Research is Key
“I was like a dog on a pork chop”, says Laura Winward in describing her zeal for finding out everything she could about what goes into creating your own line of bath and body products.
She’d been creating since she was a child. Along the way, she started making candles and it was at shows that she was inspired by the quality of the personal care products being offered by her fellow crafters. With a day job as a research biologist it was in her nature to dig deep and learn all she could about how to make her own, wishing to add items to her product line to include in gift baskets. From there, it wasn’t long until she grew into a 700 square-foot work space, and – three years ago – opened her own store.
Waves of Creation opened on Tax Day 2008 in a historic district in town, popular with tourists. She’d always been involved in artists’ co-ops and—since shows were few and far between from January to June—she started her store to create a year-round outlet for local and handcrafted goodness. Opening with just 16 Rhode Island crafters, Waves now carries work from over 54 talented individuals, and a wide variety of wares: jewelry, stained glass, screen prints, woodworking, including Laura’s own bath and body products, and specialty candles.
Winward no longer makes the rolled beeswax candles that got her started down this path 11 years ago and which inspired the name of her company - Honey Hive Handcrafts. Her specialties, now, are bakery and food candles, which are her top-sellers at shows. Laura estimates that about half of her sales still come from direct-selling, with another 20% from her website, and about 30% coming from her wholesale accounts (including her own store).
She finds shows are a great way to make retail and wholesale contacts, and makes sure every single customer receives her business card “and I always have wholesale packets on hand, ready to pass out if anyone inquires.” Currently, she is working with several local shops, makes amenity products for some B&B’s, and is supplying a wholesale customer in Japan. Her biggest account is a national catalog company here at home. “They found me”, she said, explaining that her “niche” products seem to resonate with certain clients. “You have to be flexible, and willing to work with a client to customize products for their business.”
And she stresses the importance of emphasizing your differences. With the increased interest in natural goods, many consumers prefer to buy from a small crafter because they know what’s in their product. Use that to your advantage. “If you carry any vegan products, get on the vegan blogs”, and use social media to get the word out. “And you have to be a step ahead”, she adds. Before exhibiting at the Cape Cod gift show she first attended it to scout, look for trends, and see how others built their displays.
“Research is key.”
ROBIN M LENHARD is a freelance business writer, based in Buffalo New York, and is a board member of Artists in Buffalo, Inc. Robin wrote this feature article exclusively for Debbie May.com (http://www.debbiemay.com/), an organization dedicated to helping small businesses succeed.