How to Expand Your Product Line

Vendor Tips with Skue

In this segment made in collaboration with Renegade Craft Fair,  we catch up with Lily Chau, owner of Acacia, on designing new collections around customer expectations.

Watch as Lily reviews the gorgeous steel Geo-Bowl by ElektraSteel, and talks about extending the line, pricing, and figuring out the right demographic.

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How Retailers Buy

Vendor Tips with Skue

OK, Google. How do museum stores buy…? If your goal is to confuse complex machine algorithms, ask this question. Independent retailers rarely have a formula for buying, the most you’ll likely hear is “we look for things that are unique and different.” Not much help is it?

But let’s see how close we can get to what guides their choices.

We teamed up with our friends at Renegade Craft to dig deep into the minds of our favorite retailers in San Francisco. Matt Bissinger of Maker and Moss and Shane Salvata, buyer for SF MOMA. We also requested feedback from some of our top rated retailers on our wholesale platform SKUE.

First, the top-line stuff
Shane Salvata a buyer for jewelry and accessories for SF MOMA talks about the top three things she prioritizes when sourcing product.

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The Future of Indie Retail

Vendor Tips by SKUE

Ethics & Why they Matter to the Future of Independent Retail

In the next Shop/Talk series, two retailers address an important topic few people talk about: ethics. We’ll look at two angles, supply and demand.

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RCF Wholesale Market: Makers and Merchants Discover Community

Vendor Tips with SKUE

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The vibe at the The RCF wholesale market is unlike any other trade show.

Fun, chill and easily walkable. Handmade makers can feel at home. Share wholesale notes with their maker compadres. And meet a different breed of retailer—who not only sell goods, but are also huge evangelists of the handmade movement.

Michele Varian

Michele Varian, for example, started out as a fashion designer. She realized designing for a large fashion brand would mean pigeon holing herself into a narrow set of populist products. That led to starting her own collection and eventually a jewelry and home goods store. Michele Varian in SOHO is home to a collection of 70 jewelers and 100 maker studios.

We were honored to have her come by to check out makers at the fair and also drop some insights on doing business with makers.

“Until the recession, no one wanted to talk about retail margins. It was all proprietary information,” says Michele who is on a mission to bring transparency to the business.

We’ll hear more tips from Michele and few other retailers in the video series ShopTalk which we’ll feature on the RCF blog in the coming months.

Another designer who jumped at the chance to open her own space is Jill Lindsey. Her shop of the same name regularly hosts casual, creative hangouts, from taco parties to wellness workshops.

“Stores can go beyond creating customer experiences and start building community experiences,” says Jill.

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It’s a great way to bring the neighborhood together and promote new designers. Nell and Mary and Goldluxe jewelry were a couple of makers from Jill’s store who had set up booths at the fair.

The event also got a fair amount of representation from neighborhood stores. Bethany Vogel found time to stop by between managing her two stores Wolves Within and Home of the Brave in Greenpoint. She chatted with us about her approach to curating designers.

“We look for consistency. Whether the designer makes jewelry or shoelaces, we should be able to tell that the same designer touched each piece,” says Bethany.

Bethany and her husband have background in creative fields. They put their intuition to good use while finding brands, many local.

Some of the items also struck a chord with retailers. Take for example, these candles by Slow North. They’re plant based, free of phthalates, and petroleum by-products but there’s more.

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“I like the story and packaging. Cork lids seem to be the lid of choice these days. Very cool.” said Zoel Fages of San Francisco store Perch, noting new trends. 

Candles are right up there with jewelry in jostling for consumer mind space. For candles, retailers stack branding above everything else.

“There is so much competition in this product category. The packaging/brand is what gets you into consideration. The consideration of scents comes after that,” says Angela Tsay of Oakland Supply Co

We also got to catch up some of the makers who did the wholesale circuit in SF and Brooklyn. Chen Blume of Blume Studios has a collection of jewelry with deliberate imperfections.

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“Love the design of these — both rough-hewn, handcrafted rocks and interlocking nature of the rings. Would make an adorable gift.” says Sylvia Parker of Magpie

Here’s Chen Blume at her booth with Mom. They work as a duo to design and sell. How cool.

