The Care that Goes into a Text-only Logo: Wishbird

Designing a text based logo for an upscale paper brand

Christine Burns wanted to create a company and brand built on the power of the written word. She created Wishbird, a box of quotes or sayings that make the recipient feel special, cared for, and understood during good times, difficult times, or everyday times. Each set of cards arrives in a beautifully packaged box, and is meant to be put someplace, like a desk or nightstand, where the words can be seen and felt.

“Wishbird gets back to the written word, instead of emails or texts. It’s the perfect way to say the right thing when finding the right thing to say is hard,” Christine said. “My business personality is fresh and simple, thoughtful and smart.”

Inspired by the simple beauty of words, our designer, Christine Castro, decided to explore a text-only logo in which the typography creates a refined mark and the letters themselves evoke visual interest. Creating a text-only logo is truly a labor of love and detail; each curve, each serif (or lack of serif) and space between the letters is intentional and has a job to do. Though Christine C. explored many directions and ideas ranging from traditional roman typography to a sleeker modern type, she finally landed on a marriage of classic and modern for this initial lowercase concept:

wishbird-info

 

Together, these elements read upscale but not stuffy, positioning Wishbird as the go-to for special, thoughtful messages of encouragement, love and laughter. A subsequent logo concept explored similar elements in an uppercase-based logo. Still present were the varying line weights and subtle curves to elevate the mark to something more special:

wishbird-logo

wishbird-qbig

The result? A simple and casual type-based logo with a sense of classic refinement. It appeals to the upscale, high-quality taste of Wishbird’s dream customer, drawing her in to ooh and ahh over its contents. Equally important, it brings the Wishbird experience, which is all about evoking emotions through the written word, full circle by delighting the recipient from the moment she sees a Wishbird box to the moment she’s finished reading its heartfelt sayings.

wishbird-tape

See this project in our portfolio.

Do you need a fresh new logo that connects emotionally to your customers? Contact us to get started.

 

14 Businesses Share Why Differentiation is the First Step to Success

Today I've gathered some thoughts and resources for you on how to differentiate your brand and products from everything else in the world out there. It can be a challenging task!

Yesterday, we talked about what to do next when you’re seeing success with your product-based business, and you want to increase your online sales. What if you’re not yet seeing success? What if you’re feeling unsure about your product, your brand, and who your customers are? If so, now is not the time to throw money at the problem. Now is the time to reevaluate what you’re doing, and make sure that you’re on the right track.

Today I’ve gathered some thoughts and resources for you on how to differentiate your brand and products from everything else in the world out there. It can be a challenging task! I think about this all the time, and my attention to this was recently sparked by Kristen from Worthwhile Paper’s post on the topic for her business.

“When I began the process of starting my own design/product-based business I got stumped by a question I saw somewhere: “What makes your products unique?” I didn’t have a definite answer for that question on the spot, and that was a huge problem for me! I quickly started thinking about what makes my products unique. They are screen printed, but that isn’t the only thing I have that makes them totally unique. We use recycled paper, but so do a lot of people. My designs are hand made and hand lettered, but I’m not the only one making hand made designs. I decided that while the combination of those things make my products special, what really makes them special is the intention behind the design, alongside my personal aesthetic style.”

You can read her whole post here: Creative process + cultivating brand meaning.

 

•   •   •   •   •

 

Three adjectives to define your brand

Kristen linked to an oldie but very goodie by Emily McDowell on defining your brand:

“My three adjectives are: Insightful, Relatable, Colorful.

You have to be willing to kill even your favorite ideas if they don’t fit the adjectives, because if an idea doesn’t fit, it’s not right for your brand. I’m not gonna lie, this hurts, like finding a pair of pants that make your butt look awesome and leaving them behind in the dressing room. But ultimately, “because I like it” is not a good enough reason to add something to your line. If you’re going to build a cohesive, successful brand, you’ll need to consider your product ideas more strategically.”

You can read this one here: On having ideas: start with your brand.

 

•   •   •   •   •

 

Who are you selling to?

Stacia and Robert Guzzo were struggling with their brand when they realized that the people who were buying from them were not the people they’d been trying to sell to. They shifted everything and re-branded their business to appeal to the people who were actually shopping.

“The customer that we had been targeting this whole time was decidedly not the customer that we had actually been serving. Because our understanding of the customer was flawed, the problem that we were solving for that customer was very different from the problem we thought we were solving.

Our current brand was failing to resonate with the customer we had targeted, but it was also failing to effectively serve the customer we were actually reaching.”

Read more here: But baby, I can change: why rebrand?

 

•   •   •   •   •

 

Start narrow and grow wide

Shopify shared an interesting post about this:

“There’s a common myth that crafting a successful niche marketing campaign is all about finding as small of an audience as possible and then creating a strategy that only serves that audience.

In reality, the secret to building an effective campaign is uncovering an underserved niche market and then creating a strategy that makes everyone want to be a part of that niche. It’s about creating a vision of your ideal customer and then motivating your audience to take ownership over that identity for themselves.

Read this one here: How to use niche marketing to build a business from the ground up.

 

•   •   •   •   •

 

What if your product is the problem?

Abby Glassenberg notices that people are reluctant to advise others when a product isn’t going to be viable.

“We’re so lucky to have a tremendously supportive online community of makers today. When someone expresses disappointment that their product isn’t selling on Etsy we’re eager to help, pointing them to resources for improving their product shots or writing better listings or improving SEO. And of course all of those things are vital to having a successful handmade business online. But there are times when the crux of the problem is the product itself.

Some handmade items are incredibly time-consuming to create and have to be priced higher than the market can bear. And sometimes the handmade item itself is not made in a quality way or with quality materials. I think there’s a market out there for almost everything, but that market might be so small that it can’t sustain a business. Or it might be very difficult to reach.”

Read more here: When the product is the problem (the comments are very helpful, too)

 

•   •   •   •   •

 

Who is your product for?

And another great one, an interview with Brandy Davis of Pigsey Art on Academy of Handmade:

“If you ever find yourself answering the question “Who is your product for?” with “Everyone,” or the similar “Everyone with a baby/wedding/skeleton.” Full Stop. Aside from Death and Taxes, nothing is for everyone. […] Customers who feel like your product is for just anyone don’t feel the urgency to purchase. They need it to feel that this wood journal was MADE for their lifestyle, as if I was in their head giving them something they didn’t even know they needed or wanted but by hell if they’re not gonna have it.”

Read this interview here: Finding your niche: Pigsey Art finds her ideal customer in an unexpected place.

 

•   •   •   •   •

 

Discovering your unique selling proposition

Kristen also mentioned my post that helps you dig into the nitty gritty of your brand:

“Those businesses that seem to have had an overnight success and barely needed to work at promotion? There is something special about them. They know it and their customers know it. Their work can be spotted from a mile off, it’s something that people want, and it’s easy to promote – like a snowball rolling down hill, gathering speed, and getting huge.

Why is it so easy for them? If you have what they have, it will be easy for you, too. If you’re lacking this, it will be like trying to win a race with a bicycle that has square wheels. A crazy amount of work, with few results.”

Make magic for your business with a unique selling proposition.

 

•   •   •   •   •

 

Listen to what people really want

Tara Gentile explains that this is all about your customer, not about you:

“Don’t stop until you know how your differentiating factor leads your customers to more money, more time, better relationships, better health, etc… If you can’t boil it down to a simple, tangible benefit like that, you’re not done. What your customers truly care about is quite simple.

You have to listen to what people really want. You need to use their words, not yours. And, when the benefit they really want (more money, more time, better relationships, better health, etc…) sounds like what “everyone else is offering” push past your discomfort with that. In many ways, what you’re offering is the same as what everyone else is offering. Embrace that. Then use your unique process, point of view, voice, or advantage to differentiate.

When you push past the discomfort that what everyone else is selling is exactly what you’re selling too, you can finally get to a place where leveraging your difference really comes in handy.”

Read the rest here: “Look at me” versus “look at you”

 

•   •   •   •   •

 

Creating something worth talking about

Seth Godin breaks it down – why differentiation isn’t what you want:

“Remarkable has nothing to do with the marketer. Remarkable is in the eye of the consumer, the person who ‘remarks.’ If people talk about what you’re doing, it’s remarkable, by definition.

The goal, then, isn’t to draw some positioning charts and announce that you have differentiated your product. No, the opportunity is to actually create something that people choose to talk about, regardless of what the competition is doing.

Read the whole post here: Different or remarkable?

 

•   •   •   •   •

 

What could you be famous for?

Mei Pak explores the difficulties surrounding handmade or Made in the USA products, and how to avoid them by differentiating your business:

“Another deceivingly simple exercise you can do is to find out what one thing your shop can be famous for.

Famous actors, musicians, chefs, politicians and athletes are known for one specific thing that they do well at a genius level.

Sure, you can become famous for a few different things, but we all start with just one.

Do one thing better than everyone else in the market.”

Read this one here: How to find what makes your brand unique + why handmade and made in the USA is no longer enough

 

•   •   •   •   •

 

One company can not be everything to everyone

Kristen Ley of Thimblepress examines how to do something special for your own customers, and provides worksheets:

“The final thing I want to talk about is standing out amongst a sea of competitors that already do the same thing as you, well, at least on the surface. This is not a moment for you to go look at all your competitors, cry, and tell yourself you are not good enough. SHUT THAT DOOR, DUDE. This is a moment for you to be a smart business owner and realize that if you don’t take a minute to analyze your competitors because you believe you have none, you just may not get to where you want to grow your business.

If you know me, you know I am very open and share. The statement I always use is that there is enough business for everyone, and that is beyond true. There are millions upon millions of people in this world capable of buying 1 million different stationery companies’ products. I view my competition as people to learn from, look up to, and position around.

One company can not be everything to everyone. Look, even Apple can’t. SHOCKER! There are those dedicated PC users that WILL NEVER switch. The reason I bring all of this up is because look at your competitors, what key features they are providing and ones that you are providing? How can you stand out? I have a competitor analysis sheet in the worksheet to see how you can figure out key buying features to promote that maybe your competitors aren’t and help position yourself in a more unique way!”

You can read this full post here: Biz tip Tuesday: positioning and target markets

 

•   •   •   •   •

Avoid bargain pricing with a value proposition

Erica Gellerman explains:

“When scouring the Internet, it can look like everyone is creating the same thing you are. Competition is fierce and differentiation is difficult. When you’re busy comparing yourself to others, most people often default to comparing themselves on price. But by focusing on price, you’re missing the bigger business-building picture and you risk turning your well loved brand into a commodity. And nothing can kill a business faster than a race to the (pricing) bottom.

What can we do to avoid this bargain basement pricing scenario? Keep a clear focus on the value you are providing to the customer by creating a value proposition. A value proposition isn’t something you explicitly share with the customer, but is a guide for you, the business owner, as you continue to create, innovate, and grow your business. It keeps you focused on what matters to the customer and how you are meeting or exceeding that need with your business.”

Learn more on Design*Sponge: 3 tactics to create a foundation for business growth

 

•   •   •   •   •

 

When others zig, you zag

Ramit Sethi explains why you can’t afford to be doing what everyone else is online.

“When you’re the same as everyone else, you might as well not exist. It doesn’t matter if you’re a man, a woman, a life coach, a stylist, an analytics guru, or a language tutor. Whether you’re trying to get a date or start an online business, if you’re the same as everyone, you’re doomed.

No matter how beautiful your website is. No matter how exceptional your guarantee is. No matter how much you care.

This is where the concept of ZIGGING and ZAGGING comes in.

Where others zig, you zag.”

The rest of this one can be found here: The Zig/Zag Technique to finding an online business idea

 

•   •   •   •   •

 

Finding your winning difference

Shopify have some solid beginner information on this topic:

“However, after some market research you realize that a potential consumer has dozens if not hundreds of other online destinations they could choose instead of you. So, then why would they buy from you? That’s the question you need to answer as you start formulating your unique selling proposition.

There’s got to be something about what you do that helps you stand out from the pack, otherwise, how are you ever going to stay in business? Call it “positioning”, “differentiation”, “mission statement”, “vision statement”, or insert any other business terminology in there and it all comes down to the same thing. Why would a customer choose you and not a competitor?”

