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Thursday, December 1, 2011

Bratty Beaders, Crazy Catknappers, and the Problem with Spewing our Thought Bubbles...

It has been an interesting few weeks and I have lots of exciting news to impart and projects to enthuse over, but that is all going to have to wait until another day....there is WAY more important stuff to how surreal life is becoming.....

Is it just me or have you noticed that the world is going Nuckin' Futz?  

Seriously.  I feel as though I have fallen down the rabbit hole and landed in a really twisted place.

WTF is wrong with people?????  

First, lets talk about  Rude Ass Designer Syndrome a/k/a RADS.  It is wildly contagious and seems to be spreading from designers to those who love them.  Beader Extraordinaire Beki Haley recently shared the following account of some silliness at a local bead store:

Shopper #1 has been beading for years.  She does not have internet access and lives a very remote lifestyle, making periodic pilgrimages to her local bead shop to gather supplies.  Shopper #2 has a talented daughter-in-law whose sells bead patterns on Etsy.  She noticed Shopper #1 wearing a bracelet that appeared similar to one of her daughter in law's Etsy designs.  She complimented Shopper #1 on her interpretation of the piece and mentioned that it had been designed by her daughter-in-law.  Shopper #1  told Shopper #2 that the bracelet was of her own design from six or seven years ago and then things started to get uncomfortable.

Let the games begin!

Shopper #2 became loud and irate, publicly chastising Shopper #1 for lying.  Shopper #1 was clearly uncomfortable but determined to stand her ground.  She reported that she had designed the piece years before and has never even heard of Etsy.  Shopper #2 was not placated and went on to accuse Shopper #1 of thievery.  Shopper #1 grew increasingly uncomfortable and ultimately left the shop without purchasing her supplies.  Unbelievable.  Reminiscent of  an encounter with a spoiled five year old, wouldn't you say?

 Where is Mr. Woody when you need him? 

(SIDE NOTE:  Mr. Woody was an unhappy wooden spoon that lived on top of my refrigerator and whose primary function was to serve as a deterrent, but who was commissioned to spank a tushie now and then.  Each incident involved a boy with a  penchant for stacking books and pots/pans on chairs to get to the knives hidden beyond his reach.  You see, my son Jeremy had a fascination for all things weapon-like and was willing to risk life, limb, and Mr. Woody to get to the cutlery.   He is now in law school.   Go figure).

Was Shopper #1 so insecure and narcissistic that accosting an old lady in a bead store seemed to be an appropriate resolution to a dispute?  Really?  Frankly, while I am occasionally tempted to channel my inner three year old when confronted with life's little challenges, the angry words are generally edited before they slither out of my mouth.  It is all about self control.

Moreover, what is with all of the Haters?  Why are so many artists so quick to assume that a similarity in design is necessarily indicative of malfeasance?  Why do so many people think that they own something that belongs to everyone (or no one)?    I recently posted on this sort of thing, and the issue continues to be a source of considerable discussion.  It has been my experience that big egos and big insecurities get in the way of a happy life. 


So...on to the Crazy Catknapping....

My son lives in California, doing the waiter/actor thing. Er.....if any of you are related to Quentin Tarrantino, pass along the headshot, won't you?  ...but I digress....

Jake's lovely girlfriend recently moved out to LA, bringing her two cats, Kitty and Vinnie.  Jake and Janice spent Thanksgiving with us while the cats were being cared for  by Roommate. Vinnie went missing so Roommate and Hero Neighbor combed the  neighborhood, to no avail.  Hero Neighbor noticed Crazy Neighbor peering out while they were calling for the cat and suddenly got "a weird feeling."   Hero Neighbor knocked on the door to ask Crazy Neighbor if she had seen the lost cat and noticed Vinnie sitting inside.   Crazy Neighbor told the pair that the cat was actually her cat, Star, who had disappeared 1 1/2 years ago.  Crazy Neighbor picked up Vinnie and went on to say that while she appreciated Jacob and Janice taking care of Star, she was going to be keeping the cat from this point forward.  

Alrighty then.....

Roommate and Hero Neighbor explained that Vinnie could not possibly be her cat because he was only six months old, was a male not a female, and had arrived in Los Angeles only three months before.

Nonetheless, Crazy Neighbor was adamant...she knew her cat and this cat was hers.

Roommate was flummoxed.  Hero neighbor was perplexed.  Clearly, they were at a stand off.  Fortunately, Hero Neighbor suddenly grabbed the cat from Crazy Neighbor's arms and ran out the door before Vinnie could even deliver a parting scratch.  The cat was home safe and sound when Jacob and Janice returned.  I asked Jacob how he was going to handle the situation as I would be afraid to let Vinnie outside unsupervised.  He said, "Mom, you can't fight crazy with crazy.  I wanted to call her out, but instead I am going over with copies of vet bills and pictures of Vinnie as a kitten.  I have to live next to her, so I might as well help her get to a better place."  Damn.  Good looking and brilliant, too.  He is learning to use his edit button!  Is the neighbor really crazy?  Did she intentionally steal a cat?  Who the hell knows....but I want to believe that she simply misses her cat and harbors a secret hope that Star will find her way home.   I am glad that Jacob and Janice are kind humans who have turned this weirdness into a funny story and simply moved on.  No histrionics, no accusations, no drama. Happy Sigh.

Several months ago I happened upon a blog post written by a woman I do not know personally.   I know of her based upon her internet presence.  Moreover,she is a friend of many of my friends and I would welcome the opportunity to get to know her.  She seems talented and cool and totally my cup of tea.  Yup, I would most definitely like to spend the afternoon beading with her and trading crafty stories.  She seems responsible and smart, compassionate and caring, and all around Good---yup, just the type of human I would welcome into my home and heart.  ....Yet a particular blog post contained mega doses of political vitriol and other angry nonsense that shook me.  

