Hook Me With Quality

by Anne Wingate
(Salt Lake City)

My daughter once told me about a time when she carefully examined an item at a craft show, so that she could go home and make one herself.

I thought, but did not say (maybe I should have said), that I considered this dishonest. However, in view of my daughter's well-known dislike for actually doing crafts, I had a hunch she'd go back the next year and buy the item.

I enjoy crafts. But my eyes have gone bad. I can no longer do what I used to do, and when I go to crafts shows, I buy the things I would like to have been able to make by myself.

What are these?

Top of my line is things for my grandchildren and things for the home — really useful things, not a blue owl with a brass ring on the bottom for me to hang a kitchen towel on. Why would I want a blue owl in my kitchen? But I love kitchen towels made from half a hand towel, with a crocheted top that buttons together and will go through the handpulls on my under-sink cabinets.

The real top of my line is beige or off-white cotton potholders, made of a double length of solid single crochet about eight inches long, folded, and crocheted together around the three open sides, ending with a loop so that I can hang it on hooks beside the stove. Too many people make these of acrylic yarn. They don't stop to think that acrylic burns. So does cotton—I have burned ends off a couple of my potholders—but cotton doesn't melt or flare up. Acrylic does. And yes, I've made enough cotton potholders myself that I do know you have to charge more for them than the person in the next booth is charging for acrylic potholders. Cotton yarn costs more. But it's not going to burn my hand.

I look for classic items. Trendy today is trashy tomorrow. I don't like things crocheted or knitted of eight-color yarn. If I get a sweater for my two-year-old granddaughter, I want it to be in a classic color, preferably a unisex color so it can be passed on to her newborn brother. My stepdaughter lamented, when I gave her several blue shoulder-type burp pads, that she was so thankful to have some that weren't pink! If I had been thinking straight, I could have given her some yellow ones as well as pink ones the first time.

My own advice to professional crafters would be, think of your customers. My grandfather made a lot of things to sell at craft shows that wound up languishing at home for thirty or forty years because he hadn't bothered to ask himself how many people wanted an ashtray that looked like a green frog sitting on a green lily pad beside the yellow water lily in which the ashes were to be placed, or a kitchen gadget on which to hang a bottle opener and an ice pick that looked like a Dutch boy with green trousers and a yellow shirt with red buttons. He's been dead thirty years and I have that gadget hanging in my kitchen, but only for love of my grandfather. I don't use it.

There is very little need for varnished moose turds (advertised as such) or stuffed jackrabbits with antelope horns. Make things your customers can buy and take home and USE or give with the certain knowledge that the recipient will use; don't make things that people may buy because they're cute but will then take home and wonder "Why in the heck did I buy that?"

Grab my attention with quality, and I'll be your customer for life.

Lisa's Note

I wanted to highlight a few important things Anne mentioned in her thoughtful post.

Barriers to Entry Are a Good Thing!

Anne's comment about her daughter going to a craft show and examining an item so she could make it herself probably hits home to a lot of people. How many times have you been frustrated by a customer saying, "I could make that myself"?

The less customers believe they could make your items themselves, the more they will value your work and be more inclined to buy your items.

In business, a barrier to entry is anything that makes it difficult for someone else to do exactly what your business does. So, for a craft business, a barrier to entry might be the time it takes to develop a skill that is not common, or the need to use specialized equipment that most people do not have.

When we're talking about selling crafts, having some barrier to entry inherent in your work means that customers won't think they can just run out and make whatever you make.

Bonus Benefit: A good barrier to entry also makes it harder for competitors to rip-off your work.

Solve a Problem for Your Customers

Anne mentioned she likes buying things that are useful as well as gifts. Both solve a problem. In her example, potholders will prevent her hands from getting burned, but she can also enjoy and appreciate the fact that they are handmade (as well as useful). An item that is a prefect gift for her grandchild solves the "problem" of needing to buy a gift for someone.

Think about why your customers need your item.


In my opinion, using the best quality materials you can afford is smart. When you look at how to price items, you typically need to look at what others are charging, how much time it takes to make your item, and what is the value of the materials you use.

You can't control what others are charging, and once you're good at making whatever you make, the amount of time it takes to create your item is fixed. However, you can affect the real and perceived value of your items by using better quality material (or better perceived quality).

Cotton potholders can sell for more than acrylic (you may need to educate some customers about the benefits), jewelry made from gold filled wire typically sells for more than sterling silver jewelry (but wrapping gold filled wire takes the same time and skill as wrapping sterling silver wire). Of course, the pricier raw materials will make your items more expensive to make, but often you can make up for that with the higher prices you can achieve, especially when you do a great job of communicating to customers why you items are superior.

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