Thursday, July 23, 2009

Name That Niche-Understanding Your Place in the Handmade Market

If you’re trying to sell something, I hope you’ve figured that people will buy anything if you can brand it and market it right. If the bottled water market isn’t proof of that, I don’t know what is. Oh wait, yes I do. The diamond market. If you’re married and a woman and happen to have a diamond engagement ring on your finger, you can thank De Beers for that because a diamond is forever is one of the most brilliant, long-lasting, and lucrative advertising campaigns in the world. It was launched prior to The Great Depression and is still going strong. The art of selling is to make everyone think they don’t just want what you’re selling, they need it.

Now, you can take the idea of need and stretch it in all different directions—sort of like silly putty. Some people need to shop on Etsy because it’s trendy to them, and they feel fabulous when they buy handmade. Others need to buy one of a kind gifts to get that buzz. There’s probably a buyer out there who’s on a personal mission to buy something from every shop on Etsy. (We need to find her, don’t we?) So your job as a shopkeeper is to create a product and a shop that fulfills a need.

For instance, my niche is jewelry, but more specifically the joke or sentiment behind the jewelry. People come into my shop because they see something they like, but they often stay and/or buy because of the verbage or idea that comes with it. This is one of my favorite pieces. It’s called Tin Man Autopsy.

"It appears," the medical examiner said with a perplexed look on his face,
"That someone with bright red shoes stomped righ
t on his heart."

"I knew it," said Scarecrow. "I knew it all along."

"Yeah, right," mumbled Lion, "You've had a brain for what? A week?"

People loved that pendant, but they loved the story that goes with it even more because every time someone says, “Hey, I like your necklace,” they can tell them the story. Many of my pieces have a more sentimental aspect to them. I like to think of them as greeting cards you can wear. For example:
Hang In There
Your lily pad might be just around the pond.

A niche is defined as ‘distinct segment of the market.’ Now it wasn’t like there was a segment of the jewelry market just hanging out waiting for Risky Beads to come along; I had to carve my own niche and so do you. I can’t tell you what your niche is, only that you truly have to explore it, try it on, walk around in it, and decide what feels good to you. Your niche might be a very obvious one like mine or a more personal one that guides the design and feel for your shop in the background. Don’t feel like it has to be a neon sign that smacks people on the head when they click on your shop. It can be subtle. Think of how many successful soap makers there are on Etsy. A ton! And I find a new one every day that’s been around for a year and is brand new to me. Now, how many niches can you have for soap? After all, there are hundreds of soap sellers on Etsy and not nearly enough niches to go around, right? Wrong!

I challenge you to grab pen and paper right now, open another browser window and pick five soap shops at random that have at least 300 or more sales. Write down the name of each shop and then your first impression of it and a couple of adjectives to describe it. Once you're finished, look down at your list. You have five distinctly different shops there, don't you? Do the same thing with jewelry. You'll see it again.

The point of that exercise is to prove that you can have many shops selling similar products each with their own take on their segment of the market and therefore successful in their own right. One thing that all of those successful soap shops had in common besides the fact that they sell soap, is their commitment to their vision and their niche. It just goes to show you that if your niche is consistent, your customers will feel it and will want to browse in your shop. Even if they don’t buy, they might put your work in a Treasury or mention it to their friends or blog about it. All exposure is good exposure.

Finally, respect the brand you’ve created. Don’t flaunt it or super-size it. If you don’t feel like you have a brand yet, that’s okay. Don’t make one up just for the hell of it because it won’t work. Ask yourself what it is about your shop and what you sell that gives your shop an edge. Sometimes you have to sell for a while until you feel your brand come through. When I started selling, I didn’t know that each piece was going to have a story or poem or saying with it; it developed as my shop concept developed. The more I pieces I created, the more I realized how much more fun I had making pieces that needed therapy rather than just making ‘pink earrings.’ I could care less about pink earrings. But Frosting? Now that’s another matter altogether:

Every time you put that apron on, I want to lick your spoon.

Pale pink earrings that remind me of seduction and sugar? Delicious! And sold!


This article is an excerpt from my book How To Make It Small When You're Trying to Make It Big. Register for the Handmade Highway ($5) and the book is yours for an additional $5 for a limited time. You can learn about the Handmade Highway here. Read previous excerpts from this book: How to Write Good Copy.


  1. So true! I love my Tin Man Autopsy and I love showing people different items of yours that remind me of them :) Your branding is full of cute, and actually reminds me of something I read once about "Brand Charisma" - I think you'll find it interesting! (I'll send it to you via Twitter, because blogspot won't let me copy/paste.)

  2. Love the advice and I love what you do with the names of your pieces.

  3. Great post and lovely jewelry! I like the stories behind them as well!