Understand that this was not simply a case of promoting a particular view point, rather, it was kind of mean spirited and snarky, playing on lots of silly stereotypes.  It totally bummed me out because I figured that if she knew of my personal politics, she would probably not want to spend an afternoon beading with me and trading crafty stories.  Damn.   I imagine that she would gasp in horror and write me off as one of those crazy right wingers protecting my non-existent wealth by withholding emergency medical care from desperate children while simultaneously starving old people just for giggles.  Really?  So silly, so stupid, such a waste of time and maybe a friendship or two.   I honest-to-God do not know anyone who thinks like that, Republican or Democrat.  Why are folks so quick to assume that those with an opposing viewpoint, or even a different idea on how to reach an objective, are evil and stupid?  I don't get it, I really don't.

No doubt about it....we are living in a wacky time right now.  A grown man watches another grown man rape a small child in a college locker room and walks away, fear for himself trumping any concern for that boy.  I know as surely as I am breathing that I would have saved that child, period.  My response would have been visceral and it would have been sure.   Similarly, I bet the blogger who hates Republicans would have turned into a raging warrior princess and pulled that son of a bitch off of that little boy if she had stumbled upon the crime. Good is Good and Bad is Bad...period.  It is time for those of us who are good to stand together, regardless of politics.   It is time that we start thinking more critically about our visions for the future and standing up for Right even when it is uncomfortable or requires that we steal back a kidnapped cat.    We must demand a bit more from ourselves and those we love.  It goes without saying that we must demand more from our politicians (and I ain't talking entitlement programs!). 

I  think that the blogger is a good human.  She would have protected that boy and even though we are rooting for different sides of the political ticket, I still want to be her friend.  I imagine that if she met me, she would like me and we could have a crafty blast.    Two good people, taking care of their families, working their asses off, and trying to make a positive difference in the world.   I just wonder if she would give me a chance?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Rekindle your Creative Muse to Ignite your Customer Base!

Do you remember the rush you felt when you first learned to knit, bead, or [insert your craft of choice here]?  The exhilaration was INTENSE---less sweaty than sex, with zero calories----It was GREAT!  You couldn't stop thinking about it...working out the design in your head again and again, stealing minutes away from work, friends, and even family so that you could work on the project.  It was INTOXICATING!

....and then you opened your store and your Creative Muse got squashed like a bug!
Your daily To Do list is overflowing with more obligations than could be satisfied in a week.  There is inventory to order, inventory to unload, a class calendar to put together, some promotional events to schedule, bills to be paid, phone calls to be made....and a family that needs you, too.  Time spent crafting or learning new techniques has become a guilty pleasure that is limited to coming up with classes for the shop.  Sigh.

What is a Crafty Retailer to do?

Recharge your creative batteries!  Rejuvenate that flaccid muse!  You will feel happier and more fulfilled, while your store will be healthier and more successful.  I recently taught four workshops at the Southeastern Animal Fiber Festival ("SAFF") in Asheville, North Carolina.   Always curious about the state of crafty retail, I took the opportunity to survey some of the folks I met about their brick and mortar retail experiences.  It was no surprise to learn that 100% of those asked told me that they frequently shopped online, both for reasons of price and product availability.   When asked to identify what was special about their favorite brick and mortar stores, most were uniform in their response there as well:  INSPIRATION and EDUCATION.

The US craft market is huge and crafters are still spending, economy be damned.  Seriously, I was astounded by the amount of enthusiastic shopping being done at the event.   I went to teach, with no real intention of buying.  Nonetheless, I still managed to drop $200 on some spectacular Kid Mohair and Wensleydale curls. Clearly, I was not alone as the vendors with whom I spoke were all quite pleased with their overall sales.  People didn't  show up just to shop, though.  Most of the hundreds of workshops that SAFF offered were sold out. is all about Inspiration and Education.

Savvy Crafty Retailers will take that role very seriously. Set aside some high priority/absolutely no interruptions time every week to release your own creative spirit.  I am happiest when I am creating and I grow very resentful when I ignore that need.   I bet the same is true of you.!  After years of living in an artistic wasteland because "I didn't have time," I decided to make Crafting a priority.   I have become  regimented about giving myself the time I require in the studio.  Additionally, I spend several hours a week online, surfing the web, lurking on blogs, conducting Google Image Searches, etc. in an effort to see what is inspiring the rest of the craft world.  There is always something that lights a fire in my own heart and I am soon OFF on a new journey.  My recent interests include stamped metal jewelry, torch fired enamel, and three dimensional fiber work.  The more I learn about other techniques, the more exciting and original my own work becomes as I  incorporate my new passions into my current creations.
 The same will be true in your shop.  Your enthusiasm will be contagious and your customers will respond accordingly.   After all...they are looking to YOU to provide Inspiration and Education!    It is a basic rule of Crafty Retail:  Inspire and the cash will follow.  One side benefit is that you will be able to direct inventory purchases rather than playing a guessing game with new stock.   Stock that we love sells better than stock to which we are indifferent because we push it.  Our genuine enthusiasm shows and the shopper responds with her wallet.   Similarly, it is important to really know what you are selling.  Some retailers jump into a new trend without adequate product knowledge.  They hear about a hot product and figure they should have it on the shelves.  Sadly, such  product will often languish until it eventually moves to the dead inventory "Sale Table" and the shopkeeper considers it an epic fail.   It was a failure all right, but not necessarily because the customers were not interested.  More likely, some customers would have loved it if the retailer had provided some crafty education!

Time is limited and there is no need to reinvent the wheel---shorten your learning curve!  It has never been easier to learn a new technique that can be twisted and tweaked for your shop.  Check out the amazing tutorials available at Beaducation...home of some of the stars in the jewelry world...for an opportunity to learn metalwork, bead weaving, PMC, Chainmail, Wire work and more.  For example, download the tutorial for Tracy Stanley's killer riveted metal ring  for only $24.95!

