We Made A Huge Mistake (So You Don’t Have To)
It involves frogs.
The last two years, in fact, have been particularly good, but it hasn’t always been that way.
In 2013 our Christmas takings went way down – and it was entirely our fault.
Today I’m going to tell you about the huge mistake we made that year and how you can avoid it, so you never find yourself blinking in the glow of your open fridge at 3am, squeezing a tube of cheese and ham sandwich spread straight into your mouth and wondering if there’s still time to pursue a career in data entry.
Not that, you know, anyone here has ever done that.
This Christmas we sold 630 exploding chocolate frogs.
For those unacquainted with this variety of amphibian, they’re handmade milk chocolate frogs laced with popping candy.
A lovely company in Oxfordshire makes them for us and we sell them for £2.75 (or about $3.50) each.
Back in 2013, we didn’t realise that the Christmas destiny of our business, financially speaking, had become quite so intertwined with our exploding chocolate frogs.
By that point we’d been stocking them for a couple of years and we knew that people liked them.
We liked them too. They’re perfect for stockings, table settings, Secret Santa and as small gifts for children to give to their friends.
But in 2013 we thought they’d had their time in the spotlight. We thought our customers must be bored of them by now.
Boy, were we wrong.
But let’s put a pin in that until I tell you about my mother-in-law.
Now, I love Lesley dearly. When mother-in-laws were being handed out, I got the very best.
But she has an interesting quirk.
Lesley buys a lot of her Christmas presents from Merry + Bright – a kind and generous habit for which we’re truly thankful.
What we’re marginally less thankful for is that some of those Christmas presents are actually for us.
It’s not uncommon for Anthony or me to unwrap a gift, only to discover something that formerly resided on our shelves.
It’s a bit like saying a heartfelt goodbye to someone at the end of an evening, then awkwardly realising they’re catching the same bus as you.
I think this happens because Lesley’s making the same mistake we made five years ago – one that you’re probably making too.
Here’s what EVERYONE gets wrong about products.
When we buy products (that is, physical objects you can see and touch,) we think we want the object itself.
Actually, we don’t.
When we buy products, we’re “hiring” them to do a job for us.
Picked up some washing powder? You’re hiring it to make yourself look and feel clean.
Bought a birthday card for your friend? You’re hiring it to make your friend feel loved and appreciated.
Got a new coat? You’re hiring it to stop the north wind having its way with your kidneys.
Of course, the precise “brief” we have in mind for the products we buy varies from person to person, but you get the idea.
We each have jobs that we need taken care of, so we hire particular products to perform that service for us.
Now, as we just saw, the exploding chocolate frogs we sell are excellent stocking fillers, Secret Santa presents and so on.
Our mistake in 2013 was overlooking how much our customers loved hiring our exploding frogs to do those jobs.
We didn’t order any.
When people asked for them it was too late to order any. We also couldn’t put “The Exploding Chocolate Frogs Are Here!” on the chalkboard outside the shop.
That simple little headline is intriguing enough to make lots of people come inside – even if they’ve never bought anything from us before. So our footfall fell off a cliff.
Have you ever decided to get your living room painted, or your website redesigned, and thought “Brilliant. I know exactly who I’m going to get to do this for me”…then discovered that your perfect contractor has retired?
It’s annoying and disappointing, right?
Well, that’s what we did to our customers in 2013.
Now let’s talk about how this helps you get more orders from stores.
I think Lesley buys us presents from our own shop for two reasons. The first is because she’s lovely.
The second is because she doesn’t know that retailers have quite different jobs in mind for the products we buy than regular people do.
Maybe you’ve never really thought about that, either.
Maybe you’re actually a bit mystified as to why retailers buy your work – even if you’ve already got a bunch of them doing exactly that.
Maybe you’d love to understand their thinking.
Because if you knew what makes retailers say “Yes,” you could do it more efficiently and more often, with a lot less hassle and stress, right?
Let’s talk about that. When indie retailers buy stock, we’re hiring those products to do things like:
“Provide an easy upsell when someone buys from our existing range of cups and teapots.”
“Add a dash of joyful discovery to our selection of gifts for men under £20”
“Help us create a show-stopping window display.”
At Merry + Bright, we hired products to take care of all these jobs and many more this Christmas.
So to indie retailers, the products we stock are almost like employees.
We spend money on them in order to take care of specific issues in our business. When you know this, you can find out what makes YOUR buyers hire (or fire) a product.
You can spot the criteria we use when deciding how to spend our money.
You can see which things really matter to us, and emphasise those things so we have no reason to look anywhere else.
If you want all the wholesale orders you can handle, thinking deeply about the jobs retailers hire your work to do is a great place to start.
Next time, we’ll be talking about something that scares many creative people right out of their unicorn slippers.
Hello, I'm Clare Holliday. I'm a shopkeeper who's helped thousands of creative people sell their work to stores, galleries and regular customers all over the world. Now it's your turn.