“buy handmade” doesn’t work

A few years ago, there was a little digital badge that was all the rage. We put it on our blogs, in our shops, pinned its pixels to our Facebook profiles and felt good that we were making a difference. BUY HANDMADE it said. And we took a pledge too.

I pledge to buy handmade for myself and my loved ones and request that others do the same for me.

I took the pledge pretty seriously. Of course, I would have bought the same amount of handmade gifts for myself and others regardless of my digital signature. But now, I have a badge.

It was a neat campaign. You could see the support for buying handmade grow through the craft blogosphere and I’m sure it touched people who had no idea about the possibility of buying goods from independent craftspeople. But in the end, the movement lost steam.

In the end “buy handmade” doesn’t work.

It takes more than a directive to change behavior. Without a greater narrative and convincing benefits, “buy handmade” is just something you utter to people already in the know.

Yesterday, Seth Godin wrote a piece on the business of software. Software and craft, while on the surface seem completely disparate, are two sides of the same coin. Software and craft share many of the same challenges and economic attitudes:

  • There’s a lot of good stuff cheap.
  • There’s a lot of not-so-good stuff available at a premium.
  • Much is available for free.
  • With the right resources and skills, you can make it yourself.

He explains that In-The-Beginning software only needed to run to be successful. If it didn’t crash, you could sell it. So it was with the advent of online craft sales. If you put it on the market, someone would buy it. If your t-shirt, bracelet, button, mug wasn’t made in a factory, it was good enough. There was demand, a market. Or at least, the supply was dwarfed by the demand.

Now the business of selling software is downright hard. Oh, there’s still plenty of demand but the narrative has changed. People think it should be cheap or free and mindblowingly useful. Software developers have it rough.

And so do crafters and artists. The supply grows exponentially even as we work to increase demand. People get frustrated, feelings are hurt. The game has changed but the directive has not: BUY HANDMADE.

Godin’s Prescription

So what does Godin prescribe for software developers who want to work in this new market? So glad you asked and, yes, it applies to craft as well.

First he asks software companies to communicate to users. Crafters and artists must learn to speak for their goods in a way that communicates the benefits of using their product. “Buy Handmade” isn’t enough. No one is going to buy something because its made by hand. Consumers buy things because they are beautiful, useful, communicate their personal style, hold a deeper meaning.

How is handmade optimized for the end user? What is the story that gives a handmade object meaning? What makes this trinket more beneficial to the owner than something else? Handmade is not enough. Handmade can’t compete on price, nor can it compete on a moral high ground, but handmade can compete on the way it is uniquely designed for real people.

Godin’s next point is that software must now enable communication between users. There must be a “network” effect. While handmade goods may not enable communication between anything more than two cans & a string, the handmade movement can play into the network effect.

Wearing, using, and displaying handmade goods continues the narrative. It gives the consumer the chance to be part of a bigger story. But only the crafter or artist can write the narrative. We just live in it.

Art, craft, and designer products work best when the consumer becomes a storyteller. They become part of the network, a hub that passes on the message.

Finally, Godin tackles the $64,000 question: how do you get people to pay for this stuff? With software, he presents two models: freemium (try it out, pay after you like it) and market-based conditioning (sell your software where people expect to buy – like the Apple App store).

While Etsy provides a market where people expect to buy, the culture of the community has driven prices down in many areas to unsustainable levels. That’s not Etsy’s fault nor is it the hobbyists’ faults. It’s just the way it is.

So how can craft compete? Handmade goods need to provide a choice. Not between higher & lower prices, not between commercial or handmade, not even between ecofriendly or not – the choice is about whether Product A is more beneficial to the consumer than Product B. Does the story of that product communicate its value? Does the product allow the consumer to become a part of the narrative?

Craft won’t compete on price. It won’t compete on how-manys and how-fasts.
Craft competes on you.

“Buy Handmade” doesn’t work. It’s a directive not a narrative. It doesn’t speak to me; it speaks at me.

