One of the questions I get asked a lot is “How did you end up with your own product line?”
The answer is that things like this don’t just fall out of the sky. I had been blogging about crafts for a while and worked really hard on branding. But what really got my name out in the craft industry was attending the Craft & Hobby Trade show (CHA) and introducing myself to the companies of the products I faithfully used (Tacky Glue!). My first show was in 2005, when I attended as a reporter for the newspaper I wrote for, and then I was to sit on a discussion panel and the rest is history.

If you want specific details of what manufacturers are looking for in craft designers, this is your day! Here is an article by Alyson Dias, Marketing Director for iLovetoCreate. Read it several times to get inspired and motivated for the new year! The best part is that these tips will likely work for other business areas in your life.

NOTE: These steps don’t guarantee your own product line, but they sure do help! Overall, be on your game, stand out, check your facts, takes risks, and have fun!

Part One: Designers not attending CHA, but want more info
Part Two: Designers attending, CHA

Good luck!

Building relationships with craft manufacturers
By Alyson Dias

Part One: First timers connecting with manufacturers
Product Sponsorships…whether you’re looking for product sponsorship for an event, an editorial opportunity or blog, ilovetocreate.com has an easy online form to get the process started – http://www.ilovetocreate.com/sponsorship.aspx.  The key is to show us how your request will benefit us more than the next request.  The use of competitive products, either associated with this particular request or in your general use, makes it difficult for us to work together.

Test Yourself…I’m not asking for free publicity here, but if you do your own post using our products and have fabulous results (likes, retweets, pins, views, comments, etc), share them with me!  Give me examples of how you can continue your test success (and build upon it) if we partner together.

Fill a Void…check out what we’re already doing and discover our voids, then pitch us on how you can fill that void.

Unique Email Subject Line…I receive a lot of email every day and those emails that have catchy subject lines get read first!  Steer clear of email subject lines like:
“Let’s work together”
“I have a great idea”
“I want to be a blogger”
“We’d make a great team”
These are just too generic.  Be clever…be brief…be funny…be unique.

Snailmail vs Email…this might just be me, but I still love to receive real mail (when it’s not a bill, of course!).  In a world of email overkill, consider sending via the United States Postal Service so that people like me can enjoy opening a pretty package.  Yes, I said “pretty package”!  I remember getting a call from our HR team one day that I had to see a resume immediately…I ran over to their office and loved seeing the brightest pink foil package with a resume (printed on pink paper) and portfolio included.  The open position was for a graphic designer and I immediately knew who the most creative candidate was by just looking at the stack of resumes…she later proved her creativity and qualifications in a formal interview.  That candidate was Alexa Westerfield…and now she’s an iLoveToCreate Graphic Designer and Social Media Manager!!!!  So consider snailmail…and make it pretty!!

Part Two:
CHA is right around the corner and I eagerly await the opening of the show floor. Attending the tradeshow always reminds me that we are blessed to work in a creative industry where we get to dream in glitter and paint! As we all prepare for the winter show, I thought it might be helpful to you to hear my perspective as a manufacturer wanting to work with you as a designer. I share this with the hope that it supports your success at CHA.

1. Personal invites: develop a dream list of manufacturers that you want to work with and personally invite the right contacts to your display. In your invitation, be clear and concise on how your display will interest the contact and impact their business. Be explicit with your dream of working together and your desired outcome from the show meeting. Also, spelling my name correctly is a big plus!

2. Mutually-beneficial: This might be just me, but I insist that all partnerships are mutually-beneficial. It only makes sense that you as the designer and me as the manufacturer both receive a benefit from working together. Don’t be afraid to get excited about the benefits – emotion is powerful!

3. Know my business:
Several times I’ve had an excited designer tell me that they love a specific product of ours, but it’s not my product, it’s my competition. Take time (real time, not just a few minutes) to learn about the manufacturer, their brands, their products, how they position their products, their business style, their environment. Figure out how you fit into their business (refer to #2) and tell them. If you use competitive products and you’re willing to switch to their brand, tell them. If not, be upfront about it and understand that it might be a partnership roadblock.

4. The Thumper Rule: never speak poorly of another designer, company, brand or product, whether at the show or after. We must respect that creativity is subjective and every designer has a unique point of view. The last thing a manufacturer wants to deal with is negativity.

5. Speaking of bathrooms, elevators and food lines: Okay, maybe not the bathrooms, but unless you’re in your hotel room, consider every public space at a tradeshow an opportunity to make a connection. The “designated” times at your display or in our booth aren’t the only opportunities to strike up a conversation. Keep your eyes open for representatives from your dream manufacturers and maximize even the 45 second elevator ride to introduce yourself and make the quickest pitch of your life! Honestly, I met a retailer in an elevator late one night, she looked at my badge and was so excited to meet someone from iLoveToCreate because she wanted to know more about our products. ¦I exited moments later assuming I’d never see her again.When she showed up in our booth the next morning, I happily greeted her and not a single show has gone by since that we haven’t met up! Embrace spontaneity!!

6. Be Memorable:
at CHA Winter 2006, I noticed a woman bounce into our booth dragging a fully painted suitcase, wearing bold jewelry and carrying a brand-new book. Within seconds, she had me hooked. She was so excited to show me a project from her book that used one of our adhesives. All that mattered to me was her individuality! An hour later, my colleague and I were enthralled in conversation with her and although we wanted to talk with her for hours more, we had other appointments. As she left our booth, we looked at each other and knew we had just met someone fabulous. I remember saying, “we have to work with her!”. Her name? Kathy Cano-Murillo – and she still rolls with her painted suitcase!! Create a signature element of your tradeshow appearance and have it present on your person at all times during a show at every show.

7. Stats Matter, sort of: b
e prepared to share your personal stats with manufacturers – unique visitors per month to your blog or website, fans on facebook, followers on twitter, published works, etc. Know where you measure against other designers, but know that the designer with the most facebook friends may not be the most desirable partner. In your stats, identify growth trends throughout the past three to six months. I’d be more interested in a designer that is steadily growing their fan base every month versus someone that is stagnant with a large fan base. Analyze your stats and identify what makes your stats appealing to a manufacturer.

8. Dream, develop, pitch:
throughout my almost nine years with iLoveToCreate, I’ve met so many designers that want to work with us. Most probably have something fabulous to offer,  but far too often, the conversation ends quickly because the designer hasn’t spent time dreaming of potential opportunities, picking one or two to develop a solid pitch for and then pitching. I don’t know how to say this without being blunt – we get far too many “I’m interested” emails without any “here are my exact ideas, how we’ll both benefit and what it will cost”. I want to work with you, but unfortunately I have extreme time poverty and therefore I need you to make the presentation. Including the cost is just as important as the idea…providing ideas without the cost is like looking at jewelry through the window – I can’t try it on and I can’t buy it, I can only stare at it!

9. Focus group for your display:
Yes, I’m serious – invite a few people (that aren’t your husband, child or mother) to view your display and provide an honest critique. Without an overview from you, ask them what it says about you and about your talent. Listen to the critiques and make changes. The most common mistake in research is not accepting the data.

10. Follow up: At shows, I get inundated with business cards and I always return with a list of “omg – that was so cool”, but then I filter the list to follow-up on what really stuck out. Give me about a week to recoup, then follow-up with me. Remind me of your #6 and send me your #8.

Love & light,

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