Monday, September 29, 2014

Making Spreadsheets is So Fun!

OK, not really. At all. But it is eye-opening and useful. Shall I tell you about it?

Why yes, I shall. While I feel like I got way behind in preparing for holiday orders and fairs this summer (yes, that kind of work starts in the summer), I was able to do several shop-related non-sewing projects that are normal business tasks but that I had not yet done in my, shall we say, organic business development. Etsy is fantastic at enabling people with not a lot of business expertise to open a shop. But if you want to actually turn a profit you do have to buckle down and do some nitty gritties eventually.

So I did two things this summer along those lines. First, I developed a file of spreadsheets which help me to better calculate my shop's prices for profit. Second, I actually did a sales matrix, listing the fabrics I've used on one axis and the products that have sold on the other. Both these tasks were time consuming, not exactly fun while I was doing them, but quite helpful afterward.

I read a huge number of blog posts, Etsy administration newsletters, and various websites to prepare for the pricing spreadsheets. I also had a very helpful conversation with an artist friend who used to be a buyer for a boutique in our town. Different people recommend different formulae for calculating the end price, most of which led to crazy outrageous prices for my very labor-intensive products. I came up with my own sensible numbers instead.

I tackled this issue in a pretty data-driven way. First off, I went and measured how much fabric and velcro and elastic and bias tape and even thread (OK, that one I estimated) go into each type of item I make. Yes, I measured with a tape measure. I made a sheet for each item and put in some calculations that I could cut and paste for each type of item. Every time an item uses X amount of mill fabric, that's X dollars worth. That was all very straightforward, though it was quite time consuming to go through all the measuring. I had to look up how much I pay for everything as well, from machine needles to interfacing to zipper pulls to fees that Etsy charges.

The other major element of pricing is labor. I started timing myself when I made things. Yes indeed I did. In my labor costs I included photography, product promotion, and product design as well as the time I spend actually constructing items. The end result of the pricing spreadsheets are product prices that are both fair and reasonable. I implemented them early in the summer. The new prices allow for some business growth, such as the purchase of a new sewing machine, as well as an occasional sale, promotion, or giveaway. They also accurately reflect the care I put into each item.

The other terrifically fun project (no, not really, not at all) was the sales-by-fabric matrix. While my shop is too small and carries too many one-of-a-kind items to benefit from a traditional inventory analysis, I looked through all my sales and figured out, through my matrix, how many of each type of item I've offered, how many have sold, and which fabrics have been most popular. The unexpected big sellers? While I was certain that aprons would top the list, I didn't realize that pencil rolls and capes were so successful. So on my to-do list very soon is to make more capes. But it was the top selling fabric that really surprised me. It turns out that my most popular fabric is the crazy purple and white one from Unison. Who knew? The next day I went to the mill and bought four more yards, because they still had some. Knowing that that pattern, and the three or four others that topped the list (all Hadley and Sister Parish prints), are so successful is helpful when deciding what to use next for whatever I'm making. For instance, I'm in the middle of sewing new snack bags with that purple fabric.
Here's that crazy Unison purple on a smock. 

Now my question is, should I make a cape in this fabric? I've held off in the past because it doesn't seem to me that it would work so well as a cape, but I'd love to hear any of your thoughts.

To be honest, making that matrix was so dreadful I don't think I will be keeping up with it. I might perhaps add to it every year or something, but having to record daily what I've posted in the shop and what has sold is way, way too time consuming. Since I am also the accountant, photographer, copy writer and copy editor, designer, marketing manager, shipping manager, customer service rep, purchaser, and oh, sewer, some tasks are just going to be left undone. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Your Fabric's Bio

Here's another project I started this summer and will be continuing as long as I keep discovering new fabrics and new designers at the mill. I'm including little cards in each order now with some background on the fabric purchased. While my shop has always had a few sentences for each item explaining the fabrics, I've always felt there is more story I could tell. Part of that happens here on the blog but I also wanted to be sure every customer had the chance to know why their purchase was special.

The cards look like this:

The pretty little scallop cards are from Paper Source, which is a delightful store full of gorgeous paper things. I did try hard to find some scallop cards on Etsy but I could not. Anyway, each card has a short blurb about the designer of the fabric, maybe some quotes from him or her or some reasons why I like the fabric.

For each card I've spent some time browsing the internet looking for information. I've read obituaries, press releases, website "About" pages, and even some sections of books. My hope is that the cards help customers understand what makes their fabric special and gives them a little piece of story they can keep in their minds when someone asks about whatever they've bought. It's the reason people buy handmade, isn't it? They are interested in those stories. I'm happy to oblige!

