Thursday, May 19, 2011

Where Can You Find M Design Boutique? Lots of Places!

M Design Boutique started out as a full-blown e-commerce website, selling the work of lots of designers in 2008. That turned out to be a very expensive way to start out, and after a year MDB closed its virtual doors and took a year to re-evaluate.

Enter Etsy. In February of 2010, M Design Boutique re-opened as an Etsy shop. Etsy is an online marketplace for all things handmade. Dramatically cutting the expense of hosting my own e-commerce website, M Design Boutique quickly became a promising venture. As the year progressed, the shop filled up with more and more of my handmade creations including Jewelry, Candles, Scarves, Ribbon-wrapped Flip Flops, and even some of the old inventory from 2008, which you can still find now and then in the Clearance Section.
These flip flops made the Front Page of Etsy in April of 2010, bringing me a new level of traffic!
As the 2010 passed, I (Melissa) discovered lots of other places online to set up shops including Artfire and a few others. By the time the holiday season came, it became very clear that I had found my way and growing my business (through all manner of trial and error) would be a rewarding career.
The holiday season was a mad growth period for MDB. The best part about it: Every month since then has been even more successful. All of the blind faith during the slow early growth is finally paying off.

I have read blogs and books. I've listened to podcasts. I've blogged and written articles about my work and shop. I've researched products and vendors and cost analysis and taxes and everything else related to learning how to keep those customers coming and make a profit doing what I love. I've even had a hand-ful of bloggers review my products and profile me as a small business owner! It has been an exciting time.
A little idea turned into a whole new shop. MDB Weddings and Events is my spin-off shop where my most popular sellers are now easy to browse favors, gifts and decor just for those planning events.

One of the revelations I have had is that I need to have open doors in every place I can open them on the internet. Artfire has its own customers. Etsy has its own customers. Bravo Bride has its own customers. Shop Handmade has its own customers. You get the picture. All of those places allow me to reach people looking for my products whether it is because I make handmade gifts or custom wedding favors.

Practice table for Brooklyn's Artists & Fleas Market where I sold Valentine's Day themed Soy Travel Candles alongside Big Bridge Studios, my friend Kendra's Shop! Special thanks to those of you who attended this awesome weekend market!
Where ever you like to shop, you can now find all of those options in one place: M Design Boutique. You can shop my Etsy shops directly from there, or you can click on "stockists" and find my individual shops and even some brick and mortar salons that carry my candles and flip flops.
I am currently expanding my Wedding and Event inventory to include lots of new custom-labeled packaging, thanks to the feedback of my facebook fans.

Every day I learn something new about what works and what does not. My best feedback comes from you, my customers, readers and friends. You are experts, shoppers, web-surfers, bloggers, twitter-ers (!), facebookers and so on. I welcome your feedback, ideas, expertise and even your constructive criticism!
I asked my readers what they would want in a Wedding Day Survival kit if they could have had one on their big day. The results were so helpful! Shown above, the Bridal Kit. The fabric money holders were even made by one of my readers! I have the best fans and customers ever!

Follow me on twitter @melissafouch and @mdbeventfavors

Follow me on facebook

Share your links in the comments section (appropriate content please). I want to meet you all! Who is out there?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Introducing Empty Favor Tins with Custom Labels!

Last week I asked my facebook followers for feedback about what they wish had been available in the way of favors when they planned their weddings. Several responses prompted me to start a new line of empty favor containers with CUSTOM DESIGNED LABELS!

These are perfect for whatever you want to put in them! And now you can have the tins labeled just like my hyper-popular Soy Travel Candle favor gifts! Same great customization option and you get to fill them up however you like! Easy Breezy!

 These are 2.5 oz Tins with a clear lid. The label is about half the size so that your guests can see what is inside! So cute for candy, mints, seeds, bird seed or whatever you have to give!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Being Inspired vs. Being A Copy Cat

Where do ideas come from, and if we think of them, do they belong to us?

I make lots of different things to sell and I use Etsy and Artfire to see what the public likes and wants to buy. I develop lots of different versions of my products to see what survives and becomes successful in my shops.

It takes a lot of ideas, trial and error, research, time and money to get a whole bunch of ideas turned into one successful product. Sometimes I see somebody else's products and I think it is a great idea, and I get inspired to do something similar with my spin on it. That is natural competition. I am aware that when I put something up for sale on the internet, there will be other creative people like me who might save the photos, or even order my products as part of their research process to develop a similar product using their own style or spin on things.

I am interested in what boundaries there are around when your inspiration comes from someone you know. I have a lot of creative friends who make things and we each have our own style.

A few examples:

1. I have a friend who designs beautiful jewelry. I make jewelry. But when I started making jewelry, I knew I wasn't competing with her for customers because I deliberately stayed away from anything similar to her style and I make jewelry in a different price range. My friend is ok with me making and selling jewelry because we communicated about it so that there was no mis-understanding.

2. Many years ago I started a company selling Bath and Body products, including candles. As my interests and style evolved, I realized I wanted to evolve my business so that I was not limited to bath and body since I also knit, sew, garden, cook and so on.

As I moved on to my new venture (M Design Boutique as you see it today) I got a call from a friend of mine. She is also a creative person who makes bath and body products and candles for her family and friends at the holidays. She called to ask me if I would be upset if she turned her hobby into a business selling bath and body products. Not only was I happy to give her my blessing, I respected her for checking with me to see if I would mind. If she had not done so, I believe I would have felt hurt, even if her products were different enough that she would not be my direct competition. I will always support and love her for that. Not to mention her products and packaging are so awesome I use them every day. She did not use the same ideas for her marketing or product line. She did not take my developed idea and profit from it. She developed her own line, marketing, branding and style. Her business, by the way is Mystic Bliss Creations -- check it out!

3. I recently decided to look into getting M Design Boutique T-shirts made for myself, my husband and a few other members of my family who might wear them in support of my business. I thought it would also be a good "give-away" prize for one of the many blogs that invites me to be part of a give away. The problem was that online printers want a huge order minimum or charge a ton for just a few shirts, and then you can't combine sizes. I have a good friend who makes amazing hand-screened and digitally screened clothing and sells it in her Etsy shop and in stores locally in New York. So I approached her to see if she would take on my "job" of getting a hand-ful of shirts made. She gave me direct contact information to her digital printer. This is because I explained what my need was and she was comfortable giving me her resource, knowing I would not use it to compete with her business.

There are a lot of situations where creative people intersect. I believe that being honest, straight forward and sensitive to those who inspire you makes these potentially sensitive situations become a mutually supportive network. I think it is a difficult thing to put into words, but there are boundaries. We should respect that if someone we know has found success at something we could go mimic and find the same may not be the right thing to do. It is awkward to directly compete for business in the same market using information given to you in trust.

My policy is very strict. I don't share my vendors. I don't share my numbers. I share my encouragement. I share advice. I hope that I do inspire the people around me to go find what it is they do...and do the work. Do the research. Invest your time and money in finding something unique that expresses your own style. And in as many situations as possible, learn about what you can to do be sensitive to people you know when and if you may be entering the marketplace with an item similar to theirs, if you even think it is appropriate to do so. Trying to copy somebody else and compete with them won't work anyway. You have to learn for yourself, which may include being inspired by and learning from how they find success.

What do my readers think? What are your policies about sharing?

This is probably different for everyone, and I am very interested in how individual business owners feel about inspiration vs. being a copy cat. I can't pretend that I am sure I am right to guard my vendors so closely. But it is right for me at the moment.