Monday, August 28, 2006

How NOT to tackle your craft business

Last Friday while cleaning my wardrobe I listened to the podcast on Craftsanity, where Alicia Paulson (an amazing creative person, I really really love her stuff and her blog! ^^) talks about her successful retail craft business.
And I decided to write about how NOT to approach your business, basing on my own experience, in hope that some of you out there may avoid my own mistakes and finish as successful as Alicia herself. ^^

All the mistakes I've made while deciding on our little gothic boutique (not exactly in the given order):

1. Two makes a company?

At the beginning I had very small financial means, so we decided to open a shop together - me and my best friend Anna. We put on the table the same amount of money and started to discuss all the relevant issues, like setting the company, store location, things we want to sell, ect. We laughed at that time that we are best friends and we are definitely going to succeed because we think along the same lines and will not try to cheat on each other, but support each other in every aspect.
This assumption turned out to be the first mistake.
(Just to clarify here: no, we did not try to steal money from each other, which sometimes happen in the joint ventures like that and which is what people are mostly afraid of - both of us were totally honest and all the money issues went smoothly, thank Gods! ^^)
First of all, we needed our business to be officially registered, so I set up a company (this was cheaper to have one official company, so I "hired" Anna in "my" shop). Which meant that all the paperwork, contacts with the accountant, with every authority was on my head. Of course all the responsibility was only mine, because Anna was officially "only my employee". It was difficult for me to think about it all the time when she had nothing like that to worry about.
Secondly, we thought we have the same vision of what we wanted to sell, how our shop should look like, ect. In reality in turned out that I leaned towards more elegant Victorian gothic stuff, while Anna wanted more cyber metal punkish goods, which affected our supplies and left the customers confused about the contents of the store.
Third, I'm not perfect myself (more about it later in the section about the store itself), but Anna turned out to be a person, who would do everything you would tell her to do - but you would have to tell her and give instructions, and in the end you wouldn't be sure whether she did it correctly. Also, which made me even more angry with her than just lack of motivation and initiative - I noticed that she sometimes didn't fulfill her duties properly (like sewing something fo a client) and started to blame it on everybody and everything else but not on herself (sometimes even on me saying to the client that it was me who forgot to bring the stuff from home, ect!...). I know when I do something wrong and I can take responsibility for my mistakes, I don't need other people to blame theirs on me!
So, choose your business partner wisely, think about your and his good and bad sides, think how your traits may affect your work together.

2. What to sell?

We decided on two lines of products: gothic goods because we liked them and heavy metal t-shirts because we thought they would pay our bills.
You don't mix these two worlds together, as they appeal to two different groups of customers. We had a huge rack full of t-shirts throughout all six months of our shop's existence and we sold just a few of them. We wondered why and then we heard from a friend that because we advertised our shop as mainly a gothic shop, heavy metal fans wouldn't come and buy the t-shirts even if they were 1 dollar a piece!... That's how this environment functions.
There was also a product problem within the term "gothic" itself between me and Anna - as I said, I liked frilly, lacy, elegant Victorian clothes and accessories and Japanese Gothic Lolita fashion, while Anna wanted leather, studs, chains, punkish unhemmed skirts with razors and safetypins, ect. I'm not saying one or the other is better in any way - it's just we struggled with those two fashions on a very small shop area and customers were often confused what kind of shop it really was - lace to the right, leather to the left, and in the middle this big rack full of heavy metal t-shirts, remember?...
So, choose your range of products wisely and give them a really thorough thinking BEFORE you supply your shop with tons of different stuff.

3. To have or not to have a shop downtown?

We rented a small place in a crappy area. In fact, it was the centre of the city. The crappy part? These were the small stalls in old buildings, mainly occupied by sex shops and peep shows. Well... We thought that it's a good location - centre of Warsaw, right next to subway station, and we thought we could earn enough to pay the rent. Which unfortunately wasn't true... The place was a two storey shop and we only used the lower floor - but of course we had to pay for the whole shop. We tried to renegotiate the price but there was no answer from the owner. There was also the electricity bill, building tax bill, not to mention all the money we had to spend BEFORE even starting the business - redecoration, furniture, new locks on the door, insurance, all the small bits and pieces that made it look like our dream shop.
Now I think that we should have started with an on-line shop first, see how much we can earn monthly, and then decided to rent a place or not (and get to know our top limit rent that we can afford).
Then there was a selling issue - at least for me... I found out that I... HATE sitting in the shop and dealing with customers!... It really was an everyday torture... I'm just not good around many strangers, I'm very very shyin person (REALLY!), I don't know how to chit-chat, my stomach hurts at the thought of a public speech. When I meet someone new, I must get used to this person, get to know her/him, and suddenly I was exposed to many new people talking to me, wanting something from me, trying to get a bargain on something (I can't negotiate prices...). I'm perfectly fine with spending a whole day sitting at home on my own, sewing or knitting! Strangers scared me, I felt uneasy and wasn't a very nice shop assistant (although I tried really hard, believe me!). My smile wasn't very natural when inside I was frozen with panic!...
On the other hand, Anna is very sociable and on her afternoon shifts shop was always full of her friends. Not that anyone was buying anything... There was just a lot of people sitting around, talking and laughing, and it wasn't the best solution - it was supposed to be a shop, not a club...
So, before you rent a place for your shop and spend lots of money on redecoration and furniture, carefully count all the possible costs (add impossible too, they will definitely emerge!), and consider whether you are made to be a good shop assistant (think about your relations with others, your interpersonal skills, ect).

We closed the shop after six months.
I'm still crawling out of debts (and will be for the next one year).
We almost bit our heads off at the end...
We learned a lot and this experience was definitely needed.
We split the supplies into two - I took gothic and second-hand stuff and continued to have an on-line shop Atelier Bizarre, Anna took t-shirts and the rest of metal stuff and tried to open the new shop but she had problems with renting another cheaper place and finally quit.
We stopped at the best moment, when we talked and explained many things, and we are still the best friends! ^^

Learn from your mistakes, but from other people's too! ^^

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