Read the rest of this post here: Why your online store needs a unique selling proposition (USP) to thrive

 

•   •   •   •   •

 

Watch a video presentation about this

With a puppet show!

“Always remember: why is it interesting, and who would be interested in it?

The huge advantage that small businesses have is their story. What is your story, and how can you communicate it to your customers?”

Building the Story of Your Brand

Subscribe to watch the video

How can you do this right?

What makes a promising product or concept for an online shop?

  • You are solving a problem for your customer
  • You provide something your customers can only get from you
  • Your product is recognizable as yours, even if customers see it out of context
  • A standard of quality and price point that allows your business to be financially sustainable
  • There is a market for your product, and you know who it is
  • Your products and brand are consistent and make sense under a single umbrella

What did I miss? Please comment here with your thoughts!

 

Two Changes to Skyrocket Your Online Sales

These two big changes to what you're doing now will increase online sales and make everything easier for your business.

It’s so easy, especially as a creative business owner, to concentrate hard on the design and the product and the customers, and ignore your numbers. I sent an email to our Aeolidia club members last week about how to increase online sales that really surprised some people. Here is a response I received:

“Thank you. Just in this email alone, asking me these questions, has been the biggest moment of realization I’ve had in my business in a long time.

I don’t know why I have never  focused on these numbers before. I don’t know why I thought this sort of  data didn’t apply to me. That my business was different. What have I been thinking!!??”

Today I have a real chicken and egg problem for you, one you’re probably super familiar with: do you create an awesome website first, or do you work on building your audience and traffic first? Ordinarily, I recommend focusing on the thing that will bring you the most results first. Or maybe there’s one thing that’s a preliminary step before the other. Today’s topic, about getting sales on your online shop, is one area where if it’s possible to make two big changes at once, both projects will pay off better than if you’d done them one at a time.

Get realistic about how many visitors will become customers

First, a story. We are talking to a jewelry business owner about transforming her online business. One of her goals was to get 100 visitors to her site per day, which I told her is an extremely modest goal. I shared with her,

“Let’s talk about what your best next step might be at this point. You’ve been in business about six years, and you’re doing well at in-person events and with wholesale accounts. Online sales have been eluding you – it’s a whole different skill set, for sure.

You know that being able to capture those potential online fans and turn them into customers is going to be huge for your business. You have a proven product that people love. They just haven’t heard of it online yet.”

Her reply:

“After reading some of your links, I realize that my traffic is so low and hence it’s no wonder I’m not selling online! I know I need to be blogging and doing more social media. I just haven’t figured out my “angle” and how to create compelling and engaging content. Maybe I’m overthinking it?”

If this sounds like you, read on!

Increasing your ecommerce sales – on Shopify or any other online store

One area where it makes a lot of sense to tackle two problems at once is retail sales on your ecommerce site. You could just up your marketing game and try to double or triple the amount of people who are visiting your site, but if your conversion rate is low, you’re going to be struggling to push a very heavy rock up a hill.

To explain what I mean, here is a little math experiment I did with a real life business whose sales are lower than they could be. This business has been around for almost ten years and they are quite well known. This shop’s wholesale and brick and mortar sales are thriving, but ecommerce hasn’t been a big part of their business so far. They built their business on Etsy, but when Etsy sales plummeted, they didn’t step up by marketing their own site hard. Instead, they just focused on what was working at the time, letting the online shop stagnate.

Here is what I told them after looking through their stats:

“I’ve taken a quick look at your Shopify stats, and I see that your traffic is low, your sales are low, and your conversion rate (the percentage of visitors that convert into sales) is quite low. An average conversion rate for any old ecommerce website is about 2-3%. Yours is less than 1%, which points to problems with the site. A well-loved brand like yours is capable of seeing a higher conversion rate (I’d love to see 5% for you).

You are currently getting about 30 sales a month from about 3,500 visitors.

Let’s imagine you’d like to get 200 sales per month from your online shop. At your current 1% conversion rate, you’d need 20,000 visitors a month to get that many sales. To get those 200 sales, you’d need to drive almost 6 times the traffic to your site that you are now.

With a well performing site and a healthy 5% conversion rate, you only need 4,000 visitors per month (which you almost have now) to get these 200 sales, not the 20,000 you need at the low conversion rate. That would be much less marketing legwork for you.

And let’s say that at the same time you improved your site, you put a smart marketing strategy into place. You actually get those 20,000 visitors, who will now bring in 1000 sales per month at a 5% conversion rate.”

I share this example to show how great it can be when you can tweak BOTH numbers (amount of visitors and amount of visitors which convert to sales).

Here’s a chart to illustrate:

eommerce-conversion-rate

On a phone? Tap here to see a mobile-friendly version.

The first thing to notice is how small even a 5% rate is. It looks teeny next to the amount of visitors you need to get, right? So that shows you just what a whopping huge amount of traffic you need to get to your site to expect a decent amount of sales. It’s a lot of work.

As you can also see, without that preliminary work on your website’s conversion rate, you’re essentially throwing away a big amount of the visitors who would have purchased from you had your website been more compelling and less confusing. In this example, improving the website without increasing traffic has you missing out on 800 sales a month. Increasing traffic without improving your website has you missing out on those same 800 sales. Only with the great website and heavy flow of traffic do you see those amazing 1000 sales per month.

Is this for real, or just for “big” businesses?

If these numbers sound crazy to you, let me assure you that they’re not. I am viewing one of our past clients’ stats right now, and she gets about 60,000 visitors and 3,000 sales per month. Her conversion rate is about 5%, and that gets her $100,000 – $200,000 in gross sales per month. Just on Shopify! We’re now working on a third aspect of this math puzzle for her: increasing her average order total, to bring the dollar amount up without needing to add more traffic.

A reader told me,

“I’m still interested in staying relatively small. Relying on Etsy less and gaining more sales in general is definitely a goal. But I’m not interested in having the same growth as some of your success stories – warehouses and dozens of employees and $100,000 in sales every month. I like the quiet days and flexible schedule that my business provides me, as well as the ability to work at home as I raise my family. This probably makes me sound so unambitious, but I thought it would be important information for you to have as you think about my next best step.”

This was so interesting to me. At Aeolidia, we’re all about businesses being as big as feels comfortable. There is definitely such a thing as too big. But you can have quiet days and a flexible stay at home schedule with your kids while also making big money and having employees – in fact, the employees make that possible. Aeolidia is a team of 18 and I emailed this reader from my back porch with my feet up and my kids visiting grandpa’s house.

Making more sales and making more money doesn’t mean that you can’t control your life and your day. But it is a valid concern: there has to be a phase of some pretty serious work to get to the other side where it can be calm again.

One way to avoid burnout and feeling too busy is to delegate. Hire experts like Aeolidia to do this for you. Sure, it’s a monetary investment, but when your time is as precious to you as this woman’s rightfully is, you want to make monetary investments whenever possible, rather than time investments.

Best next step: Hire Aeolidia to tackle both sides of this problem for you

If you feel like your online shop is having a little tea party in the sandbox, I invite you over to where the big kids are playing (I don’t know, the zip line?). Let’s improve your website AND drive some serious traffic to it and see what happens for your business.

Aeolidia is now offering marketing and SEO services along with custom ecommerce design. We are working with two agencies who are standouts in their fields, so we can be sure these important aspects of online sales are being taken care of correctly for our clients. I am EXTREMELY excited about this.

Maybe you’ve been delaying contacting me to work on your site because you’re not confident you’ll be able to drive traffic to it yourself? Worry no longer!

Contact us today if you’re ready to take your online sales to the next level. We’ll work on some real results for you.

What about your business?

Not sure if you’re ready? Let’s figure it out together. If your online shop is not getting as many sales as you’d like,  you’ll want to check in on these three things:

  1. Do you have a product that people love? Do you sell something that people are clamoring to buy, or is it possible that your product is the problem, and you’ll never be able to drum up excitement for it? You can validate your product with in person sales (craft fairs, markets, pop up shops), wholesale relationships, or sales on online marketplaces. If your product sells like hotcakes everywhere but on your own site, that tells you that cracking the online sales nut is going to be important for your business.
  2. Is your website performing well? Calculate your conversion rate by dividing your sales by the number of visitors to your site (this post on our site will help), and see what your percentage is. If it’s much below 3%, your website is letting you down, and it’s time for a change. You don’t necessarily need to hire help with the website design – it could be your photography, your copywriting, your logo, your shipping rates, or something else that’s causing people to leave before buying. It could even be where you’re promoting your site.
  3. Are you getting enough traffic to your site to achieve the sales numbers you want? You have to do a bit more math here – figure out how many sales would make your business comfortably sustainable, then figure out how many people you need to visit your site at your current conversion rate to make those sales. Now calculate how many visitors you need by taking the number of sales you want and dividing it by your conversion rate (this post will help again). Are you getting enough visitors? How many more do you need to get, and how will you do that?

It really is that simple. When 1, 2, and 3 are taken care of, you can quit focusing on the frustrating work of building a business, and instead enjoy the phase where you’ve gained traction and now you can fine-tune, get creative, and work on the improvements that make your business enjoyable.

All you need to hire Aeolidia and expect a great return on your investment is:

  • A product that people love.
  • Success in at least one area – are you on track to make at least $100,000 in gross sales this year, but not impressed by your online retail sales? You’re exactly where we can help you.
  • A willingness to make a monetary investment now and put in the work needed to see it 5, 10, or 25x your sales.

I am dying to hear about your business – let’s talk!

If your business is not yet at the point where an investment in this kind of help can be made, I suggest you get serious about improving your website, driving traffic to your site, and making a strategy for your business. Shopify also has a thorough post about improving your conversion rate.

You should see your online sales growing, just like a garden, when you put work (or money!) into it. If your work is not bearing fruit, it’s time to reevaluate your strategy.

What Makes a Custom Shopify Theme Worth the Investment?

With so many beautiful and effective Shopify themes available ready to plug and play, you might be wondering if there is any reason to hire a designer. What's the point? Is a custom Shopify theme worth the cost?

It used to be, when you wanted to set up shop online, you were either stuck with the supremely ugly designs that the ecommerce software offered, or you had to hire a designer or learn to code so you could make your shop look halfway decent. Things have really changed, and now you can choose from many well designed and beautiful pre-made design themes for your shop. The themes in Shopify’s theme store are all rigorously evaluated by the Shopify team, are flexible and editable, and cost between $0 – $180. This is a wonderful thing for businesses just starting out, without the budget to do anything special.

With so many beautiful and effective Shopify themes available ready to plug and play, you might be wondering if there is any reason to hire a designer. What’s the point? Sure, the site may be more polished, but is that really worth the four months of design and development and the five figure price tag that comes along with an Aeolidia project?

I know why Aeolidia does what we do, and I’ve seen it work over and over. It’s not always easy to explain the value, though. I was so glad to work on a project this year that is a perfect example of what a custom site design will do for your business. The fun thing about this one is that we can show a “before” an “interim Shopify theme” and the knock-your-socks-off “after.” Peek:

A side by side comparison of the three phases of Handcrafted HoneyBee's website

A side by side comparison of the three phases of Handcrafted HoneyBee’s website

Handcrafted HoneyBee came to us ready to completely transform their brand. They had been struggling with their own DIY design for so long. They had gotten negative feedback about their product packaging from interested big name retailers, and they knew that to take their business where they wanted to go, they needed to tag in an experienced design team.

We began their project with the foundation: the logo, brand identity, product photography, packaging, business stationery, and marketing materials. While all this was happening, it didn’t feel right to stick with their old look on the old site, so Stacia and Robert chose a theme from the Shopify theme store, did their best to incorporate the new branding, and started selling on the interim site.

Here is some of the work we did on their brand:

Handcrafted HoneyBee product packaging design

Product packaging for lip gloss, deodorant, face masks, and kits

Handcrafted HoneyBee business stationery

Business stationery design, including business cards, stickers, postcards, and kit and packaging inserts

Handcrafted HoneyBee deliverables

Here is the Handcrafted HoneyBee all together, including website (shown on an iPad), packaging, and stationery design.

