When we first started trying to sell the stuff we made - we had no clue what we were doing. Now we’re selling handmade home decor to West Elm, which is crazy! We also sell products online and we’ve done enough in-person markets to have learned a thing or two, so in this post we’ll cover tips for selling products through any of the below avenues:
- Selling online (like Etsy)
- Selling at in-person events (like craft fairs and pop up shops)
- Selling wholesale straight to companies/stores (in our case, we’ve sold to both West Elm and a locally owned shop nearby)
Today we’re going to talk about what we’ve learned, the pluses and minuses of these three ways to sell things, and tips we have for you (especially if you’re new to this whole selling stuff thing!) Some of these topics we cover more in the video above, some we get a little more detailed in the written tutorial, so it’s definitely valuable to check out both (plus we have more visuals of the stuff we’re talking about in the video).
Step 1: What to Sell
It can be tough to pull product ideas out of thin air, so we used ourselves as a starting point: what would we want in our own house? (just in case you don’t sell any and end up with a bunch leftover… I kid!) But seriously, if it’s a design and style that you like, you’ll have more fun making it and you’ll be more proud to show it off.
We also did some online research. It’s great for inspiration and you can see what seems to be trending on different venues (hand woven goods selling well on Etsy? Does Target have lots of concrete home decor right now? etc).
It helps to come up with a product you can batch easily. This helps you keep it at a lower price point, which makes it easier to sell. For us, we knew we could more easily batch items that included 3D printing, concrete products we could make with reusable molds, and simple/quick woodworking.
Looking at what we liked, what seemed to be selling well, and what we could batch, led us to our starting product line: 3D printed deer heads mounted on wood, concrete coasters, and 3D printed topographical Texas’s.
Before you finalize on a product, ask yourself a few questions: What are you willing to sell it for, what would other people pay for it, and how closely do those two numbers match. Which brings us too…
Step 2: Pricing
Pricing was the hardest part for us, so we worked backwards. We looked at the general types of products we wanted to make, the venues we wanted to sell, and we tried to come up with products that fit that price range. We also showed our products to family and friends and asked what they would pay for it in a store.
There is a lot of interesting psychology involved in pricing. Of course, there’s the obvious “$49 looks better than $50” stuff, but there's a lot more to it than that. For example, lets say you have 3 products you want to sell at 3 different price points. It is sometimes a good idea to make 1 or 2 higher priced individual items to display at your booth, not with the expectation of selling them, but because it will make even the most expensive of your 3 main products look cheaper in comparison.
Step 3: Where to Sell
First we’ll go a little into the pluses and minuses of those three selling avenues we mentioned above: online, in-person, and wholesale.
One of the biggest advantages of selling online is you have the potential to reach a very large audience. Also, it’s relatively easy these days, especially with sites like Etsy or plugins you can add to your website.
One downside is you have to deal with shipping. This could make it prohibitive to selling larger items (like side tables, very large wall art, etc) because it adds so much shipping cost and can be a hassle. For small products, shipping isn’t too bad. If you use Etsy, paying for shipping and printing labels is all integrated into the system. If you sell on your own website, you can purchase shipping and print labels through USPS and other sites, so it’s still pretty easy. Having to ship things isn’t the worst thing in the world, but it does add a little layer of hassle.
Craft fairs and in-person pop up shops are cool because they are great market research. You can talk to people and get an idea of what they like, and you can gauge your price point based on their reaction to your prices (did they seem interested until you told them the price, for example).
The down side of these events is that there are a lot of logistics involved in getting your products on-location, setting up a booth, etc. We do have some tips to handle these logistics, but we’ll get into those later. Some days you sell a lot and it’s awesome, but other days can be really slow and it’s no fun to spend 6 hours just standing around.
Selling wholesale has it’s advantages and disadvantages too. It’s nice because you get large batch orders, which makes it easier to become more efficient in your shop. Usually you can expect the large orders to be pretty regular too, and you often have a longer lead time for orders than you do selling to individuals online. It’s nice to ship off a huge order all at once.