Etsy is a  Mecca for tutorials and I have learned a ton from the talented artists who maintain Etsy shops.  In fact, just this morning I popped a wire crochet video tutorial into my Etsy shopping cart.   I have seen a number of online tutorials on this subject, but Israeli Artist, Yoola, does the best work I have seen.  I have crochet experience and could probably teach myself, but I know that I will save myself lots of time (and wire) by plunking down the cash and learning from an expert!

Although on line tutorials are awesome, there is no substitute for "hands on" learning, so make it a point to take some classes a few times each year.  I am embarrassed to admit that, until recently, I have been remiss in this regard.   One of my resolutions for 2011 was to focus more on being a student.  I have taken four classes in the last six months and it has been a blast.  I recently took a stamped metal jewelry workshop from Holly Hancock, owner of Beads in Tampa, Florida.  Cold connection metal had been on my To Learn List for several years, but I was too busy and too intimidated to tackle it on my own.   An email newsletter from Holly was all it took --- I got the last spot in her class a few weeks ago.   The class lasted most of the day and I made the sweet little heart pendant Holly had on display, as well as a more personal piece.  My workshop creations were very primitive and clearly the work of a Newbie, but I am SMITTEN!  I bought all of the tools Holly had at the shop and then went on line and bought even more.  I happily used my clothing budget for craft products yet again.  Yup, inspire first and sales will follow...
Are you getting the job done?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Fine Line Between Artistic Inspiration and Crafty Exploitation

Color.  Texture.  Design.  I am a big fan of visual stimulation.  I spend hours each week surfing the web --- popping in on artsy blogs and conducting countless google image searches to discover the best of  what is happening in the crafty world.   The time spent in this creative revery is always a treat...throw in a cupcake or a glass of wine and I have myself a Happy Meal.

While this sort of research is important for business purposes, there is a secondary benefit as well.  Oftentimes, I come across a piece that ignites my own creative spark and I will obsess for days until I find an opportunity to give birth to my own creation.   Sometimes my finished piece reflects the inspiration that I received, other times the connection would not be obvious to anyone but me.

 So---when does INSPIRATION cross the line to EXPLOITATION? While the line is a fine one, it is often quite murky and not particularly absolute.  It makes for a lot of hard feelings and wasted energy for artists involved in a dispute over a design.

When does the work cross the line? 

I had a customer contact me a few months ago. She was frustrated and irate, having just been accused by another artist of copying that artist's work.  The two are not true friends, although she thought they had a friendly relationship.  They would see each other at the occasional trade show and kept in touch throughout the year.  Accordingly, she was shocked when she received the following email in response to a text that she had sent with some helpful information relative to a sales rep:

I got your text today and so I wanted to write you back an email instead of a text since I actually have quite a bit to say.  I am rather confused by your actions.  On the one hand, you text me about reps, asking how the show went, leave Facebook messages on my page about my designs though we were friends, and then on the other hand, you have taken an idea of a necklace from me and are exploiting my design through what you consider your own....

  ....Before you texted me this morning I had actually posted a link on my Facebook to an article that I hope you will read regarding exploiting someone else's work.  If you get the idea for a piece by using someone else's work, then that is stealing.  Regardless of what you think, I am hurt by your actions and do not desire to be friends with someone who would do that.  I go to great lengths to offer unique products, and have copyrights on all of my designs because I believe in what I am doing and I design my work without the use of others to take ideas from. 

What confuses and hurts me the most is the fact that you seem to think that what you did was ok because you still remain in contact with me.  I tried a while back to very subtly let you know how I felt about your taking my idea, but either you didn't pick up on what I was saying or you didn't care.  The very fact that you starting creating pieces just like mine is why I chose not to share a booth with you at the [tradeshow].

I guess in the end, you will do what you want to further your business and your choice of ethics is ultimately up to you, but due to the fact that I feel ripped off by you, I do not wish to remain friends. I am sure you would feel the same if the tables were turned.

Ouch.  Pretty harsh stuff.  Clearly, The Accuser felt wronged and  The Accused felt wrongly accused.  Both women are very talented.  Both do a great job marketing their work. My take is that they are both good, kind women and I would proudly sport a necklace made by either.    

So where is the disconnect?  

First, lets take a look at the work at issue:

 Each necklace has the same 27mm  Swarovski Crystal 1201 stone (in different colors)  hung on a simple chain. 

I pondered long and hard about the karma of this dispute and came to the conclusion that  my customer should be able to sleep at night.  We are talking about one Swarovski crystal stone....albeit a spectacular stone....on a chain.   Period.  The stone is widely available.  No special techniques were employed, no complicated construction was required.  If you like sparkle, you would probably hang either --or both--around your neck.  Both designers have expansive product lines.  This is the only item in dispute.  They ARE different.  One has a romantic, vintage quality.  The other has a clean, modern look.  Yet, one human feels victimized and another feels under attack.  It sucks.

I have been on both sides of this issue...early in my art career, long, long ago...back when I was a naive young thing... I was accused of copying the work of another artist.  It totally freaked me out.  No doubt, I was definitely influenced by her work, but  I honestly did not think my product bore a close resemblance. I still don't.   Regardless, the original artist saw my piece and went NUCLEAR.  I thought she was crazy, but I  backed off the design.  The juice wasn't worth the squeeze and I didn't want to find my pet rabbit  boiling on the stove top A La Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction.  On the other hand, I have also had my work copied on a very large scale.   The product involved a basic design and was easy to it was.  Yup...It sucked...but it wasn't personal---it was business.  C'est La Vie.  No doubt about it....Simple designs have a shorter shelf life.