Some people would have stopped at the branding and been satisfied with the pre-made theme. Stacia and Robert completely understood the value in having a custom site for their one of a kind business, and invested in the website design. Here is what we did and what they got out of it.

Starting a website project with goals

Stacia and Robert were dream clients, because they understood the importance of every page on their site, and didn’t need us to talk them into caring about anything – they cared about everything to do with their brand, which a truly passionate business owner just naturally does!

Robert explained,

We sat down with our team (virtually over Basecamp, of course), and we discussed goals. Each member of the team would play her part in helping us to achieve those goals.

Our short-term goal was improving our online sales conversion. We needed streamlined navigation, a clear, coherent value proposition, strong visuals, & simple, secure checkout.

Our long term goal was a bit more complex: strengthening our customers’ relationship with the brand. As the owners, Stacia & I were in charge of content creation, but each member of the Aeolidia team would be able to contribute to the story we were trying to tell, the value we wanted to deliver & the connection we wanted to forge.

We took the analysis one step further and established the goal of each page on our website. Every. Single. Page. We asked ourselves: What is the one action we want the user to take when she is done reading this page? How does each page contribute to the overall customer experience?

A one of a kind business needs a custom-designed website

Rather than trying to cram their content into a Shopify theme that was designed for a basic fill-in-the-blank type shop, Handcrafted HoneyBee needed something special. What they do and sell is a bit different. Sometimes customers will shop based on the product info alone, but more often than not, they need to have the value of the product explained to them visually in a way that compels them to add it to their cart and makes it hard for them to abandon that cart. That’s what we do!

Here is the brand new custom Shopify design for Handcrafted HoneyBee. This was designed completely from scratch, and is not based on pre-existing theme or template:

Handcrafted HoneyBee custom homepage design

Handcrafted HoneyBee custom homepage design

Our designer, Sarah, explains the choices behind the Handcrafted HoneyBee custom Shopify theme, scrolling from top to bottom:

I really care about how your website looks and how it works. Your audience’s experience is so important and the way the site looks now tells a story as they scroll.

Up at the top they are introduced to Handcrafted HoneyBee with your awesome banner. BIG Impact!

Then they are nudged towards 3 super important aspects of your business.

  • The Heroines puts the focus on the daughters. As you mentioned, it’s important for mothers to see their daughters as the heroes here.
  • Our Dream speaks about why your business is here – the journey you guys have been on and where you want to take HHB in the future.
  • How STEAM Empowers Girls again brings the focus back to your Mothers. Here’s how you are empowering your daughters by giving them STEAM toys instead of a simple lipgloss.

What is important to note here as well is that at this point you haven’t launched into BUY BUY BUY. So many kids’ toy websites really push sales at the top of their websites and just like how your audience is desensitized to specific words / phrases – they have also become desensitized to pushy sales techniques. So far we have told them why these toys are so awesome, how they are different and how seriously excellent they would be for their kids!

NOW we get to selling! By this point they are hooked and want to see these kits for themselves. Here’s the main event – Shop For Create-Your-Own-Kits! With this flow to your website, your sales conversions should do really well!

Under your feature products you remind our mums – why they are looking at these kits again? Ohh yeah, thats right, I want my daughter to be a freakin’ ASTRONAUT! Having a bit of animation here and a bit of fun is such a great idea.

By this point – we are hoping most parents have clicked deeper… but for those who are still feeling a bit like, “what’s this all about?” we take them to a bit of a “more information” stack where we give a little more detail into what Handcrafted HoneyBee is – with that juicy hook, “The journey to a Big Dream starts with small, smart steps.” (eee, doesn’t that just get you excited!)

It’s likely your blog snippets will be mostly viewed by repeat viewers or people who already know about Handcrafted HoneyBee. That’s awesome, that’s exactly the eyes we want looking down here as they are the ones more likely to read your blog and sign up to your newsletter if they haven’t already done so.

My point is – your website tells a story. A really rad story that I want to read!

A graphic designer’s eye sees things you won’t

You may feel fairly design savvy, but a graphic designer who lives and breathes ecommerce design is just naturally going to think about things you won’t – she’s thinking about ecommerce every day, and has been doing so for years!

Here are just a handful of the insights our designer, Sarah, brought to this project:

A note on colour

color scheme

Something you will quickly notice is that I limited the colour palette in this design. I KNOW we love your full colour range but I worry that having them all used together will create a bit of a rainbow.

I have limited most elements to use either only your Yellow or Powerful Purple (for hover states on buttons mostly). The reason for this – it’s going to make the colours in your products REALLY catch your eye! Especially on internal pages.

Another reason is that the yellow and muddy black we use are “science” colours so it reminds your audience that these are STEAM [Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math] toys, not just makeup kits for girls. This is important!

The reason I used your Powerful Purple instead of any of the other colour options was because purple is the complimentary colour to Yellow so purple will attract maximum attention when we need it to.

A note on fonts

font choices

Something you might notice that I am doing differently with this design compared to the temporary design you have up now is that I am limiting where I use the Smoothly cursive font. There’s a reason for this.

The less I use it, the bigger impact that font has when I DO use it. This means that even though your logo is smallish, it’s the only place “above the fold” that uses that cursive typeface and therefore it draws attention without being HUGE or in your face. It’s subtle eye manipulation.

Another reason I have gone light on the Smoothly font is to help the balance between looking Arty and Scienc-y. This Raleway font being used the way we use it in your brand has a really strong “science” feel to it without being masculine (it’s so perfect!) so when I want to draw attention to the “arty” side of Handcrafted HoneyBee – thats where I will use the Smoothly font.

A great example of this working is your banner. The image takes good care of the arty look and feel, so I didn’t use any cursive font to bring a bit of the science look into the design. And because I haven’t, your logo is eye catching against everything else going on up there. Eye catching – yet not distracting.

Featuring the blog

featuring the blog

You are putting too much love into your blog for us to feature only one article on your homepage. PLUS it’s an excellent opportunity to get a couple more keywords on your homepage to appease the all mighty Google!

When your audience hovers over a blog article container it will change ever so subtly: the container turns white, the thumbnail image displays in full colour and the blog title link changes to purple. They are small changes but once everything is built and you’re interacting with the site, you want things like this to be subtle. Little details go a LONG way in web design, it’s what makes a website look polished and loved.

Newsletter subscribe

newsletter subscribe design

I have included another newsletter signup stack – JUST in case people don’t click the icon in your sticky header. You gotta prepare for all kinds of users :)

Something I have done with your newsletter is not actually use the word “Newsletter.”

The reason for this is because your users are constantly bombarded with advertising and people shoving “SIGNUP NOW” call to actions in their face. People have become desensitized to the words “signup”, “newsletter”, “become a member” and a bunch of other super common hooks.

The problem is, we can’t stroll too far from them common terms because they are recognisable and descriptive. We have to be clever!

By using the hook “bee part of the club” and having the email link named “signup” we toe the line between being unique enough to catch attention and descriptive enough so people know they are signing up to a newsletter. Having the exact description of what they get helps a lot as well.

Why custom instead of a Shopify theme?

I’ve pinpointed five things that Aeolidia’s work can do for you that you’re going to have a hard time accomplishing on your own.

1) Completely remove the “amateur” elements of your website

Stacia and Robert really care about what they’re doing, and they can see how cool their product is. But for their customer to see it, a lot of work has to go into polishing up every corner of the site, and telling their story in a strategic way.

Even if your customers don’t know why your site doesn’t feel as trustworthy to them as the other sites they shop on – even if they aren’t design or internet savvy – they are going to have an instant “first impression” of your business based on what they see, and if it’s not totally polished and well-designed, they will click away. Society as a whole is much more design-aware than we used to be, and expectations are high.

You know those places on your website that feel half-done, awkward, or you’ve put content into just to fill a hole? All that will be gone when you create your custom site with us.

2) Build a shop for your target customer

Pre-built Shopify themes necessarily cater to a wide range of businesses with a wide range of customers. This is great for Shopify and the theme designers, because there’s a better chance you’ll find something that will work and choose one of their themes. But it’s not as great for your business or your customers, as you’re trying to shoehorn your content into boxes that you didn’t ask for.

Your new site will tell your story in a way that makes your customer want to get involved, rather than just displaying your products and hoping they’ll care.

3) Make the site work in the way you need it to

We build in the features your particular business needs to sell to your particular customers. Whether this be creating a smooth product customization process, telling your story in an interesting way, catering to your wholesale shoppers, or eliminating tons of busywork from your internal tasks, a custom website can save you and your customers huge amounts of time and hassle.

4) Simplify admin tasks

We use Shopify (that’s an affiliate link, my friend), and we set everything up so that you can easily make your own updates to the content and products, while letting Shopify quietly make updates and improvements to the software behind the scenes.

5) Create a “sales funnel” that maximizes conversions

Your website will be designed to lead visitors from your social media posts or Google to your home page, right to shopping, and off to the cart, without missing a beat. We know how to eliminate distractions, attract eyes to what’s important, and move your visitors to a sale.

The result

What all of this does is establish you as a serious business that is willing to invest in your brand and customer experience.

The business owner’s perspective

I could talk about this all day, but since I’m the one selling this type of work, I’m sure you’d prefer to hear from the shop owner on the other end of the equation – the one investing in the work. The temporary site looked pretty darn good, especially with the brand graphics and guidance from Aeolidia. Robert knew they needed more, though, and shared,

Plenty of people saw the transitional website and asked what more could possibly be needed. I’ll share the reasons why we wanted to go with a custom site.

A custom design places the customer’s online experience completely in your hands. You can include small, subtle touches that can increase customer confidence in your brand. You can integrate the various elements of your online presence (your shop, blog, newsletter signup, member site, wholesale site, etc) in the way that will resonate best with your ideal customer.

With a custom theme, the website’s design & functionality are precisely suited to help your business accomplish its goals, rather than fitting your goals to suit the template.

Here are some special elements that just couldn’t have been pulled off well with a pre-made shop theme:

scientist in the making

A rotating graphic with the phrase: “I’m a __________ in the making and I’m all about the __________ kit.” was one of several elements designed to spark a girl’s imagination & connect her story with our educational skin care kits.

handcrafted honeybee site details

Each of the major pages on the site have eye-catching and informative banner graphics right at the top. Even the store locator has an integrated design that’s consistent with the rest of the brand.

handcrafted honeybee gallery

The “HoneyBee Heroine Hall of Fame” encourages the audience to help shape the brand by submitting pictures of a girl with her kit creation.

handcrafted honeybee members' page

A secret page offering exclusive access for kit creators is not accessible directly from the website. We needed it to look distinct, yet still part of the rest of the platform—special but connected to the place where they got the kit in the first place.

And how about this blog? One complaint we often hear about Shopify is how boring and simple Shopify blogs look. Maybe theme designers just don’t put much love into these sections. Here’s a great example of a Shopify blog at its full potential:

Handcrafted HoneyBee Shopify blog design

Is it your brand’s time to shine?

Aeolidia provides a lot of advice and support via our blog, newsletter, and Facebook group. But the heart and soul of who we are as a business is a design team driven to bring your business the results that you’re looking for. We design thoughtful and compelling brand identities and strategic, sales-driven Shopify websites. We’ve been doing it for over a decade, and there is no other team who knows your creative product-based business like we do.

Let’s hear from Robert Guzzo one more time:

You want to know the single biggest mistake we made with our original brand identity? Thinking that we could do it ourselves. Or rather, I should say: thinking that we couldn’t afford to hire a professional.

We were looking at our brand visuals as an expense. As something that could be “good enough” if we did things ourselves.

So we designed our own packaging & labeling. We created imagery for social media posts. We used off-the-shelf fonts and stock graphics. Then we worked it over some more and a little more…and a little bit more, tinkering and fiddling to make our homemade designs better.

We tried our best. But our best wasn’t good enough.

If I’m being totally honest, our attempt at design was all over the place. We were failing to curate a single coherent identity. People didn’t know what we stood for or what they could expect from us. We were confusing people more often than we were connecting with them.

