by guest blogger Mike Roy
Artists who sell their creative products to wholesale buyers are often internally torn between two seemingly opposing forces.
On one hand, we constantly hear that it’s important to carve out a niche for ourselves in the market and to specialize in just one thing. By being known for doing that thing well, we will be able to establish a strong presence in that highly targeted market.
But on the other hand, we may yearn for some variety in what we are making. We may have some ideas for similar products that we would like to try out. We may even have some indication that buyers and their customers are looking for something that we believe we can provide.
How do we reconcile these two apparently conflicting ideas?
We don’t … because they are BOTH valid.
When you start your creative business, you want to find a niche that is both marketable and that you are happy creating for… and one that is not too crowded. But once you’ve established a basic line of products that are selling well, you want to start thinking about how to expand your offerings. With that in mind, here are some reasons why diversification is not just a nice little diversion … it’s an essential ingredient to your creative business model.
1. It Helps You Access New Markets.
While your current niche may occupy a single vertical slice of the market, everybody has neighboring markets… and chances are, just like neighbors, they could be interested in the same kinds of things!
For example, a fiber artist who makes sweaters with a “northwoods” theme can expand to another market by including ocean themes to catch store buyers in the warmer climates. You might just hit on a new, but similar, market that loves your work just as much as your previous market.
You may also find a slight market shift is all that’s needed. Jack Harris, who owns a chain of gift shops called The Mole Hole, recommends adding a product for men if you already have products targeted at women. If these complement each other (for example, “his” and “hers” bathroom items) then you may even double your sales.
2. It Grows Your Product Line With Less Overhead.
Explore how you can use the same process and materials to create an entirely new product. This minimizes your overhead costs and maximizes your opportunity to reach a new customer.
With a wider selection of products, you can also make an entirely new “product” without any additional work at all by bundling some of your existing products together. You can then sweeten the bundle by some kind of specialized packaging that ties the products together and makes the whole thing more attractive.
For example, let’s say you specialize in making decorative soaps. You can bundle several of those together into an attractive gift basket with a handcrafted flourish, and you have a brand new product using your same core products!
3. It’s A Low-Risk Way Of Expanding Your Business.
There is little risk in using processes and materials you already use to grow your potential income. In fact, it would be riskier to not innovate: if you bring the same products to market every year, and consumer demand shifts away from your single product or small group of products, then you could see a drastic drop in profits.
Buyers always want to know what you can offer that’s new – because they in turn have customers always looking for something fresh in the store.
4. It Widens Your Income Base.
Since you have the ability to observe a wider range of buyers with a more diverse range of your products, you will have a strong foundation when it comes time to evaluate what’s selling and what’s not. By having a variety of products, you have more ways of generating income from multiple sources.
Patricia Lewis of Don Lewis Designs makes exquisite wooden drinking tankards as part of their family business. The process of making the tankards takes an entire week. While at a Renaissance fair where they were selling their tankards, she got the idea to develop a wooden cup at a smaller price point. This allowed them to use their same skills and materials to access a lower-priced market, and sell a product that didn’t take as much effort to make. This same philosophy can also be used to create more expensive products that you can upsell at a higher price point.
5. It Challenges You To Grow and Listen To Your Customers.
It’s easy to rest on your laurels and stop innovating when you find a product that is filling a niche nicely. We sometimes develop blinders to anything else because our identity becomes wrapped up in a single product… after all, we’ve put many hours and lots of sweat equity into developing it!
But this can be dangerous to the long term survival of our creative businesses. Markets and tastes change, and it’s essential to anticipate this and plan for it. Diversifying also helps you put your primary focus where it needs to be: on your customer and what they want, not just what you want to make.
A great example of this Ana Campos of Toil & Trouble, who makes knitted creations out of hand-dyed yarn. Her buyers started asking for her patterns, so she listened to them and started selling her patterns in addition to her knitted pieces.
6. It Helps You Weather Market Fluctuations.
It’s important to continue to bring new products to your buyers and evaluate their performance. When you develop your ability to create and test new products, you are making your business more resistant to the inevitable changes in the marketplace. This can be especially true in a trend-oriented product like fashion or clothing.
7. It Can Help Even Out Seasonal Sales Patterns.
If your business currently depends heavily on seasonal sales, then diversifying your products can help even out those drastic ups and downs that occur during the year. For example, if your niche is in handmade Christmas wreaths, you may be able to use some of the same materials and process to develop Easter or wedding centerpieces.
8. It Can Give Your Business Much Needed Variety.
You may get burned out from working on your small selection of products all the time, especially if you’re a sole proprietor who creates it alone. Having new ideas to implement gives you a much-needed break from the norm and makes your work more interesting… not only for your customers, but for you as well.
9. It Makes You More Competitive.
When you have a larger variety of products to choose from, your buyer is more likely to purchase from you than from your competitor who does not have as wide a selection. It’s easier for them to lump purchases in larger, fewer orders than it is to spread them out in smaller orders. They also save more on shipping this way.
10. It Makes You A More Attractive Vendor.
Whether your client is a gift shop, gallery, or bookstore, your wholesale buyer is always on the lookout for new products that they can bring to their customers. Think about it… if you went into a retail location and saw the same things each time, you probably wouldn’t be interested to revisit just to browse their selection.
The same thing goes for your wholesale client. If you continually help them out by offering them a new and innovative selection for them to buy, they will reward you by being a glad (and faithful) customer. In the best of cases, you may even enjoy a relationship where you and your buyer discuss your market and they advise you on what their customers are looking for. Such a relationship not only helps both parties, but it makes you indispensable! This should be the goal of every artist.
Make Diversification A Core Part Your Business
Build new products into your business as part of the process. Follow the 30 percent rule: each year, plan on a third of your products being new items that you are bringing to market.
Stay in touch with your vendors and retail outlets to ensure that your product development strategies are as solid as possible.
While we are on the topic of your wholesale buyers, it’s worth noting that diversification applies to them as well, not just your product. Having a larger account base is much more stabilizing to your business than having just a few accounts.
Above all… be creative! Since creativity is your bread and butter, it should come naturally to brainstorm, test, and implement new ideas for things you can make that will fly off the shelves.
With a solid, well-curated, diverse base of artistic products in place, and a plan for regularly developing more of them, you can enjoy the long-term success of your thriving creative business.
Mike Roy is an Artist, Coach, and founder of ArtistMyth. He enjoys helping creative people overcome obstacles that prevent them from having fulfilling, sustainable creative work they love. This involves busting the old myths about your art and then creating new ones. Sound like fun? Share your myths with him at firstname.lastname@example.org.