to buy on-line or in smaller boutiques are jewelry, hand bags, soap, food products, accessories – and did I say jewelry?
Oh, and I love purchasing from my own clients, because they are pretty outstanding!