All of that changed when we started thinking about our brand identity as an investment in the future of our business, instead of an expense to minimize.

By working with a professional design firm, we had a lot at stake financially. We had to get things right the first time, and the design visuals needed to be built to last. No more tinkering.

The other big benefit of working with professionals was that we purchased our freedom. We could focus on the parts of our business that absolutely required us, and leave the rest in the hands of experts. We gained back precious time to focus on making our business the best it could be, rather than wasting time over-working for “good enough.”

Quit messing around and do it right with Aeolidia

We are currently accepting new projects for our September-October design block. You could have your new logo and packaging before the holidays! Websites designed in fall will be developed in the new year for a February 2017 launch.

Get in touch! If you’re ready, we can make a solid plan for you. If you’re not sure if you’re ready, we can talk about your visitors, conversion rate, and sales numbers, and think about what your best next step might be.

Further reading

Loving this story? Find much more in these places:

 

Free Video: Building a Stellar Customer Experience

"The difference between a website or a brand identity that's executed at 90% and 100%, the difference is not 10%, in my eyes. It's another 100%." I talk with Lela from Brick House Branding about how to plan for a stellar customer experience for your online shop.

I have two useful things for you today! One is free, and one is such a wonderful investment in your business that I hope you’ll consider it. Keep reading, I have exclusive free access to paid video content for you.

Today’s post is about Lucky Break Consulting. This isn’t an affiliate or sponsored post, I just really like what Lela Barker is doing for creative entrepreneurs. She offers a class, Brick House Branding, to teach just what businesses need to build a brand identity and strategy that aims them toward success.

Lela focuses on the core of your brand: the vision, values, and story behind it. Her work is amazing prep for hiring Aeolidia to make it all happen.

Brick House Branding graduates

We worked with two standout businesses last year who were Brick House Branding graduates, and both were completely prepared for the process of working with us, and their two projects are among the best we’ve ever done.

product packaging and photography

Our brand identity and packaging design for Aimee Flor of Azalia Spa Goods, BHB graduate

Handcrafted HoneyBee - brand identity design for a skin care company

Our brand identity and packaging design for Stacia and Robert Guzzo of Handcrafted HoneyBee, BHB graduate

Brick House Branding expert interview

I was tickled pink to be invited to chat with Lela for module 5 of her course, Building a Stellar Customer Experience. That’s what we love to do here at Aeolidia! I think you’ll be interested in this interview. Here’s a short clip to give you a taste of what we talked about:

Lela: The difference between a website or a brand identity that’s executed at 90% and 100%, the difference is not 10%, in my eyes. It’s another 100%.

A lot of brands will go to 90%. They’ll do pretty good photos. But it’s the brands that have knock your socks off photos that really get your attention. It’s the brands that have really taken the time to craft that brand story and build a really welcoming About page that’s a rallying cry to join them in whatever they believe about the world. Those are the ones that get our attention.

Wow, we covered so much in this hour long chat!

  • How important is an e-commerce site for a product-based brand in the modern era?
  • A well-styled, smartly-developed website is often a big investment for a new brand. If we’re short on resources, how do we prioritize this piece?
  • What about relying on third-party venues like Etsy and Amazon?
  • What are your favorite platforms for web development? What are the pros + cons of those platforms?
  • What are wireframes and why are they important?
  • What’s the difference between a web designer and a web developer? Are those ever one and the same?
  • What are some of the key decisions we need to make before diving into a new web project?
  • What are some of the key questions that we should ask a potential web designer/developer to ensure that the project is ultimately successful?
  • What are some of the big trends or best developments you’re seeing in modern web design?
  • What are some of the biggest mistakes you see product-based brands make with their websites?

Get this video for free

This video was only available to paying Brick House Branding students. But now you can get it! Lela has given her blessing for me to share this video exclusively with my subscribers. Want to check the rest of this out for free? Just sign up below, and I’ll email the video link directly to you:

Crafting Your Customer Experience

Sign up to watch the free video on creating a stellar customer experience online

Interested in gaining clarity about your brand?

I’ll let Lela explain the value of her course to you. From her site:

How much more profitable + sustainable will your business be when you’re deeply connected to the core of your brand and have the clarity necessary to make your products stand out in densely competitive marketplaces?

How much more effective + efficient will your work be when you’re able to create products + marketing strategies that act like a magnet, drawing your target audience right to your doorstep?

How incredible will it feel when the development of your next product, blog post, editor pitch, and Instagram photo are painless + intuitive, because your finger is so firmly on the pulse of communicating what your brand is all about?

How proud will you be when you’re able to confidently price your products + command the sums they truly deserve because the value is crystal clear?

You can learn all about Brick House Branding and sign up here: Brick House Branding 2016. Enrollment closes in just a few days, on the 16th, so get in there!

 

5 Methods to Get More Sales on Shopify

Today we're talking about how to get more sales on Shopify - or how to get any sales on Shopify! Shopify doesn't have a built in search engine like Etsy, because it's not a marketplace. It's your own independent shop, which is great, and what you want. But with your own shop, you are responsible for every customer that comes through your virtual door.

I love to hear from my newsletter subscribers: where they’re at with their businesses, what they’re excited about, and where they’re feeling stuck. Sometimes I send a quick reply with a link to previous blog posts, and sometimes I get more in depth with my reply, to share here on the blog. Become a member! It gives you direct access to my inbox.

Today we’re talking about how to get more sales on Shopify – or how to get any sales on Shopify! Shopify doesn’t have a built in search engine like Etsy, because it’s not a marketplace. It’s your own independent shop, which is great, and what you want. But with your own shop, you are responsible for every customer that comes through your virtual door.

That’s a very different feeling for some Etsy sellers, and this Q&A from an Aeolidia subscriber sheds some light on the difference, and what to do.

Relying on Etsy leaves you vulnerable

I recently heard from an Etsy seller who is feeling worried about her declining Etsy sales:

Hi Aeolidia, I make 100% of my income from Etsy and that is a scary thing given my business is now down 70% from only a month ago. I need to make changes but not sure what. I CANNOT afford to throw money at the wrong thing as I am barely scraping along as it is with my declining sales. I am thinking of building a Shopify site that more or less will duplicate my Etsy shop but am concerned that having a duplicate web presence will hurt rather than help. Also, generally speaking what is the difference in overall monthly sales I can expect from Shopify over Etsy – all else being equal as far as product, pricing, etc…. thanks so much for your time.

– Kelly

How to build a self-sustainable business

Hello Kelly,

Good to hear from you! My “tough love” answer to your question is coming your way!

You are correct that you don’t want to duplicate content, but that is solved by giving your products different names and writing new descriptions, something that could help you with your search engine strategy. With as many products as you have, that could take you a bit of time, but it takes work to make money online. I’d just do it.

Please note that you can’t expect any sales when you set up your Shopify site at first. They will not send you traffic the way that Etsy does. Part of what you’re paying for at Etsy is the benefit of being listed in their internal search engine. Creating your own site on Shopify is an important part of a long-term strategy, but it’s not in any way a “quick fix” for sales that are dropping on Etsy.

The problem with relying entirely on Etsy is that you’ve built a business without learning how to market a business. Knowing how to market your business is crucial to longevity.

5 ways to bring traffic to your site

There are five main ways to bring traffic to your website.

  1. Having a strategy for Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and getting ranked highly for your most important keywords on Google.
  2. Posting on social media and making sure the content on your website is eminently shareable.
  3. Gathering online press and publicity by pitching your products to influencers and/or paying for advertising.
  4. Bringing in return visitors by making good use of your mailing list and providing a great customer experience.
  5. Creating general brand recognition by promoting your business offline, in print publications, at in-person events, and/or your own brick and mortar store.

Having a business blog is an enormous help in accomplishing #s 1, 2, and 3.

Promoting a busy business is a full time job! Believe me, I know, I do it all day every day. It can be very rough in the early days or years of a business, when it’s only you, one person, trying to design, create or source the products, build the business, and market it on top of that. That’s why Etsy is such a great way to begin and to test the waters. After too long, though, it becomes a crutch, and you don’t learn to walk on your own.

First steps to business independence

If you want to build a business that can become something more than it is now, I’d urge you to begin learning now how to attract your own audience, encourage repeat business or word of mouth, and driving traffic to your shop.

Purchase a domain name and point it to Etsy, for starters. Then promote your domain name online.

The next step would be to build a simple site, possibly without shopping, to drive traffic to. This simple site would link to your Etsy shop, but also share more about your business and allow people to sign up for your mailing list.

A more advanced step is to set up your own shop on Shopify. You send all the traffic and press that you can to your own site. Let Etsy send you customers from their search engine.

Running your own business is more work than working for someone else

It’s a lot of work. The businesses that I’ve seen make it to long term success are working hard on their businesses all the time. It’s never easy! If you’re ready to put the work into it, though, you can slowly begin to take control, and have Etsy be one of your many traffic streams, not your entire business.

I wish I had an easy answer, but the only answer to success in a product-based business is working really hard all the time until you get profitable enough to hire some help. Etsy is one of the few “quick money” types of things to do (and only for the lucky few that do well in Etsy search) and as you’ve seen, you can’t rely on it to work for you forever.

I’ve written about this before, but I think I didn’t go back far enough to the very basics. So thank you for asking the question. Best wishes!

Further reading for growing beyond Etsy

Etsy only? Instagram only? Protect Your Business by Diversifying

My Best Strategy For a Product-Based Business in 2016

Bonus! If you currently have an Etsy shop and would like to set up your own shop on Shopify, I’m sharing a plan specifically for you. This is the nitty gritty details of the steps you need to take to get your Shopify shop up and running, and you can get that here:

etsy-to-shopify

Read our guide to setting up Shopify for Etsy sellers

Ready to hire some help to get sales on Shopify?

I’d love to talk to you about the return on investment for hiring Aeolidia to design a custom Shopify site for you. In fact, I am sending an email to all of my newsletter subscribers about what we do to get you more sales, and what you can expect out of a project with us. Subscribe today and you’ll get that advice, as well as a treasure trove of other small business gold.

I rarely have time to read emails. But I’m NEVER disappointed when I read yours!
— Erin Wetzel

Update: here’s the post about how we can improve two huge aspects of your online sales and increase them by 25 times: Two Changes to Skyrocket Your Online Sales

Growing a Handcrafted Business Sustainably: Commonfolke

Here is one story of a maker who made her business too big, and what she did to satisfy her customers, her own creativity, and grow her business to support her family. Natalie and her team handcraft the sweetest, minimalist bears in Portland, OR.

I have always been interested in how to grow a handmade business while still enjoying it, and I’m particularly intrigued by those handmade businesses who have gotten so successful that making each thing by hand becomes unsustainable for one person. There are so many options when you hit this point: burn out and give up, seek a manufacturer, hire local handcrafted help, change your product type to something less intensive – what to do?

Here is one story of a maker who made her business too big, and what she did to satisfy her customers, her own creativity, and grow her business to support her family. Natalie and her team handcraft the sweetest, minimalist bears in Portland, OR. This is my interview with her. My questions are the bold text, Natalie’s answers are the quoted replies.

What do you create and what makes it so darn special?

I make stuffed bears (and occasionally, other animals). I think what sets them apart is that they’re not like anything else you can find in stores or even in the handmade market – the design of my bears is based on simplicity, minimalism, and comfort. I’ve never seen anything else that looks like them, and that sense of originality makes me proud.

How long have you been in business? What can you pinpoint as a turning point to your business’ popularity?

I’ve been in business since Fall of 2014. Commonfolke started out as Dainty Rags, a baby blanket shop. I made a bear one day for my son and posted it to my personal Instagram, and my friends encouraged me to sell them in my shop. In 2015, I changed my name over to Commonfolk, and then in 2016, I added an “e” at the end. As you can see, things are always evolving!

The point where I realized I was getting pretty popular was when I had almost ten employees and couldn’t keep up with orders, even with a 4-6 week turnaround time. My business grew bigger than I expected very quickly, and that forced me to learn everything I could about running a business while still sewing, managing, shipping, and doing everything else for the business as well.

commonfolke-sm

How often did you release products before hiring help, and how quickly did they sell out? Was your shop ever empty?

