This past month was all about trade shows, and as I’ve been walking around the shows and talking to both new and established makers, I’ve been asking myself one question:
“What sets successful, established designers apart from struggling, emerging designers?”
While there are many, many factors, one of the big things I see is that successful, established designers tend to have more pieces in their line, while still maintaining a cohesive collection, whereas struggling, emerging designers seem to have smaller lines.
And while this may be a coincidence, after years of being in business, observing others, and talking to lots of my designer friends, I’m apt to believe that what’s holding many emerging designers back is that they simply don’t have enough products in their line.
Why is the case?
Well first, a larger collection gives buyers choices. This is especially true at a trade show, but it’s true if you are selling online as well. (I’ve heard many people who try and help brands grow on Etsy talk about the importance of having many products in an Etsy shop in order to be successful.)
For wholesale buyers, a larger collection means they get to really curate what they want for their store, whereas, if your collection is small, they are forced to buy almost the whole collection in order to meet a minimum. This makes the buying process feel like it isn’t really their decision.
And for retail customers, it means that they are more likely to find the piece that’s perfect for them. (I make my designs in lots of different sizes and lengths because my customers come in different sizes and lengths.) And while I know many designers hesitate to add more pieces because they don’t want to overwhelm customers, as long as you’re making it easy for customers to sort and compare products, more choice really is a good thing.
Second, a larger line gives the appearance of a more established brand. If it’s successful, established designers who have larger lines, it stands to reason that you can make yourself appear more established simply by increasing the pieces in your line. A booth (or website) full of work also implies that you are serious about creating a full brand presentation, not just trying to sell a few pieces you made in your spare time.
Third, having more pieces in your collection gives you more chances to attract attention. (Both at shows and online.) Online, this is pretty straightforward. Since each product is it’s own page on your website, the more products you have, the more pages you have to get found in online search. (The same goes if you’re selling on Etsy. The more listings you have, the more chances a product will show up on Etsy search.)
But this applies at a show as well. Picture this. You walk by a booth and the person only has a handful of products. That means there are only a few chances to catch your eye. (And while we like to obsesses about how our overall booth design attracts attention, the reality is, it’s more likely to be an individual product that draws people in.) Now imagine a booth that is well stocked with product. The odds go up that there is something in there that will catch a buyer or customer’s eye.
And while yes, a booth that is too full can be overwhelming, I’ve found that most emerging designers are much closer to a booth that’s too empty than a booth that is anywhere near too full.
And finally, having more pieces in your collection means that you have more work to share via email and social media. One of the biggest challenges I hear from artists and makers is that they never feel like they have enough to share on social media. But if you’re got a full product line, you’ve always got something to share! (The math is simple. If you’re trying to email your customers every week, and you only have 5 pieces in your collection, those emails are going to get old fast. But if you have 50 pieces in your line, you could highlight a different piece every week, and never get bored.)
So how do you know if there are enough pieces in your collection?
Unfortunately, there is no magic number I can give you when it comes to how many pieces there should be in your collection. That’s because it varies a lot between different types of products (greeting card designers may need more pieces than ceramic artists) and because it really is different for each individual designer.
So instead, there are a few questions you can ask yourself:
Can you fill a booth?
Even if you never plan to do a show, thinking about filling a booth with your collection is a good place to start. While you can certainly do this in your head, it’s an even more useful exercise to do it in real life. That doesn’t mean you have to set-up a booth. Just open up a few folding tables in your studio and start laying work out. You’ll be able to see pretty quickly if you’ve got a nice robust collection, or a grouping that’s looking a little empty.
Do you have options for each category on your website?
Regardless of the types of products you create, there’s probably some pretty logical ways to break down a collection. (For jewelers, you’re looking at necklaces, rings, bracelets, and earrings. For ceramic artists, you could have mugs, plates, bowls, planters, etc.) Take a look at each category on your website, and see if there’s actually a decent amount of product in each. Sure, you may have some that have more than others. But each category page should have enough choices for a customer to really find what they want.
Are customers constantly asking you for things that don’t exist?
If you’re getting a lot of comments from customers that they like a certain design, but wish it was larger/smaller/etc. that’s usually a good indication that there is room to expand your line. For example, I’ve gotten requests from customers for more petite versions of some of my best selling necklaces, and those petite designs (ok, they’re still pretty bold, they’re just petite for my line) have become some of my new best sellers.
And of course, that doesn’t mean that you have to ditch the old versions. Designing new work, based on customer requests, is a great way to expand your line.
How to add more pieces to your collection.
So you’ve evaluated your collection and decided it’s time to add new work. When it comes to expanding your line, there are two ways to approach it, and both are equally valid. (In fact, I’ve employed both over the years to grow my jewelry line.)
1. Expand a current body of work. (Fill in the gaps.)
2. Design a whole new collection. (Or two.)
Expanding a current body of work is great if you’re getting lots of customer requests for slight variations, or if you find there are just holes in the collection in general. What’s great about this is that it lets a collection grow and evolve over time, without pressure to get it right out of the gate. Plus, sometimes it takes years to actually find all the gaps in the collection. (I just added new variations to one of my best selling collections, because even after all these years, I’m still finding gaps.)
But if you’re stuck on where to expand a current body of work, sometimes the best solution is just to design something entirely new. I’ve mentioned before that, if your current work isn’t selling well, one of the best things you can do is design new work. (Which flies in the face of advice to just keep marketing. But trying to market work that isn’t selling can often feel like banging our heads against a wall.)
But this doesn’t mean ditch the old collections. Designing new work, while keeping the old, is a great way to grow a more robust collection. And sometimes, a new collection can help sell an old collection, because it puts it in new context.
And if you’re worried that adding a second body of work will make your line feel less cohesive, my best advice is to actually add a third new collection. What I’ve found is that two collections often looks like a designer with a split attention span, but three looks like a designer with distinct ideas.
As I mentioned before, there is no magic number when it comes to the amount of pieces you have in your line. But if you’ve been struggling to gain traction (and get sales) I’d recommend taking a look at your line and carving out some time to design new work.
Because adding new pieces to your line might just be the magic ingredient you need to kickstart your sales and take yourself from struggling, emerging designer to successful, established brand. (Just make sure you’re actually sharing your new work with buyers and customers after you create it!)
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Want to expand your line but aren’t sure where to start? Do you have ideas for where you want to go next, but aren’t sure how to keep everything cohesive? Be sure to check out my new class, Core & Explore: Creative (yet Cohesive) Collection Design for Metalsmiths & Jewelers. This class walks you through the process of developing a signature jewelry line that feels like you! Class starts April 10th, but early bird registration (which is $100 off the regular price) ends March 27th! Click here for all the details!