Guest Post: What Improving a Trade Show Booth Taught Me About Defining Success

I subscribe to the Handcrafted HoneyBee newsletter, and I’m always impressed by how well our client, Stacia Guzzo, knows her audience and is able to keep her newsletter interesting and engaging. Her recent email about the evolution of her trade show booth is one that I wanted to share with you!  –Arianne

There are times in life when new things feel exceptionally scary.

Sometimes the new things are small: a new schedule. A different teacher. A new pet.

Sometimes the things are much bigger: a move to a totally new location. A new job. Starting college (or your child leaving for college). A choice for sobriety. A new baby.

A shift into new territory comes with a bit of discomfort, no matter how good it is in the larger picture of our lives.

Back in January, I experienced that very discomfort from a new experience—and the implications on our lives as business owners have been significant. I exhibited at my very first trade show. And I felt so, so small.

If you’re unfamiliar with what a trade show might be, imagine it as a gigantic, temporary candy shop for store owners. It’s a place where hundreds (sometimes thousands!) of businesses, large and small, put their best foot forward. Everyone’s goal is the same: entice buyers from boutiques and big box retailers alike to consider selling their products.

On a cold, rainy morning six months ago, I set up a small booth at the Las Vegas Market and hoped that the buyers who walked by would see all of the love, sweat, and time poured into our microbusiness. I planned our booth for weeks ahead of time—I bought new furniture, painted props, and designed catalogs.

It was intimidating to watch people come by, look us over, and consider and what we had to offer.

At the time, I had wanted our booth to look PERFECT for that first show so we could get into as many new stores as possible. In retrospect… it didn’t look bad. But compared to many other talented artists around us, it didn’t necessarily stand out as stunning.

trade show booth design improvements

The first Handcrafted HoneyBee trade show booth at the Las Vegas Market wasn’t stunning.

I learned lessons throughout that first trade show—things I never could have known without actually doing it—about what worked and what didn’t. I learned about what translated well and what was confusing to buyers. I learned how much was too much and what I wished I had brought instead.

And afterward, even though I knew I would do a few things differently the next time, the scariness didn’t feel as scary anymore.

Improving a trade show booth design… one show at a time

So when we attended our next trade show a few months later, I gave it another try. Our next booth had a theme. We took a lot of time setting up, and we dove into the trade show hoping that our mission and message would come across more clearly.

trade show booth design improvements

Our second attempt at trade show booth design was better, but we still felt like there was room for improvement.

This worked a little better—but again, I left feeling like there were things I could have done better. Robert and I took notes and thought of how we could improve our clarity and presentation.

And once again, the scariness diminished a bit.

Just a few weeks after that, I flew out to Dallas for a market show with our new sales rep group. SmartyPits was featured in their showroom, and they had professionally designed my space. All I had to do was come and tell my story as the maker!

I was floored by the booth they had created:

It was so simple. So effective. So… perfect. They had conveyed effectively what I had struggled to express in my prior booth designs.

I walked around the showroom while I was there and studied the other booths. What worked, visually? Why had they been able to make such a compelling booth, where I had struggled?

You can’t skip over the hard parts

For a little bit, I felt frustrated that I couldn’t create such a clear, clean, joyful design on my own at a trade show. It wasn’t for lack of passion!

But the reality was this: I needed each experience to learn a little bit more.

Isn’t that such a common human experience? We want to feel totally comfortable and at ease with a new thing from the very beginning—the new job, or parenthood, or fitting into the new school, or adapting to the new schedule.

We wish we could skip over the hard part: the learning.

The part where we figure out what works and what doesn’t. Where we face the things that fall flat. Where we realize that we need to work harder at the things which are working.

Learning is one of the bravest things we can do. The chance to learn is ten times more valuable than the outcome of immediate success.

The opportunity to learn—to try, to receive constructive criticism, to adapt, to be praised—make us more compassionate, more emotionally and mentally agile, and more open to possibility beyond what we expected.

And so this weekend, we’re back at the Las Vegas Market for the second time. I’ve taken what I learned over the last 6 months—the critiquing eyes, the helpful suggestions, the confusion, the ‘A-ha!’ moments, and the guidance in the sales rep showroom—and I’ve come back to try again.

I think this might be our best booth yet.

improving a trade show booth design handcrafted honeybee

I know there’s still plenty to learn. And I know that the design of a trade show booth isn’t, in the long run, that big of a deal.

But it’s significant to me, because it embodies a bigger lesson. It’s a lesson we all learn, again and again, and it’s a good one.

It’s the lesson that my best self is still out there, and that tomorrow I will get another chance to try to be that best self, from the knowledge I gained every day prior.

And, I suppose, that makes the lessons of tomorrow a little less scary. Or perhaps I just feel a little less scared.

Learn how we helped transform Handcrafted HoneyBee into the mighty business they are now.

You can get past this awkward teenage stage for any aspect of your business by hiring design help. Contact us to talk about creating a beautiful, cohesive brand for your business! Want to know what we can do and what the investment is? Download our pricing guide, here:

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Using a 360-Degree Photo App to Sell Art: Cactus Fine Art

Shopify website redesign uses 360-degree photo app

Our website redesign for Cactus Fine Art incorporated use of a 360-degree photo app.

If you’re looking to replicate in-person shopping experiences on your ecommerce website, consider incorporating a 360-degree photo app into your product listings. As the name suggests, a 360-degree photo app lets your customers view your products from all angles—they can zoom in, zoom out, turn them to the right or left, and toggle up or down. This works especially well for products that customers may want to scrutinize before purchasing, such as jewelry, clothes, toys, housewares, and art.

Based in Mexico City, Cactus Fine Arts gathers the finest works of folkloric art from some of the most recognized artisans in Latin America. Entrepreneur and art curator Ricardo Vazquez knew that he needed to make web customers feel like they were viewing each piece up close and in-person in order to successfully launch his fine art store for an international audience. Ricardo wanted a website that would be more than a shop; it would be a gallery that showcased the craftsmanship, culture, detail, and traditions of each item in the collection. To serve their international market, the new website would also exist in two iterations: an English and Spanish version with corresponding currencies.  

