At The Repair Shed in Hemel Hempstead we’ve spent the best part of the year learning an important lesson.
We’ve been making products for sale from reclaimed materials, primarily old pallets. The products ideas – for homes and gardens – have come from many sources, including members of the Shed, their families, and of course, the internet. The result has been a range of traditional and more unusual items.
We’ve had fun making them and we’ve put them ‘out there’ – to research the market – online through Etsy (a craft-based selling site), on our webpage [https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/repair-shed-shop-2] and on Facebook [www.facebook.com/TheRepairShed]. Over the summer we’ve also been at outdoor events – country fairs, street craft markets and charity events. The face-to-face contact and feedback has been valuable, if somewhat disheartening.
We’ve learnt that it’s time to stop making products that we want to sell and to start making products that people want to buy. Online sales have been spectacularly unsuccessful and sales on stalls have not been much better.
Where we have had success is in taking commissions. Some are quite wacky – a ‘cat kennel’ a milk crate with a roof, and a sweet cart (as in sweets to suck and chew, not a hostess trolley for desserts) as well as more conventional items such as window boxes, and bug houses.
A commission is, of course, a firm sale at an agreed price (but costing is not always easy when you’ve never made the item before) so they’re a much better business proposition. And once made and photographed the one-off product can be promoted and might well become a source of further sales.
So we’re pushing for commissions and hoping the next stage will be repeat commissions of different items. There are various statistics about how much more expensive it is to get a new customer than to keep an existing one (I’ve seen anything from 4 – 7 times more) but the detail is unimportant. Regular and repeat paying customers are the lifeblood of many businesses both big and small.
I was reminded about this when I heard that the landlady of a local pub knows pretty exactly how much each regular drinker is worth to her business. She can look down the bar and put a price above each head – £3,000 a year, £5,000, £10,000 … (yes, that’s a lot of beer!) And she looks after them like VIPs because they are; without them she’d close. This five star treatment was confirmed when a friend went to the pub for a meal with a small group of friends. When they asked if the noisy drinkers at the bar could be quietened down a bit, the landlady politely told them “sorry I can’t – they’re my regulars.”