Step 12: Live And Learn

Proudfoot Wearable Art

Judy Proudfoot

"The greatest lesson I've learned while in business is never to second-guess customers," explains Judy Proudfoot, 45, who designs and sells handpainted clothing items in and around her town of Alexandria, Minnesota. "For me, this means asking customers what they like and will pay money for rather than going by what I like and getting stuck with tons of stock I can't sell."

Soon after she launched her business in 1995, Proudfoot prepared to sell her items at a weekend teachers' workshop, painting 100 sweatshirts sporting the event's theme: "Imagine . . ."

"I was just sold on the design I'd created for the event, so I really stocked up on it. It was a rainbow wash on a white sweatshirt, featuring a navy blue castle with lots of glitter. I just knew it would be a wonderful shirt for the teachers to buy and wear in their classrooms. I was so sure the design would be a bestseller that I made all 100 items with the exact same design, on the exact same color sweatshirt," Proudfoot reflects. So just how many sweatshirts did she sell that weekend? "Three. I've been trying to get rid of them ever since. After two years, I still have 20 of them left, which is startling because I've been selling them for only $10 each. The regular selling price for my sweatshirts is $35."

Since then, Proudfoot has been listening to what her customers--and sales figures--are telling her. "It makes no difference how much I like a design if nobody is going to buy it," she states. "Now, when somebody is buying a design from me, I ask them why they chose that particular design instead of others, or instead of the same design with different coloration. That gives me a clearer picture of what the customers' needs and preferences are.

"The other thing I've learned to do is analyze my stock sheet after I've participated in a major crafts show to see what the customers are buying," Proudfoot explains, "and I go by that when creating future designs."

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This article was originally published in the May 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Step 12: Live And Learn.

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