The Journey: Competition Versus Being Competitive Laura McCullough-DeLorme

9 09 2008

I want to open this by assuring you that it eventually leads into my art and current work, but begins with an important lesson learned on my journey in another business.

I used to own a successful body, mind and spirit focused bookstore and gift shop. In addition to the retail store overflowing with herbs, teas, books, jewelry, candles, gemstones, music, soaps, lotions and trinkets of all kinds, we also had a healing center with massage therapists and we offered classes and hosted lots of community events.

I had a fairly loose business plan (by most people’s standards) and even so, things seemed to fall into place. It was just the right time and it didn’t take long before the rather new-age shop became “the place to be” even in our fairly conservative area.

When a couple of other shops similar in nature began to spring up around us, many of my customers expressed concern. “What are you going to do to stay ahead of the competition?” they’d ask. Or, “Are you afraid they’re going to take your customers?”.

While I understood their concerns on some level, on another level I found the whole thing puzzling. I’d never even viewed other stores as competition and in all honesty, as naive as it may seem, I viewed us all as part of the same team and thought there were enough customers for everyone.  The idea that someone could “take” customers seemed foreign to me because I guess I never thought of them as mine and only mine anyway.

I’d say as much in response to customers concerned about a new shop a few blocks away and people usually accepted my answer until one day a customer began to press me very hard about how important it was to “be smart” about my business and the “competition.”

I had a hard time explaining why I wasn’t concerned, so he began to lecture me about how assessing competition is “just plain good business smarts“.

It was then that I realized that he was a real jerk…HA! Just kidding! No really, I understood his concern and later thanked him because that afternoon he forced me to pull together my thoughts on the subject and clarify them for myself right there, in the middle of the shop.  He was a long-term customer who wasn’t trying to offend me and it helped me understand in less than ten minutes that I did have business smarts, but that mine were intuitive rather than clearly formulated.

I explained that being competitive within a market and competing for customers are two different things. I didn’t view other stores as competition or enemies because to expend energy on that pulled attention away from my own shop.  However, I was also aware that to remain competitive in the market of rose quartz massage wands, for example, it would also (with only a few exceptions) be unwise for me to drop my price to match another shop’s price.  I’d already set a fair one based on a good understanding of how much the wand cost, not just in terms of what I paid for it, but in terms of what it cost to have an employee nearby and ready to explain to a customer how it could be used or to gift wrap it.  If I dropped the price, I’d have to make up for it somewhere else by raising the price on another item or by lowering my expectations of the level of customer service we could provide. Unless you’re a Wal-Mart price checker, this kind of managing takes time, wastes energy and usually fails to pay off in the long run.

However, if I made sure customers were aware that the wands came prettily wrapped at no added charge and set out a few wrapped examples next to the display along with little cards explaining how they were made and what country the rose quartz came from, I was being competitive in the market by offering knowledge, service and convenience along with their purchase. Believe me, free gift wrap goes a long way with men around the holidays!  And, if I had an item that sold for less somewhere else and I couldn’t afford sell it for less or with an extra service, then a competitive business decision would be to sell out the item and not offer it again.  I liked making room for new and unique things anyway.

I also stayed competitive by considering every person who called the shop a customer even if we didn’t have what they were looking for and the “competition” did.  If someone called looking for a book and we didn’t have it in stock or coming soon in an order, my employees and I referred them to any place in town that might.  We weren’t vague and we were very clear about making sure they knew it was important to us that they find what they needed.

I can’t tell you how this helped my store to remain competitive.  It was a real strategy and it worked.  We gained customers because of our helpfulness on the phone and if a customer walked in looking for something we didn’t carry (or were out of) they waited appreciativly while we called around town to help them find it.

Other businesses who viewed my shop as “the competition” weren’t so helpful and can you imagine how it looked in contrast to our generosity about such things?