Talk to me, involve me, listen to me, guide me. Take me by the hand and explain what exactly it is that I’m buying when I buy your product. Tell me a story. Just don’t tell me what to buy.

{ hay bales photography by urbandesign }

63 thoughts on ““buy handmade” doesn’t work

  1. so sad but so true! i have seen (and been a “victim” of) bad knock offs and copies as well. here’s hoping this message spreads. i will post a link to this for sure :)

  2. Not much to add.

    The worst about having software for free is having people assume that I’ll work for free… for them.

    The danger is that we go back to the old way. Without a viable market for small developers (or creators or crafters), the only people making money are corporations large enough to influence legislation. That’s not a good thing.

    1. As an in-office, agency graphic designer in the process of going freelance, I totally agree (and feel for you) on this account. There is such a market for small creative businesses, but there is also such a lack of knowledge about what that means for the client (or consumer). Just like a “culture of cheap” has slowly developed in the handmade community, a culture of “practically free” is also expected in the designer community thanks to hobbyists with Photoshop and a rudimentary knowledge of HTML/CSS. I’m constantly having to educate clients on the benefits of actually paying for professional web packaging or identity packaging instead of going to their sister’s friend who “does design” for free and calling it a steal.

  3. Whenever we approach this topic, very often we talk about why locally handmade products are better for the individual. What about the community? What about the planet? What about the soul? And what about the greater good??? All those are so much more important to me then an extra dollar in my pocket! Buy handmade might be a trendy phrase these days, but please, let’s not allow it to become another hipster slogan that makes us feel cool!

    I am with you Scoutie Girl and I am determined to VOTE WITH MY DOLLARS! I urge everyone out there to do the same.

  4. I agree with you completely. I have been guilty of touting the “Buy Handmade” mantra. Similar to “Buy Local” “Buy Green” “Buy Made in the USA”…. these are all “shout marketing” tactics. It doesn’t EDUCATE the consumer of the real value of “buying handmade” or “buying local”…it just lectures to them. Nor does “shout marketing” work on anyone who wouldn’t already buy handmade, local, green, etc. The real key is to tell AND sell your/your product’s story….finding a creative way to educate the consumer.

  5. Dear Tara,
    Thank you for another insightful commentary. As a longtime supporter of artist-makers who create handcrafted works of art, a show promoter and speaker on the importance of handmade objects in our lives and how makers need to step up to the plate and create work for the contemporary marketplace, I applaud your efforts. I believe it is people like you and the newer generation of makers and thinkers that can move us forward.

  6. Great commentary. I have been thinking about this a lot lately – not exactly in terms of handmade, but in terms of environmentally friendly products and lifestyle. At first, if it was “green” it was swallowed hook, line and sinker, regardless of its sometimes primitive uselessness. Now people are demanding much more (especially the masses – and if you want to actually affect change, you’re going to need the hoi polloi). A lot of people promoting the green narrative need to wake up and start rewriting!

  7. Indie booksellers went through a similar thing a few years ago. For a while they all had “Shop Indie” stickers in their windows, without ever telling their customers WHY they should shop indie. In recent years I’ve seen them telling a much more compelling story. Spend $100 at a locally-owned store and $68 stays in the community. Buy at a chain store and $43 stays. Buy online and $0 stays. And the best shops change their message up, telling a new story (with the same basic message) every couple of months. Crafters can (and should) tell their own individual stories, but I wonder if there’s a bigger story that lots of the crafting community as a group can be telling too? Somthing that gets the kind of momentum that “Buy Handmade” badges got, but that invites people to share/be a part of the story instead of just yelling at (or worse, chastising) them?

    1. Hey Wendi!

      Thanks for pointing out indie bookstores. Having managed a non-indie bookstore for many years, I can tell you all about the narrative that indie stores should be telling!

      As for the bigger story, I think there certainly is one. And I think it’s important that we tell it – I try to do that here, in fact. But – until thinking about your purchases is a little more mainstream – we’ve got to reach people where they’re at. Talk to people directly, get them to buy [in], and then involve them in a larger narrative. Going the opposite way is slow going indeed.