Before I hired anyone, I would release about 20-30 bears a week. Every time I listed, they were gone within minutes. My shop was ALWAYS empty, and this confused a lot of my customers. This is when I switched over to pre-orders.

How have you adjusted pricing, process, and methods as demand outpaced supply? How did your seamstresses and any other changes affect inventory and sales?

Ohhh yes. This has been the toughest part of the business for me. I had to change everything. Pricing went up (it was easy to not pay myself for my work, but once I had help I realized my costs were very high!). Materials got more expensive and durable. Everything was made in a very specific process involving several people – my seamstresses, myself, and my embroiderers. Things would get delayed if one issue would happen with any of us.

It took months of trying to find the right team, staying up til 4am every night working (then waking up with my two kids in the morning), and desperately trying to do it all and keep customers happy. This period was tough, I spent most of my time sewing or learning about taxes, business licenses, trademarks, copyrights, etc and very little time creating.

I’m happy to say that after all that hard work and stress, I’ve been able to get to the point where my bears are ready to ship and I keep an inventory. I really prefer it this way, though I do sometimes miss the thrill of seeing bears disappear within seconds of being listed!

commonfolke-process

What changes did you make to get to where you are now, with inventory in stock? What roles have you hired for and why does it work?

There are six of us now, yes. Well, two of us that are Commonfolke (myself and my husband – but 99% of it is me), and four contracted helpers. We have one seamstress, two embroiderers, and one assistant.

I mainly ask other moms to work with me, and I love that. Right now I have a few of my friends and one nice woman I met when I moved to Portland working for me on each batch of bears. I have tried out a LOT of people though, and my team of contractors has dwindled down from many people (in many different states!) to just a small group. That was always very hard – either having wonderful people stop working with me because they misunderstood their tax obligations and were surprised, or because they moved away, or because they couldn’t quite replicate the look of my bears perfectly. Hiring people to help has been one of the most stressful aspects of owning a business. All the other small business owners I know have had difficulty with this, mostly because it’s hard to find people with the amount of passion you have for your own product.

When I first contracted everyone to help, it was very disorganized. The past six months have been spent figuring out everyone’s strengths, schedules, and then finding a way that everyone can be really efficient at what they do. Once that was done, I put everyone in crazy mode and we worked incredibly hard to do as much as we could to make more bears than we were selling, so we would have an inventory. Once I had hundreds of bears just waiting around to be sold, I closed the shop for a while, notified my customers that bears would be ready to ship at a certain date, and then worked on getting all the inventory entered into the website. I now handle all aspects of the business (bookkeeping, social media/marketing, website maintenance, ordering supplies, photography, etc), and I hand number every bear and ship them. I also can obviously do any other job – so I often machine sew or embroider as needed. My husband sews bears closed and helps with shipping. I still need to hire more help, but it feels good to have a pretty good team right now.

Have you found ways to sell or share your work in a more widespread way, or is this something you’re considering?

I’ve just recently gotten to a point where I have a great team (myself, my husband, and four others) who all work hard enough to where I can focus my energy on new ideas. I’ll be coming out with some printed fabric dolls soon, and I have plans for many more things to come.

Where do you promote your work most? How do you sell it? Do you need to do any marketing or promotional work anymore?

I do most of my promotion on Instagram. I’ve found a wonderful community of other makers that has been absolutely essential in my own success. We all work together to build each other up, it’s incredible. I sell on Shopify and via wholesale in a number of high end boutique shops. I find I have enough promotion through my own marketing efforts and those of my stockists to sustain my business. That might change, though!

commonfolke-dolls

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

I like that I can reach customers directly. I think that’s important when your items are handmade. The connection is really special. My least favorite part though is probably the business side of things. When I first started I basically wanted to give bears away (and with my prices then, I nearly did!). Now I have to factor in so many costs that need to be covered, and it takes a little of the magic out of the experience for me. It’s necessary, but I don’t love it.

Is your business financially sustainable?

Finally, yes. It’s getting there. I am, by no means whatsoever, wealthy. But I am humbled and grateful to admit that Commonfolke has supported my family for months. I remember telling my husband that I would be happy if I just made a couple hundred dollars a month to have enough to cover my own personal bills. Now, I’m making enough to where my husband can work almost full time alongside me. It’s absolutely amazing.

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

I really hope that in the next few years, I can let go of some more responsibilities. I do love the “small” part of this small business, but the reality is that I have a very rare and severe, chronic migraine condition that causes an array of different neurological problems on a daily basis. My health has gotten in the way a lot, and I have found that I absolutely have to branch out and expand or my business will not exist.

I hired my first employee because I became unable to use my sewing machine without it making me very sick. Now, I can’t really imagine going back to the way it was with me sewing everything myself. It has been SO hard to let go of control, but I found people that are extremely passionate about my vision and dedicate their time to getting it just right.

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What advice or encouragement would you give to other handmakers?

My advice is to just stay open minded. Your business will always change. Be open to going with the flow of what your business needs at that time. There will be good months and bad, and being able to keep up with it and stay creative is the goal for anyone who has a handmade business. Do things your own way, even if that means not working for a week or two and just cuddling with your kids or taking time away with your husband or friends. It’s important to maintain yourself and your happiness!

Natalie is such an inspiring business owner! Shop Commonfolke at commonfolke.com and check out her Instagram: @commonfolke

17 Smart Wholesale Tips: Line Sheets, Minimums, Mailers, and More!

17 wholesale tips for small businesses to get their products into stores. Including info on line sheets, order forms, cold contact strategies, mailers, minimums, and more.

Etan and Emily are the masterminds behind Wholesale in a Box, a service that makes it easier and more efficient for makers to introduce themselves to stockists they love and to make sales. Wholesale In a Box’s monthly subscription comes with handpicked store profiles (customized to your business), a calendar to stay on top of your outreach, a dashboard to help track your progress and a help desk.

They joined us in the Aeolidia Facebook group for a Q&A about contacting retail store owners to create a wholesale relationship with them. Creative product-based businesses, come join us! We do these live typed chats once a month or so.

We’ve tidied up the Facebook back and forth into something readable so we won’t lose this great info, and you can see Etan and Emily’s thoughts on wholesale tips for small businesses here. All quoted text below is from Etan and Emily, and all bold text is from our Facebook community.

What does the perfect cold outreach cycle look like? Can you give some examples of what to send (i.e. first contact and then next step value add tips) and when to send it (time between each contact)?

Great question! First things first (and we say this a lot) the most important thing is to do what feels right for you and your business. Catch-all advice is not always the best. That said, what we recommend to the makers we work with as a starting point for a ‘cold’ email is one email introducing yourself, a follow up two weeks later and a final follow up if you haven’t heard anything after that. Given what works for you though you can tweak it, engage on Instagram in between, send a postcard… etc.

If you’re wondering what to say in a followup email, here’s an article we did with our “do’s” and “don’ts:” Do’s and Dont’s for Followup Emails to Retailers

I have been thinking a lot about sending handwritten notes (being a stationery company I think it makes sense) as my first cold contact. Followed up with an email a week later. Would you consider this what you call a Penguin Tactic or something thoughtful and relationship building for my brand?

I think that would be a great approach! As long as you feel like it will be sustainable for you (not overly consuming in terms of time/money), then that is absolutely both relationship-building and thoughtful. You can do that with all of your stores, or just with some – up to you. Since stores get a lot of mail, also mull over how to maximize the results of that effort (of writing the handwritten note) by making it as “penguin-y” (unusual, brand-aligned, and attention-getting) as you can.

How important is having an order form included in your wholesale price sheet, and what information needs to be included on that?

One caveat is that it looks like maybe you have a food-related company? In that case, sometimes protocols for food producers (and the stores you’d focus on) are a little different. But generally, what we suggest to non-food handmade makers is that different profiles of stores prefer different things. Some stores love an order form to print out, others prefer a wholesale website, others just to email or phone in an order. These days, and especially with direct outreach (as opposed to connecting at a trade show), a physical order form is not usually crucial. As long as it’s simple and easy to order and you make it easy for them to indicate what they want (for instance with clear item and variation numbers), just having them email you their order can work great!

Can you talk about order minimums? We’re starting to work with smaller retailers who are wanting $100 minimums. But where really is the cut off for minimums?

Minimums are a very personal thing that is really up to what you feel comfortable with. Smaller retailers certainly appreciate a lower minimum, often, especially with a new wholesale relationship. But you should never go lower than you feel is going to be worthwhile and sustainable for you. The cutoff is up to you. We spoke a bit about minimums on this podcast we did recently, too if it helps! Wholesale In a Box is on Elise Gets Crafty!

I wanted to know: I’m launching a new stationery company in about 6 weeks, and want to send prospective shops I’ve found mailers with product samples, a wholesale catalog, a handwritten note, etc. Do you recommend I shoot them an email first, and offer to ship the package their way, or just send it?

Oh, yeah, that’s a good question that comes up a lot. “Snail mail” packages can be great because they’re so personal — but they can also be time-consuming and costly. Some of the things that I think are most important are:

1) Since stores get a lot of mail, if you’re going to mail something, make it stand out.

2) Consider it an experimentation process. So, decide to try something for this month, see how it works, and then try something that builds on your findings for next month. Perhaps this month you send a paper note instead of a followup email, but still do that first introduction via email. But different things work for different makers, so we really suggest trying different tactics.

3) Remember that you can do different things for different stores. So if there are, say, 5 this month that you think are just “no brainers” for you, maybe you send your physical mailer to those.

One article we did that covers this topic, to dig more, is here:
Deciding Whether To Email Stores or Send a Package? These Penguins Might Help

I am curious about what you mentioned in your post as a possible Q&A topic: “the biggest mistakes makers make when jumping into wholesale.”

Oh, yes! Ok, there are a few. On one hand, one thing we see folks do is to try to get EVERYTHING PERFECT before they jump in to connecting with stores. While it’s important to put together professional materials and represent yourself well, many makers err on the side of waiting too long. You learn SO MUCH by jumping in, getting feedback, and changing as you go. So we always say: “start with good enough, then make it better.”

Which brings me to the second big mistakes makers make — not taking the long view. Often folks get discouraged a few weeks in, if they haven’t gotten an onslaught of orders. But the folks who are most successful take a deep breath, improve on what they’ve been doing, and keep their focus on the gains they’re building towards 6 and 12 months down the line.

I see varying opinions on line sheets. Should we have images on them or not? Does the answer change at all if we do or do not have a catalog?

It depends how you’re using it. For trade shows, when they’ve already seen your product, the line sheet is acting much like a simple price list. For direct outreach to stores (as our makers are doing), the line sheet is the MAIN representation of their brand to the store and should definitely include images. Format and size is up to you. With that kind of outreach, we suggest having a single line sheet that has some aspects of a catalog — and not necessarily maintaining both (especially for smaller or newer brands who are focusing on emailing stores directly).

I own a boutique greeting card company that I launched a few months ago. I don’t have a wholesale catalog or line sheets just yet. Do you recommend that I wait until I have created either of those (catalog or line sheets) before I try to pitch my line to prospective wholesalers?

We do recommend having something that makes it easy for them to see what you offer. You can create a pretty effective, simple line sheet in a weekend — so that’s often worthwhile, but if it feels like a stumbling block, you can also just have a killer email that you work with, and direct them to your Etsy shop or website. For that to work, in our experience, you really do need to have a very strong brand and product line. Again, the line sheet doesn’t have to be complicated, just simple, clear and representative of your brand.

I’m redoing all the lettering on my cards but have some inventory to sell through still. Would it be confusing if I had the new versions in the catalog which I plan to immediately send to wholesalers while my website has old versions I sell off to direct to consumer peeps?

Clarity with prospective store owners is the most crucial thing, so if I were you I would just add a note on line sheet explaining the shift (just until you sell out of the old ones) so there is no confusion!

My question is about developing retailer relationships when sending product or samples. I generally package orders or samples for protection, but do retailers expect an incredible unboxing experience? Mine is not terrible, but I’m curious if I need to step it up. Also, do retailers expect occasional gifts as part of the wholesale relationship?