I explained that while much of my business philosophy was spiritual and heart centered, that there was strategy.  It was a strategic decision to educate current customers on the inventory of other shops; it helped them and made us look good.  We may have lost a sale on the day of the call, but more often than not we were remembered for our helpfulness and they paid us a visit later.

My rather pushy male customer was beginning to understand, but he said something about how if a customer called and we sent them somewhere else, we might never get them into the store and wasn’t that a loss in the long run? I told him that I never once worried about this. That if they went into a store that we sent them to, (usually calling in advance so the seller could have the item ready) the customer would almost always mention that we’d referred them and the other shop owner would take a moment to comment on how nice it was that we sent them over and how lovely our shop was and how supportive I was of other businesses. That in itself is a great endorsement and happened because we took the time to make sure they learned of the shop that had what they needed on a particular day.

In one case, an owner, speaking from her own fear of “competition” took the opportunity to take a swipe at our shop and said something negative about me and how “irresponsible” it was for us to be out of a particular book and that she’d “never let such an important volume be out of stock.”  The customer, who we had sent to her and who before that day had never heard of her shop or mine, put the book down and walked out.  She called us, told us that she’d wait a week for our order to come in and that she’d been shocked by the other shopkeeper’s comment.  We were surprised, but said nothing negative in response, only that we were happy she’d found us in the phone book that day, we were sorry it didn’t go well at the other store and we’d call her when her book came in.  She told many friends this story and while it was an unfortunate loss for the other shop, it was a gain for us and if the other shop owner had not allowed herself to get caught up in fear, she could have made a sale, gained a new customer and prevented bad word of mouth.

Being helpful and positive enabled me to stay above the stress of daily worries about other businesses and helped me to focus on what we offered and the environment I wanted to create.  Eventually, when the shop close by went out of business, our regular customers knew there was no gloating on our end and that we had been as supportive to another business as we could be and stayed true to ourselves in the process.

If we hadn’t been generous in spirit to that shop and my customers had sensed this, it would have forever tarnished our image in a business that sold tools for spiritual development.  While they might have continued to shop there, the energy wouldn’t have matched our message and they wouldn’t have trusted us on some level.  It would have only been a matter of time before a new shop with a more positive energy opened and the customers would have gravitated towards it.

Eventually, I needed a change, sold my business and began to focus on a different kind of creativiity.  I learned quickly that many things change when the majority of your business is done on the internet, working only with shop owners who carry my work as opposed to the retail buyers or face to face in a booth, but not in a brick and mortar.

I struggled earlier this year when I saw there was a woman making her wallets out of paper and vinyl, but differently than I do. I got a little caught up in my prices and even went as far as to comment to a friend (not a customer) that I questioned the quality of her items. For shame! Hadn’t I learned anything about my own views as I had explained them to that customer a few years ago?  In reality, I didn’t question her quality…I was insecure about my own work and prices.

I think we all understand the sinking feeling we have as artists and crafters when we see something on the market similar to our own. Most of us don’t want to admit to it, but it can be hard not to compare another’s work to what we’re doing, but at the end of the day, we have to remind ourselves that if we start to see fellow artists as “competition” we lose our ability to be competitive. In our work, creativity is key and by keeping our heads in our own businesses, we keep our energy focused and our creative juices flowing.

While we do have to be aware of what’s out there and be somewhat aware of what others are charging in whatever category of art we’re pursuing, ultimately this matters less than us realistically determining what we need to price an item at to cover our needs and if it’s higher than someone else’s, we have to be OK with it.

We also stand to gain more by encouraging our customers to check our the great work being done by other artists.  Recently, I was contacted by a woman who’d retained a PR firm to help her market her gorgeous line of stationary. She contacted me to see if I could partner with her on a project to make little purse sized notebook holders.  At first, I was excited because I had planned to make them anyway, but after I thought about it, I realized that I was months away from a good design and that I really wanted to focus on my passport cases first.  I was only thinking of taking the project out of fear of missing an opportunity and someone else getting it rather than because I really wanted to take it on. I thought of the other woman making the paper and vinyl wallets and decided to refer the woman offering me the project to her.

