Imagine you’re heading to a craft fair and are looking for a knitted scarf to go with your new cream winter jacket.
You spot two vendors selling knitted goods.
One has scarves in a variety of colors, folded in rows on the table. You think you see a couple of colors you might like but then you spot the second vendor…
Their display instantly catches your eye as you see 2 very clear looks:
- A soft muted collection with cream, blush pink and a light heather grey
- A collection with rich, deep colors; a rusty brown, mustard yellow, and burgundy
You can immediately imagine how great one of the soft colors would look paired with your new coat and are able to see how the scarf hangs as it’s shown 2 different ways on bust forms. Although you weren’t in the market for a new hat or mittens, they look so great displayed together and you really want to complete the look.
This is the power of creating collections.
The first vendor may have had all the colors the second vendor had but the look wasn’t communicated to the shopper in a way that got them to visualize an item in their wardrobe.
This is a mistake that too many handmade business owners make when creating new products.
They often create whatever comes to mind without a clear vision of the end goal, who the item is for, and how they’re going to showcase it online, at a craft fair or in a boutique.
Here’s how you can use product collections to your advantage.
HOW PRODUCT COLLECTIONS BOOST SALES ONLINE & OFF
As explained in the scenario above, collections are extremely helpful when it comes to creating a professional-looking display at craft fairs, grabbing shoppers’ attention, and communicating a message to them.
Collections create separation on your table and allow you to play with line and composition to guide the shoppers’ eyes around your space, getting them to notice each piece, without becoming overwhelmed. Check out the Line & Composition section of this article for a better understanding of how effectively they can be used.
When it comes to selling your handmade products wholesale, through retailers, having well-thought-out collections will not only help you sell your products to retailers, it’s going to make their job easier when displaying them in their store.
It also helps with sales when you aren’t around to explain your product’s vision or purpose to each shopper.
Website or Social Media
This same scenario works online too. If you visit 2 websites or social media pages and one has every color of the rainbow posted while the other has grouped products by collections when photographing and posting, the shopper is going to find what they’re looking for faster or fall in love with a look that you’ve created and be able to visualize themselves wearing it.
Have a read over this article for a list of ways you can help shoppers imagine themselves using your products, which vastly increases your chances of a sale.
HOW MAJOR RETAILERS USE PRODUCT COLLECTIONS TO BOOST SALES
When I worked as a merchandiser for a major retailer, several times throughout the year I would receive their for-employee-eyes-only lookbook. It was honestly really exciting to rip open that package and flip through a huge book showing us the new collections and items that were going to be hitting the stores soon.
There was a ton of thought put into each collection and the lookbook was created so employees understood the collections as fully as the people who created them.
After the new lookbook arrived, it was then the merchandiser’s job to display each piece in the collection together, and in a way that helped communicate to shoppers the exact vibe, vision, and purpose of the collection, without saying a word.
The goal was to have shoppers walk into a store, see a clear separation of collections, and understand how to wear each look. They would also instantly pick up on which pieces were the “must-haves” for the season and those items would sell the quickest.
There may be the first 15 feet on the right side of the store set up for the women’s office attire. The section was full of suits, high-waisted skirts, and sleeveless shirts to wear under blazers. The bust forms would be dressed to show the key pieces and how to accessorize. It if was fall, the color scheme may be deep colors mixed with black and grey.
Walking further into the store, there would be a fitting room or pillar to divide the wall sections and the next collection may be boho chic with earth tone colors, drapey fabrics, and leather and lace accents.
You could stand at the front of the store and know exactly where to head based on what you were shopping for that day, or based on your style. There was no wondering which top you would pair with a bottom you picked out or what type of handbag would go with the look. Everything was grouped together and made shopping extremely easy.
Although you may not have as much stock as a retail store, be creating as many collections, or have as much space, you can still take the key principles of collections and apply them to your handmade business.
BENEFITS OF PRODUCT COLLECTIONS
- Clearly communicates a look/vibe to the shopper – they see the look instantly and don’t have to look around to find the puzzle pieces that fit together.
- Makes selling a breeze – you don’t have to explain to each shopper what your vision was and how to wear the look/display it in their home/the purpose of your products.
- Adds more value to your items – shoppers place more value on products that are displayed properly. It’s the reason large retailers pay a full-time employee to ensure their stores look great and why boutiques can put a higher price tag on items than stores that require you to rummage through products.
- Makes displaying easier – when you create collections you have an end vision for them and you know what gets grouped together. It’s like having a clear path mapped out on a road trip as opposed to coming to a stop sign and guessing whether you should go left or right.
