Getting a Business Started, Part Two: Customers

Posted by admin     Category: Business Talk, Starting Up


You know what you like to make, but do you know who your target audience is?

This might sound like a ridiculous question. You might be thinking, “I make beaded jewelry, so anyone who likes beaded jewelry is my target audience.” If this is what’s going through your head, you have much to learn.

We’ve kind of begun the series with an imaginary seller of handmade jewelry, so I’ll keep that example all the way through the articles, but what I’m writing about is going to apply no matter what you make. So just go with it, and apply what I’m discussing to your own craft.

By all means, if you have questions, please ask them in the comments section! That way everyone can learn from your question (including me).

So, back to our Crafter. Let’s assume the items are of good quality, visually appealing, made by someone who knows their technique pretty well. Our Crafter is a nice person who enjoys stringing beads, making bracelets, earrings, and necklaces.

You know, I feel we’ll need a name, so I’ll just grab one out of the hat and go with Marla. And now we can properly speak of her in the third person. Ah, literary devices!

Marla has come in my store with a box of handmade stuff. I don’t have time for her, because it’s a very busy day, tons of customers, and on top of that I’ve just got in a shipment of magick widgets that have to be entered in the computer, priced, and put on display. So I ask her to briefly describe what all she has there in the box, so I can determine if I want to take her card and try to look at her website from my phone the next time I have a minute.

Marla says, “beaded jewelry.” I ask her what kind of beaded jewelry. “Natural stones,” she replies. Okay, that’s pretty good, I like natural stones.

“Who’s the target audience?” I ask, because maybe I have too much of one kind and need to diversify, the season’s changing, the moon is in outer space, or some other vaporous reason of my own. “Do you have a specific style? What age group people would like your stuff?”

Marla looks like a deer caught in the headlights. “I use natural stones, so people who like natural jewelry–”

And she’s thinking, “I make nice stuff, everyone will love it, what a stupid question.”

What this means is that Marla loves it. She’s probably received compliments on her jewelry when she wears things she’s made, and someone who loves her has encouraged her to try to sell to boutiques. So other people love it too. But there is just not a style of anything that appeals to all people, no matter what you are talking about. Even water – some people think bottled water is pretentious, and others refuse to drink from the tap. And water is something pretty basic, right? Everyone consumes it, otherwise they die. But still, water has distinct consumer demographics. Handcrafted items have a much narrower set of people who like them, so it is essential to understand who you are crafting for.

In the meantime, I’m still wondering if I should keep Marla’s card so I can call her back later, or to stop wasting her time and maybe recommend someplace else she can try so it’s not a total wash for her.

I take a look at Marla and notice that she’s mid-50s, nicely tailored clothing, heels and hose, hair done in a hot-roller style you might have seen in the 80s on a newscaster. She’s a little heavy. Her nails are unpolished but manicured.

Marla is not a soccer mom. She is not a hipster. She is not a new ager or old hippie. Marla’s also probably not a closet athlete or a kindergarten teacher. She doesn’t think of herself as an artist or froofy crafter, instead viewing her jewelry as a serious side business, more rewarding than selling Tupperware or Avon. Looking at her, I’d guess she’s a secretary, accountant, or mid-level management of a computer firm. She is not trend-aware, not with that hairstyle, but that doesn’t mean she can’t make aesthetically pleasing classic pieces. I am not expecting to see steampunk, goth, boho, or hemp jewelry in that box.

I glance again at her business card, looking for a hint. It is nicely laid out with raised lettering (meaning she had them professionally printed rather than running them off herself at home).  The typeface for her name is in Park Avenue and the rest of her card is sensibly set with Times New Roman. She has not included a URL or a facebook, but she does have a gmail account and a phone number. She does not have a business name or a tag line to let me know she sells jewelry, so this is more like an old-fashioned calling card with her contact information on it. Very simple but useful.


I bet myself that she’s got granny jewelry in the box. Safe color combinations, nothing new or innovative, nothing clashy. If she’s using metals, it’s almost certainly highly polished sterling silver, not brass, copper, or goldtone. She probably can’t afford 14k gold but wouldn’t dream of using anything less if she wanted gold metal.