There are some that would say it is a mistake not to grab every opportunity, but it’s better to let one pass if your heart isn’t in it.  There are others who might turn it down, but not give another artist a referral and even with all my lessons learned, I did hesitate, but then remembered that the same principles should apply to my new business as did to my old one.

These days, I spread the word about Etsy to anyone who will listen and I know that customers will find other wallets out there, but I also know that as long as I keep my work fresh and my eye on my own business goals that I’ll be OK and that I feel great when I can help a customer find a paper and vinyl wristlet from another seller because I don’t make them yet.  It’s so much less stressful to be positive about your own business than it is to worry about the impact of someone else’s.

Whew, thanks for reading…it was a long one!

Laura





The Journey—Lisa Liddy

10 07 2008

Sometimes the creative journey seems a lot like air travel today. Not nearly as easy as it was years ago! Lots of missed connections and extra costs. Delays and a few unexpected surprises on the trip.

I’ve hit those snags and delays of late so I’m going to take this “journey” more in terms of how I ended up creating jewelry and developing a business out of it. I liked how Lori Anderson handled it in her post awhile back.

I’ve always done crafty things. Sewing was my primary love for years and years until my daughter was born. I’ve not sewn creatively since then. The floor was my preferred place to layout and pin patterns…not conducive with an infant/toddler. And somewhere along the lines “they” resized the patterns on me! (OK, it was baby weight that never left, but the thrill of making my own clothes left around that time). 

I dabbled in beading years and years ago when I was single with a beaded Christmas tree…made two of them! And then moved on to other things. Have crocheted a bit, fabric painted, and a few other activities through the years.

When Emma was 6 or 7 she was invited to a birthday party at a bead store…the girls made little strung necklaces from kits that they chose. She ended up at several and had her own party there one year too. Since the moms stayed closer for those parties, I spent some time poking around the store and occasionally found time to go and sit for a couple hours working on projects for me or as gifts. I learned how to crimp endings and add clasps and the general mechanics of finishing off necklaces and bracelets (as well as an understanding that buying retail was going to get really expensive!).

I wasn’t hooked  yet. But it was coming. I had discovered Ebay and developed an interest in vintage jewelry that never really went anyway…I’ve got a box of old earrings that have been turned into holiday wreaths and mini-trees for charity over the years. Somehow though in the course of searching, i stumbled on lampwork beads and the obsession was born. I was fascinated with these glass beauties and the detail in them. I bought and bought and developed relationships and friendships with beadmakers all over the world. It was the bonus in the purchase as I had become a bit of a homebody: husband traveled every week, main business was homebased and computer driven, daughter was fairly high maintenance. I didn’t get out much for several years. So my online beadie friends were a godsend. A couple would suggest that I should learn to make my own beads (a couple others thought that was a bad idea! :) ) and as much as I love the beads, I realize that I have no time in my life to become as skilled as my taste in beads would require. But I digress.

After collecting beads for a bit, I was making them into jewelry (I actually started with natural stones and crystals and Bali silver but moved on from there to almost exclusively lampwork, freshwater pearls and Hill Tribe silver). In late fall 2001 while we were still reeling from the devastation of 9/11, my husband found out he was losing his job. He stayed on to close down the corporate office (which moved back east) and then tried to find work in the hospitality business for over a year. During that time, I ramped up the book design business and he took over as the “senior editor/delivery boy” enabling me to grow my business enough to keep us afloat on one income for awhile. He started working for one of my clients and eventually ended up working for the large publisher who purchased my client’s business.

But it was a long and stressful side trip…I worked endless hours at times and found comfort and sanity by having a bead tray nearby. I could lay out the beads and push them around into various designs even for just 15 minutes late at night. It calmed me. I usually started several projects that way and a week later might get to the point where I could string them. Finishing them off might be another week later in stolen moments. Friends and family wanted to buy what I was making. Somewhere along the way I was introduced to Nirvana (the gemshows in Tucson, not the band!) and Joolz by Lisa was born.

