Wednesday 24 July 2013

Rethinking things

Sorry not to have posted for such a long time.  I took a week off bear-making after the Clare Priory show – partly because the previous week was hard work; partly to spend time reassessing things.

I met some lovely people at Clare.  But not as many people stopped to look as I could have hoped.  It was so hot over that weekend, I don’t think anybody did fantastically well, but it did make me think: was the lack of sales  just down to the weather, or the economic climate?  Or am I making something which is unlikely ever to sell in sufficient quantity? 

When I first started, I was focusing on making one of a kind bears – I was aspiring to be part of the collectible bear industry, and the ‘one of a kind’ thing is part of that. 

Renting a retail unit meant that I needed lots of bears to fill the shelves though, and I found it really difficult to make bears in sufficient quantity whilst, at the same time, continually coming up with new designs.  On top of that, my customer base had changed.  At the Art & Craft Centre, my customers were more likely to be non-collectors who just ‘connected’ with a particular bear and bought it as a one-off, rather than collectors.

As a result, I tried to change the way I worked.  I stopped thinking about new designs, and focused on trying to become more efficient at production.  My aim was to make 100 bears this year.  Here we are in July, and I’m up to 64.  I think my total last year was around the 60 mark, so I’ve definitely stepped things up.

Business has been slow though.  The problem I think is that, whilst my bears can no longer be described as ‘one of a kind’ (so they don’t fulfill the expectations of collectors), they are still made out of mohair, so they tend to cost too much for a non-collector.

So I am making something that avoids targeting my two possible groups of customers, falling neatly between them! 

I spent last week, in part, trying to decide how to rectify the situation.  Here are a few of my ideas…

  • My unit at the Art & Craft Centre is my biggest expense, and I am currently not making enough to cover the rent.  Unfortunately, that has to be the first thing to go.
  • Mohair is the other biggie.  I have found a slightly cheaper supplier, but they only sell a limited range of mohair.  And although their fabric is less expensive, it is still more expensive than any other kind of fabric(!)  I need to try to move over to a combination of less-expensive mohair and non-mohair fabric.
  • I would like to return to making one-of-a-kind and limited edition items.  So I will be making less bears, but I will have more different designs.
  • I would like to do more fairs – both teddy bear fairs and craft fairs.  I think that way, I am more likely to reach collectors, and people looking for handmade items.
  •  I would like to focus more on Internet sales – particularly on Facebook, and maybe Bearpile.
  •  I am considering the idea of selling patterns.  Since I am going to be spending more time making patterns, it seems logical.  It is a bit of a minefield though.  I can’t sell a bear as ‘one of a kind’, and then publish the pattern.  There needs to be a distinction between the two.  Also, it will be difficult to stand out among the large number of patterns available.

No clear plan for going forward then (why break the habits of a lifetime!), but I am going to give up my retail unit.  And I am going to start concentrating on design again.  I am not leaving the Art & Craft Centre completely: I will rent a glass cabinet so I can display the things I do make – but it’s a big change, and I do feel on slightly shaky ground going forward.  Fingers crossed!


abby glassenberg said...

I find this kind of transition really fascinating to think through. If you might want a sounding board, I'd be happy to be one! Just shoot me an email:

Ruth said...

Thanks Abby, that's really good of you. I might take you up on that. I'm floundering a bit at the moment.

Gratia said...

I absolutely love your bears, but because of a lack of funds, I am unable to purchase one. I think it would be wonderful if you started to sell your patterns because your style is not something I've seen before. Best of luck in whatever you decide to do.