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Tara Silberberg of The Claypot, picked up not one, but three new lines at the wholesale market. She also had the right analogy to describe the relationship between makers and retailers.

“It’s like boyfriend and girlfriend. You have to communicate and keep the relationship fresh,” says Tara. “The retailer is the boyfriend, by the way,” she adds with a wink.

Tara sources from a roster of 300 makers for The Claypot’s two stores, one in Park Slope and a new space in Nolita. She carries forward the independent retail heritage started by her parents twenty six years ago.

Overall we had a great time working with our friends at RCF to bring in a great set of retailers to mingle with makers. The exchange doesn’t stop there. We do monthly buying rounds on SKUE where retailers not only buy but connect with makers and offer feedback. If you are maker who wants to be a part of the community check out the details here. Let’s keep this conversation going.

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Vinit Patil is the co-founder of wholesale marketplace SKUE, where designers do wholesale with the universe’s top indie retailers.

You can follow the cast of buyers featured here on IG: michelevarian,oaksupplyco, perch, theclaypot, jilllindsey, wolveswithin, magpie 

Finding Retail Success: Shop talk with SF’s Finest Retailers

Vendor Tips with Skue

Giselle Gyalzen, Rare Device owner reveals her approach to curating designers.

“I look for makers who go beyond trends,” says Giselle of Rare Device and points to the signs she looks out for, in our chat series ShopTalk, made in collaboration with our friends at RCF.

Three things Giselle points out are longevity, wholesale readiness and a unique spin on an existing category.

We kicked off the series with by inviting eight top rated retailers to the Renegade Wholesale Market to guide emerging designers through their retail journey.

Wayne Whelan, owner of Therapy shares how Therapy maintains an indie vibe in all 11 stores.

While Therapy has grown quickly in the Bay Area, the founding principles are still the same. “Every employee does a two hour interview with Jing (CEO) and I, where we tell them why we started Therapy and what is important to us.”

Unlike the big dogs in retail who are purely guided by scale and distribution, Wayne cares deeply about makers and growing their business.

The common thread between Giselle and Wayne is their commitment to employees. “We think the customer is always right, but really it’s the employee who puts food on our table,” says Wayne.

“I have eight employees. And Rare Device would not be possible without them,” concurs Giselle.

A good thought for makers as they grow their business, hire new apprentices, and maybe someday open their own shops.

Coming up in the series are deep insights from Acacia, Digital Fix, Marion and Rose, SFMOMA, Makers and Moss who touch on a variety of topics like “The Future of Indie Retail” and “Product Development”.

You’ll also hear from more retailers as they visit the RCF Wholesale Market at the Brooklyn Expo Center on May 20th. Heads up, Michele Varian will chat about Designing for Retail and the etiquette necessary to make it happen.

If you are going to be a vendor at the fair, we hope seeing things from the perspective of buyers is helpful. And if you wish to participate in the next online buying round on SKUE (to coincide with our booth presence at the wholesale market), apply here. We hope to have all our fabulous buyers join us!

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Vinit Patil is the co-founder of wholesale marketplace SKUE, where designers do wholesale with the universe’s top indie retailers.

Follow our cast of buyers on IG: marionandrose, makerandmoss, acaciararedevice, therapy, SFMOMA, digitalfix

Fair Prep + Planning, Oh My!

Vendor Tips

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Preparing for your booth presence is one of the most essential components of your participation and it can be a lot of work, too. But, don’t sweat it! We’ve got a handy list of tips and tricks as you begin this exciting process!

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Linesheet Quick Tips

Wholesale Vendor Tips

What is a linesheet and how do I build one?! We’ve had a lot of vendors reach out asking this question and so we whipped up a super simple example to help the process along!
 
 
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Getting Retail Ready: The Art of Presentation

Wholesale Vendor Tips by Skue

 

 

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Between product and customer, your packaging is on the front lines, the last layer in their line of sight before a sale. It’s natural that retailers get obsessive about packaging, an area that’s sometimes overlooked by emerging designers (getting the product right is hard enough, no?)

