Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Visions of Success with All About the Buttons

Today we are talking with Barbra La Bosco, owner of All About the Buttons. She is a wonderfully creative person & I'm sure you'll all enjoy reading about the business side of things with her as much as I did.

Let’s start with a quick intro. Tell us about you.
It’s never been easy for me to ‘talk’ about me but I will answer all questions openly & honestly, maybe with TMI…too much information! My father was a leather designer & my mother sewed a great deal & had an artistic leaning. My brother tinkered & built things & still does today. We were a creative bunch. I taught myself how to knit at 8 & shocked my mother & her mahjongg friends. My loving to make things continued as I was an art major in college. I sold many things from cards & scarves, to posters for fraternity parties & sporting events.  After college, I chose to go into elementary school teaching & did so for 33 years while still making stuff on the side. In 1993 I inherited my mother’s/grandmother’s cookie tin of buttons. I just sat & played, created & All About The Buttons was established from my kitchen table.

NV: Wow Barbra! What a start! Although I am creative & it seems to have rubbed off on my own children, I can’t imagine how it must have been to grow up in your family!!

Is this a hobby, or serious business for you?
I have always HAD to make things ever since I was small, almost a compulsion. I cannot sit still & just, say, watch television. I have always said “I can make that” & I have. It is a business for me as this tough economy pinches in so many ways. So my ‘having’ to make stuff lends itself to selling that same stuff!
Do you work outside the home as well?
I do work part time outside of my home which is good discipline & forces me out of sweats into clean jeans & presentable to the world!

Do you have a special dedicated area in your home set aside where you create? How does this affect the rest of the household/family life?
I moved into this house in 2003 and immediately knew the upstairs room was to be my studio. I call it the “Not For Public Viewing” room. I can work up there & just walk away if I must stop. Meals would always interrupt my work at the kitchen table so this has the least impact on my husband. All, well almost all, my supplies are there also. I don’t knit or crochet there but work on everything else.

NV: It’s nice to have that space where you don’t have to worry about cleaning up all the time.

When you are busy creating, do you keep track of how much time you spend on each piece? If so, how do you factor this into the cost of your work?
This is such a dilemma. I do take note of time put in but no one would pay me those numbers if I determined an hourly rate. For example I just completed a scarf that had to have taken over 20 hours. The materials were $10 … doing that math would make it prohibitive for the average buyer. I want people to be able to afford my work, appreciate handmade & relish in the one-of-a-kind aspect. The starting point for my pricing is the materials & I go from there.

Once you have all this beautiful work created, how do you handle keeping track of your inventory?
Since I have a dedicated space, keeping track is an easy visual. When I started doing shows, I took a formal inventory and use that as my baseline.
Did you use a program?
Just pen & paper, actually set up on the computer by categories.

For your online venues … Talk a little bit about how you handle photographing your work. How important do you feel quality pictures are to successful selling? What is the biggest mistake you made & what is the most important thing you learned?
Photography is an ongoing learning experience. I realized that my screen porch is a perfect location. With white foam boards, I create my backgrounds & shoot out there. Even on a cloudy day, I can get good shots. In fact, if it’s too sunny, the shadows are an issue. I also use Picasa. Photos are crucial for online selling & can be a positive or a negative. Some people err by taking photos on the floor which gives me the creeps! They also seem to not edit & look at colors. I have seen photos in shops that make me wonder what the object is! My photos are still evolving. I prefer a simple white background & rarely embellish, letting the item speak for itself. My biggest error to start was not fine tuning enough. With digital cameras taking loads of shots does not incur cost, so take a lot.

Where do you sell? Online, shows, farmers markets, in a store?
I have been on 5-6 different online venues but now am on Zibbet  & I do have 2 Etsy shops that I am allowing to die a slow death! I do local craft shows & have tried consignment three times but doubt I will do that anymore.

What was it about consignment that makes you say that?
Consignment can only work if it is local & you can consistently check on your items. My first experience was out of state & I was sucked in by this person. She vanished after paying me $2 for one item. I lost about $85 retail worth of items.  My 2nd experience was in state but far away. This person was honest but eventually closed her b&m. The last experience was out of state & it was good for over 2 years but some strange things started to happen. This was a businesswoman who didn't answer e-mails! Anyway, I am about to sue her! So I am quite gun shy about consignment unless you can physically see your things. A local craft shop has been asking me but I think the fees may eat at my profit. I have to get more information.

Do you have a favorite venue?
The ease of listing, the beauty of the shops & the support of the administration will keep me a Zibbet seller, hopefully for a long time. That being said, a craft show is so revealing & informative. Sure, if you sell lots, it’s gratifying but so is meeting people in person & getting their support. Things look different in person & it’s nice to get that feedback. I call it the ”touch”  factor that will often generate a sale in person but more slowly online.