Oh, love that question. The big thing for retailers is that you cover the BASICS — so the products arrive safely, they’re packaged to put right on the shelf, and there is a packing slip/invoice and note in there. Any personal touch you can give (whether it’s coordinating tissue paper, a personal note, or a branded pencil) is lovely but I certainly don’t think you need to feel like the unboxing experience has to be hugely sophisticated. In some cases, getting too fancy can even feel wasteful.

I’ve seen some posts on Instagram where retailers I am working with or would like to work with are receiving some really beautiful gifts from their vendors. It made me feel like “Omg, am I missing a huge piece?”

Totally! I know! But do whats right for you. If it feels fun to send something then do it but ultimately an account that is a good fit and selling tons of your products is going to be a friend for life!

Hey, if you guys were to send out a jam up “sample set,” what all would be included?

The key with samples is to ask yourself — what are they trying to learn about my product that they can’t tell from the line sheet? For instance, with a line of perfumes, folks often have to send a sample of each scent since you can’t smell things via print!

With your headbands, I think they’d be looking to get a sense for quality and packaging and whether you’re professional– they can see the variety of patterns and stuff in your line sheet. Also, you want this to be sustainable, and not go crazy with the quantity you send. So I’d say send one of your headbands, with its packaging, a beautiful note, and make sure that all the details (mailer, how you address it, the notepaper) “reads” PRO.

What is a fun way to put your linesheet in the package other than printing off 8.5×11 sheets of paper (which may come across as a bit ugly)?

Well, one option is to not include it in the box, but rather re-attach it to a followup email you might do, say, a month or two later (since that will be closer to when they’ll be possibly considering a re-order). If you’re going to include it, I think simple is absolutely fine — I’d just try to make the overall look aligned with your product packaging and branding.

If your startup is at a place where it’s crucial to hire a wholesale account manager, but you don’t exactly have the money to pay salary, what pay structure would you suggest implementing initially?

Commissions can sometimes be tricky because so much is out of their control. That said, getting the hourly rate at what you would like it to be, may be out of your reach. Sometimes we see makers use a combination of a $10-$15 hourly rate and a smaller commission. AND adding a commission on reorders could be helpful too! It just depends so much on the needs of the actual individual as well — some folks need cash right away, while others are ok with building more for the future.

I have been pretty basic in mailing out my wholesale orders, but is that something that should be upped a bit? I include a copy of their order and usually several of my business cards, all of which are different, and all of which have one of my paintings on one side and my info on the other.

In this case, I’d almost think about — what small, inexpensive things can I do to make the experience of a retailer opening my package as consistent with my brand as I can? Again, doesn’t have to be flashy, but some personal touches, and some on-brand packing can go a long way.

Have you seen any good ways to be found by shops online? I hear people say shops found them on Instagram, but I haven’t experienced anything like that.

To be totally honest, it can absolutely be tough. We do find that many store owners are shopping primarily out of their inbox these days and off Instagram. Whether you do it through us or on your own that’s a big reason why we advocate for doing thoughtful, targeted outreach to stores — to put that wholesale growth back in your hands. That said, doing what you can for inbound is great too!

I’m an Etsy Wholesale member, through which I’ve created a line sheet, which I think is good as a starting point. I’m curious about your opinion of other avenues to try – if it’s worthwhile to try to replicate something similar on my own to be able to sell off my own website (the advantage being no Etsy % cut) or other suggestions? I’ve been hesitant to lead prospective retailers to Etsy – is it distracting?

Yes! That Etsy Wholesale line sheet is a great place to start. We’ve had makers do that different ways. Some do direct outreach and have a line sheet separate from Etsy Wholesale… and others point stores straight to Etsy Wholesale. Probably the separate line sheet is a little better for the reasons you mention, but either can work.


This oh so helpful Q&A was courtesy of Etan and Emily from Wholesale In a Box, a service that can help your handmade business grow wholesale. They give you handpicked store profiles, a system for how and when to contact stores, and help along the way. It’s a method that works and a tool to get in stores faster. You can check out their free ecourse here:
Our four rules any maker can use to gain new wholesale accounts!

National Stationery Show Tips From First Year Exhibitors

We asked these first time NSS exhibitors how the show went for them, and what tips they could offer. These will be helpful if you're doing any kind of in-person selling or setting up a booth, so read on for National Stationery Show tips from people who are new to the show!

The National Stationery Show is a big deal show for anyone in the paper and gift industry. Many businesses have been launched there, and many rely on the yearly show to stay in touch with their retailers, find new ones, show their new product lines, make connections for future collaboration, and get press for your business.

For those of you planning to exhibit at the NSS next year, or who are building up to showing at the NSS or any other trade show, such as NY NOW, the Atlanta Gift Market, or your own local trade shows, you might be wondering how to get started, and what you should know.

We asked these first time NSS exhibitors how the show went for them, and what tips they could offer. These will be helpful if you’re doing any kind of in-person selling or setting up a booth, so read on for National Stationery Show tips from people who are new to the show!

Bailey Craft Planners

Yolanda Bailey & Kathrine Craft
Bailey Craft Planners

We designed the Simply Yours Day Planner to enhance your life by helping you to prioritize, organize, and accomplish your goals. Importantly, our planners are durable to hold up to the everyday hustle and bustle at the same time they are beautiful with a feminine essence. The primary purpose of Bailey Craft Planners is to make a positive impact in the lives of women by keeping you focused, keeping you organized, and keeping you empowered.

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Business and show history

We started our business in December 2014. It took us 1 year to research all the various parts/sections of our planner while making at least a dozen prototypes. We launched a Kickstarter campaign in December 2015 with our website launching in February 2016.

We are 99% retail. We hosted at the 2016 National Stationery Show in hopes of entering the wholesale arena. We have not done any other trade shows, however, we are looking at NY Now, Atlanta’s Mart and the Southern Women’s Show.

Mistakes, advice, and tips

We made a few mistakes going into the National Stationery Show. Being a new entrepreneur, a lot of things are trial and error. We actually decided to do the show in February of this year. This was not enough time to pull everything together exactly the way we wanted it. We had to settle on some things purely because we did not have enough lead time. Good thing we were the only ones who knew.

Benefits of exhibiting at the NSS

Attending the National Stationery Show was a great decision for our business. We gained sales, a lot of leads, and established new business friendships. Showing off our product to interested buyers is a great feeling. We would do it all over again.

Black Lamb BK

Rachele Rouquié
Black Lamb BK

Born in NYC, Rachele moved up the East Coast, living in CT and Boston until returning to Brooklyn, NY in 2008. Her work is inspired by nature, literature, and the awesome power of rock and roll.

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Business and show history

I’ve been in business as Black Lamb BK for 5 years, but I’ve had some iteration of being an independent maker and artist kicking around since 2002. Currently my business is 95% retail, but I am looking to change that, which is why I signed up for NSS!

Lessons from the show

I feel like I was “ready” because I physically had a website up and line sheets printed and catalogs and order forms and product photos I’m happy with and all that, but I don’t think I was really ready for the reality of selling myself and my products to buyers and the jargon that they use when asking questions. All thanks in the world to Jenny Topolski, who mentored our team through this from start to finish and gave me a ‘pop quiz’ where she brusquely asked me questions about ‘lead times’ and things like that to prepare me. Without that I would have felt extra lost, but it was still really overwhelming as a total one woman show to explain myself and try to look like I knew what I was doing at all times!

I learned so much. I learned that I probably didn’t need to have line sheets AND catalogs as pretty much everyone took only catalogs. I learned that for me personally, having an order form with all the items printed on it already with spaces for quantity and total was the better route. My first order I was trying to quickly write down everything the buyer was calling out and my hands were shaking with nerves and it was ridiculous. That might work for some people but it did NOT work for me so I quickly whipped up a new order form after the first night. I learned about what types of shops and areas of the country are most interested in my work, which I didn’t expect. This was my first face to face meeting with people looking at my products from all over the country and really all over the world, and it helped me see how my pricing and my style are more or less attractive to people in different markets.

I honestly am really unsure if I will do NSS again though. It didn’t really seem to be the right fit for handmade items from me and my teammates. I think I would do better at a show more geared toward handmade, or New York-centric, or maybe even gift, but I’m not sure this was quite right for any of us. That being said, if people wanted to share a space with me again, I would absolutely consider it as the financial risk was sliced 6 ways. If you have the opportunity to share a space with people you trust I would recommend it 100%.

Jenny, our mentor, curated our 6 shops so that we were all different types of stores (2 greeting cards, 2 jewelry, 2 home goods/clothing) and we arranged our booth to give space in between each shop but still give it a cohesive look so people could understand that we were a team, but separate makers. I think this was something very unusual for NSS and we had to explain it many times, but it was so worth it to save literally thousands and thousands of dollars. Also, I have no idea how I would have been able to fill up a whole booth myself! It would have looked very ‘minimalist’ to say the least.

I’ve never done another trade show, but I’ve been doing retail markets for well over a decade. This was very different because at a trade show, you are entering into a working relationship with mutual trust and all sorts of agreements with your customers. It’s not a simple exchange where they buy your item and walk away never to be seen again! I struggled with feeling ‘unprofessional’ and I really needed massive amounts of coffee to keep the smiles and perkiness going!

As this was my first trade show, I’m not really sure how it will end up financially. I made a few orders at the show, but also collected information from other shops and buyers who I have begun following up with, so hopefully they will place orders as well, but the uncertainty is something new for me. I’m used to counting my cash at the end of the day and saying ‘yes this was or was not a success.’

Mistakes, advice, and tips

I would say my biggest mistake was that order form situation. I listened to advice on both sides about how to create an order form but for me, I needed something very structured. I also wasted a LOT of money printing line sheets all dated 2016 that I may not have a chance to use ever again, which is quite frustrating. I’ll consider placing 2017 stickers on them for shows next year but it all feels very foolish.

My smartest tip came from Jenny, our team’s mentor. She recommended practicing my ‘pitch’ in the mirror. It might sound silly, but as someone who talks to herself constantly, I had no qualms about it. It really helped me get a ‘speech’ going. I often have the problem of just saying ‘HI!’ or “how are you” to people that walk by but as I practiced more and more I got more comfortable saying “Hi, how are you, this is my line of cards. I hand make everything myself and I use a lot of paper cuts and layering so please feel free to touch everything so you can appreciate their texture.” It was really awkward at first and sometimes you repeat yourself but practice makes perfect-ish.

Benefits of exhibiting at the NSS

I was hoping to find new retailers and get press for my business. I collected MANY business cards and have been reaching out to fellow makers just to say hello or follow each other on instagram. I reached out to buyers I talked to in hopes that we can build a relationship that may lead to future orders, even if we just chatted casually at the show and it didn’t seem like they were interested in being customers at the time.

Bloomwolf

Betsy & Luis
Bloomwolf Studio

Together with my boyfriend Luis, I have been able to make my dream of pursuing art a reality. The two of us have worked tirelessly to create a stationery brand that encompasses not only our love for all things creative, but also our attention to detail. From initial designs, to the final packaging, we take great care in ensuring that everything is perfect for you, our customers. Our cards and art prints display my cheerful illustrations, with influences that stem from my love of flowers, bright colors, and elaborate patterns.

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Business and show history

We started working on Bloomwolf Studio around this time last year. I had just finished teaching, and was not looking to return to the classroom the following year. Instead, I thought I’d do something that I’ve always wanted to do, so I hatched the idea of starting a paper goods company, and Luis loved it. We became an official business in August 2015, and our website launched in November. So technically, it hasn’t even been a year for us, but I feel that we’ve made large strides for our business so far.

From the beginning, I think that we knew that we wanted to have a strong focus on wholesale, so I would say that a larger part of our business is wholesale. If we put it in numbers, it might be roughly 70/30. We sell our products through retail on both our website and Etsy; and we sell our products wholesale through our website as well, and on Etsy Wholesale. We also recently finished our first wholesale catalog.

As of now, we have only exhibited at NSS. Since trade shows are such a large investment, we currently only plan on attending NSS, and possibly looking into AmericasMart Atlanta, since it is closer to us. We live in Orlando, where there are a lot of markets and craft fairs, so we do plan on looking into some of those as well.