  8. Wonderful, wonderful article.

    The brilliance of comparing the software market to the handmade market was impressive, as well as a wake up call to me.

    The markets are all heading in two directions – the mass and the not. I’ve been pondering for years now, exactly WHY handmade (i.e. “the not mass”) was better, and I have come up with a number of reasons for myself.

    Unfortunately, understanding the benefits myself has really only made me poorer, purchasing handmade quality goods over cheaper ones, and the realization is not making me any money in my own handmade business because the CUSTOMER doesn’t understand the same things that I do.

    There is a real need for education about mass marketing and what is not mass marketing. In my opinion the consumer has been brainwashed by so many well researched and proven ideas that we are afraid to take a step back and really look at what is being sold to us now.

    Is that shirt that is SO IN STYLE really what was in the commercial? Is it the superior quality they advertised? Is it the style that is going to make me the most wanted, most desired, most envied girl in town? Is that $9.99 price going to make my day because it was such a deal?

    The answer a lot of times, seems to be yes. But why? Does that Old Navy shirt really do that much for the customer? Do they think about the underpaid worker that was sitting in uncomfortable conditions for 14 hours a day making literally thousands of the exact same thing to make thousands of other girls feel the exact same (and advertised) way?


    And in this realization, for me anyway, is exactly the reason that handmade is so wonderful, so worthwhile, and the future of consumerism. But without education, a real wake up to the consumer, and some sort of power over these commercial giants who have the big bucks to spend on consumer “education” (or brainwashing) where does this leave the handmade community?

    If we attack education with the same commercial approach on brainwashing and advertising and BUY GREEN! and BUY HANDMADE! are we not doing the same thing we are against?

    Education is necessary, the way to educate needs to be thoughtfully discussed though, this is where the handmade community is lacking. With creativity I do believe it is possible though.

    Thanks for the wake up call Tara.

    1. Hey Marlorie –

      I totally agree that education is necessary. SO NECESSARY. But we have to recognize that, for the time being, people don’t want to be educated – they actually do want to be sold to. They want to be involved in the story of what you’re selling – not educated on a movement.

      So no, people don’t care about the 14yo factory worker making their tshirts… they don’t care too much about you or I, either. Not yet. We need to sell ourselves on the individual merits of our products – and then we can start to educate people on a wider narrative.

  9. Amazingly well written article that nails the issue on the head. Badges are great for quickly getting the idea planted, but without a link to a follow-up providing depth and explanation to the mantra it is lost on the casual reader.

    In software development we have a common mantra for “agile development.” The difference is that the community can link to The Agile Manifesto with our buttons. If you’re interested I’d love to coordinate on creating a “Buy Handmade” manifesto / philosophy / benefits site. The success of it will depend upon the support of the community, but it seems an easy way to make a step in educating our clients and moving forward.

    Amazing post again. I’m really glad to see someone else who recognizes the similarity between software & craft.

  10. i guess i thought this was well known, but the handmade pledge (the badge, etc etc etc) was etsy’s holiday campaign that year – 2007. the marketing group at etsy compiled the “handmade consortium” of like-minded businesses (craft magazine, burda style, indiepublic, whoever else it made sense to invite) and they cobbled together the buyhandmade.org website.
    it’s a nice sentiment at first glance. and i agree, it’s basically preaching to an already convinced choir. but it was something somewhat visible, albeit misguided in a few ways, that was trying to garner a little press and the status of a real “movement” around etsy and the act of commerce required to “support handmade”.
    to some degree – it worked. it was covered in the nytimes (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/16/magazine/16Crafts-t.html – which was a big deal to a much smaller site at the time – lets remember etsy was barely two years old at this point) and cost way less than a big fancy ad campaign that etsy could never have afforded that year.
    another point that was considered in crafting this “movement” was that when people signed the “petition”, they were prompted to leave a link with their “signature”. as predicted, 9 times out of 10, people left a link to an etsy shop, which was a really great side effect of this pledge – tens of thousands of links to a website appearing online doesn’t do bad things for traffic to said site.
    i agree with your criticism of it, pretty much completely. but i think it also served a function at the time and served it well. regardless of how we might feel about a for-profit company creating and rallying behind a “movement” with a “petition” (all language of non-profits, traditionally) that undoubtedly benefits itself seems sneaky, of course. but think of it instead as a great example of why etsy is as successful as it is. at the core of etsy (dare i say back in the day?) – the company was a group of extremely hard working, wildly creative, big idea people willing to think outside of the box (and i hate that term as much as you do, i swear) to promote something they believed in through and through. they came up with in idea that would hopefully get as much attention and bring as much success as possible to etsy as a venue to buy handmade.
    the rally cry “buy handmade” surely deserves some rethinking (as you did here), but i think it’s important to consider what it really is and where it came from to really give it the critical thought it merits. the context surely matters.

