7 Stages of Handmade Business Growth

7 Stages of Handmade Business Growth - How we grew Kitsch 'n Whimsy from art shows to online. A great resource for any handmade entrepreneur, with advice on the different revenue avenues.

As an outsider looking in, it can be easy to assume that any well known business was an overnight success. If you have a business in it early stages, this belief can be extremely discouraging.

However, the fact is that overnight business success rarely happens. As  many entrepreneurs will tell you, building a business takes a lot of blood, sweat, tears, and time.

Our story is no different.

Today, I am sharing the 7 stages of business growth for Kitsch ‘n Whimsy and the lessons we learned along the way. We hope to help you discover the different business avenues you can explore and to provide encouragement for you along your own business journey.

The 7 Stages of Kitsch ‘n Whimsy’s Business Growth

Stage 1: Trunk Shows and Home Parties

This first stage of our business journey took place before aprons were ever in the picture. In fact, it transpired LONG before I was ever even part of the company! (I think I was about 6 years old at this point)!

To help bring income into our household of five, my mother – Jodie – started her own kids clothing business. She designed handmade clothes for children, made samples, and held home parties – or trunk shows – for her friends.

After taking orders at the trunk shows, she hand-made the clothes and delivered the products to her customers. She also focused on booking additional trunk shows with the customers who purchased from her.

At the time, selling clothes at a trunk show was a fairly new idea. Matilda Jane was just starting out and Lularoe didn’t even exist yet. However, they went over EXTREMELY well and exploded her business.

Unfortunately, Jodie felt so overwhelmed with the success of her business that she decided to close up shop. She never regretted having the children’s clothing business. In fact, her experience of business success gave her the confidence to try entrepreneurship again, 10 years later!

Trunk Show Takeaways

  1. Trunk shows can be a good way to gain proof of concept for your product.
  2. Only take as many orders as you can handle. Go to a show with a predetermined number of orders you will take. That way, you can tell the customers upfront. PLUS, this can create a sense of urgency and help you make more sales as well.
  3. Trunk shows are a great place to sell one-of-a-kinds. You can use up your leftover supplies to create these!

Stage 2: Art Shows

After 10 years had passed, Jodie decided to try her hand at handmade entrepreneurship once again. Her children were all grown, which made it easier to get work done without distractions.

Since the kids were out of the handmade clothing stage, Jodie decided to focus new types of products. She turned her attention to creating kids bedroom decor, taking inspiration from decorating each of our rooms!

My mom went to work creating all kinds of wonderful bedroom decor items for us. She made everything from upholstered dressing screens and stools to laundry hampers and photo boards, plus so much more. Our friends loved our handmade bedroom decor so much, it inspired her to turn it into a business.

Jodie was nervous about returning to trunk shows and taking orders again. So, she decided to go the route of art shows and selling ready-made items instead. She had a LOT to learn about art show selling! However, Jodie found that selling this way proved to be fairly lucrative.

Best of all, selling at these shows helped us discover and define our business niche of today!

For a couple of years, our business thrived on art show income… until the popularity of online shopping surfaced. Then everything changed.

Art Show Takeaways

  1. Art shows are a great place to test out your products.
  2. Selling at art shows can give you opportunities to talk with your target market. You can use these opportunities to find out what they want and what they need.
  3. In today’s online world, it is very difficult to make a living selling only at art shows. We recommend having a few streams of income instead.

Stage 3: Creating Our Own Website

In 2008, we started seeing the decline in art show sales and our target market moving to online shopping. At this point, we decided it was time to build our own website.

Online shopping was pretty new at this time, and website developers were expensive! So we decided to create the website on our own!

We built our own e-commerce website from the ground up. After getting our shop all set up, we simply waited for the sales to roll in…

Have you ever heard the saying, “Just because you build it, doesn’t mean they will come?” Well, this was certainly true for us.

We continued to sell at art shows, but couldn’t find any sales momentum online. That is until Etsy showed up! After giving it a good go-around, we closed up our website and migrated our business to Etsy instead.

Website Creation Takeaways

  1. You don’t have to spend a ton of money OR be a graphic designer to design a website.
  2. Maintain other streams of income when exploring new revenue avenues.
  3. Just because you build it, it doesn’t mean they will come. You will need to invest time and/or money in order to get people to come to your site.

