Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A BIG SHIPMENT is due any moment!

As I type this very message to post on the blog, the long awaited shipment containing a variety of best selling yarns and a new one, too, is somewhere approaching. It is, if the tracking programs are to be believed, within 50 miles of me at this moment. We have had a couple of bumps in the schedule with this shipment, and of course, it had to happen when everyone is chomping at the bit for more and then some more yarn. What happened is that somehow the shipment got separated into two pallets at the port of entry, but this was not discovered until half of the shipment arrived at Customs for clearance. It was rejected because the paperwork listed a different number of boxes that were presented for clearance, so back went that partial shipment, back went the paperwork to the broker, and back went the requests to search out the remainder of the shipment at one of two airports. This added five days to delivery time, which doesn't sound like much unless you are me sitting here at the computer fending plenty of eMails from customers wanting to know where their order is.

Must say that everyone, absolutely everyone, has been understanding about the delay. I think that the demand is coming from the fact that there is an increasing number of wholesale customers who have been trying out the arena of the big convention marketplace as vendors. Over the past six months I have counted more customer participation in the larger festivals like Sock Summit back in August and the Stitches events. This is in addition to participation in fiber festivals at the state and local levels, which has always been a traditional outlet for handdyers. The change I see is that many customers are taking a risk and booking a vending booth at major national conventions.

I have been begging for some advance notice that folks are going to a major festival or convention and will be needing larger orders. Some wholesalers have responded well to that invitation to join me in planning ahead, and others have not gotten the word yet. We had a true feeding frenzy before Sock Summit this summer, and then a Stitches event followed closely on the heels of that major event, so basically, that is why our regular stock levels fell to the low levels of September. I had to scramble to order in replacement stock, as well as enough of the new yarns we were planning to introduce. In a way, I feel that the introduction of Crazy Eight got sidetracked with so much emphasis on replacing the best sellers which were wiped out for the convention people. We do have two more shipments -- in addition to today's lot -- arriving to replenish stock, and each is timed about two weeks apart ... assuming that there are not big delivery problems with either one.

Feedback from these major selling events is mixed, and unscientific, of course, but from what I gather there are many customers who have not broken even with their booth at the national level. Some of these vendors do feel that the cost was worth the loss, though, as they put their name and logo and their work out into the public venue. Others could not justify the financial loss and were disheartened to find that they had to compete on the pricepoint level with major yarn companies, many of whom ran specials for the convention. This brought the price of the major companies down below what the handdyer could afford to offer, and took them out of the competition for knitters' dollars.

Some customers write to me and tell me that they are going to continue the convention and festival circuit, and that they feel the exposure is invaluable and will serve future sales well. Others write that they do not think enough of the actual market attends these events to make the expense worth the effort. Both positions have merit, of course. It all depends on how much of a risk a vendor can financially afford, how great a percentage of one's marketing plan being a vendor consumes, and whether or not the travel and work of setting up a booth at a convention is part and parcel of the lifestyle of the individual vendor.
All things in moderation. OK, so maybe a small percent of the knitting market actually ever attends a convention at the national level. And you can add another small percent of the market for the number of folks who attend fiber festivals on a regular basis. Then add in the percent of knitters who are on Ravelry, and then add in those who subscribe to knitting magazines. All of these places are real contact points for the handdyer to present themselves to their potential customer, and yet each one represents a small percent of the total market. Look at how local yarn shops have been so frustrated about their dwindling market share since the Internet created alternate buying opportunities for what they considered to be their market base. Etsy, eBay, personal dot-com sites ... all are new selling opportunities, and depending upon one's point of view, are either eroding their customer base or building it.
There is no one way to promote one's business. Every single seller should create a plan of how they want to get their name and work in front of their potential customer, and this plan should be based on how they want to run their business. The way this marketing plan will work the very best, though, is if the plan considers first how one's small business will best fit in with their lifestyle. I have said for years that my business should first improve the quality of my life, and I recommend this approach to my own customers. First, pick the activities that you enjoy, price them out, figure out what percent of the market you might realistically reach with each activity, and then start planning, printing, buying, dyeing, saving, and getting down to the business of improving your business.

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