Cactus Fine Art quick brand guide for a fine art retailer.

Aeolidia’s brand guide for Cactus Fine Art

Covering All Angles, Starting With a New Logo

Our first step entailed designing a visual identity for Cactus Fine Arts, which included a new logo, graphic design elements including patterns and brand marks, and marketing collateral. The brand’s tagline—Handmade Heart—served as inspiration for Brooke on our design team, as did this statement by Ricardo: “When I see the handcrafts that we will be selling, I see the heart of the artisans reflecting their feelings in the masterpiece, the same as a Cactus.”

Brooke created a clean logo mark to represent the brand’s high-end, exclusive products. The prickly pear watercolor illustration looks like an abstract heart, connecting both the name of the company and the heart of the skilled artisans at the core of the brand. “Together, these elements position Cactus Fine Art as a fresh, artistic, and welcoming brand that sells exclusive products and is respected by collectors of high-quality handcrafts,” Brooke said.

Cactus Fine Art business cards for a fine art retailer.

Business card design for Cactus Fine Art

Designing a Store that Showcases Your Art

When choosing colors for both the logo and website, Brooke was mindful of creating a palette that would be refreshing, but not intrusive. The shop’s main goal was to showcase the art pieces front and center, so she designed a sleek, clean home page that allows the images to shine without competing with other page elements. Scrolling below the fold reveals some pops of color balanced with white space, easy-to-read typography, and vibrant, eye-catching images of the artisans’ works.

The home page invites customers to visit the shop through a few different avenues: the main navigation, the category links below the intro text, or the featured items along the bottom of the homepage. Once on an individual item page, customers get a chance to really appreciate the art in all of its 360-degree glory.

Cactus Fine Art business stationery for a fine art retailer.

We designed business stationery for Cactus Fine Art, too!

Integrating 360-degree Photos into Your Shop

Photo © Cactus Fine Art

Our developer, Jon, chose a 360-degree photo app called Arqspin that could easily be integrated with the brand’s Shopify site. A real perk of the app is that it allows store owners to upload new products as they’re added to stock. You purchase or rent a turntable, shoot the products yourself, and use the platform’s phone app to capture a full spin of the product and upload it to your site.

The result for visitors is unlike any other shopping experience. “It allows for customers to spin the products around and see a 360-degree view, almost as if they were holding the product in their hand and examining it,” Jon said.

For art pieces such as sculptures, vases and jewelry, as well as home decor items such as pottery, or even children’s toys, this complete, multi-angle view allows customers from all corners of the globe to take in the products’ full beauty.

Visit this project in our portfolio »

Visit the new Cactus Fine Art website »

Looking to make your products shine with a 360-degree photo app? Contact us to discuss designing a website that will truly showcase every item!

Join the Shipshape Collective

join the aeolidia club

Do you run a creative product-based business? You’ll get a lot out of our community. Bonus: you'll also get instant access to free tools for making a website work, pricing your products, building a brand, and more. Let our helping hand lift you up. There's no need to do this alone!

Expanding a Wholesale Business to Capture Online Sales: Hester & Cook

hester and cook expanding a whole sale business by adding online retail

Hester & Cook flagship store, photo © Hester & Cook

Have you been thinking about expanding a wholesale business into online retail? Although seemingly daunting, this process is actually easier than you might assume. After all, you’ve already done most of the important work: you have a brand your audience loves, products that are proven to sell, and systems in place to fulfill customers’ orders.

We recently completed a redesign of the Hester & Cook website to help them expand their e-commerce sales. Known within the gift industry for its trendsetting paper placemat pads and table runners, Hester & Cook is a favorite among retailers looking to cater to customers who love setting beautiful tables without any fuss.

Hester & Cook Custom Shopify design

Hester & Cook custom Shopify design for a kitchen accessories shop by Aeolidia.

Investing in your retail business to help it grow

Although Angie Hester Cook and her husband Robbie Cook launched their company 11 years ago, the Hester & Cook retail site had been running for eight of those years with pretty average results. Hester & Cook Art and Marketing Director Courtney Cochran had recently turned her attention to growing this part of the business, and she quickly encountered what she called “a barrel of limitations.” The website was not mobile-friendly, which made it harder for customers who shop on tablets or phones to make purchases. On the back end, adding new products to their growing line was becoming challenging, as was collecting important data, such as Google Analytics and visitor conversion rates.

Website design before Aeolidia:

hester and cook shopify redesign before image

Hester & Cook before Aeolidia

We kick off each project by discussing a client’s goals, and it was clear that Courtney was aiming high. This was great, because it meant every aspect of the new site would need to be at 100 percent upon launch. We always give projects 100 percent— and we love it when clients do, too.

To aim for the team’s high conversion rate goals, Arianne explained it goes far beyond design to also encompass photography, product descriptions, policies and shipping options provided by the client.

“Your marketing strategy will have to be refined to only be reaching out to your target customers,” Arianne said of how brands should expect to contribute to the process. “Your team would need to be available to provide the best possible content for the website during the preparation stage of your project.”

Website design after Aeolidia:

Hester and Cook website design for a gift and home décor brand.

Hester and Cook website design for a gift and home décor brand.

Tapping into your brand’s strengths & potential

Our overarching goal that set the direction for this redesign was to make Hester & Cook’s online retail sales strong enough to be on par with their wholesale accounts. After all, the brand had huge potential—our job was to make their neglected e-commerce site live up to it, both in terms of design and functionality.

Do-Hee got to work on designing an updated and beautifully branded experience that would not only appeal to Hester & Cook’s current customer base, but also attract a new online clientele. Because the brand already had such a strong following, it was important that the online experience match the quality of their curated, flagship brick-and-mortar store.

