Nov 102011

I walked my fingers through my wool yarn the other day, touching and rearranging the skeins, admiring their colors. In reality, I was pondering the idea of introducing a new line of products in JN Originals, my shop on Etsy which features crocheted and felted items.

Whether you’re a small shop owner like me or have a large business that reaches into every household across the nation, I suspect that all sellers go through some sort of “research and development” phase—more than one phase, to be sure, since the marketplace is fickle. What’s “in” one year is “out” the next. The super-long, fuzzy “eyelash yarn” scarves of four years ago, for example, have given way to shorter scarves that keep you warm but don’t flap into your face when a gust of wind comes along. If you’re lucky, as a handmade seller, your timing is on and what you sell leaves your doorstep almost as soon as you create it. Sounds ideal, doesn’t it? In reality, there is always a certain amount of risk involved, so you can’t afford to make too many of any one item, or you’ll get stuck with product you cannot sell. But without experimentation, your business is stuck in the water like a ship without sails because nothing is ever static.

Before I began selling handmade goods on Etsy, nearly everything I made was gifted to those I knew, both family members and friends, so to some extent these people represented the source of my market analysis. Their “oohs” and “aahs” translated into the sections of my shop including hats and scarves, felted journals and needle books, coffee cup sleeves, fingerless gloves and flower brooches. What I have discovered, however, is that people’s admiration or appreciation of these items does not necessarily result into sales. What people are excited about receiving for free does not excite them so much when they have to reach into their pockets. And there is always a price point beyond which they will not tread, no matter how wonderful your product may be. I have also learned that what sells well online may not sell equally well in person at craft shows. In a word, we’re all on a perpetual search for that one special item that will make our business bloom and sales take off. Sometimes we fall flat on our faces. I tried selling felted napkin rings on Etsy and failed, for example. Research and development can make the bravest among us grow faint of heart!

Despite the risks associated with any new item you introduce, there is something magical about the research and development process. You check out your competition for similar items and decide how you want to stand out. Finding a unique angle must always be your goal, for you simply cannot assume you are the only person to generate that idea. And when you finally unveil your product, it feels somewhat like a gift you unwrap and pass around to get everyone’s reaction. So, that is what I am doing below, where you’ll see a small felted bowl that represents a new product line in my shop. What do you think?!


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© 2011 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.