So what advice do top retail store owners have about packaging? At SKUE, our online wholesale marketplace, we invite indie retailers once a month to share merchandising insights as they source products. We’ll use some of the products from these buying rounds as examples.

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Well hello there, Catalogs

Wholesale Vendor Tips

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There are a lot of necessary elements Makers have to face when embarking in wholesale, and these elements may be daunting at first. We’re here to help! In this next feature in our Handy Wholesale Tools series, we’ll be talking all about catalogs, and get some insider tips.

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To Shoot or Not to Shoot? Product Photography Tips

Wholesale Tools: Part One


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This season we’re developing a Vendor Tips series to help Makers navigate the crazy world of wholesale. In the first part of our series, we’re going to look at product photography – a sometimes stressful topic for new entrepreneurs who are doing everything themselves. In this post Hollin, our Creative Content Manager + Photographer is going to look at some examples of product photography, get some advice from makers and business owners, and offer up some tutorials and resources.

Hello all, Hollin here. First of all, let me say this: product photography doesn’t have to necessarily be a daunting task. Since most of us shoot with our phones almost daily, we’re getting good amounts of practice in. Basically, what I am trying to say is, you don’t have to be a professional photographer to make your goods look professional in your catalog or web-shop.

This year I had the opportunity to speak with Bert and Mimi Kim, a husband and wife duo whose separate businesses have both distinct and beautiful product photography. When I found out that they both shoot their own product photos, I wanted to learn more. Bert recently opened up The Good Liver, a brick and mortar shop in LA specializing in Japanese and European imported home goods. Mimi Kim is a long time RCF Maker who runs the colorful paper goods company, Clap Clap Design.

Why did you decide to shoot your own photos?

MIMI: I studied graphic design and used to take photos during my college years and ​also when I was a graphic designer. So shooting my own photos, especially when I started my own business seemed to be natural. The biggest benefit of ​doing them myself would be that the photos can be completely under my control. ​I can go any way when I do it.

BERT: Our budget was the main reason. I had basic knowledge for taking still life photos so took advantage of that. The result was satisfying and we got to save money, which is always good.




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Explain the style behind your product photos. What are the benefits of using a colored backdrop, vs. white?

MIMI: I think that​ our image shots ​tell what Clap Clap’s style is​. It is whimsical​ and colorful​, so naturally the image shots for our catalog are vibrant and playful.​ ​A colored background allows the photo make a strong vibe depending on the color contrast. I spend a good amount of time choosing a right background color considering what colors were used for each product to evoke whimsical imagery. For my product listings, I use a white background to make it simple and clear so that customers can easily know what they see.

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BERT: Our website’s background color is white. I wanted to frame/differentiate our objects from the white background we had. That’s why I decided to use a colored but not too dominant background. I wanted to take the simplest approach. Capturing the object in whole with detailed shots along with it was the goal. Emphasizing the silhouette of the objects was also something I thought was important. I tried to create a flow with shapes and colors that could harmonize well together on our main shopping page.

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Any advice/resources for those thinking about shooting their own product photos?

MIMI: ​There are so many talented people who take amazing photos out there! Follow them and try to imitate how they approach their products (I do it with my iPhone!). I think that can be a good way to learn. Also, the more you know about lighting, the better the result will be.

BERT: I am not a professional photographer. I approached this task from a designer’s point of view. Keeping things simple and clear is always a good way to communicate with customers.

I absolutely love the different perspectives both Bert and Mimi have on their own approaches to photography and their products. If you’re ready to take a shot (pun intended) shooting your own product photos, here are some basic tips I think will get you on the right track:

Don’t stress about equipment

I’ve definitely been one of those people who wished she had the finest equipment at her disposal. But in all seriousness, an iPhone and natural light can be a couple of your best tools. Don’t let the obstacles of investing in top of the line tech be your reason for procrastination.

Keep it simple

While styled images are always lovely to look at, your product photos should be about highlighting what you make. Keep it simple and practice shooting minimal “laydowns.” Or, if your product requires a different approach, take a look at the next tip

Practice the right angles

Right now, the product photography trend is straightforward or overhead shots. Practice getting the angles just right to focus on your product. Investing in a tripod with a transitioning head will do wonders, I swear. Most importantly, choose the angle that showcases your product best. If that means propping your product up and shooting slightly at an angle, go for it.