Stage 4: Etsy

Creating a shop on Etsy was a no-brainer for us. We loved the fact that Etsy was all about handmade products! The fact that they already had a built in audience and an easy set-up process was also sold us.

After joining the site in 2009, we never looked back! Today, we are one of the top apron sellers on the site. Also, we are able to make enough money to support one full-time income, without participating in art shows.

Up until 2014, we exclusively sold on Etsy. However, when I joined the company full-time in 2014, we needed to find additional ways to make sales. Even if that meant going back to art shows again.

Etsy Takeaways

  1. Etsy is a better way to start selling online because they have an audience built in.
  2. As a result of Etsy’s increasing popularity, some markets are much more saturated now. This includes the apron market!
  3. Etsy is what we call “rented ground”. This means the Esty developers choose who is and is not seen in the searches based on their algorithms. It is wise to now sell in more places than just one. That way, you can regain some sense of control over your sales and marketing.

Stage 5: Building a New Website - Take 2

Over time, Etsy has become more and more saturated in almost every niche – including aprons. We found our sales plateauing and we felt like we weren’t getting enough eyeballs on our products.

Just over a year ago, we decided to build our own website once again. This gave us more control over our space and allowed us to sell our products without paying listing fees. We could also use our blogs to position ourselves as experts in our niches.

We still sell our products on Etsy, but now we have our own branded space as well. Ultimately, the longer we are in business, the more importance we see in having multiple streams of income. This includes Etsy, our own website, social media, and more.

Website - Take 2 Takeaways

  1. Building your own website is easier today than it has ever been.
  2. Don’t place your business on “rented ground”.
  3. Your website gives you the opportunity to place yourself as an expert in your market.

Stage 6: Art Shows - Take 2

We feel today as though our business has come full circle. After I joined the business in 2014, we knew we needed to amplify our business to support us both.

The only way we knew how to do this was by returning to art shows.

Now, we use art shows for more than just selling. We approach art shows from an angle of selling, marketing, networking, and list building.

This change in mindset has allowed us to make a stronger presence at the shows we attend. It has allowed us to make more connections, sell more, and increase our visibility – all wins in our book!

We have also learned how important it is to be fully branded, to have a sales focus, and a booth design that truly wows.

Returning to art shows was a hard but smart decision for us. This year, we are excited about further increasing our show attendance and seeing the additional benefits that will come.

Art Show - Take 2 Takeaways

  1. Brand your booth. You will look more professional and stand out from the competition.
  2. Niche down. Focus your sales goals and product lines so people will know exactly what they are looking at and buying.
  3. Use shows to market and list build. These are your warmest buyers and people you can guide into becoming raving fans.

Stage 7: The Future & Forecasting

Looking into the future of our company, we see the importance and potential for additional streams of income. We are looking at becoming part of Amazon Handmade, possibly getting on Ebay, and developing new super niches. (Birthday Party Aprons & Costume Aprons.) Furthermore, we are working to create streams of passive income as well.

We are excited for the future of Kitsch ‘n Whimsy! However, we understand that Kitsch ‘n Whimsy’s future is only possible because we defined our WHO and our WHY. It took us many years to develop our brand and give our company a strong base. Now, Kitsch ‘n Whimsy has a firm foundation on which to stand and to move into the future.

The Future & Forecasting Takeaways

  1. Multiple Streams of Income = More Eyes on Your Business = More Sales
  2. Different types of products (physical and passive) can give you more opportunities to sell to the same buyers.
  3. Define your purpose and develop your brand to give your business a strong foundation from which to grow.

Kitsch ‘n Whimsy had to go through many stages and many years to get where we are today. We were not an overnight success.  In fact, we are still striving to be even more successful than we are now.

Wherever you are on your business journey, I want to encourage you to persevere and try new things. Remember always, you are doing something really important! You are already successful in our book for having the courage to build your own business, handmade or not. Keep on striving for success and  you will get there!

Do you have a business of your own? What stages have you gone through?

If you are looking for the next steps to take in defining your business concept or getting your business started, check out the further reading suggestions below. We would love to help answer your questions or encourage you on your entrepreneurial journey! Please let us know how we can do that by leaving us a comment below or email us at [email protected]

-Krystal (& Jodie)

P.S. We would love to see you TONIGHT (Monday, February 27th @ 6pm) on our Facebook Live session. In our Facebook Live session, will dive in on a couple of these stages and answer some of our reader’s questions. We hope to see you tonight!

Further Reading

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