This year was our first year exhibiting at NSS, and although we are very new to the industry, we feel that we had a great show. For this reason, we definitely plan on returning next year.

Mistakes, advice, and tips

One problem that we did have when setting up our booth for NSS was that our back wall almost did not fit in the space provided for us by the Javits Center. We made our own hard walls for our booth and shipped them to Javits beforehand. Our booth was supposed to be 6’x10′, but as everyone starts setting up, the poles that the Javits Center provides get shifted, and spaces get reduced, so we had to work hard to get our walls to fit. Luckily, one of our neighbors did not arrive until after we were done setting up, so this gave us a lot more freedom to move things around and get everything situated. Even after we got our walls to fit though, the flooring that we used, which was exactly 60 square feet, did not lay completely flat because of the restricted space. It also seemed that a lot of our neighbors had the same issue. So after this experience, we now know not to assume that the space provided by Javits will be exact, and also to arrive early for set-up, in case we run into an issue like this again.

Another mistake/tip for people that plan on having shelving that does not directly attach to anything is: make sure that you secure your shelves to the wall with sticky tack, or tape, or whatever else is available. At this year’s show, we had shelves that just rested on shelf brackets, and luckily for us, Luis knocked one of them down before the show started. This gave us the opportunity to secure them before anyone else knocked them down so we didn’t have an issue, but we did see someone else in our row have a buyer knock all four of her shelves down later in the show.

I think our best moment at the show was receiving our first order, and also having people come to our booth who recognized our cards and our logo. We loved when people walked up to our booth and said, “oh my God, it’s Bloomwolf!” Everyone at the show was super nice as well, so it was easy to make friends.

Benefits of exhibiting at the NSS

This being our first show ever, we were not sure what to expect, but we think that it went great. It was a huge networking opportunity for us, and a great way to get our name out there. Even before the show started, we were working hard on making connections. We sent out around 180 pre-show mailers to brick and mortar stores, press, and other attendees of the show. During the show, we met other paper people and were able to talk to them about their experiences, and got lots of tips from people that have done the show for years. We also met and connected with lots of retailers and buyers, opened new accounts, and gained lots of possible leads. We also got a chance to be featured in the NSS Show Dailies, and on well-known blogs.

Chic & Nawdie

Nhung Le
Chick & Nawdie

Chic+Nawdie was established in June 2015 by designer & illustrator Nhung Le. Growing up in Vietnam and graduated in 2012 from Connecticut College with a degree in Design, Nhung worked as a graphic designer in NYC for Rafael Viñoly Architects and Union Design before building her own studio. Chic+Nawdie is exactly what Nhung has been dreaming of: a project that well balances her graphic design experience with her new-found passion for hand-painted illustration and old-school handwriting.

chic-nawdie-owner chic-nawdie-coloring

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Business and show history

We’re 1 year old this June. I’d say mostly wholesale right now (80%). This was our 1st year, and we intend to exhibit again next year. We also do Renegade Craft Fairs. They are quite good in terms of retail sales.

Mistakes, advice, and tips

One tip we have for first-time NSS exhibitors is to do smart marketing, especially if your budget is limited. There are plenty of chances to showcase products at the show (LOUIE award, Best New Product, press kits, Show Directory, etc.), so first-time/small exhibitors need to be diligent in taking advantage of all of them.

House of Beck

Erica Beck
House of Beck

A studio in the heart of Tennessee, we specialize in charming; tailored designs and hand-drawn illustrations that reflect the quirky and beautiful South. House of Beck is owned and led by designer and illustrator Erica Beck. Our paper goods are a reflection of her Southern roots, lifetime love of art and genuine desire to encourage authentic connections.

house-of-beck

Business and show history

I’ve been in business officially for two years. I’d say probably 90 percent of my business is through wholesale. I’ve sold retail via craft shows, but haven’t found as much success. Do friends and family count for retail? Ha! We will most likely attend next year.

Lessons from the show

We were very prepared because I googled the heck out of everything NSS. I also found past exhibitors and combed through as many blog posts on the subject as I could find. It’s super helpful (and free!) to listen in on the informational webinars they hold.

I learned that we made it a lot more challenging on ourselves by choosing to drive our entire booth up ourselves. By far, the most difficult task was actually figuring out how to get our booth walls in and out of the Jacob Javits Center. We had our own truck and once we were at the center I had to quickly find the GES Services office to submit a bill of lading, get a number and get in the loading dock line. All of this is to say that we will probably ship our booth next year!

It’s very helpful to make every effort to reach out to potential buyers with some type of mailer long before the show. Media exposure is also huge!

I’ve exhibited at a few craft shows and although they are much easier financially and logistically, I’ve found that attending trade shows is much more fruitful in terms of exposure. I will most likely try to attend the Atlanta Gift Market or perhaps New York Now.

Mistakes, advice, and tips

Mistake: As a first time exhibitor, I didn’t need to print 150 wholesale catalogs. They cost a fortune to print and I brought at least half back.

Smartest tips: Create carbon-copy order forms. That way you’re only writing down orders once! I also created a cheat sheet that did the quick math for me on multiple orders. I’m not a math whiz under pressure! Also, I brought a batch of thank you notes and inserted visitors’ business cards in one as I received them. That way, I was one step ahead on my follow-ups when I got home.

Benefits of exhibiting at the NSS

I think one of the most valuable take-aways from the show was the networking. Face-time with potential and/or current buyers is very important. People want to see you – and they will look for you! Also, you never know what could come from connecting with fellow exhibitors.

ilootpaperie

Alice & Doris Lieu
Ilootpaperie

Bound by a love of paper goods, funny drawings and keen appreciation for puns, sisters Alice & Doris of ILootPaperie firmly believe in aiding and abetting others to steal hearts through their loot of cheeky, colorful musings. They currently work out of their cozy Pasadena apartment where pun-filled illustrations spring to life and there are many a late night spent hand packing cards with care.

ilootpaperie-booth ilootpaperie-cards ilootpaperie-wall

Business and show history

We started ilootpaperie, as a side passion project in December of 2010. At the time, Doris and I both had full time jobs. We haven’t broken out the percentage for this current year but it is majority wholesale at the moment.

We do select craft fairs. We’ve done shows with Unique and Renegade – in both LA and SF as of last summer. We’ve also done Artist and Fleas in downtown LA, the Melrose Flea Market, holiday events with Yelp. We’ve also taken Ilootpaperie to Brit & Co’s Re:Make in SF. Consistently across the board, we tend to do well at these shows. We really enjoy the interaction and the enthusiasm we encounter from working directly with the consumers at these shows.

Lessons from the show

This year was our debut at NSS, our first trade show and our first show out of state. It was an intense process preparing for the show as there were so many moving parts – from the booth design, to shipping logistics, to marketing, to prepping card samples, to coordinating photo shoots, to sneaking in some last minute additions to the line, to putting together a catalog and mailer. Throughout the process, there were definitely times where we got the feeling of “what did we get ourselves into?” but we felt it was the right time to make that leap of faith to push our company to the next level. We are in 20 or so stores in the Southern California area alone and we wanted to try to replicate that on a national level.

We learned that you should pack a dolly, even if the regulations say that you can’t use it – some rules are flexible and as we found out the hard way, we should have definitely bent that one! Also, if you decide to order the GES Veloce Wood package – there is a move in date. So be sure to find out when that is so you can plan your travel logistics accordingly. The most important is that you should do your best to be prepared, but you also must arrive ready to switch things around and problem solve constantly. And this happens no matter if it’s your first or sixth show. This is a wonderful industry to be a part of, there is a true sense of camaraderie. We’ve felt it before from our little corner of the world in Pasadena and we genuinely got a feeling for that as well at the Stationery Show.

We will see where things land – but are strongly considering heading out to New York next May again for NSS 2017.

Mistakes, advice, and tips

We would definitely say – arm yourself with as many options and back up plans as you can – multiple parts of our booth were completed with materials and scenarios that were in our back pockets as “plan D” or basically our last resort. Our mural on the booth wall, which we had intended to use an art projector to trace the outline of the artwork, wound up being partly stenciled and partly free-handed by Alice, who now can proudly say she has completed her first mural! Which then leads us to think, maybe the right tip is to start with your last resort? :)

Benefits of exhibiting at the NSS

For our first year, it was great to meet so many of our peers that we look up too, in addition to existing and new retailers, all in one space! Additionally, we were able to get good press ahead of the show as we were a part of the NSS Class of 70 competition winners and will continue to get some in the post show round ups via blogs etc.

Leen Jean Studios

Kathleen Ostrom
Leen Jean Studios

From the humble beginnings of a one bedroom apartment crammed with far too many paper samples, Leen Jean Studios was formed out of a dream, yes, but also out of necessity. Kathleen’s love for both calligraphy and paper sparked her inspiration for Leen Jean Studios. Starting out as a small custom wedding invitation and calligraphy shop, Leen Jean has grown to become much more than that. In a short time, it has expanded its sights and now offers greeting cards, art prints, notepads, original artwork and more. Each word is drawn by hand and each watercolor lovingly painted.

leen-jean-at-work leen-jean-sign leen-jean-thank-you

Business and show history

I’ve been in business 5 years, and business is about 65% wholesale / 35% retail. This was my first time exhibiting at NSS. I did as much research as I possibly could and spent a lot of time and effort into making sure if I was going to exhibit, that I would do it well. By the time the show came, I did feel like I was ready for it and I had a lot of fun being there. I learned that placement is so important, but also the people around me were so great. Everyone is selling the same product, but it was awesome to see how we were all so different. I haven’t decided yet if I am attending next year, but I hope so!

I haven’t done a lot of markets or craft fairs, so it’s hard to compare.

Mistakes, advice, and tips

Well…I built my booth—okay, my husband built my booth—and one thing we didn’t do is make the corners hinge. We knew it would be fine as long as everyone around us wasn’t already up when we got there. And well, when we got there, everyone else around us was up! It made things a little more difficult to try and push the booth walls back without breaking them, but we slowly got them to where they needed to be! In the grand scheme of things, it all worked out, but it was just a minor detail that would have made set-up that much easier.

Benefits of exhibiting at the NSS

I had so much fun catching up with existing retailers or meeting them in person for the first time, as well as meeting new retailers, making other connections for collaborations AND getting press! All around, it was such a great way to meet people I otherwise would not have, who all in some way love paper and design as much as I do.

Rally Caller

Sarah Kaizar
Rally Caller

Rally Caller is home to curated bodies of original illustration work penned, drawn and painted by Sarah Kaizar and offered in an evolving collection of art prints, cards and novelties.

rallycaller-booth rallycaller-seals rallycaller-birds

Business and show history

I started my business in January 2016, debuting my product line at the National Stationery Show in May 2016. I launched my website, rallycaller.com, two weeks before NSS … it was a nail-biter! My business is largely catered to wholesale clients, although I do have a retail web presence.

I’m considering NYNow, the Museum Store Association Expo, and smaller gift shows around the country, like the Rocky Mountain Gift Show and the Seattle Gift Show. Each seems to cater to a slightly different audience, and although I don’t have enough trade show experience yet to say how these will impact my business, I’m doing as much research as I can to make the best decisions possible.

Lessons from the show

This was my first year exhibiting at NSS, and although it was a bit overwhelming, I generally felt prepared. I learned a lot from speaking with the other vendors around me; the warm, receptive community of the stationery world was a happy surprise.

Mistakes, advice, and tips

The best tip I have is taking the Stationery Business classes offered by Sycamore Street Press. I took both of Eva’s classes and found them each to be an invaluable resource.

Violet Press

Vi O’Brien
Violet Press

I’ve always loved papercrafting, but happening upon a DIY letterpress gadget changed my life. I began to explore the historic process of letterpress printing and fell head over heels. It combines so many things I love – antique shopping, drawing, designing, and paper!

violetpress-booth violetpress-cards

Business and show history

I started Violet Press in July of 2014 as a hobby business. I started with mostly custom work and some greeting cards here and there on etsy. In August of 2015, I quit my full time job as an attorney and dove into it full time. So, 1-2 years, depending on when you start counting :)

NSS was my first foray into the wholesale. Looking back, I’m not sure what I was thinking. I quit my job, designed an ENTIRE new line, printed and assembled it all by hand, and went to a national trade show in less than 10 months. What? As it stands after NSS and a few trickled in orders, I think wholesale will comprise a larger part of my business than retail. But not more than custom retail.