Hester and Cook custom website design for a gift and home décor brand.

“Visually, I took inspiration from Hester & Cook’s new logo, beautiful products, and timeless color palette to create a classic, but contemporary look and feel,” Do-Hee said. “Details such as the curved page corners, editorial typefaces, and stationery-inspired tables, add dashes of personality to this clean design.”

A completely updated and polished e-commerce design showcases Hester & Cook’s range of products beautifully, which helps to further instill customer confidence in the brand as the go-to for high-quality kitchen and home goods.

hester and cook product page shopify redesign

But the visual transformation is just the beginning. With a redesigned navigation, visitors can now quickly understand what Hester & Cook has to offer. That helps improve shopability and, of course, the retail shop’s conversation rate.

Visit this project in our portfolio »

Visit the new Hester & Cook website »

Does your wholesale business have the potential to drive sales online? Contact us to discuss how an online makeover can help your brand grow!

Join the Shipshape Collective

join the aeolidia club

Do you run a creative product-based business? You’ll get a lot out of our community. Bonus: you'll also get instant access to free tools for making a website work, pricing your products, building a brand, and more. Let our helping hand lift you up. There's no need to do this alone!

A Children’s Clothing Brand Logo to Grow: Well Dressed Wolf

Photo © Well Dressed Wolf.

Beloved children’s clothing brand Well Dressed Wolf already had so much going for it when founders Sarah and Shannon came to us for a logo and web design refresh. Their timeless, yet original designs are adored by loyal moms and happy children. The growth and success of their brand had recently allowed them to expand their offerings through a family of sub-brands, Omi Jo and Wildling.

Given that Sarah and Shannon hand-sketch, sample, and fit every piece in their collections, it was no surprise that they’d also created a strong visual identity for them.

“Marketing is really something I love,” Sarah told us. “I design children’s clothing, but I have also done all of the graphic design and marketing and photography for our business up to this point.”

All together now: bringing sub-brands together through design

We were excited to help take the Well Dressed Wolf family to the next level by bringing their established aesthetic together in a more streamlined, functional fashion that echoed their beautiful style.

Logo and brand identity design for Well Dressed Wolf, creator of quality children's garments.

We expanded on an existing logo by creating a detailed brand identity for Well Dressed Wolf, creator of quality children’s garments.

Christine began by brushing up their existing logos and optimizing them for the web by vectorizing the previous artwork, which gave them all a crisper, cleaner look. Next, she focused on establishing visual unity by creating a color palette and selecting typography that would work well—both within each sub-brand and across the entire family.

A couple of new design elements helped complement and enhance the brand’s existing logos. A custom illustration of a hand-in-hand child and a wolf with stars and a moon floating above them served as a whimsical foundation for a new brand mark and textures.

Logo and brand identity design for Well Dressed Wolf, creator of quality children's garments.

A new set of websites for an enduring brand

With a refreshed brand guide in place, Christine designed an original, easy-to-use look for the new Well Dressed Wolf Shopify website that maintained all the adorable charm of the brand’s aesthetic.

Custom website design for Well Dressed Wolf, creator of quality children's garments.

Custom website design for Well Dressed Wolf, creator of quality children’s garments.

 

“The website expands on the sweet branding we’ve established, while telling the story of Well Dressed Wolf, showcasing your wonderful clothes, and inspiring your customers—new and trusted alike—to make a purchase,” she said. “Accented with a few illustrative details along with classic and feminine typography, the overall look is professional but warm. A place where the Well Dressed Wolf community will feel right at home.”

The site was designed to be equally beautiful on the inside, with more streamlined functionality to improve customers’ shopping experiences. Using the template we created for the main site, Sarah and Shannon were able to customize the web design for the Omi Jo and Wildling brands—all while maintaining a cohesive feel.

Visit this project in our portfolio »

Visit the new Well Dressed Wolf website »

Do you think your brand could benefit from more visual unity and a streamlined customer experience? Contact us to learn about getting started!

Join the Shipshape Collective

join the aeolidia club

Do you run a creative product-based business? You’ll get a lot out of our community. Bonus: you'll also get instant access to free tools for making a website work, pricing your products, building a brand, and more. Let our helping hand lift you up. There's no need to do this alone!

Be Inspired by These Online Flagship Stores

When you’re talking about chain stores, a “flagship store” is a special example store that works to tell a business’s story, provide a place for customers to feel like a part of the story, and make a statement about what that brand stands for.

At Shopify’s developer conference last year, they shared an idea that I liked, which was that your ecommerce site can serve as your online flagship store for your customers. This makes so much sense. Whether you have brick and mortar locations or are entirely on the web, your website is your home base.

Treat your online shop as your flagship store! Make it a destination, a resource, a place where your tribe feels at home. Make a statement with it. Let it tell your story in a way that feels like an experience for your visitors.

Here are some online flagships we’ve had the honor and pleasure of creating at Aeolidia. These were all designed uniquely for each business, not using a template. These are all Shopify shops.

Mafu

Bonnie’s new site welcomes visitors in to shop, yes, but also to discover and learn. With an ingredient spotlight, an informative blog, and a helpful newsletter, Mafu is more than just a place to buy, it’s also a place to nurture and connect with yourself.

Online flagship store for Mafu, maker of botanical health and skincare products.

Read more about the Mafu project on our blog

Visit Mafu in our portfolio

Browse the Mafu flagship store

Love, Georgie

Working with people who are passionate about what they do never gets old! Robyn of Love, Georgie is on a mission to spread happiness one gift at a time. Her online flagship makes customers feel known, cared for, and truly special. We worked the “love” in Love, Georgie throughout each little experience a customer will have as they find the perfect gift and discover how to personalize it.

Online flagship store for Love, Georgie, a jewelry designer.

