Marketing a handmade business can be done successfully using both online and offline strategies. And since there are thousands of handmade business owners out there, I recently interviewed a few of them to see what’s working and what’s not when marketing their products.
Where I Interviewed Three Handmade Business Owners
To track down some stand-out handmade business owners, I attended a gigantic local craft show here in Northeastern PA, the 35th Annual Covered Bridge Festival, hosted at Knoebels Amusement Park in Elysburg, PA.
This 4-day event, hosted by the Columbia Montour Visitors Bureau, offers over 380 handmade business vendors and 38 food vendors the first full weekend of October. Crafters and small business owners vie for the limited vendor spots each year because the fair itself draws a crowd of thousands of happy, eager-to-buy shoppers.
I’ve been attending the event as one of those eager-to-buy shoppers for a few years now, tagging along with my mom and her best friends. We look forward to the event for what seems like the entire year, fantasizing about all the things we’ll buy and all the food we’ll eat. (#ProTip: the chicken gyros and Penn State Creamery ice cream – absolute must-haves.)
This year was quite different though. Well, not the craft-buying or the food-consumption, but the extra activity I threw into the day’s agenda; I decided to interview a few key vendors at the show to dive into their businesses, their products, and their marketing strategies.
As I perused the hundreds of booths, I was looking for stand outs. I wanted to speak to vendors that presented their products in a unique way and/or simply drew me in with their overall vibe.
With so many vendors in one place, it can be easy for a vendor booth to get lost in the crowd. The three handmade business owners that I spoke to, though, certainly and delightfully stood out to me.
Without further adieu, let me introduce you to these three stand-outs.
The Handmade Business Owners
I first spoke with Gaia Darling, the owner of Gaia Darling Jewelry Design. Gaia designs and hand-makes gemstone jewelry built to be beautiful and to last. In our chat, Gaia told me that she had been making jewelry since she was a little girl, playing with beads that found themselves at her mother’s feet as she constructed clothing and costumes. Gaia’s love for gems and jewelry continued throughout her childhood, as her German grandmother would send trinkets and treasures to her from Europe. In adulthood, Gaia worked in a jewelry production studio for five years before taking her jewelry design business full time. Even as a brand new acquaintance, I could see Gaia’s pure joy and passion she had for her artwork. She takes pride in every single piece she constructs, making sure each connection and chain is perfectly secure, as well as beautiful.
I next got to speak with Jessalynn Heydenreich, the owner of Handmade by Jessalynn. Her medium is high-quality yarn that she perfectly crochets into boutique-like pieces for all ages. On Jessalynn’s racks, you’ll rarely find two things that look alike, as each piece is meticulously and uniquely crafted. She crochets and sells everything from blankets to mermaid tails and even “beard hats.” In my chat with her, I found that as a mom of two young children, she began crocheting just three years ago. She works full time and is an engineer by trade, so the designing and crocheting of perfectly-portioned apparel feels like a fun challenge for her.
Finally, I spoke with EunJin Newkirk, who co-owns Newkirk Honey with her husband, Jason. The Newkirks offer honey products, harvested from their 200-hive honey bee farm. The seeds of their family-owned honey business were planted way back when Jason had the opportunity to work at his neighbor’s commercial bee farm. While Jason was learning the ropes and the honey bee industry, he was developing a love for beekeeping but a disdain for the commercial use of the bees. Once Jason and EunJin married, they decided to start their own bee farm in the mountains of Northeastern PA, where the farm could stay small (approximately 200 hives), the bees could be treated as nature intended, and the product could be of highest quality. Today, Jason keeps the bees, while EunJin manages the business. They sell their products in various locations across the Northeast, from boutique shops to Whole Foods. As the business has grown. the Newkirks have stayed intentional in keeping a sustainable bee farm, using sustainable products, even down to the jars and labels their honey products are packaged in, and maintaining an affordable price for their loyal customers.
Find EunJin and Jason Newkirk:
The Three Best Practices in Marketing a Handmade Business
Through talking with these three handmade business owners, each of them had an intriguing story of how and why their business got started, as well as helpful tips on how to market a handmade business. I’ve compiled them here in a list of the top three from our conversations.
Stories from the heart sell handmade products.
What drew me into Gaia’s booth first was her smart display of delicately placed jewelry. What KEPT me in her booth was the story she was telling another customer about a specific necklace the woman was interested in. Because Gaia takes incredible pride in her artwork, she also takes the time to curate special gemstone pieces for her collection, knowing the background story of almost everything in her shop. Being able to describe the background story of that piece to a customer made the jewelry unique, genuine, and a must-have for the woman.
Whether you sell handmade products or not, this is an important lesson. To take a customer out of the here-and-now and transport them either back in time to the product’s unique history AND/OR into the future to how the customer’s life will be changed if they purchase the product is one of the most powerful sales tactics known to mankind. Paint the positive picture and that vision sells the product.
Quality products are the backbone of a handmade business.
All three handmade business owners took pride in the products they offered, not just because they had put time and effort into them, but because they had put intentional, careful, meticulous time and effort into them.
Gaia wants her pieces of art to be worn, so she takes extra time to ensure every joint and connection of her jewelry is secure. Jessalynn, with her engineering background, appreciates symmetry, so she weaves (well, crochets) that meticulous edge into every piece. EunJin and Jason understand the nature of their farm and work tirelessly to maintain it for the good of their bees, the environment, and their customers.
Presentation allows your handmade product to stand out in a crowd.
Whether a handmade business is showing up on social media, on their website, on an Etsy shop, in a boutique storefront downtown, or a crowded craft show, there will be absolutely no shortage of competition at every turn. To stand out and catch people’s attention, your products must be smartly displayed, according to your brand.
Gaia’s jewelry was not displayed on mainstream wire racks she found on Amazon, but on a brilliant mix of antique display tables, boxes, and backdrops.
Jessalynn’s booth did not boast multiples of every product, but rather one or two unique pieces, keeping the entire display special and boutique-like.
EunJin and Jason’s honey products weren’t packaged in the typical oval-shaped honey jars with shades of browns and oranges all over the labels, but rather in cylindrical jars with modern, clean, black and yellow labels.
In conclusion, a handmade product must be of high-quality, offer a unique story, and be presented in a way that speaks well to the business’s brand. But first and foremost, at the heart of every successful handmade business, is a handmade business owner that loves nothing more than to offer his or her creative and genuine genius to their customers.