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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!