Thursday, November 27, 2008

Black Friday surprises

I have a few tricks up my sleeve for tomorrow. I'll be a guest at K&F's birthday celebration, and my congo, Venus Vanguard, is also running a Black Friday sale. Not telling what's going to pop up where--or when--but here are a few sneak peeks:

Hope those of you in the U.S. had a happy and delicious Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

listen to Buffett--don't underprice yourself

Like a lot of people who make handmade items, I have often struggled with pricing. Sometimes I'm afraid to charge what I'd earn if I made minimum wage, let alone what I think the item is really worth, for fear of scaring off potential customers.

Last year, I read the best pricing advice I've ever heard. I can't find the link, but the basic concept was to never go for the bargain-minded shopper as your principal sales strategy. There will always be someone new who's willing to sell at a lower price than you--and boom, there go your customers. The bargain hunter is not a loyal customer, and isn't the kind of steady long-term clientele that you want for your business.

I found affirmation of this idea from a surprising source--Warren Buffett. Earlier this month, I read a Wall Street Journal story that interviewed Buffett. This paragraph jumped out at me:

"We do try to buy our businesses like we buy our stocks," Mr. Buffett told me, "and buy our stocks like we buy our businesses." By that he means, among other things, that he wants to understand how the enterprise generates cash, how well-managed it is and whether its customers would stay loyal even if it raised the prices of its goods or services.

There you have it. Unless you're able to make it up on sales volume, you'll never make it in any line of business, handmade or not, if you try to compete on a pricing basis--there are too many other sellers who are willing to take less than you. Go for quality, customer service, honing your own unique style, and figuring out other ways to build customer loyalty--and maybe someday Buffett will invest in you. Hey, you never know.

Monday, November 24, 2008

someday, perhaps I'll remember ...

... that when I use black dye, the dye is at a much higher concentration than the other colors, and will run a lot more. So when I put it in the middle of a skein, it will spread a lot further than the other colors when I wrap it up in plastic to steam it.

Sigh. Someday I'll stop relearning these lessons the hard way.

But maybe this won't be an issue for too much longer. I've been thinking for a while that I'd like to cut down on my use of plastic as much as possible. I recently saw a presentation by the director of the Port Townsend Marine Science Center on the problem of massive plastics pollution in the world's oceans. It was kind of horrifying, actually. The poster child for the problem is the Laysan albatross, where each breeding pair produces one chick a year. The parents fly for many miles in search of food to bring back to their chick, and in recent years, they've been mostly bringing back plastic. A 1994 study autopsied 251 albatross chicks; only six did not have plastic in their digestive system. (Another source says that the most commonly found item is a Bic lighter.) The plastic causes malnutrition of course, since the parents aren't bringing back real food; it also causes blockages that keep the chicks from getting rid of squid beaks and other nondigestibles.

Anyway. I want to cut down on how much plastic I use. I try to be conscious of the packaging of the items that I buy, I reuse ziplocs, etc. I also want to try to do something about how I dye, since my current method of handpainting involves wrapping skeins in plastic wrap before steaming. I was thinking that I might get a steamer pan set, but because each pan has holes, all the skeins would need to be the same colorway and be precisely arranged so that the dye dripping through the holes didn't discolor the skein below. There are those big restaurant chafing dishes, but those are pretty expensive. I could put them in the oven, but I'm trying to get my dyeing work out of the kitchen. Yeah, I'm not sure what the answer is yet.

Friday, November 21, 2008

celebrating Thanksgiving a little early this year

I hear stories about bad things happening to good people. To friends and to strangers alike. And aside from making me terribly sad, it also makes me so very grateful for what I have.

I am thankful for a child who is happy, healthy, funny, compassionate, and loving.

I am thankful for a husband who loves me and supports me in all that I do (or try to do), and whom I love.

I am thankful for parents who gave me so many opportunities.

I am thankful for health insurance that has been adequate for all of our medical needs (so far).

I am thankful for wonderful people who have graced my life with their friendship.

I am thankful for a reliable paycheck and flexible schedule that allow me to pursue my love of dyeing.

I am thankful for the lovely customers who support my business, especially the many who have become my friends as well.

I am thankful for my good health.

I am thankful for the opportunity to live in a beautiful part of the world.

What are you thankful for?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

dye studio progress

I got some really thrilling news this week! For next year's Puget Sound yarn shop tour, one of my yarn lines will be the featured yarn for Apple Yarns. It's going to be fantastic business exposure for me, and to say that I'm excited is a huge understatement.

I'm now in the process of looking for a one-skein pattern that will work with my yarn for the store to hand out. I'm talking with a few designers now, plus I also have a fingerless mitt pattern of my own that might possibly work. When I meet with the store owner, I'd like to offer her a few options to choose from. The rest may become kits, which is an idea I've been wanting to explore for a while.

All this makes converting the garage into a dye studio even more important. Last weekend, we put in a utility sink, which was probably the most labor intensive portion of the conversion. To make the pipes as short as possible, we hooked it up right next to the washer. I used it for the first time today, and noticed immediately that I'll need some sort of adjacent work surface to put dye bottles and such. I like the idea of a cabinet on casters that I can use for storing my bottles and jars of powdered dye.

I'm still working on getting a burner of some sort out there. I was all set to get a portable induction cooktop--I like its smooth heating surface, energy efficiency, quick heating, and the lack of open flame. But then I read that it only works on pots that magnets will stick to. I tested my dye pots, and a magnet will only stick to one. So it's either get new pots or look for something else.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

lighting for my dye studio

It looks like we're going to do some work to our garage to make it into a better dye studio. That's where I do all my handpainting, and now that daylight hours in Washington are shrinking to about four in a day, the first order of business is better lighting, with or without other improvements.

I went to Home Depot today to look at what they have. The cheapest option would be one of those 4" panel work lights with two long skinny bulbs. They're typically fluorescent, but they also come in daylight versions. I wasn't sure which of the many available bulbs would work best; it might take some experimenting to figure it out.

Another option, which I liked better, was halogen work lights. We already have a dual work light with a stand; those lights have 500 watt bulbs, which I find blinding. I think two lights with lower wattages (150w, maybe), one at each end of my table, might work.

Tonight, I stumbled onto Ott-Lites. Now this looks like the ticket--designed for handwork, intended to show true colors at night. The bulbs appear to be far more energy efficient than halogen bulbs, which is a big plus. I like the Craft Plus floor lamp the best, since it's got the highest wattage and seems to provide the most coverage. The catch? It's $170 plus shipping. Joann's is currently out of stock, but if this baby is eligible for their 50% coupons, I'm going to snap one up when they're available again. I should check the local store, too, just in case.