Consistency is key!

Try to shoot all your product photos at once, and make sure they look uniform. If you’re using natural light only, be aware of the sunlight and how that will affect the consistency of the brightness of your photos. If that freaks you out, invest in some affordable lighting.

Experiment with Styling

Frequently, shop-owners and consumers will most likely purchase an item if they can visualize it in their own space. If you’ve noticed, lots of brands will provide both a product photo with a clean background as well as a stylized image showcasing the product within a lifestyle setting. One of my personal favorite sites, Food52 does this flawlessly. Just take a look at this one example below:

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Photography by Rocky Luten and James Ransom

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Photography by Rocky Luten and James Ransom

Want more styling inspiration? Take a look at some of Food52’s favorite photos from their in-house studio.

Find your look and stand out!

There are lots of trends in product photography right now. It’s always smart to know what is catching the public’s eye, but don’t be afraid to find your own look! Read this interview featuring Jeni’s photographer, Kelsey McClellan, and see how she turned ice cream into a modern, artful still life with her flash-style, high-contrasted photography.

Jeni's Ice Cream

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Keep your eyes out for product photography you like, pin images on Pinterest or collect photos from Magazines. But remember, it’s all about understanding your own personal style and how it can be portrayed through photography.

Don’t be afraid to hire out

If it’s just not working, the hours are too long, or you’re stressed out to the point of frustration, find a photographer to contract. If you don’t have a lot of money, look into hiring a friend or an acquaintance who is willing to barter. Chances are, someone knows a photographer who’s willing to boost their portfolio.

I hope these tips and examples are helpful to you all. In addition, here are some resourceful tools and tutorials I found that might help bring your product photography to the next level.

Bloglovin’s Lighting Tips + Tricks for Bloggers + Photographers

Shopify’s Guide to DIY Product Photography (Video Tutorial)

Linnea Mae’s 6 Tips for Product Photography

Thanks for tuning into this short list of photography tips for your small business. If you’ve got any questions or tips of your own, feel free to comment below.

Up next: Creating Catalogs!

Getting Retail Ready For Your Favorite Indie Store

Vendor Tips: SKUE

“We’ve been described as Martha Stewart meets David Lynch” says Michael Levy creative director of Paxton Gate, a curiosities store and San Francisco institution with a predilection for the bizarre side of nature. For Andrea and Oscar of Biological Jewels, it was the store of their dreams.

Michael first found their exquisite bug sculptures online at wholesale marketplace SKUE before closing an order in person at the RCF Wholesale Market. We explore how they found the right fit in this latest episode of Made to Last, a film series where we pair emerging designers with top indie retailers.

In the film, the duo pick Michael’s brains on getting retail ready and ways to expand their line. Michael explains that part of it is having pieces in the mix that are less labor intensive and suited for wholesale. It’s also about getting your pricing right and prepping products for the retail floor.

Indie retailers like Michael have a unique perspective on retail readiness which emerging designers can learn from and increase their chances of earning coveted shelf space.

As a part of the series, we introduce makers to stores on SKUE in what we call monthly “Buying Rounds” where makers get rich insights directly from store owners.

Take this candle holder for example, by Sarah Phillips of Loop De Loup. Sarah creates her entire line with from discarded metals, literally turning them into objects of beauty. However, the display could use some help.

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The Scoop on RCF Wholesale Markets

Vendor Tips

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We could not be more pumped for our highly anticipated Spring Fair lineup which includes two Wholesale Markets in both San Francisco and Brooklyn. This marks our second year venturing into wholesale and as the Fairs approach, I sat down with Rachel Dolnick (my Vendor Relations counterpart) to pick her brain as she puts together these events!

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Back to Business!

Vendor Tips

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Hey, there! We’ve probably met or exchanged emails before. I’m Duggan, one of RCF’s Vendor Associates, and this is my blogging debut. I’ll be contributing tips, insights, ideas and inspiration pulled from various makers and beyond. I also freelance as an Illustrator and am frequently faced with my own maker evolution. Here’s to figuring our business growth together!