    1. Hey Sara!

      Thanks for pointed out the context that I missed. I didn’t actually know it was spearheaded by Etsy. And I totally agree that, at the time it was a pretty genius marketing tactic in so many many ways.

      But now it’s sort of a mantra. And while it works as a mantra, it doesn’t work as a marketing platform for an individual business (unless that business is Etsy and they’re doing just fine – lol!).

      What bothers me is when I see “Buy Handmade” touted as the solution for why biz is bad for crafters or artists. It’s easy to put the blame on an unknowing society instead of a poor product design or an unoriginal idea.

      Thanks again for your insight & context!

    2. Sara totally nailed what I was going to say on its pretty little head.

      “Buy Handmade” worked, but I think the next step(s) is what you talked about here, Tara – educating people about what a widget can do for them. You’re right, it’s not about handmade as a general movement; it’s about specific qualities of that widget filling a need with the consumer.

      I’ll be honest; I still kind of like “buy handmade” as a rallying cry. But are people going to hear it then stop long enough to hear the “why” part? Not sure, but I’m going to do more to subtly answer “why buy handmade?” from now on.

  11. Thank you, again, Tara. You’ve managed to spotlight MANY hot issues [that I’ve been wrestling with] all in one article.

    Pricing is a difficult animal to tame in our field. Perceived value is double hard… we also have to deal with a complex supply & demand issue – I have a hard time keeping up with demand on my own products but the prices of other people’s products and their overstock neutralizes opportunities for me to raise prices on my own products [thus giving me space to grow as a company and continue to shape my little business into a true sustainable income for life].
    Now, I could pout about this problem but mygah, I love my job and I would never suggest otherwise. I choose this road and I’m enjoying the journey. So what’s the alternative to pouting? Improving my storytelling – telling people in my item descriptions or in person how special their handbag is, the love and work I put into it, the technical skill and quality textiles used to create it, the fact that in purchasing the item, they are directly funding the growth of my independent business and improvement of my life. I’m shy about this – I’ve watched old school artists get downright aggressive while telling their story. This isn’t me. This just means I need to be creative about *how* I tell my story.

    …and I think I just got excited about coming up with the answer on how to do that.

  12. Hmm. Very interesting perspective. I agree that just a token “Buy Handmade” isn’t going to do it for most people. I think HTA’s pledge to buy one handmade gift this year is an easier one for people to grab onto, but without knowing WHY it is so great to do it won’t become a change in thinking and purchasing.

    I try very hard to include the why, or why not, when blogging or talking to people, but it sometimes falls on deaf ears… So how do we get people to think and care about what their dollars are buying?

    1. Hey Brenna!

      Well, one way is to let people like me and others who work to build momentum for the new arts & crafts movement work on educating people & building support. And to let people who make – make & market what they make.

      Makers aren’t going to get far trying to educate people on broad ideals about a movement. Makers should concentrate on selling their products for what they are – jewelry for a special occasion, a bag that will go anywhere with you & hold anything, a coffee mug that feels good in your hands & keeps coffee hot longer.

      When you try to tell that “bigger” story, your own marketing gets diluted. Your own story loses its power.