Read how sales skyrocketed before this project was even done

Visit Love, Georgie in our portfolio

Peruse the Love, Georgie flagship store

Hester & Cook

Hester & Cook was a business that was doing so well with wholesale that they had neglected their own website. This made them look less established, impressive, and appealing than they really were. Our goal was to create an updated and beautifully branded experience that would not only appeal to their current customer base but also attract a new online clientele. We also wanted the online experience to match the quality of their curated, flagship brick & mortar experience. Now they can feel confident that both branches of their business are communicating their quality!

Hester and Cook online flagship store for a gift and home décor brand.

See all we did for Hester & Cook in our portfolio

Explore the Hester & Cook flagship store

Emily McDowell

Emily’s astounding rise left her with no time to give her website the attention it needed for awhile. When we met with her last year to transform her out-of-the-box theme into a true flagship experience, we packed it full of completely on-brand details, like Emily’s own handwriting and illustration. Each call to action on the site is peppered with Emily’s humorous yet straightforward voice. Her “just right” customers instantly feel like they belong.

Emily McDowell online flagship store

See all we did for Emily McDowell in our portfolio

Shop the Emily McDowell flagship store

Bamboletta

Christina and her team put SO much love and care into each itty bitty detail of each adorable handmade doll. So it seems crazy for them to have a website that doesn’t show the same amount of care, love, and magic. We worked closely with Christina to create an online home for her dolls that communicates that attention to detail and sweetness from the very first moment.

Bamboletta custom flagship design for a maker of handcrafted dolls.

Read more about the Bamboletta project on our blog

Visit Bamboletta in our portfolio

Shop the Bamboletta flagship store

What is your website saying to your customers?

Sure, you could plunk your logo and photos into a pre-made design template, but I urge you to consider the alternative: a perfectly-fitting space created with your ideal customer in mind that makes her want to explore, shop, share, and come back. I’d love to build it for you.

Tell me a little more about your business here. The next group of daring business owners will begin the transformation with us in a month. Grab your spot!

Rebranding Your Business to Reach the Next Level: Indigo Ember

Sometimes, pressing the restart button and completely rebranding your business can be the best thing to do after getting established. It’s an understandably daunting undertaking, but it can truly be a game changer, especially when your marketing efforts aren’t adding up to your sales goals.

When we were first approached by Patricia to redesign her website, her main goals were to improve website traffic, increase conversion rates, and better communicate the voice of her brand—a personalized gifts and home goods company that creates wooden greeting cards, stationery, and accessories.

We assessed Patricia’s brand and quickly realized that the immediate solution was not a redesign; at least, not until the important foundational work was performed first. Having helped creative businesses with their brands for over a decade, we always want to be sure that our work will provide a good return on investment for the shop owner. This often means that a client may tell us what they think they want, but we assess and strategize over what they need.

Logo design for a gift company

New name and logo design for a gift company

 

Indigo Ember hero photo © Jen Lacey for Aeolidia

We began with professional styled photography to increase desirability

 

Indigo Ember hero photo © Jen Lacey for Aeolidia

Indigo Ember hero photo © Jen Lacey for Aeolidia

 

Indigo Ember hero photo © Jen Lacey for Aeolidia

Indigo Ember hero photo © Jen Lacey for Aeolidia

Start fresh, strong, and focused

We insisted on completely rebooting Patricia’s brand in order to set it up for success, starting with a month of in-depth, brand soul-searching marketing work with Caroline. Through these intensive consultations, Caroline helped Patricia pinpoint and visualize her dream customers—an essential first step for figuring out ways to reach them. They also dug deep to uncover what sets Patricia’s products apart from her competitors’ and created a mission statement. Throughout our project, Patricia’s mission statement, unique selling proposition, and dream customer informed every part of the process, beginning with her brand’s new name.

We loved how quickly Patricia got on board about changing her brand’s name. Rather than looking at letting go of her old business name as a failure, she wisely approached it as a chance to start anew, learn, and grow.

“It is enlightening to get outside feedback that my current business name may not be helping my business in the way I had thought: helping potential customers understand my brand and mission,” she said.

During business name brainstorming, Natalia was inspired by a personal anecdote Patricia shared. She paired this with the imagery of the burnt edges of wood in the shop’s engravings, and came up with Indigo Ember—a name with a very strong connection to Patricia and her products, but one that is also somewhat abstract with a romantic, rustic feel.

Indigo Ember brand identity design for a gift company by Aeolidia

Quick brand guide for Indigo Ember

 

Indigo Ember hang tag design

Indigo Ember hang tag design

 

Instruction design for Indigo Ember.

Instruction design for Indigo Ember.

A new visual identity for Indigo Ember

No stone was left unturned for Indigo Ember’s rebranding. Inspired by Patricia’s hard work of narrowing in on her target market, as well as the origin story of the new name, Jess created a logo featuring a unique feather icon that is reminiscent of a branch with leaves, and a match with a flame.

Across cultures, the feather represents virtue, hope, and charity—three values that align so well with that of Indigo Ember’s dream customers. The typography choice is strong but not overly feminine, with slightly distressed letterforms for a rustic feel. A sloping ‘R’ at the end of “Ember” gives the mark a touch of romance.

“This logo is elegant and timeless and will speak to your new target demographic. It also pairs well with your variety of products. While it is unique and eye-catching, it will not overpower your designs.”

We heard from Patricia immediately with her first impression. “I’m without words because it’s perfect.”

Now, Indigo Ember had a foundation we could truly build upon with completely new marketing collateral, website design, photography direction, and copywriting. The brand’s before and after shows a stunning transformation—one that, while changing the direction of the brand, still stays true to all its most valuable assets as it elevates them to their fullest potential. The products themselves are still as beautiful as ever, but the previous branding was not strong enough to let them shine. That small difference between “almost right” and “right” was revolutionary. Even the smallest details are not small at all.

