Shruti Barton MA Creative Economy
Interview with Patricia from My Pink Elephant http://www.mypinkelephant.co.uk
It seems obvious for my next candidate to be someone who is a seasoned market trader. After all, this direct sales channel has been the most frequent source of income over the last couple of months given the number of fairs we have all attended. Unlike many other teams, Easthetic went BIG with investment of product. Our market research and prototyping phases went very well, as did our first Dragon’s Den. Given the personal investment we were willing to make, it seemed natural to be ambitious with production in order to steam ahead with sales. It’s surprising how quickly time flies when you are having fun with other work commitments and deadlines. So even though we are still in possession of some fine stock (available to purchase on http://www.etsy.com/shop/EastheticDesign) where others have sold out at least we were able to offer our customers a well thought out range of Pozzy products marked at different degrees of affordability and creativity. It is on this note of passionately committing to one product and selling it whole-heartedly, that I wanted to share with you the success of My Pink Elephant, a company which focuses on selling fine shawls made by Tibetan refugees. So if I had to reflect on one thing here, I would direct you to the words of Mary Kay Ash who said “Ideas are a dime a dozen, people who implement them are priceless”.
What exactly is it that you do Patricia?
I sell Tibetan shawls from Northern India made by Tibetans in exile sourced by my business partner’s daughter Paula. Paula went travelling a few years ago and fell in love with India. While travelling she found these beautiful shawls which she started selling and things took off from there.
What makes the shawls so different?
The first thing people see are the vibrant colours. They come over to our market stall straight away. They are then very soft to touch and very warm to wear. You just want to curl up in one!
What are their other selling points?
Though they are shawls, they make great scarves, blankets, bedspreads, throws or even travel blankets for the car. So it is their multi-functionality that makes them so appealing. They are also very light and are machine washable. Our customers like the Fair Trade aspect of the product too since Paula sources them directly from the Tibetans who are in exile. We have not seen any in the UK which are similar.
How much do you sell them for?
The average price ranges from £35.00 – £50.00.
Where do you sell them?
We originally started selling them in London including Greenwich, and Portobello Road. We then focused strategically on selling the shawls at suitable craft fairs and Christmas fairs in the Midlands such as Southwell. This year we have branched out to do some even bigger fairs. For example, we are doing Chatsworth Country and Game Fair later this year which is a high profile event in the region and sees average footfall of over 100,000 people over the 3 days and we are going to Osberton Horse Trials from 3rd – 6th October 2013. Although it is a risk, because of the investment we have to put out up front, we know we have got a product that will sell well to this audience.
So how do you choose where you are going to sell the shawls?
We really have to think carefully about the market and area we are going into as the shawls are a quality item. We fit into craft markets very nicely where people are looking for something different and to not blink at the price.
How do you approach customers?
Fortunately customers come to us more often than not as they are attracted to the vibrant colours and designs of the shawls. We have a very simple stall overall, the shawls are simply draped to create a Moroccan Bazaar feel. We have no packaging or branding aside from a tag to show the origin of the craftspeople. We think anything else would just distract from the beauty of the shawls. It is all very simple as the shawls really do sell themselves.
Do you get repeat customers?
A lot of our customers are repeat customers, yes. At Newark Show last month a customer came looking for us as she had seen us at Hodsock Priory the year before. We’ve seen so many people who come back to us to and say they have bought a shawl as a gift and they were very happy with it. We haven’t had one negative piece of feedback as yet.
What is the biggest challenge when selling the shawls?
The biggest challenge for our customers is deciding on which colour to buy. It’s like being in a sweet shop! So our customers often end up buying 2 or more. One lady recently came across us while walking her dog at Cromford Wharf in Derbyshire and ended up buying 5 altogether! Another challenge is how we take payment since we don’t yet take credit card payments and often customers don’t carry cash.
Where have you had most success?
In Southwell where we sold 74 shawls in 6 hours. We were rushed off our feet on that day, It was like a jumble sale. That was back in November so perhaps this was due to the run up to Christmas. The shawls are seen as a winter product by punters and they make a perfect Christmas present. They are perfect for people who have elderly relatives.
How useful is it having a website?
We do give out cards at fairs and several people from London, Canada and America have gone online and bought products on our website after seeing them at a fair. Nearly everyone expects you to have a website where they can buy your products afterwards. We have also registered with www.stallfinder.com and are now invited to certain events. It’s a great way for the organisers of fairs to be more selective of which products they sell.
What’s the biggest challenge you face growing the business?
The biggest challenge at the moment is distribution and deciding on how to expand the business. Other wholesalers have started to approach us to stock the shawls in their boutique shops and this is something we are considering at the moment. We will have to change from being a simple market trader to being a supplier and this is a risk. Going wholesale is a completely different ball game. The reality is that the economy is uncertain and we don’t want to be in a position where we have excess stock. It’s at that point we would also need to take into consideration Sale or Return which is again a risk. So for us it’s about partnering with the right stockist who already sells similar high quality products at the right time for our business.
What’s your advice to someone looking to sell their product at a craft fair?
You have got to believe in your product. Tell a story. People like to know the story of where our shawls are sourced. The Tibetans would historically make house patterns according to their families and this cultural aspect is appealing. We know our product. We just chat about them. There is no hard sell. We just share the experience of our previous customers with potential buyers. We engage with our customers in a conversation but only when we are invited.
What’s the market like at the moment for people looking to sell new products at craft fairs?
It’s tough at the moment. All the traders are finding it difficult. There are people who have been at it for a year and are only just starting to make money. Thankfully we have never been in that situation. Even in our most challenging market we still made profit. It’s about having a specialist product for the right market. So think carefully about where you sell.
Thanks to Patricia for sharing her tips, which I am certainly taking into consideration for the next phase of Easthetic’s development: multi-functionality, stockists and how to expand the business are my top priority!
Oh and in this unpredictable British weather, we all need at least one Tibetan shawl to keep us warm! Happy shopping www.mypinkelephant.co.uk.
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