promoting your work -- a case study

Susie produces a line of fashion jewelry. She keeps separate books on her craft business, and has a good handle on her cash flow. Right now most of her sales are on the West Coast, and a sales rep generates them for her.

Her small business is profitable, and she feels there is a clear prospect for major growth. Her five-year goal is to contribute a significant amount of money to the family income through her profits. She understands that it takes money to make money, and her particular issue is in determining how best to spend that money to grow her business in order to accomplish that goal.

Susie believes her growth will come from expanding into a national venue. The question then becomes one of how to do this. Possibilities include exhibiting at one or more of the national wholesale shows, advertising in some of the national trade magazines, engaging an East Coast sales rep, finding a way to market her new web site, direct mailings, or any combination of these. Let’s take a quick look at these options.

Exhibiting at Wholesale Shows

This seems like a logical extension of Susie’s efforts to date. Both the Buyers Market of American Crafts and the American Craft Council shows are on the East Coast, and this is the geographic market she wants to penetrate. Also, we know that the majority of the retail outlets for American handcrafts are located in the East and Southeast. Doing one or the other of these shows would give her easy access to buyers from all around the country. On balance, this seems to be an effective way to spend some of her money to accomplish her expansion goal.


Several national trade organs offer small color ads with a brief amount of copy and contact information. These include The Crafts Report, Niche Magazine, and Lifestyle Retailer. Compared to mainstream print advertising rates, these are a real bargain. However, crafts is truly a touchy-feely industry, and it’s difficult to say whether or not print advertising can stand on its own without other promotional efforts, such as attending shows.

Sales Reps

Hiring a rep organization in the East is an inexpensive way to test the water. In lieu of financing all those costs attaching to a trade show (exhibit fees, booth displays, travel expenses, etc.), Susie would be furnishing a sample set and then paying commissions on any sales generated. Since this is the way most of her current sales are generated, she’s comfortable with this kind of arrangement, and already has the commission built into her pricing. The problem here is that it is difficult to hire a good sales rep by trying to deal with the situation long distance, and without any face-to-face meetings. Perhaps some of her fellow artists can recommend one to her, or her West Coast sales rep may be able to recommend one. The crafts industry is a bit different from the gift industry. We don’t generally sell our work through middlemen, so there isn’t an established network of rep organizations to tap into.

Web Site Promotion

If Susie decides to undertake this strategy as the one to achieve her profitability goal, she will be plowing quite a bit of new ground. If she is successful at it within her time frame, I, for one, want to read the book she writes explaining her secrets. The Internet is a wonderful tool for disseminating information, but it’s not quite ready for prime time in this industry. It’s that old touchy-feely thing again.

It’s true that some crafters make some money from Internet sales. It’s also true that not many crafters make very much money from those sales. A web site is important as an informational, promotional and educational tool for crafters; it’s just not yet a major sales generator for most of us.

Direct Mailings

There is yet another method of reaching those elusive East Coast accounts Susie should consider, and that’s by doing a mailing campaign to these folks. It’s not hard to do, and lists of these retailers are readily accessible. However, the literature has to be first class to get their attention, and a mailer to a large enough population to produce good results can be somewhat expensive. Overall a direct mail program is still less expensive than physically “doing” a trade show.

All of the Above

Which brings us to our discussion about combinations of these approaches. Each of them is a separate, promotional component available within the framework of a thoughtful marketing program – or strategy. None of them are designed to stand on their own per se. Without pre- and post-show mailings, an exhibitor loses a lot of the momentum created by attending one of those very expensive trade shows. All print media – literature, business cards, mailings, magazine ads, etc. – should be designed to drive traffic to your web site. Attendance at a show may be the best way to meet that perfect sales rep. An ad in one or more of the trade magazines will reinforce your line in the minds of prospective buyers. Marketing works when it creates synergy – when the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts.

Susie’s job, finally, is to review these options and find the path through them that clearly makes for the best use of her scant marketing resources. That path does not have to include all the components listed, but it should be the one that makes sense and feels correct to her. Others might take a wholly different path to achieve their goals. All of us, though, address the same issues when we contemplate our promotional efforts; only our circumstances are different.


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