You are probably trying to read the top cards in the photo, so I'll make it easier for you:

The ________________fabric in your item was designed by Albert Hadley. Hadley was born in Tennessee in 1920 and, after serving in World War II, moved to New York where he earned his BFA and worked as an interior designer. For decades he teamed up with Sister Parish, another designer whose fabrics are available at LilaKids. One of Hadley’s favorite sayings was “Never less, never more.” His prints are usually pretty simple, often using just one color, but they have some perky or unusual element to them which makes them just plain interesting to look at. Some of his clients included Vice President Al Gore and Tipper Gore, Mike Nichols and Diane Sawyer, and the de la Rentas. Hadley died in 2012 but his fabrics are still printed by Hinson and Company. 

Now my packaging includes the tissue paper and hemp cord that I've always used, a tag with my logo and website on it, a little thank you card for the purchaser, and the fabric bio card. The little thank you card has a sweet green floral stamp which HG puts on for me. She takes her job very seriously and works hard to make sure the flower gets in the right place and with the right amount of ink.

I've already heard form one customer how much she liked the card, so I'm very glad to be including them now. I'd love to know what you think!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

A Bicycle Bag

Last post you read about the cookies and tea bags MVB made for HG's birthday. For MVB's birthday, her mom commissioned me to make a handlebar bike bag. We talked for ages about the style MVB might like and what kinds of fabrics she would enjoy. Finally we settled on a pattern I bought on Etsy and some forest green fabric by Unison, complemented by a perfectly matching turquoise paisley which I found at my local fabric shop.

This is one snappy looking bag, I think. The straps on the back loop around the handlebars and are secured by D rings which you can see above. Inside the bag is a covered section, which is cinched closed by ribbon. The handles enable you to take the bag for a walk after you're done with your ride.

The pattern to make this bag was not easy to follow. While I could now make another one with greater ease, I found the directions for this to be completely non-intuitive. They also used an enormous amount of glue, which I thought was very weird for a sewing pattern. I chose to sew instead of glue. At several points I was sewing along only to realize I had done something backwards or inside out and the pieces I was making would not fit together. I even had to start over and cut out new fabric early on because it was faster to do that than to take out a huge number of incorrectly placed stitches. This was all before my new machine as well. My old machine is less precise and therefore some of the pieces did not come out as evenly as I would have hoped. But you probably can't tell from the photos, so that's good. Still, I'm not going to link to the pattern because I can't recommend it.

The bag is also a little floppier than I might have liked. I used the firmest interfacing (that's the stuff you put in between layers of fabric, usually to make them heftier or stronger) I am aware of, but it's still not a stiff bag.

If MVB's mom has a photo of the bag in use I could post it. Want to send me one? 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Tea for Two (or Four)

While I am still trying to take good photos of my new sewing machine I thought I'd share a few moments from earlier this summer when I had my camera but did not end up finding time to write.

First is this collection of beautiful kid-crafted felt tea bags and cookies, by MVB. MVB was HG's only birthday party guest this year, as HG decided she would prefer a very small, very special party for her 6th birthday. This suited me just fine as I had read that 6-year-old parties are not always as fun for the birthday child as the planning involved. I took the girls to the Children's Museum in Providence and afterwards we went for cake slices at our best known (and just plain best) patisserie. I think their favorite part of the outing was when I left them in a small pedestrian square with a fountain and walked a block away so they could play at being "big kids" and pretend they were unsupervised. My favorite part was, naturally, the cake.

Earlier, MVB's mom and I figured out what would would be the most appreciated present for HG. Our family had planned to give her a tea set, so MVB and her mom made a full set of gorgeous goodies to go with. Eight bejeweled cookies and four delicate tea bags! MVB's mom confessed that she stayed up quite late to finish them, for which HG is very grateful.

The detail in each of the cookies is amazing! So are the decorations. I have to say I am quite inspired by the creativity. 

These delectables come out quite regularly for HG's tea parties, though we do eat real cookies and drink real tea with the set as well. The real cookies taste good but they don't look nearly as delicious as the felt ones.

I am certain if MVB made these to sell at our school's Holiday Faire she would sell out. Right? Would you not buy a set? 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Great Unveiling

True, the blog here has taken an unplanned hiatus. While I did expect the guests and the summer schedule (ie no school), I did not expect to be so busy with custom orders the past couple of months. Something had to go and it turned out to be the blog, because not feeding your family is generally frowned upon. But I do have many, many new posts brewing in my head and I hope to get them written soon!

The first will be an up close and personal tour of the new rocket ship that landed in my studio in late July.

It is so gigantic I can't even take a decent picture of the whole thing. Anyway, more soon. Stay tuned!