The downside is you don’t make as much profit per product. The company you’re selling wholesale too will usually take a large percentage of the price, so you’ll have to make sure you can still make a profit if you decide to go wholesale.
Step 4: Promote Yourself
You can make the most amazing end grain cutting boards, fidget spinners, or handmade hamster hats in the world, but if nobody knows you’re making them you’re not going to sell any. This is why having an audience is key, even if you’re not only selling online.
We started our Instagram account initially to promote our pop up shops and Etsy store when we first started working with West Elm. If you scroll alllllll the way back, you’ll find product photos and little graphics we made to promote the events we’d be at. And pictures of our cat, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that :P
To get ideas about what types of things to post, follow other local makers on Instagram and see what type of stuff they post. Follow other makers and brands/companies you’re interested in to get ideas and start building your little community.
Being a graphic designer, I mocked up some product photos with the pop up info (location, date, time, etc) and we posted those a week before and a day before the event.
When you’re doing an event/craft fair specifically, it’s helps to make a Facebook event. Then you can invite all your friends and it’s easy for them to remember when/where it is.
Lastly… be that slightly annoying person in the office or in your group of friends and make sure they know that you’re trying to make a go at this whole selling-stuff-you-make thing. Most of our first sales were family/friends and it really does help to jumpstart things!
Step 5: Logistics
Here’s where we’ll get into the logistics we mentioned earlier, along with a few other tips. First, there are some logistics you’ll have to deal with that apply to online sales, in person sales, and wholesale sales.
You’ll need to deal with some sort of packaging no matter what. If you’re at a craft fair, this could be what type of boxes/bags to people take your product home in? Do you put your logo on these? Do you make little tags/labels for your products that have your website on them so people can find you online?
If you’re shipping these to people or the company you’re wholesaling to, you’ll need to think about packaging them to survive the trip. Bubble wrap is your best friend, and while you don’t necessarily need to add individual additional packaging, we personally still have a label on each product with our logo and website.
You’re also gonna have to deal with… dun dun dun… taxes. There’s federal income tax and state sales tax (in most, but not all states). There are a lot of resources out there more qualified than us to explain all this, but you CAN figure it out yourself. A few things that have helped us: getting a business bank account to keep business income/expenses separate, getting an app that tracks our income/expenses, and doing lots and lots of online research haha.
There are lots of additional physical logistics involved with craft fairs specifically. You’ll need to think about all the things you need to set up a booth. What kind of signage do you need? We did a large A-frame chalkboard that sat on the ground, as well as an “About Us” sign and a pricing display that sat on our tabletop. What props do you need to make your products look better? We love stacking up books or using wooden crates to add height to our table, and things like little acrylic stands and baskets to corral things help too. Overall, having a table with nice signage and a display that involves more than products simply laid flat on the table will be a lot more eye catching and make you look more professional. All this stuff can take longer than expected to set up, so we always try (keyword “try”) to get there an hour early to get situated.
You’ll also need to think about how you’re gonna get paid. You can get free/cheap credit card swipers for your phone via Paypal Here or Square (there’s probably others too). Some people prefer to pay in cash though, so make sure to bring some cash monies with \\to use as change if necessary. But in our experience, credit card payments will be the most common.
Below is a full list of miscellaneous other things to remember that might come in handy if you’re doing a craft fair or pop up shop:
- Extra tape
- Extra scissors
- Extra twine
- A sharpie (just in case we forgot to sign a product)
- Our Yetis!!!
- A nice camera
- A tablet and a laptop… just in case (didn’t use either)
- Our stamp and ink (for any boxes/bags we may have missed)
- Some tools (to assemble the deer heads – we let people choose what head color and backing type they wanted, and we assembled on demand. Tools probably won't be necessary for most products)
- Extra chalk (in case our chalkboards outside got messed up)
- Spare phone batteries (the payment system is run on your phone so keeping it charged is extra important)
- Duct tape (always necessary)
Step 6: That's It!
Well, there you go! Hope this post comes in handy if you are considering selling handmade products. Please let us know in the comments below if you have any questions (or if you have any tips to add!)
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