Thursday, November 06, 2014

Part 2 - Product - Designing, Selling and Manufacturing with Gabriella Buckingham from MooBaaCluck

Continuing with our business tips blog on selling product. Today we have the lovely Gabriella Buckingham from MooBaaCluck and more recently well known as an artist in her own rights Gabriella Buckingham

You can connect with Gabriella here.

If you'd like to read the other wonderful blogs in this series, please click on the links below.

Websites and e commerce explained simply with Julie from Biz Yourself

Part 1 with Angie Spurgeon of Artwork by Angie

Coming in the next few days....

Sunday 9th Part 3 with Heather Moore - Skinny laMinx
Tuesday 11th  Part 4 with Jamie and Catherine Douglas - Bread and Jam
Thursday 13th Part 5 with Jessica Hayman - Rosa and Clara Designs 
Sunday 16th Part 6 with Laura Clempson - Clara and Macy 

1. Could you tell us a little background about yourself and why you decided to sell product?

This is a convoluted one.. I left art college and worked as a freelance illustrator for about fifteen years on and off, I also worked as a product manager for a greeting card company for two years during that time and got married. In 2003 I had a baby boy and we moved from London to the countryside in Norfolk about 10 minutes from the sea. I was still illustrating cards and children's books then although it wasn't easy to keep up client contact especially as I had a daughter in 2004 and my husband was away from home a few days a week. I was approached by an illustration agent when my daughter was 1.5 years old but I didn't feel I could continue working as an illustrator at that point - I think it was a confidence thing and fear of too many demands on me at that time. One of my friends started selling Phoenix trading cards and I decided to go out selling those too as part of her team, I did really quite well at that - building my own team and even designing some of the cards, but I yearned to start selling my own things. It wasn't a structured plan but I began by painting personalised canvases to friends for their children which started to sell and I developed a small range of wooden things and a few card designs to take out with me when selling Phoenix things at craft fairs in Norfolk.

2. What are the important things to keep in mind when researching the products you wish to sell and why did you choose the particular products that you sell now?

It is important to see what's out there before you launch yourself - more so now than when I started. There is a lot more competition and you don't want to do anything too similar... that said if you are an artist and creating work that is you and putting it onto products that are standard - like a print, card, or tea towel then there's not much to worry about. If you aren't copying a style that's fine. Don't get too worried. Honestly I didn't do a lot of this - I'd be inspired by decorations I saw in magazines but never copied, just started off buying template wooden pieces supplied to lots of designers before designing my own and having them made.

Work out what you want to pay yourself an hour. How much do your materials cost per product, the packaging, the post per item, wrapping, time spent going to the post office, studio or heating costs? Work out your approach. You'll be spending a lot of your time on admin so you must build a profit into your work on top of your hourly rate. Try to be professional and thorough from the start and it will be so much easier to grow your business*

I've always been involved in the greeting card business - as well as romantic fiction illustration for magazines my first commissions were from card businesses and I love paper products and stationery, the wooden aspect of my business is harder to explain. It seems so long ago now but I remember that at the time I really wanted to make beautifully painted wooden bunting for children, which I did but I learnt the hard way that lovingly painting those for hours and expecting to be paid appropriately was not going to happen. I had a few sales of these - one to a famous person ;) - so I know that there was some market for it but it's very niche. So anyway - then I started to think about what I could do that people might see the value in I saw that the fact that I could paint their child's name on my designs was what appealed to customers.

For me the best thing was getting out there selling and showing my work to people face to face. There are always sales going on if you look for them - be aware though that it can be tough, if it's not the right demographic for your particular price point or product you might get a lot of looking but no sales which can be dispiriting. Even there though you may find the odd customer who will buy your work in the future so always try to devise a way to get their contact details with a special offer or at the very least ensure you hand out a lot of business cards.If your work is more skilled and artisan then you need to work harder to find your market ( depending on where you live of course) and possibly be prepared to invest in bigger craft fairs to reach the audience that's prepared to pay for your work.

