Thursday, September 26, 2013

Evolution of a Key Chain - A Metaphor for A Micro-Business

One of the privileges (and curses, lol) of being a handmade seller running your own micro-business is that you get to wear every imaginable hat day in and day out.  Like it or not, to do this successfully, you have to have a good working knowledge of what you actually make plus photography, suppliers, pricing structures, material costs, labor costs, shipping costs, marketing and promotion, online venues and fees, trends, the postal service, product packaging, payment processing, taxes, and the actual understanding that there are only 24 hours in a day...period.  Some days it's invigorating to wear fourteen different hats and other days, you'd prefer to hole up in your studio and just make what you make and ignore all of those headless hats screaming at you to return to the camera or the key board....

Sometimes, though, it works the other way.  Your shop is running well; you've got a decent mastery of the required skill sets; you're no longer scared of all the hats swirling above your skull everyday.  It's often in those moments when the spooky wail comes from your studio or your garage or wherever your doo-dads wait patiently to become what you'll make them.  "We want to be something more..."

Such is the case with my newest key chain, the four layer personalized key chain.  I've been selling my popular three layer for about four years.  It even evolved into a two smaller pieces - a two layer mini key chain and a standard two layer key chain.  From there, it became a bunch of different necklaces.  About two years ago, I began to get inquiries for a four layer key chain.  I was so happy making my three layers, that I resisted.  "Double up the names," I said, "There's plenty of room on a three layer."  "Besides," I thought, "If I go to four layers, I'm just going to have to go to five, then six, then the key chain will weight so much that someone's pants will fall down when they toss their keys in their pocket." Slippery slope avoided.

Well, sometimes people just want what they want.  I'm certainly that way (x 100), and about half the time, inquiries for a four layer would be happy with a three layer and half the time they'd just go away.  Finally, I decided that that's just stupid--letting people walk away.  I mean, come on! (That sentiment came from one of the other hats that I  must have accidentally worn into the studio one day.  (Probably Marketing.  He's really bossy like me.)

Now, I know what you're thinking.  Seriously, how hard can it be to add another layer?  Well, I'll tell you.  To add another layer, meant finding a disc that I liked in the right finish and the right gauge and that sat equidistant from the other discs.  It meant really thinking about pricing because the amount of text you can conceivably put on that fourth layer could really drive up the labor cost, and there is no money in this business if you don't get real about your labor costs.  It meant mastering the delicate balance between product pricing and product value. A product priced above it's perceived value can sit and collect dust; a product priced below it's perceived value will sell like lemonade in a desert and when you make each piece one by one and to order as I do, that demand will chase you down and run you over.  It meant making sure I had the right tools already to dome that disc when I finished with it or if I needed to buy another dapping block.  It meant thinking hard about demand.  Had it been a hundred people who'd asked me for a four layer over the years or just ten that I really remember well?  So, I pondered and did some experimenting in my studio, did some cost and availability research.  And after a lot of banging, behold the four layer key chain!

And after I was done, I realized that (a) I should've done it a long time ago but bygones, blah, blah, blah, and (b) that it was really fun to make!  This concept that I'd been dreading for some dumb reason came out better than I imagined. The weather outside was perfect for photography that day. And the possibilities are truly endless with four layers.  It gives customers a chance to personalize AND have room for a favorite quote or lyric or bible verse, motto, etc.  It's not too heavy, and you're purse straps won't break.  It's actually quite harmless and kind of pretty, I think.  So since I loved it so much, I went back and deconstructed and let it become every other type of key chain I sell as you see throughout this post.  I think it's already earned it's keep!  

So now, we see if it sells.  If it does, fabulous!! If it's a slow-starter, that's okay because I like to just look at it, this silly thing I was afraid of. I guess it showed me, huh?  It's just like the way you grow a tiny business, isn't it?  Layer by layer, bit by bit, until you realize one day, hey! I've actually made something pretty nifty here.  Indeed, key chain, indeed.

More soon,

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