      Obviously, I’m not saying you shouldn’t get involved in building the greater movement too. But when you rely on “buy handmade” as the key point of your marketing, you lose.

      1. Just to clarify. I actually don’t make anything, I am just a big supporter of making better choices, which includes, but is not limited to, buying handmade products, locally made products, ethically made products.

        This post has definitely got a lot of people thinking!

  13. Handmade is something you do for yourself and those you love because it is the best quality out there! Many people don’t care about themselves that deeply and are content with the norm. This is the same reason why so many people eat out at fast food instead of taking a moment to plan ahead and make and enjoy a healthy and homemade meal.

  14. Great post !! I am not a ETSY shop owner but i adore the culture of buying handmade and I try to. I am a photographer and this list

    # There’s a lot of good stuff cheap.
    # There’s a lot of not-so-good stuff available at a premium.
    # Much is available for free.
    # With the right resources and skills, you can make it yourself

    really hit home. There are a lot of good photographers priced way to cheap. And a lot of not so good photographers that get paid thousands of dollars.

    And with all the cameras out today with the right skills people can be their own photographers. But after reading this I m going to start taking people by the end and explaining why they should use me as their photographer.

    Thanks for the insight.

  15. Great post, Tara, and I agree completely that we all need to be more creative in how we communicate the “why’s” of buying handmade to our customers.

    I try to do that in whatever way I can, but I seem to be running consistently into the same objections. For example, when a friend came back from Target loaded down with cheap made-in-China Halloween decorations, I gently pointed out to her that she could’ve also checked handmade venues to find unique creations, made sustainably, that support a small business rather than a big box store. Her response: “But I wouldn’t have been able to buy nearly as MANY!” Which, well, is true if you’re looking at it purely by the numbers.

    Sometimes I feel like we can talk all day long about the many benefits of handmade, but until people move past the more-is-better mentality and start valuing quality over quantity, the handmade movement is going to be stalled to some extent. Do any of you have good rebuttals for the argument that, due to price, one often cannot buy as many handmade items as cheap big-box items?

    1. Hey Darlene!

      Thanks for your comment. I think this is my point exactly. You’re not going to win *anyone* over telling them that “handmade is better.” You need to tell them about the specific product, how the halloween costume is more beneficial to that person (the person buying it), than another. It really has nothing to do with it being handmade.

      We can’t tell people who aren’t already “in the know” that handmade is better. That doesn’t mean anything to them – it’s not the narrative they live in.

      How does Apple explain that its laptops are 3 times what a Dell laptop costs? It doesn’t. It shows you why the design is better, how it runs faster, how it makes you feel better while you do your work. Those are the stories we need to tell.

      Forget handmade and look at individual products & individual people.

  16. I love the parallel that you have drawn between craft and software. I’m a software developer myself – in my day job I manage a software development team and as a hobby I’ve been developing iPhone apps.
    Software developers and craftspeople have a lot in common. Generally we are great a creating things and we are terrible at marketing. Build it and they will come? Poppycock.
    I’m toying with a free model for my iPhone apps – I’ve created iAd supported versions of my normally $0.99 apps. (’cause apparently $0.99 is *way* to much to pay for months of someones labor :-) I’m having some success with the free apps, but even at the price of free you still need to market your product to get noticed in a sea of apps.
    If you are interested in checking out my apps, search for “Photo Notes Free” or “Lolz Makr Free” on the iTunes app store.

  17. Tara- Well said….great post!

    I have seen the “buy handmade” button on blogs and it often annoys me. Obviously it is better in many ways to buy handmade. I know that and the readers of indie blogs know that….so this “buy handmade” button is like everyone going around patting each other on the back. That doesn’t really make a movement.

  18. “Art, craft, and designer products work best when the consumer becomes a storyteller. They become part of the network, a hub that passes on the message.” Loved this post, Tara. When I buy handmade I like to pass on to others the story behind the item – how it was made, a little about the artist, if possible – because ultimately that’s why I spend the extra bucks for handmade goods. They’re usually one-of-a-kind or they’re made in limited quantities and they’re made with a certain care and attention to detail that sets them apart, so I feel lucky to have them.