I am a fiber artist.  I have long avoided using the classic "felt ball" in my work because I found the humble fuzzy ball to be kind of silly...silly, that is, until I happened upon the work of Gail Crosman Moore.  Gail is talented in many genres...she is innovative and has a killer grasp of color and form.  During one of my web surfing Happy Meals, I happened upon this photo:
OMG!  Be still my heart!  Felt balls that were not just interesting....they were SPECTACULAR!
I couldn't wait to get to the felting table!  Here is my version:

They are both multi layered cuff bracelets featuring felted balls embellished with bead work.
Uh Oh.
OH. MY. GOD.   
They are both multi layered cuff bracelets featuring felted balls embellished with bead work!

Should I be able to sleep well at night?  

Honestly, I have had no problem catching ZZZZZs but was curious....what would Gail Crosman Moore think?  I looked at the two photos carefully and I still felt good about it....but then, I don't see a big issue with the two pendants described above.    Hmmmm..........I decided to shoot Gail an email and ask her opinion:

Hey there, Gail!  I messaged you via FB, but wanted to make sure that I touched base with you with a more complete explanation of my quest.   I am a fiber artist/crafty business owner.  I have been making fiber jewelry for years and use beads/crystal embellishment in every piece.

I am writing a blog post on the difference between being inspired by a piece and copying a piece.  It is always such a hot button and “in the eye of the beholder” so I wanted to illustrate my point regarding inspiration with a photo of a piece you did that inspired me to make my own. 

You made a killer cuff bracelet (photo of your piece is attached) with embellished felt balls that knocked my socks off.  I have always been a bit of a felt ball snob because most of the work that I have seen is pedestrian and kind of clownish.  Your bracelet has a sophistication that wowed me and got me looking at felt balls in a whole new light.

I have attached a piece of my finished product, which I perceive to be an original piece inspired by your incredible piece.   I am curious as to whether or not you agree.  You are the artist of the piece that inspired me…copy or inspiration?  Inquiring minds want to know!

Please feel free to be as honest as possible.  It would be helpful to blog readers and shed light on the whole process from both perspectives, even if you want to bitch slap me.  

Pat Riesenburger

I sent the email......and then I started sweating.  I looked at the photos again and compared them closely.  She made a cuff bracelet.  I made a cuff bracelet.  She embellished with beads.  I embellished with beads.   NOOOOOOOOOOO!   How have I been sleeping at night?

Much to my relief, within a few hours the following message appeared in my In Box:

Hello Pat,

Thank you for your thoughtful and complimentary project.
Absolutely no worries re: copying, I love that this bracelet of mine inspired you. Your piece is very different from mine and it makes me happy that I was a springboard towards an excited energy to carry out your piece. Well done!

I am also happy that my piece framed a material in a new light to make it useful to you!

Enjoy, with many thanks for your openness.



WHEW! I knew how I felt about it and it was nice to know that Gail agreed....I could breathe again.  Thank you, Gail!  

I tend to think along the same lines...I am flattered on those occasions when my work serves to inspire another.  I consider it an Art Hug.

The thing is.....Art is derivative.  We are naturally influenced by the world around us.  Artists who post pictures of their work online, or publish patterns in magazines, are putting their work out there for others to see.  It is lovely affirmation for the artist and the exposure is good for those seeking to promote their crafty careers.   However, what about the work that you see in the course of living your life?  What if you decide to sell the work?  When are you INSPIRED and when are you EXPLOITING? 

I think that it boils down to INTENT.  Did my customer intend to copy the design of the Accuser?  I don't think so.  I think that she was excited by it, and that she was inspired by it, and that she loves Swarovski Crystal.   She saw a stone that she admired and she wanted to use it.  The construction of the necklace in question involved one stone, one bezel, one chain and a clasp.   She has a large product line and this is the only item at issue.   I just cannot get my panties in a twist over this one.  

The Accuser acknowledged that the Accused treated her as a friend, offering encouragement and support; yet, she was willing to believe that this woman would deliberately screw her over.  HUH?  She then handled the matter by dropping a "subtle hint" about her feelings, and when no response was forthcoming she became hurt and then angry.    I have watched a number of artists respond the same way over the years.   Sometimes  people really do steal designs and the anger is legitimate. On other occasions, two people have similar taste. Again....I would point to the matter of INTENT.   Look to the character of the person involved.  If someone does something that is inconsistent with the behavior that I typically see, I do not automatically assume the worst and then write them off.  I inquire.  I ask about it.  I COMMUNICATE. 

Life is short.  I don't want to spend my days mulching a Bitterness Garden, tending each grievance so carefully that it thrives, growing bigger and more toxic over the days. time is better spent mulching a different sort of filled with wonder, and creativity, and peace.  Give folks the benefit of the doubt until they prove unworthy----it will make your life more pleasant.


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Carol Cypher, Marketing Magic, and a Middle Aged Slumber Party

Promotional events are the lifeblood of a spectacular retail experience.  It is all about SHOPPERTAINMENT!  You know you should do more Store Events and I know that I should do more Studio Events.  Life often gets in the way of our intentions.  After all, there are only so many hours in a day and the "Hostess with the Mostest" Ball is often the first one to get dropped in our struggle to get the bills paid.  However,  in the interest of practicing what I preach, I am going to share with you the evolution of  a Cooperative Marketing Event that I am orchestrating in my little corner of the world.  It is a first for me and I am sure that there will be some lumps and bumps along the road, but I figure that it will be a great learning and networking opportunity.

First the idea....

I was thumbing through my copy of Hand Felted Jewelry and Beads this past July and found myself wishing that I could take a workshop with Carol Cypher.  I have been a fan for years as her work was the first that I had seen that combined felting with beads.  I checked around but she wasn't teaching anywhere close by...Sigh.  Maybe another time.
WAIT!  I have a studio with plenty of space.  I really, really want to take a workshop with Carol Cypher.  Tampa has a large crafting community and a number of fiber and bead hobbiests.  Maybe Carol could teach from MY studio.   Hmmmm.....