Trusting the process for the best possible outcome

We are so grateful that Patricia was enthusiastic to let us do what we do best: steer her brand’s ship towards success! When all was said and done, she reflected on our work together:

“After a thorough interview process, customers have to trust the process and expertise by turning over the ‘designer’ reins to Aeolidia. This isn’t a common approach and I value this because that demonstrates confidence and understanding the customer’s needs. Too many designers want the customer to be in the driver’s seat, although the customer hired them to do a particular job that he/she may not be skilled at.

I view Aeolidia as platinum-level graphics design services company. If you want a design company who has extensive expertise in brand development and creating a website to reflect your brand in the best light, hire them despite the price tag! They are worth every penny spent.”

Visit Indigo Ember’s new online home here.

View this project in our portfolio.

Do you think your business might need a complete rebrand to aim for success? We’re ready to create a step-by-step plan just for you. Contact us. 

Join the Shipshape Collective

join the aeolidia club

Do you run a creative product-based business? You’ll get a lot out of our community. Bonus: you'll also get instant access to free tools for making a website work, pricing your products, building a brand, and more. Let our helping hand lift you up. There's no need to do this alone!

Growing a Textile Business by Licensing and Collaborating: Cotton & Flax

Behind the scenes with Erin of Cotton and Flax about growing a textile design business.

I’m happy to introduce Erin Dollar, a designer I’ve admired for a long time! She’s here to share a behind the scenes of growing a textile business, creating multiple income streams, and partnering with other businesses to grow her brand.

My interview with Erin follows. Text in bold is me, answers to the bolded questions are Erin. Here we go!

Photo © Cotton & Flax

Erin Dollar in her studio. Photo © Cotton & Flax

Photo © Cotton & Flax

From sketch to printed textile; it begins here. Photo © Cotton & Flax

Photo © Cotton & Flax

A table set with Erin’s linens. Photo © Cotton & Flax

What do you create and what makes it so special?

I’m the designer behind Cotton & Flax, a collection of modern handmade home decor featuring my original pattern designs. I create pillows, tea towels, coasters, and other decor and gift items, with a focus on natural materials and low-waste production practices. I aim to create beautiful home decor that’s gentle on the environment.

My patterns begin as ink drawings, and I focus on creating minimal patterns with that perfect level of handmade, wabi-sabi imperfection, which adds charm to your living spaces. My fabrics are special because they are high-quality natural fibers, and each piece is hand silkscreen printed in studio, which makes for a stunning piece of utilitarian textile art. I’ve recently started partnering with other companies to license my designs, like my first fabric collection with Robert Kaufman, which debuted this summer.

How long have you been in business? What can you pinpoint as a turning point to your business’ popularity? What propelled you forward and how did you know you’d “made it?”

I’ve been in business for five years. I think the turning point was really in year two, when I finally had a grip on how to market my products, and partnered with some talented photographers to execute that vision. Ira Glass describes the frustrating state that lots of creative people face, when your vision doesn’t match the outcome of your creative pursuits. It wasn’t until I started collaborating with more photographers, stylists, and designers that my vision for Cotton & Flax started to match what I imagined it could be. I knew the business was working when I started to see my work featured on blogs and in magazines. Having my work recognized in that way was very encouraging!

Is your product entirely handmade? Could you describe who makes your product and how? How has that changed over the life of your business?

All my products begin as pattern sketches and handmade prototypes. I draw each pattern by hand using a brush and sumi ink, which give my patterns their unique look. Production for Cotton & Flax is often handled by me in my studio — I still print all the fabrics myself, and manufacture the coasters, trivets, and some of the tea towels in house.

Now that I sell to dozens of retailers, and my product range has gotten more diverse, I have production partners who help me finish certain products. I have wonderful sewers in LA who take my printed fabrics and turn them into pillows and tea towels, I partner with Scout Books in Portland to create the patterned notebooks, and I collaborate with local small business owners to create the leather keychains (Deakin Handmade) and sachets (Minor Thread).

How have you found production partners, and what have you learned from the experience?

I’ve found most of my production partners through word of mouth, and talking with other textile designers. Some designers are happy to share their production partners and sources, because it means sending more support to a vital partner of their business. Living in Los Angeles, which has a large manufacturing sector, it’s been relatively easy to find the supplies and production partners I need for my business. Even so, it’s been so important to have a firm understanding of my profit margins, so I can decide what products make sense to put into production, and how outsourcing can fit into that plan.

Photo © Cotton & Flax

Plus tea towel, ready to celebrate. Photo © Cotton & Flax

Photo © Cotton & Flax

Designer napkins. Photo © Cotton & Flax

I know you balance your business with multiple revenue streams: wholesale, retail, workshops, and consulting. Could you share a bit about how that works, and why you would recommend diversifying like this?

I love having multiple income streams, because I naturally have a lot of interests, and having lots of different projects keeps me from getting bored with my work. I love the way that my retail and wholesale business feeds into my work as a creative educator! Sometimes my customers will learn more about my work, and want to learn more about printmaking or pattern design by taking a workshop with me. Sharing my passions with others through teaching has been a great way to keep things feeling fresh in the studio.

Similarly, the consulting and education I do for other small business owners is my way of connecting with the creative business community, and sharing what’s worked for me in running Cotton & Flax. Running a creative small business can feel really isolating at times—you spend your days in the studio, or fulfilling online orders, and you often don’t have a lot of people to bounce ideas off of, or get advice from. By partnering with CreativeLive, as well as speaking at conferences and doing interviews like this one, I hope to connect with other creatives, and form a supportive network that will boost all of our businesses.

You have worked with retailers large and small. Do you see a big difference between working with chain stores, such as West Elm, and independent stores, such as Rare Device? How have these relationships shaped your business?

I love working with my retail shop partners! The majority of the shops that I work with are independent stores, often run by just a handful of people. These shop owners truly amaze me with their incredible dedication to supporting designers and sharing their love of handmade pieces. Developing great relationships with my stockists is very important to me, and it all comes down to communication. Keeping them informed about turnaround time, product updates, and what they can expect from you makes that working relationship a lot smoother.