  19. I was having a very similiar chat only 5 minutes ago, with someone who suggested I read this, so I came straight over – it’s bang on the mark!

    It brought to mind another conversation I had this week, where someone said: “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink – what you can do though – is make it very very thirsty”.

    I think you can apply this same rule to ‘handmade’ – but it is all about how you communicate/market yourself or your product – you have got to make the buyer ‘thirsty’ enough to want to buy you stuff; simply telling them it’s handmade is not enough.

    I like the Apple/PC comparison – as a lifelong apple user, I have always thought they were cool and have never in a million years considered buying a pc, even tho’ it would have saved me a small fortune! I never question the costs (tho’ I have been known to ‘gulp’!) because they made me soo very very thirsty – I had to quench the thirst!

  20. An excellent article & interesting comments! It’s totally true, that as shop owners, we have to sell ourselves & our products, to let customers & potential customers know why our product is special, why they should send their money in our shops, on our products & not somewhere else. Merely saying the product is handmade or touting the slogan “buy handmade’ doesn’t do the job, you have to say why it’s special. In doing this, though you help to reinforce the idea that handmade is better, higher quality or more unique, in general, than mass produced & therefor worth its price. As a side note, underpricing (and no, you do not make up profits in volume of sales. One hundred times 0 is still 0 & we don’t even want to go into negatives & losses) creates the idea that the product is disposable, has no real value & in turn creates the idea that handmade has no unique value over mass produced. There of course, needs to be a follow through, by making sure that the product equals the hype. The more we do this, the more customers will be naturally attracted to handmade & the handmade movement, with or without the slogan. Thanks Tara, for bringing up some excellent points :)

  21. Hi Tara,
    I whole heartedly agree with the points you’ve raised that simply touting “buy handmade” is not enough.
    As someone who produces handmade work though I find the most difficult thing is to tell (write) the story about the pieces I’ve made in a compelling & engaging way. I usually end up sounding too sales pitchy or downright boring!
    Do you have any suggestions on how to improve one’s writing skills in this area?.

  22. Great article, Tara! I love that you’re a thinker! I remember having just opened an Etsy shop and starting my blog shortly before the holidays in 2008 and that “Buy Handmade” badge being promoted that year as well. And like a good little maker, I put it on my site and shouted it from the rooftops.

    And got crickets from the people around me that I know.

    I’m working on it, but I still struggle with standing up for myself, so to speak, and announcing this is what I offer, this is what it costs, and these are the benefits to you. Too often I feel like I get sucked back into having the cost conversation (especially with friends) which only leads to frustration and feeling resentful of those friends who place dollars above all else.

    We as makers need to accept that we can’t change everyone’s minds and not allow ourselves to be discouraged by that fact.

  23. Great post Tara, so true. Where do we go and how do we as artists showcase amazing work that is just incidently also “handmade” ?

    Sara is right, it did start with etsy. We used to count on etsy being handmade, but they have strayed so far from that mission. Factories are now collectives. The makers are outnumbered.

    Do we need a new movement or do we as individuals just keep spreading the word? It is a struggle. Thanks for supporting us.

  24. Tara –

    As usual, you find a way to enlighten me and build on some of things that rattle around in my mind on a regular basis. Excellent. I think a great example I’ve recently seen of building a narrative into a “product” is Jeremy Larson’s blog post about his new EP. Through storytelling he managed to connect with a skeptical music buyer (me) and advance the maker-consumer relationship to a point where I was (1) convinced to purchase and (2) inspired to spread the word. Effective.

  25. Tara- Excellent post! Not only does Buy Handmade not work but I think it can work against crafters. I have talked to many friends and to them when they think of handmade, they think of cheep. I do not think handmade is a word that sells.

  26. Thanks for the insightful post, Tara, and to all who have commented. It makes sense that the “buy handmade” pledge tends to preach to the choir, when what we really need is to fill the pews. I will have to let this percolate.