  Most National Instructors charge between $375 and $575 per diem, plus all expenses relative to travel and accommodations.  A quick call to Carol confirmed that her fee structure fell well within these parameters. She had one open week-end before the end of the year and I snagged it!   
[Yup---that's me.  Leap first, consider the consequences later.] 

[Gulp.  Carol Cypher is coming to Urban Stitch Studio November 11-13!]

The biggest challenge:  My customer email list is composed of Brick and Mortar Shopkeepers throughout the country, not crafters in  the Tampa Bay area.  Clearly, my existing email list is NOT going to fill Carol's classes.  What to do?  What to do?

[What if no one signs up?  What if I am the only one in the class?  What if there is a hurricane?  First inklings of self doubt start to plague me. ]

BRIGHT IDEA!  I decided to call a couple of the local craft store owners to see if they wanted to split the cost/share the profits of the workshops.  The gals I talked to love the idea of a National Instructor, but no one was keen on the idea of sharing expenses.  EPIC FAIL[Gulp].

NO!  Failure is not an option.  Carol is amazing.  There is a dearth of  amazing instructors in Tampa Bay.  I just need to figure out how to make this work. 

Ruminate.  Ruminate.  Ruminate some more.

BRIGHT IDEA!  Clearly, I need to keep costs to a minimum.  After some mental hemming and hawing,  I got up the nerve to call Carol  and asked if she would be willing to stay in my home rather than a hotel.  We are almost pals, after all.  I offered a comfortable bed, wonderful home cooked meals and even promised that my dogs were well behaved.  [well...they are.  Kinda sorta.]  She graciously agreed.  [Whew.  OK, this might just work out]

Although I was able to save on hotel/car rental expenses, I still need to cover Carol's teaching fees as well as airfare, so it is critical to get the word out to area crafters.  What is the best way to let them know that a Beading Rock Star will be in their midst?   [Hmmmmm....While the store owners didn't want to take on financial risk, I wondered if they might be willing to jump on board in a different capacity......]
Ruminate.  Ruminate.  Ruminate some more.

BRIGHT IDEA.  I sent an email to several local craft stores, choosing those who had some miles between them in an effort to avoid sending emails to direct "competitors" to the extent possible.  My email was entitled "Cross Promotion Opportunity" and detailed my decision to host Carol Cypher at Urban Stitch Studio for a series of felting and beading workshops that might be of interest to their customer base.   

I included a coupon code offering their customers 5% off any Carol Cypher workshop fee, as well as a 5% referral fee for each shopkeeper.  Participating stores would agree to post a coupon on my site offering 10% off supplies purchased for the workshops.  Finally, I offered each retail store owner who participated one free workshop with Carol.

I wanted to make participation easy, so I included a PDF flyer touting the event for electronic dissemination by the store owner.  I figure that it is a win-win.  I am not selling supplies that compete with any of the businesses that I approached, but we all have a similar customer base.  The stores get to avoid the financial risk, have something fun to talk about with their customers, and get the AWESOME OPPORTUNITY to take a free workshop with Carol.  I get to build my customer email list while fulfilling my need to work with Carol Cypher.  Happy Sigh.


Reaction has been very positive and the classes are starting to fill up.  We still have some availability, so I figure that I will send out a press release as well as email all of the local bead and fiber guilds in the next week or so. I am totally stoked about this event, but am taking it one step further.    I invited Felty Diva Marlene Gruetter of Marlene's Felting Madness to join us for the week-end, and to my delight, she will make the trek from Ohio.   Carol and Marlene know and like one another, so I figure that it might as well be a slumber party!   My husband agreed to head out of town to visit his mom for the week-end, which means we have the house to ourselves. In fact, I still have two extra bedrooms so if any Crafty Retailer needs a creative week-end getaway, let me know!  The energy is sure to be INCREDIBLE and I am counting the days to the big event. I know it will be fun...but with a little luck and elbow grease, maybe it will be profitable as well!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

...Become an "Inspiration Destination" to get your Share of the Craft Dollar!

There are certain people who emanate creative light---you know the sort  I mean---each idea is more inventive than the last, their humor is infectious, filling the world with laughter, and the day is just a tad sunnier for having encountered them.  Steven Berg is that guy for me.     I met him at a TNNA trade show a few years back and have spoken to him only a few times since.   He probably doesn't have a clue that  I am a groupie because our contact has been infrequent.

Nonetheless, I have followed his career with interest.  I yam what I yam----a  Steven Be groupie.

Steven grew up around yarn.  His mother, Christina, owned a yarn shop and taught Steven to knit at an early age.   The shop was in a charming turn of the century building, that was evocative of Ike's General Store from The Waltons television show, replete with dome glass counters.  Steven learned the importance of ambiance at an early age.  He had an eye for fashion and was designing elaborate Barbie clothes by age eight. His love of design brought him to the fashion industry where he had an international career throughout Hong Kong, Milan, Paris and Miami.   However, corporate settings have a way of putting distance between the artist and the artistic process, leaving Steven clamoring for a more creative experience.

After 30 years in the fashion industry, Steven moved to  Rosemount, Minnesota and went into business with his sister, Monika.  The pair founded The Yarn Garage in 2003.  The endeavor proved to be an immediate success and he branched out with his latest venture,  Steven Be, located in Minneapolis.   The store is housed in an old firehouse that Steven lovingly restored.  It is off the beaten path in a not quite "up and coming" neighborhood, but Steven figured that someone had to start the gentrification process and decided he was going to be the one. 

He has created something special and he has the cash register receipts to prove it.  In a location with little visibility, in a city that has its share of economic challenges, Steven Be is growing.  The store is profitable and revenues are increasing every year.  Impressive, indeed, at a time when craft stores are shutting the doors with depressing regularity.

So what is Steven Berg doing right?