With larger stores, like West Elm or CB2, there are a lot more hoops to jump through in terms of onboarding and production, but the reach is incredible! Having lots of eyeballs on your work can be incredibly beneficial, and many of the larger retailers are eager to partner with up and coming brands. It’s all about finding the right fit, and making sure that expectations are clear from the get go.

Where do you promote your work most? How do you sell it? How much time do you spend on marketing or promotional work?

I love using social media to keep in touch with my customers, and that’s my biggest go-to in terms of marketing my work for Cotton & Flax. I try to take a pretty relatable and authentic approach to selling my products; I try to highlight the things that set my work apart, and share with a group of people who value handmade work. I haven’t done traditional advertising so far, but I do everything I can to share what I’m doing with editors from magazines, blogs, and other influential spaces, and I’ve been lucky to receive some coverage from those efforts. Each year I try to refine my marketing process—everything seems to change so quickly these days, with the growth of new social media networks and new ways of sharing your work with the world.

Photo © Cotton & Flax

Setting the scene with modern textiles. Photo © Cotton & Flax

Photo © Cotton & Flax

Erin Dollar, hard at work growing her textile business. Photo © Cotton & Flax

What do you like about how you sell your goods? What about your selling process is not ideal for you?

One of the things I’ve debated over the last year is whether to open a retail space for Cotton & Flax. It’s one of the natural next steps for a business like mine, but the financial commitment and level of management required has been somewhat unappealing to me. Cotton & Flax is primarily an online retail business, which means I miss out on organic traffic of people walking into a physical retail space. For now, I’m satisfied with relying on my retail partners, who carry my work in their shops, to fill that role in my marketing plan. Someday I may be ready to expand into my own retail space, but for now, lower overhead is still a priority.

Is your business financially sustainable?

For the foreseeable future, yes! As I continue to grow Cotton & Flax, I hope that revenue will continue to increase, and that I’ll be able to continue my journey as an artist and a product designer. My worries are likely the same ones that other business owners face—what happens if I get sick or injured, or if I want to take time away from the business to have children? I’d love to see changes on a public policy level that would help create a safety net for small business owners, and encourage more people to take this path.

How do you see your business growing in the next few years? Do you intentionally keep it a certain size? Would you like to expand? If so, how?

In the next few years, I plan to focus more on pattern designs and licensing my creative work. I love working on large-scale projects, and I’ve found that collaboration has been the key to taking on projects that are bigger than what I can handle on my own. Licensing and collaboration are going to be my priority as I continue to grow Cotton & Flax.

What advice or encouragement would you give to other handmakers about getting help in a way that feels organic, and not a betrayal to their values?

It’s easy to forget this amongst all of the other considerations of running a business, but I try to remind myself all the time: there are no rules, and you can create your own path. It’s so important to check in with yourself as you build and sustain your business, to examine your reasons behind what you’re doing. Knowing your “why” behind your business can fuel your creativity, as well as your ability to make choices that stay true to your values. In Cotton & Flax’s case, my love of natural materials, and dedication to ethical manufacturing led me to find partners who create beautiful natural materials, and production partners who live close to my studio, with similar values of sustainability.

I always advise creative business owners to find mentors or advisors who really understand your priorities and values, and turn to them during good times, and during times of stress for support. That network of support can make all the difference.


Visit Erin’s website here, and snap up some of her designs: Cotton & Flax

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Join our community of creative business owners like Erin! We always have someone around to answer tricky questions, clarify something that’s new to you, or help with your best next step. Enter your email address below for your invite to our private Facebook group and get my best tips for reaching the next level with your business via email:

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Do you run a creative product-based business? You’ll get a lot out of our community. Bonus: you'll also get instant access to free tools for making a website work, pricing your products, building a brand, and more. Let our helping hand lift you up. There's no need to do this alone!

Designing to Change Brand Perception for Mafu, an Apothecary Business

Packaging and photography to change brand perception for Mafu, maker of botanical health and skincare products.

Packaging and photography to change brand perception for Mafu, maker of botanical health and skincare products.

When you’re an indie maker, DIY-ing it often comes with the territory. Over the years, we’ve worked with hundreds of brands that started with humble, resourceful, and scrappy beginnings, but there comes a time when they are ready to hire a team that will not only refine, but transform, their brand’s vision.

We were ecstatic to be that team for Bonnie Juma. She came to us just as she’d renamed her apothecary business and needed a beautiful visual identity to go with it. Mafu is a range of botanical skin and body care created to nourish mind, body and spirit with plant-based ingredients. Established in 1996, the company’s website launched in 2008 with a DIY template. While the brick-and-mortar aspect of her business was going well, Bonnie wanted to seize the potential of her online shop, both aesthetically and sales-wise.

“I would love to have a beautiful site—one that I would enjoy visiting—and that would appeal to the senses.” She set a solid goal for online conversion rates and an increase in internet sales.

Website design to change brand perception for an apothecary shop

One of the characteristics that sets Bonnie’s approach apart is how inspired each product is. As Christine on our team worked on initial concepts for her web design, she thought of ways to make the customer feel equally inspired: to learn about Mafu’s ingredients and process, and to (of course) make a purchase.

“I kept thinking of your target customer, imagining her visiting your site because she wants to put something good and natural on her skin and in her body,” Christine said. “The softness and warmth of the site invites her in, while the cleanness of the site makes it a breeze to shop.”

The top navigation features hand drawn icons to make the shopping experience a seamless part of the brand. An “Ingredient Spotlight” image leads to the blog while highlighting the educational aspect of the brand. Enticing customers to learn builds trust in the brand’s knowledge and expertise, while also inspiring them to shop.

Logo and brand identity for Mafu, maker of botanical health and skincare products.

Logo and brand identity for Mafu by Aeolidia

 

Mafu oils logo and packaging by Aeolidia. Photo & styling Jen Lacey for Aeolidia.

