(YoungBiz.com) - When he was 13, Kenny Kirkpatrick made an impulse purchase that lead to a thriving business for the now 20-year-old. "I saw an ad in a woodworking catalog for kits to make pens," he explains. "I just tried it for fun and then got really involved."
Kirkpatrick, who is from Wood River, Nebraska, was already well on his way to a career when he ordered the kit, having taken woodworking as part of a local 4-H program. Within two years of the fateful purchase, he had earned $1,000 in profits from pen sales and expanded his line to include wooden tree ornaments, key chains, magnifying glasses and letter openers.
The holiday season is an especially good time for those who have, or want to start, their own craft business. Shoppers are always looking for handmade wares to make their gift-giving a little more personal. Just ask Kelly Roach, the 13-year-old owner of Beadie Buddies in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Roach started the business when she was 9, crafting small animals made of colorful beads that her customers use as decorations.
It started as a onetime money-making venture. "I wanted to make some money to buy my mom a birthday present," she explains. But after about a year in business, Kelly expanded her line to tackle the holiday market by selling Christmas ornaments.
For the same reason, Kirkpatrick hit upon the idea of personalizing his pens. Customers can request birthstone pen tips or metal pocket clips that have a variety of sports, medical or musical symbols. He can also engrave the pens.
After Kirkpatrick and Roach hit upon successful ideas, they had to find some crafty ways to market their products. Roach initially found that word-of-mouth helped a lot; classmates, relatives from other states, as well as her friends from around the world were all enlisted to help spread the news. The orders came pouring in, so much so that Roach recruited friends to help her make Beadie Buddies for a share of the profits.
Not satisfied with word-of-mouth sales, Roach pounded the pavement and struck a deal with Sylvan Learning Center. "They have a store where you can buy things with tokens," she says of the agreement. "I sell Beadie Buddies for 25 tokens and I get to keep the tokens and buy other things."
She also sells her creations to her local F&M Bank, which they use as prizes for the members of Moolah Moolah, their savings club for kids.
Kirkpatrick tried a couple different marketing strategies before he hit on one that worked for him. "At first I tried to sell my pens at craft shows," he says, "but that was the wrong market. I had to get into it deeper to find the real market."
After some searching, Kirkpatrick discovered Grow Nebraska, an organization that helps promote small business in the state. While participating in one of their trade shows, Kirkpatrick was able to network with wholesalers from Hallmark stores, as well as from gift stores specializing in Nebraska products. "They were more my market," he says.
At the same time, a sales representative contacted Kirkpatrick about selling his products for him. She wanted 20 percent commission on each sale, which he thought was a good deal since she could travel farther and make more sales calls than he could. Having someone else do the selling also gave Kirkpatrick more time to concentrate on manufacturing and filling orders.
Other Ways to
If you, like Kirkpatrick and Roach, have a flair for creating, but aren't quite sure how to market your product, here are some ideas.
1. Independent sales representatives. While larger companies employ their own sales reps, smaller manufacturers, like Kirkpatrick, usually can't afford the salaries and commissions these reps typically command. Independent sales reps, however, are self-employed, work for several small manufacturers and work on a commission-only basis. If you think an independent sales rep is right for you, you can often find them at trade shows catering to wholesalers as well as retailers. Or contact the United Association of Manufacturers' Representatives at (949) 240-4966 or the Bureau of Wholesale Sales Representatives at (800) 877-1808.
2. Consignment agreements. This is similar to the method Roach used to sell her products. Gift stores, boutiques and other small shops often like to carry products made by local craftspeople, so pack up some samples and offer to split the profits with them on a commission basis.
3. Craft shows. Watch your local paper for notices or ask your local Chamber of Commerce about upcoming shows. Pay careful attention to how much booth rental fees are and stick to the ones that are $25 or less. Ask a friend, parent or sibling to help out in case you get really busy.
4. Flea markets. Similar to craft shows, flea markets have an advantage because they are typically open year-round, tables or booths are pretty inexpensive, and it's the easiest way for a young craftsperson to have a permanent location. You may have to sign a contract, and, if so, you may need your parents to co-sign.
5. Individual sales. Door-to-door selling may not sound very exciting, but it can be a good way to garner good word of mouth about your product. Before you embark, consider these tips:
- Create some nifty business cards and leave them everywhere you visit.
- Use a briefcase or portfolio to carry one sample of each of your products, and take orders for delivery at a later time. This will not only keep you from having to lug around tons of stuff, but you won't have to carry lots of cash either.
- For safety reasons, stick to offices and neighborhoods you are familiar with, and have a parent or friend go with you.
- Make a note of holiday and gift-buying seasons and start selling early. For the Christmas season, starting right after Halloween would not be too soon.
- Dress appropriately and wear comfortable shoes!