Lots!  He is warm, talented, engaging, confident and delightfully eccentric, with hints of vulnerability peeking through when you least expect it.  Frankly, his complete and utter humanity is enchanting.  He clearly has a great deal going for him,  but the key to his success lies with his ability to truly inspire others. He makes magic. Where the average knitter might see a ball of yarn as nothing more than a  pretty possibility, Steven sees the MAGIC of its potential.  Hang with him long enough and you see the magic, too.   He is infectious and inspiring.  In Steven's world "There are no mistakes, only variations."   I like that is easier to try something new if you can't fail and Steven makes you think that failure is damn near impossible. 

His store is overflowing with delightful fiber confections.  His has an eye for the best and most unusual in fibers, earning him the nickname the "Glitter Knitter."  There are fanciful  and luxurious samples everywhere!  Do you want diaper bag trimmed in Possum Fur for your daughter in law?  No problem...he will whip one up!  Rocker Son desires a shirt made from VHS tape for his American Idol debut?  Easy enough!  His advice to new knitters....Don't make something that you can buy in a department store.  His customers quickly develop pride in, and an appreciation for, the art of fiber craft.  Lucky them!

Steven is an artist with a keen eye for business.  He has an incredible staff to handle Social Media as well as some of the more annoying "process oriented" tasks that seem to plague us artistic types.  His space is a mecca for other yarn artists---beautifully appointed, with comfortable chairs throughout to encourage communal knitting.  The show stopper is an amazingly opulent chandelier that is delightfully decadent.  He even has a stage that is used on Sundays and for special events, where he features musicians, artists, and other creative types to entertain his customers. He is all about giving back to the local community---offering up-and-coming artists a place to showcase their work, seeking out and paying young fiber artists the price that they need (and deserve)  for the beautiful yarn that they dye and spin for him.  As is often the case with those who give without expectation of a return, Steven's generous heart has cultivated a cult like following.  You know, the whole karma thing.

He believes that it his job to educate himself and to bring his customers along with him on the journey.  He spends a lot of time on research, although he admitted that he orders inventory with his heart, rather than his head.  Steven noted that although he is not impervious to the effects of the recession,  he believes that if you inspire your clientele, the spending will follow.  True that!  The stores that have devolved into little more than a place to warehouse product are going to be hard pressed to survive.  Every crafty retailer knows that virtually any product can be purchased more cheaply online than at the local craft store.  It is what does or dos not happen at the store that will drive customer in---or away.  Steven worked seven days a week for two years to bring Steven Be from a gleam in his eye to the destination shop that is has become.

Special events rule the day at Steven Be.  Steven's customers go to him for community, inspiration, and excitement and he makes certain that there is something going on ALL of the time....catered lunches, concerts, knit-a-longs, specialty classes, fashion shows, live demonstrations, even Skype interviews with industry stars.  Steven is a believer in technology and has made it a friend rather than a foe.  Customers are encouraged to use the store computer to find patterns and crafty inspiration. He identifies a niche and fills it.  For example, Steven is aware that many yarn store owners look down on crochet and has therefore vowed to become a crochet Mecca, using fibers not traditionally associated with crochet to craft fuzzy masterpieces.

He is quick to give kudos to industry giant Jennifer Hanson of Stitch Diva Studios for her role in the current crochet revival.  Jennifer's sexy and contemporary designs have brought crochet a long way since your mom's granny square toaster cover.  Her designs feature sophisticated stitches such as broomstick, tunisian, and hairpin lace crochet.  Really yummy stuff....I used her Baroque pattern a few years ago and trimmed it with Swarovski crystal yarn.  It is a special piece, for sure!

One of Steven's epic wins is his marketing of Store Memberships, which are available in a broad range, from the  $19 "Glitteroti Day Pass" to the "Glitter Diva Lifetime Membership."  The high end membership costs $459 and entitles the recipient to 10% off all merchandise, reduced class and event fees, and 40 hours of month of Steven Be-Inn time.  I wasn't surprised to learn that he has more than 50 Glitter Diva members.  The man is a marketing genius with a genuine interest in making his customers happy.

Steven told me that he surrounds himself with youth and I urge you not to underestimate the importance of maintaining a youthful vibe.  No matter how hip we are at 50, lets face it, we are talking being "hip" at "50."  My kids would say that the two are mutually exclusive.  The meanest of them would also add that he had just thrown up in his mouth.   Whatever.  There is definitely a cool version of 50, 60, 70, 80 and beyond, so long as the folks who are judging are equally age endowed.  Am I right?

That being said, retailers need to stay relevant.  There is a HUGE group of crafters in the under 30 category.  Despite what you think, many of them are big spenders because they have real jobs and no kids.  Do not overlook this market!   The best way to know what is "cool" is to surround yourself with cool!  Pick the brains of the young crafters and artists in your market.   I recently took a tatting class at a relatively staid "typical" yarn store.  The gal who taught the class was a generously pierced and colorfully tattooed young woman who shared with the class that she had only recently taught herself to tat by watching hours and hours of You Tube Videos.   True Confession:  I was expecting to be taught by a 107 year old European woman who had learned at the feet of her whiskered grandmother.  Go figure...serves me right for assuming.  The tatting instructor was a store employee with true passion for fiber crafts.   No one in the area has offered a tatting class before and I have been wanting to learn, but lacked the desire to spend hours and hours watching You Tube videos.  The young teacher has an obvious desire to learn new skills and Store Owner was smart to have hired her even though she did not fit the store customer demographic.   She adds a different perspective to the "classic" yarn store.

But I digress....

Steven likes a youthful vibe in the shop, but he is intractable in his quest to hire staff members who are very strong technically, well versed in the craft and art of fiber.   He cares less about past retail experience than love of fiber, noting that he considers himself a "Fiber Mixologist."

The passion shows.  He is selling an experience and stressed the importance of  maintaining a stage face, because, in his words

....It is a wonderful day everyday at Steven Be!

I am a believer.