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Vendor Tips: Top 5 Sales Tips from 5 Makers

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The holiday shopping season is upon us! With the first Renegade Craft Fair of the season kicking off this weekend (and even more fairs happening all around the country), we thought we’d consult some of our Makers whose expertise lies in costumer service. We’ve seen many Makers in action thrive at what some might find incredibly daunting. For those who are shy (me, especially), it can be difficult to talk about oneself and one’s work to strangers. From personal experience, I can say from personal experience that it’s very difficult to not feel weird or gross talking about myself or my work. But fear no more! Here are some top 5 tips from Makers who we’ve seen engage effortlessly with shoppers.

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Jocelyn Nguyen of Nous Savon

  1. I always say hi, how’s it going, or at least make eye contact and smile. I’m genuinely glad to see every person who’s made the effort to come out to the show.  I don’t usually jump into saying anything about my work unless they already look interested.
  2. If a person looks interested, I urge them to try things on. It’s helpful for them, and it’s helpful for me because (as I tell customers all the time) I otherwise have only seen some of the pieces on myself in the studio and that gets old real quick. Plus, with new pieces, I like to see if I’ve gotten the proportions right for the average person. This leads into the next thing:
  3. I bring my tools with me to shows so that I can do simple alterations like shorter chains or extra jump rings or whatnot. People are so endearingly pleased when they realize that a necklace CAN be made to fit them. I don’t balk at changing my designs in this way because every person is different and their proportions are not the same as mine. That said, if someone asks for an alteration I’m not a fan of, I’m honest about it and will probably suggest an alternative.
  4. People really appreciate honesty. It’s not like I drive customers away, but I’m honest about whether I think a piece suits them. I think I get away with it because I have such a wide range of pieces and I’m helllla opinionated so I always have suggestions for other pieces that I think would be great on them.
  5. I have fun at shows. This is possibly just my personality type, but I really like being outgoing and familiar and having fun with folks at shows. The rest of the time you can find me in a cave reading and hiding from the world and recharging (don’t underestimate the need to recharge), but I think it’s just great to meet people who are interested in supporting small designers. I find that sometimes conversations veer wildly away from the work and the customer and I will get on a ridiculous tangent, but it’s fun and shows are a big chunk of my life so I really don’t mind and just enjoy myself. I guess this directly affects sales because customers are comfortable with me, and indirectly because I’m having fun and keeping my energy up so even if the person I just spent ten minutes talking to about the crystal caves in Mexico doesn’t buy anything, I’m in a good mood for the next person coming into the booth, and they really feel that.
  6. Oops I know this is 6, but lastly: display! Have a kickass display that’s distinctive, and that is a representation of your aesthetic that someone can see and take in in one glance.

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Alana Rivera of Etta + Billie