“Open it up,” I tell her. And it’s exactly what I’m expecting to see. “Okay,” I say. “What you have here is called “classic style”. Your target demographic for this is female baby boomers who are not yet retired and need jewelry to wear to the office, something that maybe they can also wear to church. It’s not really a good match for my boutique, but you might try…” and I name some J. Jill type stores in the area. “You should also contact the gift shops at the art museums and hospitals in the area and ask for an appointment with their buyers.”

I also take a quick glance at her prices and wow, they are really low. I ask about that. “Well, I just mark it up a little over my cost,” she says. Pricing your wares is another blog post all on its own, but for today’s lesson let’s just say that Marla is going to work herself right into burnout by not charging enough. I explain our pricing strategy and tell her to go hang out a while at J. Jill and Macy’s and study what they are charging for similar jewelry. “But that’s so much!” she complains. “It’s what people are used to seeing,” I tell her. “Those stores are getting it, too. So it’s what your customers are okay with paying. If we did our usual markup on your pieces, the customers would be suspicious of the quality, because they would think it’s too cheap.”

She still looks confused about why I don’t want her wares. After all, they’re cheap, right? I assure her it’s very nice and professionally presented (she has mounted them on jewelry boards with an info sticker next to each piece). But I won’t be able to move them very quickly at any price, and when you get new stuff in, the first thing that needs to happen is that it pays for itself so you can use that money to make another purchase. Mom and pops don’t usually have credit accounts with vendors, so when we buy inventory, it ties up our money until it sells.

Some customers come in the door. I greet them with a cheery “hello” and in a low voice tell Marla to examine how they are dressed and what kind of adornments they are sporting. “Can you see them wearing that blue necklace and earring set?” I ask. “I can’t. They might buy it for their mom for Mother’s Day, but they look more like the kind who’d get her some chocolates instead.”

I could make up an example about these fictitious customers, but it would distract from the point that Marla begins to understand a little better about who would not be wearing her jewelry, and why. Suffice it to say they just aren’t Marla’s demographic, they are mine. If I put Marla’s jewelry on the shelf, when my customers come in, they start thinking they don’t fit in my store anymore, and don’t come back.

So how do you know just who is your target demographic? Well, for one thing, you can start by looking in the mirror. You are probably making stuff that you like, things you’d like to buy. How old are you? How much education do you have? What did you do before you became a crafter?

If you make apparel or accessories, where would you buy similar items? Take a look at people who are wearing things similar to what you are selling. Does it match up with the mental image you have of your customers? What else are they wearing?

If you make home-dec items or do photography or fine art, try to picture a setting for those things. How would those people set their table, what kind of sheets would they have on their beds?

Are your wares definitive of a lifestyle, like New Age, LGBT, swinger, goth, punk, rockabilly? Or are they more open to interpretation, like fishing lures or golf club covers? Are they something someone would be more likely to buy for themself, like a purse or wallet, or as a gift, like a turned-wood pen or trivet?

Reach out a bit in your mind and try to see where your customers would have dinner when they go someplace special. What types of cars do they drive? Would they be more likely to go on an adventure vacation, something sporty like rock climbing or hiking, or an art museum, or a fun park?

How much education do you see your customers having? When a few of them get together, do they have coffee, wine, or beer? What do they do for a living? How old are they? What was their favorite kind of music in high school? Where do they live now? With parents? Just with a partner or spouse? Kids at home? Grown kids?

What ethnicity are they? How important is religion, family? What are their political views?

And finally, ask yourself, how much expendible income are they likely to have, and what are they likely to spend it on? Self-improvement or self-indulgence?

All of these factors are more important than just whether or not your item would fit into their life. As we will see in the next article, using this information to drive all aspects of your sales presentation and packaging will help you maximize your sales.

If you honestly have no idea, google for those things, and look at pictures and websites until you begin to see some similarities. What else do they sell alongside those items that can give you a clue? How is the item presented? Most websites do not have items on a plain white background without any props. The props help define the demographic – as we will see, it reinforces the identity for the target audience. If after spending a good couple hours on it, you might throw it out on Facebook or ask some friends and family for help. Until you know who is most likely to buy your products, you might get lucky with your sales, but you will never be as effective as you can be with a targeted sales pitch.

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