HOW TO MAKE PRODUCT COLLECTIONS WORK FOR YOUR HANDMADE BUSINESS
Think of your craft fair booth or website as that retail store. You don’t want to overwhelm shoppers with everything you have to offer. You want to guide them through a story and show them what to focus on first by putting your important pieces in the spotlight and creating a trail for them to follow.
This can be done easily on a website by breaking your collections and products into sections and pages.
Although you have limited space at a craft show and shoppers are forced to take everything in at once, there is a way to create a layout that guides the shopper through your products. Check out: CRAFT SHOW LAYOUT TIPS.
You can learn the art of visual merchandising to create one focal point that catches the eye, and then use lines and compositions to lead it around the rest of your space. Check out the Line & Composition section of this article for a few more details.
To build your collection, follow these steps:
1) HAVE A CLEAR CUSTOMER IN MIND
This is a step I think a lot of small business owners are timid to take. Does making a target smaller eliminate a huge area? Yes. But by defining what the target is, you increase your odds of hitting it.
You will be sending a message to some shoppers that your products might not be a fit for them but you’re going to be sending a really clear message to another group of shoppers that your products are the perfect match for them.
Would you rather have 100 maybe’s that require you to work really hard to convince them they should buy your products or 25 definite “yes, I’ll buy”, with no contemplation?
The easiest customer to start with is yourself. You know exactly what you want, what attracts you, and how to appeal to others like you.
If you knit scarves and are defining collections for this upcoming fall, what would you buy? Are you in love with big chunky knits and oversized buttons? Which colors are you obsessed with this season?
You’re going to attract your perfect customer and more sales by creating a few really specific products tailored to a specific style, rather than guessing who will buy your products and what people older than you, younger than you, bolder than you, less bold than you, etc. are going to be looking for.
Don’t try to offer something for everyone. It’s the fastest way for a small business to waste time and money (here are other common ways craft businesses waste time and money).
You may also draw inspiration for your collections in other ways. When you know who your customer is, you know which magazines they’re reading, which influencers they’re following on social media, where they’ll be wearing/using your products, etc. You can then draw inspiration from those elements.
Start building a board or collage with everything that catches your eye and then begin separating each look into a collection. I personally like to imagine people I know and the looks they would wear. It makes it really easy to say Jane would never wear this color but it’s so Sally.
Have a character you can dress up and get into as many details of their life as you like. Do they hang out in Starbucks or support local coffee shops? Do they head to the gym on Saturday morning or go for a hike?
For help with finding, defining, and gathering information about your profitable target market, check out:
2) CLEARLY COMMUNICATE
Once you know who you’re creating collections for, you want to be sure shoppers understand your vision for the collection. All the work of planning collections is a waste if you don’t display them properly.
Imagine if that retailer didn’t teach each store how to group the clothes. The crates were unpacked and the merchandisers just placed each item wherever it would fit. Fringed suede skirts were mixed in with black blazers and the top that looks amazing with that skirt was on the other side of the store.
It would make it hard for a shopper to understand how the piece should be worn and to find what they’re looking for.
Whether you’re posting your products on social media or displaying them at a craft show, be sure you’re grouping them together so they tell a story.
For example, if I was posting my new collection of scarves on Etsy, I would be sure to list the cream, blush pink, and heather grey scarves next to each other so a shopper instantly sees how beautiful the colors work together and picks up the feminine vibe of the collection.
If I was posting them to Instagram, I would post the cream, blush pink and heather grey in sequence so they’re grouped together. Or, on Facebook, I may create an album for the new collection.
3) USE PROPS TO COMPLETE THE STORY
Take it one step further and really help the shopper imagine themselves using your product. Whether it’s something they wear or something they display in their home, take the guesswork out of how the end product should look.
If I was photographing my soft colored scarf collection to post on my website, I may have the model wear soft makeup and light-colored clothes, and photograph them in a setting that my products would actually be worn in. An all-cream outfit would be a chick look for downtown so I may head downtown and capture the model in that setting.
If I was setting up the same collection on a craft fair table, I may use a bust form and dress it in a cream-colored winter jacket and use a few other accessories as props (e.g. a sophisticated handbag and a wide-brimmed wool hat). Although those items aren’t for sale, they help shoppers get the whole vision and imagine how they might wear the scarf.
Once you plan a collection, see it all the way through by displaying it properly, online and off, so shoppers understand the vision of your collection and are more likely to buy.
You may also be interested in:
To learn the different types of collections you can create, how to create them, and how many you should offer, download my sample chapter MAKING PRODUCTS THAT PROFIT for free.
Hey, I’m Erin 🙂 I write about small business and craft show techniques I’ve learned from being a small business owner for almost 2 decades, selling at dozens of craft shows, and earning a diploma in Visual Communication Design. I hope you find my advice helpful!