  27. I’ve just set up HUB (handmade, unique and beautiful) to promote and sell home wares made by British designer-makers. These are my thoughts thus far:
    – handmade is only a selling point for some customers. It’s more useful as a tool to explain the cost of an item.
    – handmade has to be used carefully. I sell sophistication and uniqueness whereas craft/handmade can still have that ‘pressed flowers on lampshades’ image.
    – I encourage my customers to be different. Who wants drink from the mainstream when they can have something unusual and bespoke? Many people are tickled and refreshed by this idea and are fed up with the high street.
    – I also say how an object of beauty contributes to our quality of life – how often do you look at something exquisite and and get a thrill from it? I know I do!
    – I love the idea that handmade objects somehow bring a little piece of the artist into my home. That spark of genius, that quirky imagination comes with the product.
    – I encourage customers to think about buying less in general but what they do buy is considered, carefully chosen, planned. Where will it go? How will I display it to it’s best?
    – By helping customers to plan their purchases they are getting attention, stroking and time. Selling the handmade allows true retail therapy.
    – I want future generations to be fighting over the purchases we make today like I have for my mother’s purchases made in the 1950’s. Otherwise huge holes in our earth will be filled with £1 mugs from IKEA. Have you ever wondered around a museum and looked at the incredibly sophisticated items made centuries ago? It sometimes depresses me when I see amazing technological advances but diminishing demands for creativity.
    – And handmade contains a promise of better quality. I’m fed up with cheap tat that breaks quickly or ages badly.
    – We want it now and we want it cheap. But I think recent economic events have made many people pause and breath deep. There is a developing market out there for the hand made through encouraging people to be different and inspired. I’m not giving up yet and enthusiasm is contagious!

  28. Finally had a moment to read this. Insightful thoughts, probably on many of our minds, especially those who are trying to see their goods in the “real” world (I know you love that phrase). At a craft show or in a live retail setting, you stand before your potential customer and you know you have only a moment to catch their attention and win them over. What do you say? Many times I greet customers by asking them if they have ever been to the shop before–if not, then I often launch into my “mission statement” that most of the items for sale are handcrafted by individual artists, many of whom are local, and that anything else in the shop is eco-friendly or made by sustainable businesses…Some customers grin appreciatively, and nod their consent–guess what, they probably already knew that, and that’s why they are in the shop/craft show in the first place. Win-win for both of us, but the “movement” doesn’t get any new followers.
    Other customers are folks who wandered in off the street on a stroll through the neighborhood on their way to lunch or to check out the shops. My introduction often garners a distracted nod, or just falls flat. They don’t know I’m part of a “movement.” They probably don’t care, either–they want to fall in love with what they see in the shop, with how it is displayed, or with the friendly “hostessing” I try to provide while they look around. They purchase or they come back because they connect with what they see, or they find the overall experience of shopping at Hello Bluebird to be worth repeating until they do.
    I’ve noticed that my mantra of “handmade” isn’t all I want to be with every customer, and I think this is a good reminder that I need to tell a bigger story within my shop if I want to bring in a bigger part of the consumer audience. Once they fall in love with the shop, they can learn by experience, over time, about what it is that really makes buying handmade and supporting independent businesses different (and better).
    That’s how our story will spread.

  29. Yep. I knew there was a reason I never even bothered to put that badge on my blog. It didn’t speak to me either, it spoke “at me” like you said. I agree wholeheartedly, to engage people is key especially in the handmade market because really, engaging people is our strength! The personalization is our strength! The direct consumer to maker relationship is our strength! Saying “Buy Handmade” is just like saying “Buy from Target”. Who cares? It doesn’t tell a story I want to hear.

  30. I just finished reading Godin’s “Meatball Sundae” last night and was immediately taken with an idea that this article is pushing as well: the story!

    And I think that seller’s sometimes forget that the story behind each product is not how it’s made, or how it so good for you or the environment, or how artistic it is. But the story is in fact why the customer wants this and how they will enjoy it. How this particular item can seemlessly work its way into their life, or how it can completely rock their world, depending on the product.