Steven Be
A Yarn Garage Workshop
3448 Chicago Avenue
Minneapolis, MN  55407
Email  Steven here.
Sign up for his newsletter here.

I happened upon this adorable knitting glassware during my daily web travels.  BreadandBadger is owned by Amanda and Sean Siska, a husband and wife team on Etsy.  They create a variety of gift  items for the knitting enthusiast, including a soap dispenser, various containers, and assorted bar ware.  Best part...they offer wholesale pricing.  Check them out if you are interested in adding some gift items to the sales floor this holiday season!

Check out my stitching blog!  We are having an awesome give away featuring the hand dyed embroidery floss in Sunset, pictured in the martini glass above.  Your name will be entered in the drawing when you leave a comment on this weeks post,  Losing my Mojo, Rosie's Garden, and the Search for Tranquility.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Can't we all just get along? Bashing your Competition is bad karma, bad for business, and just plain yucky.

Crafty Retail can be awesome, but some days it is kind of like high school.  Yup, high school with wrinkles.  Snarky competitors love to make snide comments when your customers are in their stores, and snarky customers love to come back to you to spread the news....all in your best interest, of course.  They just "think you should know."  Sigh. 

A wise friend once told me that every fight she ever had with her husband boiled down to one of two basic scenarios:  one of them felt that his/her sense of security was threatened, or that his/her sense of significance was threatened.  SECURITY and is right.  Think about your last fight with a significant other....I bet that you can see security or significance at play.   I see it in myself, and I see it in my family.  Heck, I even see it in my dogs.

It is the exact same in Crafty Retail!   When the economy is great, and there are as many customers  lined up at your door as are at the door of your competitor,  you can afford to be magnanimous.  You know----C'est La Vie, Live and Let Live and all that chirpy stuff.  However, when you are worried about making the rent payment, you might not always be up to singing Kum Ba Yah with the lady stealing "your" customers/money/ideas, etc.

The economy is a bitch so the security and sense of significance for crafty retailers is under attack.   Although it is not surprising that there seems to be a tad more bitchy going around these days,  it is kind of gross.   I am always a little bit amazed that smart, savvy business owners fall into the trap.
The most common form of  Crafty Retail Snarkiness  that I hear about is the casually dropped "I've heard that her store is not doing so well."  This is typically said in a hushed sympathetic tone that implies that the Rancorous Retailer would actually be upset if the competitor closed.  PUH-LEESE! You aren't fooling anybody and your bitchiness is showing.

You might do it the same way that my sweet voiced Texas 'friend' does...she ALWAYS punctuates her Acid Sweet Snarkiness with the phrase---- "poor little thing!" as if it will serve to neutralize her bitchiness:

"Have you seen Suzie?  My God, that dress she has on makes her look ridiculous!
...poor little thing!"

YUCK!  I admit, it is funny as hell, but it is still yucky.

Don't fall into the Rancorous Retailer trap!   I get that we are in a business that is riddled with estrogen.  I get that we are stressed out, that our parents need extra help as they transition from old age to infirm, that the babysitter quit, and that you are worried about making your rent payment, but still....don't do it!

I know one shop owner that truly has the patience of Job.  She has held her head high and kept her own mouth shut while dealing with a competitor who is mean spirited, at best.   This Rancorous Retailer has spread ridiculous rumors about her, which include, but is certainly not limited to, the one where she tells folks that the Crafty Retailer has a disabled child that she leaves at home --all alone--because she is uncomfortable being around the wheelchair bound child.  Bear in mind that the "victim" retailer has no kids!  WTF?

Weird, huh?  I mean, seriously!  Where does the lady come up with this stuff?  Both women have been in business for years and each has a loyal following.  The Crafty Retailer is growing frustrated, her feelings are hurt, and she worries that her business is impacted by the slander.

What is the Crafty Retailer to do?

This is a tough one.  I think that I would consider either of the following:

1.  Contact the Rancorous Retailer and ask to schedule time to get together to work on a joint marketing venture. Send her an email so that you don't catch her off guard. Completely ignore the past animosity and work on something together.  Yes, really!  Consider a Shop Hop or a project that requires a visit to each store.  This woman is a bitch because she is insecure...remember, it is all about security and significance.  This will appeal to both and make her feel weirder about trashing you in the future.  You really DO catch more flies with honey than vinegar!

2.  Ignore it.  Who has time for the drama?  Note:  ignoring it means REALLY ignoring it.   If you are whining about it, you are not ignoring it.  Give yourself a 24 hour whine limit per occurrence, otherwise you are playing along. 

What about you?  How would you handle the Rancorous Retailer?  Inquiring minds want to know!

In other news:
Looking for an inexpensive way to expand your market base?  Consider starting a Meet Up group.  It is not the same as a ladies night out, or a stitch and bitch session because you have the chance to attract people way outside of your normal reach.

I had an opportunity to attend a Beads Meet Up group hosted by Holly Hancock of Beads last week.   Fourteen women attended and a local restaurant delivered dinner for anyone who was interested.  Holly had a sweet little spiral bracelet project on the agenda and sent everyone a supply list before the event.  Some ladies came with all of their supplies, while others (like me!) bought everything they needed (and then some!) that night.
Holly told me that although the group started out slowly, it built up over time and is now an important part of her store "community."  It has attained the status of "special event" and sales make it well worth the effort.  It was certainly apparent that the MeetUp members agree.  Barley, the shop mascot, ran to the door with each new arrival, even barking at some favorites as he saw their cars pull into the parking lot.  Store Regular Bonnie Anderson  entertained me when she got Barley to do a "high five" to earn his treat.

Holly has organized two separate for beading and another for dichroic glass.  The cost to the organizer is minimal.  In fact, two weeks ago I formed my own little Fiber Meet Up group in my area, to be sponsored by new "Retail Lite" venture, Urban Stitch Studio.   We already have 10 members and I will be hosting our first meet up event this Saturday.  Wish me luck!  