 

Logo and brand identity for Mafu, maker of botanical health and skincare products.

Logo and packaging design for Mafu by Aeolidia.

 

Custom website design for Mafu, maker of botanical health and skincare products.

Custom website design for Mafu by Aeolidia

 

Surprise! When your small business is all grown up

We got some very flattering feedback on this initial design from Bonnie: “I think ‘magazine’ since the logo is so strong (which I love), and the picture is so crisp.” But, she added, it almost felt too polished and mainstream. In other words, the design looked too good, too polished and professional, to be Mafu.

We scratched our heads a bit and chatted internally before it dawned on us: if starting your own business is like raising a child, then getting a professional makeover is like seeing that child all dressed up for prom before you’re emotionally ready. It’s all grown up! Where did the time go? Is it really prepared for such a big step?

What Bonnie needed, then, was a boost of confidence. Maybe the design wasn’t what she’d imagined; it was beyond what she’d imagined.

“The saying that comes to mind is ‘dress for the job you WANT to have,'” Arianne told her. “This website design dresses your business up to be a leader in organic and botanical products. Even if you’re not there yet, this is the outfit you need to make it to that next level.”

She pointed out that the “polish,” like all the special details infused throughout every section of the site, are what set the design apart from more mainstream sites. Too many apothecary brands look homemade, but not in a good way. It makes it hard for customers to break out their wallets when they don’t get a trustworthy, polished experience up front.

Getting used to the idea of success

After taking some time to sleep on it and see how the design felt after the weekend, Bonnie came back with a fresh perspective. It turned out she needed some encouragement and time to re-imagine her brand’s potential. We were already seeing big, beautiful things in her future, and she simply needed a gentle vote of confidence to see herself there, too! Once she did, she fell in love with this new direction for her brand.

“My experience working with the Aeolidia team surpassed all my expectations, partially because there was SO much I did not know, and mostly because of their commitment to excellence in their work. I would recommend this company to anyone desiring to take their business to that next level of polish, beauty, and excellence. Thank you Aeolidia team—you are awesome!”

View everything we did for Mafu in our portfolio

View Mafu’s new brand and website

Are you ready to transform your brand beyond your wildest imagination?

We would love to help you change your customers’ perception of your brand–and perhaps your own perception of it as well! Contact us to take your DIY branding to the next (and the next, and the next) level.

Join the Shipshape Collective

join the aeolidia club

Do you run a creative product-based business? You’ll get a lot out of our community. Bonus: you'll also get instant access to free tools for making a website work, pricing your products, building a brand, and more. Let our helping hand lift you up. There's no need to do this alone!

Aeolidia is Hiring! Content Marketing Manager Job Listing

Aeolidia is hiring a project assistant

We are hiring a Content Marketing Manager to plan and execute our editorial calendar. Are you the perfect person to board the good ship Aeolidia, my strategic design studio? Or do you know a marketing whiz who could use a new challenge?

I have built a strong content marketing foundation over the years.  I am ready to let an expert take over and improve on it. The Content Marketing Manager’s main goal is to increase our client base. They will do this by creating effective sales funnels and driving targeted traffic to them.

We want a talented writer and engaging marketer who will use my skills as an educator and community-builder to grow our business. Having the day to day marketing tasks taken care of will allow me to do more for our community and design clients.

I don’t want to give orders or micromanage. I need a self-motivated person to manage, schedule, and track both content and outreach. This wonderful person will learn all about Aeolidia, strategize with me, and assign me content jobs.

The ideal candidate will have grown brands, with obvious and verifiable results. We want to hear about your experience working with a marketing group, ad agency or directly for a brand.

Aeolidia puts its heart into changing business dreams to realities for our community. Would you like to work with a team that pulls together, enjoys each other’s company, and makes real change for hundreds of creative businesses? We’re your team!

Please read the full job description here:

Content Marketing Manager job description

Why Use Shopify? 14 Businesses Share What Really Matters

Why use Shopify? These business owners give you insider info.

Why use Shopify? Shopify is our ecommerce platform of choice at Aeolidia, and we don’t work with any other software. WooCommerce is too buggy and WordPress wasn’t meant for ecommerce. We’ve heard that BigCommerce is too complicated, and can’t handle high sales volume. Squarespace’s checkout is very limited, allowing only Stripe or PayPal payments. Wix and Weebly-type programs are meant for beginners, and it shows. Etsy’s a great addition to your ecommerce strategy, but it can’t be the whole strategy.

Shopify is the best ecommerce software! They are always updating and innovating. Their latest feature announcements blew all the other options out of the water. Particularly what’s happening right now with mobile checkout.

But no need to listen to me! I asked our Facebook group members (join us!) what they would tell a shop owner who wanted to know if they should use Shopify. So here is some great info and advice from shop owners like yourself. Here’s what’s important to know about Shopify when deciding whether to sign up.

Shopify offers much more than just ecommerce

Shopify offers a lot more than an ecommerce sales platform. This tool is more like a product database or inventory management system, allowing you to sell items on a website, through channels such as Pinterest and Facebook, and in a point of sales situation. I use the portable card reader when I go to craft shows and sell items directly from the online store inventory. This tool helps me to manage inventory and sales tax collection.

—Jennifer Boaro, The Cat Ball

Shopify can handle large inventory easily

For us when deciding, it came down to Shopify’s capability to handle a large inventory relatively easily, it’s simple to use (less tech-y), lots of beautiful design options, and it is a platform which we can grow into
and add more features as we need them.

Overall, Shopify is very well thought out—meaning it takes care of the nuts ‘n bolts so well, you can focus on the actual shop, get up and selling, then go back and make more adjustments easily as time goes on. Feels much more organic. It’s always evolving. And has a very engaged community for brainstorming and support. Sometimes the options seem endless.

Something to note, the add on apps do cost extra, which can be frustrating when money is tight, but you know that’s how it works when you sign up. I like that we can pick and choose based on our needs. It’s like it evolves with you. So far all the add on app developers we’ve used have offered excellent customer service as well. Two of my favorites: Better Recommendations and Out Of The Sandbox.