 

I still struggle with finding the time for ongoing creation, not to mention the venue for successful selling and I love to be surrounded by my treasured beads. It’s a topic for another day but my office is a co-mingling of my two lives. To the left of the computer are all things book design. To the right, all things bead and jewelry related. Those who have seen it are a little unsure how I get anything done!

Let the journey continue.

www.lisaliddy.wordpress.com
www.joolzbylisa.etsy.com
www.joolzbylisa.com





Style – Lori Anderson

25 05 2008
necklaceStyle. When I think of style, I think of what makes a person unique, what makes them special, what makes them THEM.
Some people express their style by their hair style (or color!), clothing, or mannerisms. My personal clothing style is pretty bland. I own a short-sleeved and long-sleeved t-shirt in pretty much every color available, plain and unadorned, and wear that with jeans. My personality, and my style, comes through when I wear all kinds of jewelry with those plain, boring t-shirts. The shirt may be ordinary, but the jewelry is anything but!
When customers visit my booth at a craft show and pick up an exciting, whimsical necklace, or an elegant, glittering bracelet, they often say, “I love it, but I don’t know what I’d wear it with.” I always have to chuckle and say, “See what I’m wearing?” Yep, it’s jeans and a t-shirt, and that necklace they just complimented me on five minutes ago. They didn’t even notice the clothing — they zeroed in on the jewelry. And that’s my style. I’m “The Jewelry Lady”. To heck with the latest fashions. It’s all about the jewelry I choose to wear each and every day.

Pick your own style. Make it your own. Have fun reading up on “the latest” but don’t stress over it. Your style should be like your signature, unique and YOURS.

Discover it, explore it, and celebrate it!

 

 

 





Fashion and Trends? Yes! – Susan Sheehan

14 04 2008

You wouldn’t know it from looking at me.  I’m incredibly practical in my attire.  I have little contact with the outside world and most days my outfits are seen by nobody other than my children.  But, I love fashion and trends. 

I get fashion magazines and can flip through the pages over and over again.  I admire the photography, the design of a dress and the colors.  Oh the colors!  When one grabs my eye, I tear out the page and frantically search my mind for just the right glass to reproduce it.  Should it be a floral?  Maybe a more graphic design?  What should I pair it with?

Clothing catalogs get me excited too.  The necklines help me visualize the right bead for necklaces.  The jewelry helps me determine shapes and designs.  Even the shoes can inspire a bead design.

I do maintain the right to make what I like.  I’m rather classic in my sense of fashion and it does shine through in my bead making.  But there is nothing quite like the time I spend with my cup of coffee and a big thick edition of Vogue, to get my creative juices flowing.

Susan





Motivation – Lori Anderson

29 02 2008

Motivation is one of those intangible things that I can’t really define as it pertains to ME.  It seems to change all the time.  So I’ll give you some “for-instances”. 

  • I’m motivated when my design table gets overloaded with beads, to the point where I can’t see the table top any longer.  I start picking up whatever’s on the table, and I MUST make something with it.  That way I clear the table and have a lot of new things made, too – but wait, now what do I do with all the beads I took out to accent the beads that WERE on the table……

Messy Studio  

  • I’m motivated when I have a show coming up.  I always like to have new things at each show, and it seems that the couple of weeks before a show I go into overdrive.

  • I’m motivated when I have the house to myself.  If I have no interruptions, I turn on TIVO’d programs to listen to (CSI, Cold Case Files, things like that) and go to town.  I so rarely get alone time that it’s a real treat, and I use it!

  • I’m motivated by some inner drive that keeps me going – the desire to constantly change, to constantly improve what I do, to every now and then make something that really amazes me.

    Motivation is such a personal thing, and it can take on many faces.  Whatever it is for you, I hope that it propels you into new and exciting ventures this year!  