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Refine Your Crafty Business to Get the Life You Want!

We have been blogging a bit about the state of the brick and mortar craft store and it is fair to say that times are changing. There was a time when a creative individual with a passion for knitting/beading/scrapbooking/etc. could open up a store with relative ease.  I opened my store that way...I loved to bead, wanted to spread the love, had a tolerant husband and some friends who were willing to go into business with me. Voila!  I was a retailer.  The rent was reasonable, customers were plentiful, competition was non-existent.  Life was GREAT!

...until it wasn't.  I lost my motivation.

Several competitors popped up and many were much better financed.  Customers became more demanding as the craft world became larger and the choices more plentiful.  My partners and I started squabbling. Internet stores began to appear and I recognized that the competition would  be an additional burden. The business took too much time away from my family.    My husband became less tolerant.   I felt frazzled and frustrated.  I was busier than ever, but seemed to be accomplishing less.  I was burnt out. My partners were burnt out.  Sound familiar?  It wasn't working any more and the bead shop was sold.  It was a happy day for all of us ---a great burden had been lifted from our shoulders, but only one friendship survived.

Running a successful retail business is not easy.  It takes a wicked amount of time, energy, focus, and money.  It is hard.  It is getting harder.  It is no longer enough to have a well stocked shop and a knowledgeable staff.  Today's Crafty Retailer must  master Social Media (if you are not on Facebook, GET on Facebook!), design inspiring classes, have an interactive e-commerce website,  plan promotional events, send out weekly newsletters, and more.  It is exhausting just thinking about it.

Many retailers are deciding that the personal sacrifice is no longer worth it.  I had an opportunity to speak with Kim Schweitzer, who recently made the decision to close her bead shop, EmMi Beads, in upstate New York.  Kim was a savvy retailer...she has a business background as well as a creative streak.  She opened her store 5 1/2 years ago and watched her business expand and grow over the years.  She was lucky to have a wonderful support team.  Her husband did her books, her artistic and bead loving daughter worked at the shop, and her mom was her right hand relative to operations..  She recently took on a larger space and business was good.  Unfortunately, life happens and Kim found that the demands on her time were growing exponentially.  Her daughter's interest understandably waned as she entered college, her father grew ill and her mother's focus was required elsewhere.  Kim believed that she was no longer able to be the mother/daughter/retailer that she wanted to be....her plate was beyond full and she "felt as though [she] was not doing a single thing well."  I absolutely know where she is coming from and I bet that you do, too.

The loss of her father was an awakening...we all experience that "Aha" moment where we come to grips with just how finite life is and Kim knew that something had to give.    She missed having lazy moments with her young son, longed for the joy of creative discovery, and  missed her she decided to make different choices.  Kim conducted a priority triage and determined that the store was no longer a good fit for the life that she wanted to live.  She has no regrets.  She learned from her experience and has moved on, acknowledging that she simply "can't do everything and that walking away is a viable choice."

She is dead on!  One of the lessons that I learned after lots of bumps and bruises is that just because you CAN do something, it doesn't necessarily follow that you SHOULD.  Sometimes the smartest life decision is to close the business and feel good about it!  I was tickled when Kim reported that yesterday was eventful for her:  she had the time to paint her toenails and had learned to knit!  She was exhilarated by  her crafty accomplishment and said that it was a joy to feel the happiness that her customers felt.  Congratulations, Kim!

While some retailers are closing the doors, others are opting for Retail Lite.   Consider renting booth space in a store.  Jewelry Designer Sheryl Stephens of Cool Moon Beads has chosen that option.  Sheryl made the stunning necklace pictured at left and has experienced success in selling her designs, as well as bead inventory, by maintaining a booth at a local antique mall.  While she does not earn enough to support herself, she is able to contribute to the household income, and is fulfilling her creative desires, without sacrificing her life.  Way to go, Sheryl!

Others are sticking with Brick and Mortar, but are defining the terms.  I know one crafty retailer who closes the store on the spur of the moment to deal with a sick pet or to attend a child's school play.  It certainly annoys customers who have driven across town to make a purchase, but she is training them to call before they make the trip.

Life changes and the crafty retailer will transition to accommodate it.  My business has been in a state of flux for years!  Young business needed to change.  Seriously sick business needed  to change.  Husband involved in a  new business needed to change. Fortunately, the ability to choose something different is one of the coolest things about being a grown up!   I find that I am continuing to evolve.  While sales for my wholesale business have flattened with the economy,  I am getting more teaching opportunities, as well as more requests for retail kits.  Moreover, Swarovski recently asked me to join their Create Your Style Ambassador team, which is totally cool and provides wonderful exposure. It is all good.....the timing is youngest child is heading off to college, my husband's business is growing, and I have more control over my time. 

Although I am no longer interested in brick and mortar retail, I am drawn to something more "Retail-Ish"  and am working on a retail website, Urban Stitch Studio.  It will serve as both a personal branding site for my workshops and will feature my own line of hand dyed fibers.   It is a work in progress and I would love your feedback.  Additionally, I have started a more personal blog to catalog some of my crafty adventures...please check it out.  Finally, I have a companion store on Etsy and will have my Facebook page up soon.  I started a Fiber Arts Guild a few days ago and will have our first get together at the end of the month.  WHEW! I am doing all of the things that I have been urging others to do for years.  It is slow going, but I have realistic expectations and am willing to move at my own pace in order to craft a retail business that will best suit my life. 

Want to join me?  We have an incredible group of women over on Facebook...exchanging information and feedback with Crafty Retailers from  the U.S. and abroad.  It is nice to feed off of the knowledge and experience of others, and even better when you do not have to re-invent the wheel.  If you are in retail and would like to participate in the dialogue, send me a friend request on Facebook with a request to join the group.  Please identify your store and website.  The group is closed, so the posts are only visible to group members.