Obviously it is important to look around at what your competitors are doing and gauge how they can charge what they do; if it's considerably cheaper ask yourself why that might be... perhaps they produce thousands in China and should you be trying to compete? If the answer to that in your mind is yes - how can you add value to what you sell? How can you make it clear how superior your product is - through packaging, the story of your work, quality of your materials etc? How would a customer know that your work is worth what you charge?Conversly if much more expensive than your items why is this? Are you underselling yourself and your time through fear that you won't sell things?

3. Which has been the most effective avenue for you to sell your products. Which would you recommend?

I was lucky enough to be discovered by, to this day I don't know how; it could be that they saw some of my bunting in Country Living or it could have been a quiet young city couple that bought several of my items at a craft fair in the grounds of a local stately home...! I had a letter from them asking me to join in late 2008 - I hadn't heard of them then and agreed to join, opening my shop in Jan 2009. The first year was quite slow but sales have grown every year and I probably get 90% of my business through them. I don't have time now to do events although I don't rule it out and it's something I'd like to do again ( just not in the run up to Christmas!) I have my own website too and am starting to sell direct through that. I have some lovely regular customers who just email me and ask me if I can do specific things for them which I usually can and often those sort of requests turn into new products so it's always worth considering.
*NOTHS - Not on the high street - UK selling platform

4. How important is having a business mentor (if you use one) How have they helped you grow your business?

I'd love one but don't have any one to talk to about business so I spend a lot of time boring my husband or friends occasionally!
5. How important do you think selling platforms (outside of your own website) are? How important has NOTHS been in pushing your sales forward? Could you have got where you are today without a specific selling platform do you think? Or does your website do well on its own?

My website is only recently transactional again. I've been through a lot of shifts in the last couple of years trying to work out how I wish to proceed in the future, so it's hard to say if it's going to do well. I have sales but they are tiny compared to those I have through NOTHS. I am sure they will only go up as I develop my site in the next few months and get to grips with the SEO! It's impossible to say where I would be without NOTHS , perhaps still selling direct to the public and combining that with illustration work. I know I'd be self employed as I am extremely driven, determined and live to paint and design. Channelling it effectively is the hard bit.

5. How much has wholesaling been a part of your success? 

It hasn't much - I've had a few lovely trade customers over the years who came to me and asked me to do things for them. I did take part in the BCTF ( British Craft Trade Fair) one year but realised that I didn't feel like I was doing the right thing. Much as I love to paint my wooden pieces for individual customers and am so happy with the feedback and appreciation they give me I know that making things like that on mass isn't for me. Having my own range of cards and stationery for trade is another matter :) I have been part of a very successful greeting card business though; planning the card sheets, liaising with printers and the logistics manager so I know what I don't want a BIG business. Office life is not for me. Cost effective, manageable and profitable with a bit of excitement here and there is what I want.

6. Looking back, what would you do differently if you were to start all over again?

This is a really difficult question and in a way it's what I ask myself all the time. I can see too many paths I'd like to take! I don't have specific regrets, maybe turning down the illustration agency (but it was bad timing) and spending so long selling Phoenix cards rather than examining my own capabilities and going for it sooner. I've tried things: been an in house artist for a large greeting card company, a product manager for another - I've had a solo painting exhibition, shown at Country Living in London, tried the trade route..and next year I am exhibiting in New York at Surtex with my surface pattern design work and painting. I've tried most things I've wanted to do and I am proud of that. Essentially I am an optimist and my journey is a winding one! I am a mother and my husband is freelance and often away. I've managed to bring in an income working from home for the last 10 years. I would also take my own advice above*

7. Any extra tips and advice for budding designers who want to sell their own product?

Use your imagination to really see yourself in the future - what do you want to be doing ultimately? How do you want to be living? Do you want to work alone or with other people? Then imagine what you'd have to do to achieve this and write it down. Then be prepared to be flexible. Show your work - to strangers not just friends. Social media has been invaluable to me too. Although I tweet far less than I used to as I don't have as much time now, I've made real life friends through Twitter and Facebook and as someone working alone from home they are a godsend. And some of them have given me paid work - thank you my friends!

Thanks so much Gabriella. We wish you all the very best for the future! Stay tuned for the next instalment in this series on Sunday 9th November with the wonderful Heather Moore, designer behind South Africa's very successful company, Skinny laMinx

If you have any comments, we would love to hear from you. Please comment below

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