That was my first and only major trade show. I hadn’t even done a major craft show like Renegade before that. But I have done lots and lots of small craft, handmade and vintage shows. I’m still getting oriented to Colorado after my move from Chicago. I used to do a monthly market in Chicago that was a great source of income for me. I’m poking around now to find ones in Colorado.

Lessons from the show

No, I don’t feel that I was ready. I guess I thought that I’d just show up at NSS and people would be there to buy new stuff. But I realized that a lot of retailers were looking for the brands they already buy from. I had so many people zoom by my booth without even a glance because they were on the next person on their list. Or sneak a peak at my sign and turn away, presumably because they hadn’t heard of me before. That was a bummer. I probably should have tried to do some wholesale before just popping up there :) But it was really fun and I’m super excited to be in so many new stores. That is a dream come true. I learned the importance of marketing, give-aways (I would almost literally throw my little give away notebooks at people to get them to stop in the booth, and it worked! The majority of the people I stopped placed an order!). I learned how important brand recognition is. I learned that shoppers do not notice the tiny bubbles in the vinyl you put up or the small crack in the foam core. Hahaha. So it’s best to let those little things go because it is all so stressful! I also learned that paper people are really fun and surprisingly generous with their resources. I had the best time with my booth neighbor.

Mistakes, advice, and tips

Pretty much what I said above about jumping in a little early. One mistake I made was not putting a place for the expiration date for credit cards on my purchase order sheets. I noticed it pretty early in, but I felt silly having to call retailers and ask for it. Luckily I reached everyone pretty easily. So yeah, make sure you include that :) I think my best tip was not to skimp on the follow-up. When I got back, I sent out catalogs and samples to all the stores that I didn’t see, or that hurried by, and I’ve already seen some results from that. It’s hard to invest more money in catalogs, postage, samples, stationery, etc. after a big show like that, but it’s worth it (I hope!)

Benefits of exhibiting at the NSS

It was my first time, but I made a lot of contacts, got new retailers, some press, and look forward to see what else comes of it.

How to prepare for your first trade show

At the show, we saw how helpful everyone was to each other, and heard over and over from exhibitors about the following two resources available to stationery businesses ready to get into the world of wholesale.

Our friend and client, Eva Jorgensen of Sycamore Street Press, offers two classes online specifically for stationery businesses:

Stationery Business: Start Strong

Create your own successful stationery business! In Stationery Business 100: Start Strong, I use instructional videos, interviews with industry insiders, resource lists and more to teach you all you need to know to get a head start in the world of paper goods.

Stationery Business: Wholesale

Would you like to see your stationery designs carried in your favorite shops? In Stationery Biz 200: Wholesale, you’ll learn all the tools to get you there through instructional videos, interviews with industry insiders, resource lists, my 7+ years of experience in the industry, and more.

The smart and savvy Katie Hunt offers a trade show boot camp. Paper camp is this September, and you can learn more about that here:

Paper Camp

We’ll teach you how to create a stationery + gift line, launch to the wholesale market and exhibit at trade shows, so you can build a sustainable, profitable business. Learn from industry pros who openly share their successes and struggles to help you make better decisions in your business An action-inducing 2-day business camp.

I have only heard glowing reviews of these two women’s courses, so be sure to learn more if you have any interest in the topic.

Free help finding the perfect wholesale price for your product

Before you concentrate hard on wholesale, make sure your pricing is where it should be and that you’re not cheating yourself. Grab this free and thorough pricing guide from Lela Barker which covers all the crazy things you haven’t even thought of yet:

Lucky Girl's Guide to Product Pricing

Download the wholesale product pricing guide

If you have any questions about wholesale, I’d love to answer them in the comments!

How Rifle Paper Co. Became an International Lifestyle Brand

One of our standout client stories is the trajectory of Rifle Paper Co. We created a website for Rifle right when Anna and Nathan launched their business. They had big dreams and solid plans, and rather than start with Etsy or a DIY site, they hired Aeolidia to create something custom for them, and they have since grown from being a small stationery business to being an international lifestyle brand.

Ever dreamed of having your own Wikipedia page? While we have helped transform many successful and fast growing businesses, one of our standout stories is the trajectory of Rifle Paper Co. We aim to meet the businesses we work with when they hit that tipping point where their homegrown business can become something so much more, and we feel so good at where we met Anna and Nathan Bond.

We created a website for Rifle right when Anna and Nathan launched their business. They had big dreams and solid plans, and rather than start with Etsy or a DIY site, they hired Aeolidia to create something custom for them, and they have since grown from being a small stationery business to being an international lifestyle brand.

Photo of Anna and Nathan Bond courtesy of and © Rifle Paper Co.

Photo of Anna and Nathan Bond courtesy of and © Rifle Paper Co.

How did Rifle Paper Co start out, then grow and expand?

We launched that site with them in November of 2009, and Anna and Nathan did not waste any time. In January of the next year, they hired their first employee, and in May 2010, they debuted at the National Stationery Show, with their products arriving in many stores across the nation that summer. By December 2013, 4 years after launching their business, they had 93 employees. In 2014, Rifle was listed as one of Inc 500’s fastest-growing companies, and in 2015, Nathan was named to Forbes magazine’s 30 Under 30 list.

Anna’s bold, colorful illustrations are at the center of Rifle Paper’s business. “I love purposeful imperfection,” Anna says, describing the look that has become Rifle’s signature style. The Bonds always knew these whimsical designs could work well beyond paper. But rather than immediately putting the illustrations on a wide variety of products, they focused their energy and time on establishing a strong visual brand identity and building consumer loyalty with a small collection of 50 mostly paper products, sold online. When they felt the market was eager for their designs on other items, they made their move into new product categories, like iPhone covers, launched in 2013. “Once we established the look, we pushed the parameters,” Nathan says.

— Liz Welch in Starting a Company? Here’s How to Think Big From the Very Beginning, Dec 2014

Rifle now partners with other brands, such as Garance Doré, Hygge & West, Paperless Post, and more, and has clients such as Anthropologie, Penguin Books, and Paper Source. Anna’s artwork can be found illustrating books, on wallpaper, as fabric, on clothing, handbags, and temporary tattoos.

Bond and his wife, Anna — the creative director who designs Rifle Paper’s collection and oversees marketing, business strategy and product development — started the company in 2009 from their garage apartment for less than $10,000. His wife already was a prominent local artist/designer, and they found that a lot of people were interested in wedding stationery, so they went for it, building the company around her artwork.

This is Rifle Paper Co., which generated $12.5 million in sales in 2014 by selling more than 2.6 million greeting cards.

“We really believed we had something appealing to a lot of people that didn’t exist in the marketplace,” said Bond.

— The Orlando Business Journal, How This Young Man and His Wife Turned $10,000 into $12.5 million, 3/6/2015

Photo courtesy of and © Rifle Paper Co.

Photo courtesy of and © Rifle Paper Co.

Photo courtesy of and © Rifle Paper Co.

Photo courtesy of and © Rifle Paper Co.

Creating Rifle Paper Co.’s first website

Sam on our team spoke to Nathan Bond recently about the decisions he and Anna made at the start of their timeline, and how we were able to help them. Sam’s questions are bold, Nathan’s replies follow.

What plans and goals did you have for your launch and that original website project with Aeolidia?

When we started, we had a dream and a vision for Rifle being beyond a stationery brand. So even though we started off in that space, we always thought it had potential beyond this. We obviously knew we had a chance to be successful, but we didn’t know it was going to look like what it looks like today. Our idea of success was probably much more modest than it is now. We ended up being one of the fastest growing companies in our country, let alone in our industry, so that was a big surprise… We never would have expected that. We just thought we had a great idea.

In 2010 we had 15 employees. Now it’s around 200 employees. It went from Anna and I only to what it is today in just six years. It really is crazy; it’s been a wild ride.

Do you think it’s a good idea for a new brand to start with a custom ecommerce site?

I would never expect to give a general recommendation. It depends on your industry, your business, your idea… but I can say for us, it was the best decision. It helped us problem solve some manufacturing issues and get our heads around a lot of the basic things about running a business.

We had a lot of conversations early on about whether we’d start a Big Cartel site or something. We just decided that that was not going to be a big enough splash for what we wanted to accomplish out of the gate.

Your goals were probably smaller at that time…

Definitely. We’ve certainly grown since the early stages when we worked together and our primary goals at the time were just to get the business off the ground. For where we were at, Aeolidia was perfect. Your services were within our very small budget and offered us the opportunity to do some stuff on our own on the site, since Anna knew a bit of HTML. We were able to make it work for a long time. And while the site we’re on now we built completely in-house, with the knowledge of our web developer we can really appreciate the original site for how basic and light it was – it worked really well for us and we’re really thankful that we made the decision to use Aeolidia from the start.

The internet of course has changed in the last 8 years, 10 years. The work we do is different today, but it’s still our goal that people graduate from us, to the point where you’re at now with your own in house developer…

Is that the case? Does Aeolidia still consider itself a company that’s built for startups and small companies?

I wouldn’t necessarily say we’re for the very very startup company, but probably that mid level – maybe they’ve had an Etsy shop or something they’ve set up on their own and they’re really ready for that big transformation. They’re ready to start going to trade shows…

Totally, that might have been the phase we were at, even though we had no budget right out of the gate. We already had a following and we had enough buzz that it made sense to skip the Etsy phase.

Exactly, and there’s always that chicken and egg problem: do we spend money on the website or do we try to get more customers first?

Okay, so you’re still kind of in that spot. That sweet spot. I think it’s a cool niche that Aeolidia’s in. I think it’s great. It was a great decision for us. It’s a good company for the stage we were at. I doubt there’s anything better.

Thanks for saying that. You guys are definitely one of those aspirational companies that people look up to and it’s fun to have been a part of that.

Photo courtesy of and © Rifle Paper Co.

Photo courtesy of and © Rifle Paper Co.

Rifle Paper Co. testimonial

When they grew big enough to need an in-house web solution in 2014, Anna reached out to me to share what the original website meant to them:

I’m not sure if you saw but we launched a new website yesterday and I just wanted to reach out to say a huge thank you for the site the you guys originally created for us.

When Nathan and I started the company we were debating between Etsy, Big Cartel and a custom site.. and going with you was the best decision we made. We created a site that lasted us nearly 5 years without any major updates at all… which I think is a *huge* feat!

Our company has grown exponentially since we launched. We now have over 130 employees in our Winter Park studio and our products are carried in over 4,000 stores around the world. [these numbers have grown in the intervening two years!]

I just wanted to write and tell you thank you for the site that you made. I will continually (as I always have) recommend you and your company to anyone who asks.

Do you have big plans and goals for your business?

We would love to be the team that joins you at the start of your timeline to use graphic design and a smart web presence to create customer interest and drive wholesale sales. Come meet the 20 industrious businesses we’re working with now, and claim your spot on our summer calendar today!

Want tips on building a brand that will grow and flourish?

Over the years, I have watched many businesses succeed, and many more struggle.

Those businesses that seem to have had an overnight success and barely needed to work at promotion? There is something special about them. They know it and their customers know it. Their work can be spotted from a mile off, it’s something that people want, and it’s easy to promote – like a snowball rolling down hill, gathering speed, and getting huge.

Why is it so easy for them? If you have what they have, it will be easy for you, too. If you’re lacking this, it will be like trying to win a race with a bicycle that has square wheels. A crazy amount of work, with few results.

Today we are going to talk about storytelling, brand identity, and how you can make your work into that snowball that only needs a little nudge to get rolling on its own. Sign up to get your video presentation that will help you turn your business around:

Building the Story of Your Brand

Struggling to get sales? I walk you through exactly what those others businesses have that you don’t, and how to get it for yourself.