Thinking Outside the Shop

Expanding Your Presence beyond Your Walls

What if your available space is just too small—or you have dreams of expanding but don’t want to add employees (and can’t clone yourself)?  

A website is one way to offer your services and goods to the world if you have the savvy to run a dynamic site or the money to pay a webmaster. The downside is that the competition is fierce and you are vying for attention against those who do the same thing. If you have unique ideas or products that will help you stand out, that’s great. But many website owners find that price-shoppers surf the ‘Net, so even if your turnaround time is great and your stitching is outstanding, you will have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find a prince of a client.

 Co-ops on the Internet

 A search on the Internet will yield places to sell embroidered garments and gifts which will add a new dimension to your physical shop. Some like ArtFire (www.artfire.com) charge a monthly fee with no listing fees or commissions. Others, like Etsy (www.etsy.com) charge a small listing fee and a commission.

I learned about Etsy from my daughter when she purchased a Mother’s Day gift for me from a woman who fashions computer bags from men’s suits and sport coats. We sent her two of my late father’s coats so the bag is extra special for me. There are many unique gifts there, as well as vintage products, supplies including digitized designs and gifts that include embroidered goods.

I originally joined as a shopper and when I decided I wanted to have a retail presence there, I wanted a different name and found I couldn’t change my registered name. A work-around is to register under a different name with a different email address but far better to choose a name at the start that will suit a shop as well as a shopper.

Listing fees are .20 per item and there is a 3.5% commission charged on each item sold. You can “showcase” items for an extra fee. You can create coupons for your shoppers, add a banner to your site and browse the selling tips at your leisure.

Shipping fees are not included when the fees are calculated, so you can make a few dollars on handling fees to cover any boxes, labor, and fuel costs. You can sell internationally if you choose and all currency conversions are handled by Etsy. You are billed once a month and can pay with PayPal or a credit card.

I chose Etsy over a site that charges a monthly fee as I knew from Internet blogs and chats that it can be a few months before your shop is “discovered”. I would have paid $30.00 in monthly fees before my first item sold.

If you are not making items “to order” you will need a place to safely store the items that are for sale. I am always on the lookout for appropriate sized boxes for shipping (store the items in these boxes, as well) and have a note that I enclose when I use “recycled” boxes to showcase the plus of this kind of recycling. I sell items that don’t have to be embroidered, items that can or not, items that other embroiderers can buy (consider offering a discount for a valid business license), supplies that can be used for embroidery or in other disciplines, and vintage items, often repurposed, with an option to personalize.

 Brick and Mortar Co-ops

 Word of mouth, the Yellow Pages and watching the ads in your local paper, any coupon magazines, and checking with your city or its web page, can unearth many co-ops that sell handmade items, vintage goods or a combination.

Booths of different sizes are available and, guided by shop rules, you can trick your space out as you like. Display racks are an investment, but you can get creative and use vintage furniture (sell that, too, and have a new look to your space periodically), old crates and boxes and coat racks. Instructions for making your own display paraphernalia can be found on the Internet. I purchased some wooden shelves on closeout at the local hardware store and some “oops” paint in a rainbow of colors to make them memorable. I also found some vintage wood fruit boxes that I made into tiered displays with some 1” x 2” legs which were painted to match the shelves. Adding those to the apple crates I have collected and some small furniture pieces, I managed to decorate a 20’ x 8’ space and an adjacent 8’ x 8’ space for less than $100.00.

I have participated in several of these co-ops over the years. I have found that you need to concentrate on what sells, even if it is not your favorite to make, and weed out what doesn’t, even if you love creating it. Keeping up with the care and cleaning of a space is important. Shoppers leave items not yours in your corner and carry your things to other places which, when returned, are often dropped off haphazardly.

The same retail tips and tricks we talked about last month apply to this “shop away from shop” and lighting is important, especially “spot” lighting which can catch the customer’s eye. I always ask about open houses, sales flyers and the shop’s advertising participation so I get the most exposure for my rent investment. Do they have a website? Will you have a section or page of your own? If not, how often will your goods and name be highlighted?

Be sure to ask about insurance. Some shops charge for this and include you in their policy. Others require you to have your own coverage. Ask about any deposits required and what you need to do to recoup that upon leaving.

Choose locations near you so you can exercise due diligence in stocking and cleaning, especially in this day of high fuel prices. I pulled out of one location when the gas prices skyrocketed and participate in one that is less than 40 minutes from me. I have my name on a waiting list for a second location.

I travel there once a month, sometimes twice, to add stock, take stock and tidy the space. I pay a flat rent and a 9% commission on items sold. They collect and pay any sales tax.

One word of caution: I paid for a distributorship with a company that sold bedding and gifts that can be embroidered, thinking I could offer the goods with optional embroidery at my booth. I was told, after the fact, that I had to “be present” to sell the goods as only their members can sell and the owner of the brick and mortar store did not qualify. I can’t be in two places at once so withdrew from the distributorship. Make sure you know the rules for any product that you sell. In this case I found the rules were too many (one red flag) and hampered my ability to sell the product. I was not allowed to stock the product (unfair to other distributors!!??) and the subsequent ordering time and shipping costs were not acceptable to my customers.

 Making Hay While Looking for the Sunshine

 The economy is difficult right now, and I use any means I can to boost my bottom line. I especially like finding ways to do the “hard work” up front (setting up) and letting someone else take care of collecting the money and disbursing it to me. I find that the Internet and physical co-op shops fit the bill. I also participate at eBay when I have an item that is worth more, or I don’t know the true value and can let the experts in that field set it by their bids. I have a book store at Amazon where I sell my own books, Professional Embroidery: Business by Design and Professional Embroidery: Stitching by Design, as well as other books that I have read and want to sell. I have my own websites where I sell the books I have written and other products for the embroiderer. Having multiple and different venues is fun and optimizes your space and exposure in creative ways. It is exciting to open my email program and find orders from Amazon, bids from eBay, orders from my own web sites, Etsy and then collect a check once a month from the physical co-op location.

My Father is the one who urged me to write my books. He believed that creating something once and then selling it multiple times is the answer to retirement (and retirement income) for the self-employed. The freedom of entrepreneurship is invaluable, but it requires creativity both in product and in thinking ahead. Participating in cyber and actual co-ops also fills the bill for investing time for reaping a consistent return.

A hug to my Father for his fine advice. Get out a piece of paper and take stock of what you have, what you can do and where you can sell it. You might just find that sailing these stormy economical seas is not as daunting as it seems.