Shopify customer support is awesome! It’s incredibly reassuring knowing they are there when you step out in to unfamiliar waters when editing your online shop. You get more done.

Just finding enough time to implement everything is a challenge. We are at that awkward place where we need to outsource more of our shop tasks, but I suppose that’s a good problem to have. Switching to Shopify has definitely increased our online sales. Very happy.

—Dyan Dowling, Brevar Design

Shopify dashboard

Shopify’s customer support is always available

My advice really focuses on the help and assistance that’s offered to Shopify storefronts. I can’t even tell the number of times I’ve contacted their chat support for help—for everything from uploading fonts to setting up shipping profiles properly. They can help with anything and everything. They’re incredibly knowledgeable, friendly, and always available to lend a hand. I feel that their level of customer service is what makes me solid in my decision to choose Shopify in the first place. I know that no matter the problem I might run into, help is always just a click away.

—Stephanie, Phylogeny Art

Shopify integrates with social media for added sales channels

I usually tell people about how it also integrates with Pinterest and Facebook easily for added selling channels. When so many people are trying to use a bunch of platforms, I find this integration very easy and manageable. In that same vein I think it’s the most advanced platform in terms of integration possibilities for free and paid apps.

—Kaitlin Phillips Goodey, Goodey Studio

Tip: prepare your content before signing up for the trial

Shopify is one of the easiest and most affordable ways to set up a robust and professional looking website for your e-commerce business. To make the most of it from the start, and save a little money, take time to prep before you open your account Sketch out how you’d like your site to look, write the copy for the pages and product listings, and collect and resize all your product photos and web images. This way, as soon as your free trial starts, you can plug the info + images in and hit the ground running.

—Jane Pearson, Janery

Shopify’s POS software and hardware

Shopify’s POS lets you sell online and in person

Shopify is an incredibly robust platform and they really take care of everything you need to set up your shop. One of my favourite features is their POS. I can sell online and in person, while managing my inventory and keeping track of my products. I do pop-ups and markets frequently and I love how easy it is.

—Lindsay Down, Owner & Creative Director, Pure Colour Baby

Shopify makes giveaways easy

I love how easy it is to manage orders and inventory. I do a lot of giveaways, and with Shopify, I can manage those free orders (and their inventory) with the paid orders, without any fee! I love Shopify and I wish I would have started my business on it.

—Jayme, My Little Athlete

Shopify lets you sell to wholesale customers, too

Using Shopify and the Locksmith app, I’m able to sell to both retail and wholesale customers from the same website!

—Tammy, Cloverleaf

Shopify has a helpful community

What I like best about Shopify is that I never feel alone. There’s so much support both directly from Shopify and third party groups. It’s a sure bet that someone has already asked your question and someone else has provided a clear answer with a step by step solution. It’s also incredibly easy to get someone on the phone or on chat and get direct help from a real person. It’s a great community.

—Brittany S Dowd, Mo & Fig

Manage your store from your phone

Shopify is great if you don’t want something too tech-y

Way back when I first started my biz, I started my very first website in WordPress and struggled to achieve the look I wanted and use the features the way I really wanted. I was drowning in tech-y black holes. And, at that time I couldn’t afford to hire a developer. After a frustrating 6 months I found Shopify and never looked back.
It couldn’t be easier to set up a site and sell your products or services and just get going. When someone is starting out I think it’s important to just start, and to keep things simple, instead of getting caught up in the perfectly polished site.

The beauty of Shopify is that the templates give you a professional clean look from the start and you don’t need to waste time fiddling with too much code or tech issues. I was able to gain back my time and put more energy into my creative work.

—Neesha Merani, PaperWand

PS. Later on I decided to hire professionals (my dream team) and really customize my site. It’s the best thing I’ve done for my online presence.

Shopify is fantastic for improving your SEO

For any website SEO is key and Shopify allows for SEO everywhere (product photos, collection photos, product listing tags etc.). I’ve only had my Shopify shop open for a month now and I’m already showing up in the first page of search! One more note I am certainly no graphic designer or website builder, so in the beginning I struggled with setup (had a Wix site previously, which was mostly drag, drop, and adjust).

I like a lot of customization and didn’t want my site to look cookie cutter and playing around with and adding apps into HTML was terrifying for me, but I was able to find everything I needed in Shopify’s support and forums without a single phone call! The Wix support was very lacking waiting 30 mins or more on the phone oftentimes or days for return emails and the SEO wasn’t great, for years my site blearily paid for itself. So far I’m very pleased with Shopify, just this week I got my first sale.

SSMDesign

Shopify makes running a business simple

Oh, Shopify how I love thee! Let me count the ways… You make me look beautiful and professional. You’re support is awesome and answers all my silly questions. You integrate with so many apps that you’re a dream come true. You offer many experts to make my life easier—like Storetasker and Kit. And for a non tech-y gal, you make it so easy to do updates and implementation. I’m so glad we found each other…

Chikahisa Studio

Shopify takes charge of updates and security fixes

Having started out in the Stone Age of the Internet, when you had to code multiple databases to run an eCommerce store, Shopify is hands down the easiest and most robust platform for selling products today. My favorite aspect? I don’t have to be in charge of updates and security fixes! Pair that with a huge selection of apps to extend functionality, and great built-in features at a low monthly cost and you have a no-brainer.

—Tamara Hoffbauer, Decorative Design Works


Would you like to give Shopify a try?

It’s our favorite! Sign up for your free trial here today. That’s our affiliate link, and I’d be glad to help out anyone who signs up using our link by answering a question via email or pointing you in the right direction to get started.

Grab our free ecommerce checklist while you’re making plans:

Shipshape Collective Freebie

Ecommerce Setup Checklist

Our ecommerce setup checklist will help you get started selling online without missing a step.