    So a reminder to any/all sellers out there: the story is not you or your product, but your customer! The story is their story and why what you’re selling matters to them. Ecoproducts or handmade is great, but why does it matter to them and why will it make them happy? It can be hard to figure this out without first considering your market, but that’s a whole other lesson!

    Anyway, good luck and perserverance to all!

  31. Really interesting article, thank you Tara!

    That’s so strange you wrote down exactly how I feel about handmade product, about the competition on Etsy..etc.
    I feel, I make a quality products and unique designs, which some other crafter can copy and sell lower price than me… but still not will be the same as mine.
    Why? Mines have a story, each of my pieces are made with love and passion, I am not mass producing things, I just design and make product what is reflecting my feelings of that day.
    Many of my customers are coming back to me and tell me they have bought many other people work, similar to mine, but mine is different. Here is two of my customers comment on my work:

    “It has been awhile :)! No one can handle organza flowers like you, wow these are so gorgeous, the colors are amazing.”

    “The pins just arrived today, and I am SO happy with them! Beautifully crafted, speedy delivery, and will match my dress PERFECTLY! Thank you MGMart–they’re simply perfect!”

    When I’ve receive comments like this I feel I have achieved something and I feel proud of my work…


  32. I work with jewelry designers and sometimes find it hard to show the value of my quality handmade workmanship to new clients as I try to quote them a fair price. I tell them the story of what goes into it. They still want it made for less then minimum wage, so I have to politely decline. I’m being mentored right now by retired entrepreneurs and businessmen who think I should be charging $25 an hour! I know I’m worth it, but it’s a pipe dream for now.

    I don’t go into Walmart but the parking lot is full all day and night. People are going to buy cheap and plenty of it. It’s just the way it is. Use it for a short time, throw it out. If we can start with the kids and show them the value, maybe we can change the mindset, but as I stand in a grocery store and watch kids demand and parents relenting and actually saying to a 3 year old, “Do you want this?” No, he doesn’t. Teach him the value of a dollar. Save it for something worthwhile. Get through a whole day without buying crap people, just try it one day.

    I wrote From Kitchen Table to Fashion Brand, Keeping it in America: http://bit.ly/a1GXDj to talk about keeping businesses local and not going overseas. We’re always going to have this discussion, so it’s good to help spread the word bits at a time. It might sink in one day. Thanks Tara!

  33. Wow – really an eye opener for me! I’m so grateful to the friend who recommended this article/blog to me.
    I sew with rescued vintage fabrics, and I am suddenly seeing how not selling someone on the idea of “buying Handmade”, but instead selling them on the attributes of my products is the way to go. I’m not really sure why I never that of before.
    I am turned off by pushing sales people/vendors and make it a point to not be “that person” when selling my items. But, I’m starting to see how I can take myself out of the equation – and put my products front and center.
    Thanks for the article –

  34. I absolutely agree with you, but keep in mind that most social movements have a pithy war cry that serves as a directive (not a narrative). ‘Save the Whales’, ‘Free Mandela’, ‘Make love not war’. If the war cry provokes you, interests you or speaks to you, you’ll find out more about the cause, if it doesn’t, no harm no fowl.

    Obviously you can’t simply rely on a ‘Buy Handmade’ badge as your sole marketing strategy, but to condemn a phrase (by saying ‘Buy Handmade, doesn’t work’) because it’s a directive and not a narrative is oversimplifying it a bit.

  35. Totally agreed! Consumer often is after price and he/she doesn’t care about handmade or machine-made. It’s not about the price, it’s about education. But, unfortunately, in most cases, in my opinion, the price is the decision maker.

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  37. I have been trying to figure this whole thing out as we get closer to the holiday season. This was a really great article. I am working daily to engage my audience in a way that lets them know that my products are for them and not some crafty people somewhere else. Lots of great points here. I also follow a little bit of Seth Godin so it was neat to see the lines converge here. Thanks!

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