  1. Smile ALL THE TIME. Seriously, this can make the difference between someone deciding to approach your booth or not. Your face might hurt by the end of the day, but it’s worth it.
  2. Stay standing whenever possible. I’ve noticed that people are far more ready to engage with me if we are both at eye level. It can be rough on your back so invest in some good supportive shoes or consider buying one of these stools from Ikea. That way you’ll be at the right height even if you’re sitting down.
  3. Engage with people when they come into your booth. Smile, ask them questions. Get them talking, even if it’s just about the weather.
  4. Take a break, away from the booth every few hours if possible. If you’re able to get a friend to cover for you for even 15 minutes, it can make a big difference in your energy level. You’ll return refreshed and ready to chat it up with customers.
  5. Communicate your Why. Tell them why you do what you do. Tell them about the process, the ingredients, your inspirations. Don’t just try to sell a product. Get signage, photos, etc to help you explain your why.
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Kristen Pomphrey of PF Candle Co.
  1. Look happy, even if it’s slow. Nothing turns off a potential customer like a sour puss – although if you’re smiling maniacally, that might be a turn off too. My happy medium is chatting with a booth mate or neighbor, and if I’m by myself, I’ll busy myself by arranging the booth. Smiling and being happy is sometimes one of those things you have to just DO, and the feeling behind it will come later.
  2. Acknowledge your customers – then allow them to shop. Let them know you’re there if they have any questions, but don’t hover over them. My phrase is “how’s it going! let me know if you have any questions”. Said with a smile of course.
  3. If you like their purse, shoes, bike, dog – tell them! It’s a great way to break the ice and allows them trust your taste more.
  4. Have giant signage that does most of the work for you. In large letters, state what you’re selling and how much it costs. Shoppers can be shy, too, and that way they don’t have to ask you the hard stuff unless they want to.
  5. When you make a sale, be ready for it. One of our keys to success is getting a system down for processing orders – whether it’s two or one of us. Know ahead of time if you’re going to wrap their item, and how you’re going to do it, or if you’re going to ring them out first and then wrap it. I always use checkout to chat customers up, but I make sure to be relatively speedy about it. You don’t want to be Mr. Bean from Love Actually, especially during the holidays.
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Demetria Chappo of Demetria Chappo Ceramics
  1. Have a good time. It’s not necessarily saying ‘hello’ or striking a conversation with every person that comes by, but definitely having a cheerful, pleasant energy and be you. It seems obvious, but of course there are going to be unexpected stresses when you’ve set up storefront in less than two hours.
  2. I consider how I like to shop. Personally, I don’t like to ask for prices, so  labels are important. I also like to make cards with product stories, sometimes just a few words, which can give someone the opportunity to engage or get to know more without having to interact if they prefer to look silently.
  3. Take it in too. There’s a lot you can learn from direct interaction with customers. An unexpected response to a piece could mean adapting how you talk and write about it or give you an idea for future iterations.
  4. You never know who just walked into your booth and where it may lead, especially with many retail buyers and press attending markets. Just as often a customer will tell you about something they think you’d like or an out-of-towner mentions a great shop in their city where they could see your work. I like to keep notes so I can remember names and shops to follow up with later.
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Chris and Paige Lea Curtis of Alibi Interiors
  1. Smile.  Yep, ALL day.
  2. When customers approach, say hi!  Acknowledge their presence, but don’t immediately jump into describing your product or a sales pitch.  If they want to know more, they’ll ask.  I usually say “Let me know if you have any questions or if I can help at all.”
  3. Set up your booth with as much free /walking space as possible.  Create an interesting zone people can come into, rather than a standard table situated up front that they can easily view and just as easily pass by.
  4. Make your space as inviting as possible- don’t crowd the customer, don’t intimidate them by facing your chair directly towards them, give them space, busy yourself with something other than staring at them (but pretending not to) such as re stocking product, re arranging items, supplementing biz cards, etc.  This basically falls under the same category as the advice above!
  5. Have a glass of wine to lighten up!
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If you have some expert tips you want to share with us, comment below or email hollin@renegadecraft.com.

RCF + SKUE presents “Made to Last” Episode 2

MADE TO LAST Episode 2 from SKUE on Vimeo.

What are the struggles of a full time maker? And how does working with retailers create more opportunities for breakout success? In this next episode of maker series “Made to Last” Jeff Goodwin of Krakatoa Design seeks advice from Angela Tsay founder of Oakland Supply Co
“As an emerging designer, you need an idea that’s fresh, you need to keep it fresh but also at a price point that people can afford. We’re definitely here to help.” says Angela. 
Both Jeff and Angela are log time patrons of the Renegade Craft Fair and WSMs and continue their relationship online on SKUE where retailers not only source, but guide emerging designers with retail advice. 
“I’ve been full time for a year now and trying to figure out where there are opportunities for development” asks Jeff, a woodworker with some great products in his portfolio which includes a map series on cork to pin your next outing. 
While the cork maps are doing well at $160, Angela suggests he try a product that can easily sell in the range of $25-65 like a set of four or five cork coasters of city maps. It’s a price point people can afford and easy to include as a sample. 
“That’s also going to help you sign up more retail stores.” says Angela
On a round of feedback to coincide with this wholesale series, buyers from San Francisco and New York were also asked to weigh in with retail tips for other products from Renegade Craft makers. Take for example, another map themed conversation starter by shopjoyo