Fashion and Trends – Annette Piper

3 02 2008

Spring, summer, autumn and winter, seasons inextricably linked to the fashion world and all that entails.  Fashion can be inspiring and sometimes, simply frightening!

Basically I am old enough to not follow the trends or fashion.  I know what I like and what suits me, which makes shopping a whole lot easier.   But we can’t help be guided a little by fashion if only being limited to what we can purchase in colour or cut.

As a jewellery designer I can certainly be affected by trends and popular fashion colours or even fashion designs.  But as artists and artisans should we be slaves to what the fashion houses declare?

For example, a design of high necks or collars would mean my necklaces have to be longer to accommodate going over shirts/tops.  They may have to be a little bolder to be noticed.   Popular colours can affect my selection of stones a little eg. soft baby pink or hot pink, apricots or creams, icy clear or straw coloured.  Trends such as linear or chandelier earrings or chunky necklaces will encourage me to make a few of these and include them in my range for those that are more fashion conscious.

Usually I find if I follow trends too closely the jewellery created has limited appeal.   It’s important to define your ideal customer when considering your new creations.  Luckily, my market is women just like me !

 Annette





My Studio is…. Suzanne Tate

25 01 2008

My Studio is……a cupboard. Yep, basically a cupboard. A very large cupboard, but definitely a storage area. It is a cute little room, snuggled up under the eaves on the second story of my house. When my friend’s young children first saw the matching rooms (before one became my studio), either side of the ‘parents retreat’, they declared them Harry Potter bedrooms, and claimed one each.I used to torch outside in my husband’s cedar workshop. I had to pack everything up after every torch session. Yes, I did say everything. In winter it was freezing, and as it was right up the back of our garden, even getting up the enthusiasm to trudge up there in cold weather, or worse, late at night (it’s spooky out there!) was an effort. It was pretty spacious, so when it was my turn to use it, I could even have several torches set up at a bead meet, but if that arrangement had continued, I never would have been able to grow in my glass work as I have done.

We decided to move me into the house. Jason built me a wonderful custom made work bench, and another for my kiln and I moved in. Ventilation was problematic for awhile. I’m not exaggerating when I say it’s a cupboard, so with no external windows, and only the open door behind me for ventilation, the use of enamels, metals, even reichenbach frit was outlawed. 

 

The fledgling studio – before the days of ventilation and a ‘big girl torch’.

Fortunately (you have to look on the bright side of these things) the ensuite ceiling was leaking and we had to make some major repairs. So, while all the tradie’s were there, we got them to install a rangehood and a whirly gig on the roof, and install power (no more extension cords). Double Helix glass, here I come (pity that the ability to make silver glasses ‘do their thing’ did not arrive with the ventilation).Since then I have upgraded from a HH to a Piranha, and finally started garaging my beads instead of batch annealing (yep, it took me over 4 years to overcome my fear of sticking my arm in a hot kiln. Go figure.) Just one more thing I learnt in the US (I was thrown in the deep end at the Anastasia class :) . I have a new, somewhat precarious shelving arrangement for my presses (OK, so its a metal planter stand with cardboard on the shelves) and a creative glass storage system (cardboard tubes glued together and painted white). Are you getting the impression I’m good at scrounging and appropriating things? (You ain’t seen nothing till you have seen my husband build the Taj Mahal of chicken coops with recycled shipping palettes, recycled corrugated iron from our roof, left over insulation and 8 foot wire fences, without spending a penny on anything other than the screws and nails!)

So, now I can torch for as little as an hour or as long as I like, without worrying about sharing the space, the ambient temperature (heck, if its really hot I just turn the aircon on in the bedroom behind me) or the time of day. In fact, part of the initial impetus for the move was the plan to put my insomniac tendencies to use by torching in the wee small hours when I can’t sleep. So, even though Jason jokes he banished me to a cupboard, it’s a very nice cupboard and I am quite happy here!

 

Suzanne








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