Tell us about how you came up with the way you now display your work when you are at shows.
I do work craft shows but am honestly not happy with my displays. Because I have such an eclectic variety of items, my set up never seems cohesive to me. Clocks & scarves, magnets & gloves, the common denominator are the buttons but the tables often seem ‘messy’… it is an ongoing process that I am constantly refining.
Do you sit or stand? Is it better to have a ‘walk up to’ display, or a ‘walk into’ display? Why?
My displays are ‘walk up to’ & it works. Walking ‘into’ an exhibit can be intimidating. When a passerby sees one person it is often a draw & they stop. I’ve even had my husband stand & pretend to look & it works. People seem to wonder “What’s over there?” when they see a looker, so being outside works better as they may be missed inside. I do occasionally sit but am always aware of the traffic, make eye contact & smile! I never speak at length to a potential customer while sitting. That’s what’s tiring at the end of the day-the up & down!

NV: Some great points there Barbra. I love the hubby idea too!

How do you maintain your finances, for your business? Does it involve having a business or merchant account?
I do have a separate account for my business.
Biggest/best tip you have for others?
Financially, watch your materials. Crafters seem to have a buying addiction, like potato chips, we can’t stop. Save money & use what you have first. You have way more than you think. I truly should never buy yarn again!

NV: I know I’m in the group of people who could easily have a buying addiction! I love ot find new stuff, but still have old stuff unfinished!

How do you handle money & payment processing at your shows? Any tips for others?
When I started doing shows, I was worried about credit card purchases. I did 7 shows last fall & was never asked if I accepted credit cards so I have not yet made the leap to accepting that as payment.
So, did you take checks?
I did take checks & never had a problem. I made sure I had all the vital info & it worked. If I was 'uneasy' I said I'd hold the items while they went to a nearby ATM.

While we’re talking about money … how do you handle all the dreaded back end paperwork/book keeping stuff? Do you have any tips for others still searching for a best way?
I do not use a professional program for my accounting. It is of my own design & I’m comfortable. If I were much busier/bigger (read: more sales), I would check out programs I’ve heard about but feel as of now, I have control. I save receipts, enter materials costs, enter sales, Paypal deductions, etc. religiously.

Ok, money out of the way let’s talk about promoting/marketing a bit. Can you share with us what you do to promote your business, & where?
I joined the Facebook, blog and Twitter bandwagons and can’t say I would have if not for the business. I do think it’s necessary, as well as being active in the forums. It’s all about getting your name & product out there.
Does that work?
I do know of some direct sales due to them, especially the forums. I have tried Project Wonderful many times with mixed results. It is worth a try.

With so many aspects of running a business, how do you keep yourself motivated to move forward?
As I said earlier, I have to create & that’s my motivation, whether it starts with a piece of paper, a button or a skein of yarn.  If I find myself unmotivated & not liking anything, I walk away & take a break. If I push too hard, I wind up making errors & conclude with an item not worthy of a sale.
Do you have a good support system?
My husband is supportive & I could not have done many of my shows without him. His first question regarding an upcoming show regards the availability of food! I am also motivated by special orders when customers come up with an idea that never occurred to me.

NV: It’s not the first time I have heard of the husband/significant other being great support! You are very fortunate to have that.

What do you feel is your least favorite thing about running a business? How do you overcome/deal with this?
The promotion side can suck you in! You turn around & you’ve been at the computer for hours & neglected many other aspects of your life. It’s important to promote but not at the expense of your creating time, home/family time, etc. I love the people I’ve met but have to watch the clock.

NV: Yes! I completely agree. Promoting is hard, especially for creative people.

And finally, to end on a good positive note … share with us what you most attribute your business success to…
If success is measured by a high number of sales & the dollars, I’m not so sure I’m there. But if you define success as providing a quality, unique item that may enrich or embellish another one’s life, then I will blush & say I’m successful. I do think I have attained that. Not that there’s anything wrong with big numbers but I do measure success with smiles & I think I have brought one, to many faces. And that makes me happy!

NV: Here is an amazing tidbit about Barbra too …
Just wanted to add that two items of my work were published in a book titled Button!Button! in 2008. That served as amazing validation & motivation!

 And in case you missed her links up there... here is where you can find Barbra around the web...
she is also an editor for Indie Smiles


TexasEagle said...

What a great interview! Well done both of you!

Marguerite said...

Absolutely outstanding!!!! I loved every second of it...Barbra, you are AWESOME!

Raige Creations said...

what a great read - thank you Barbra for sharing so much about you and how you run your business. I am glad to know I am not the only one who stubbornly refuses to buy a program to track sales and expenses. :)
Thanks also for the show tips, I hope to be able to put them to use May 1st!

Grandmother Carolyn said...

Outstanding interview!! Barbra is such a multi-faceted person and I, for one, am encouraged by her stick-to-it-ivness, that is followed by her successes! And Nicole, these are AWESOME questions that you ask, and you have put together an EXCELLENT Visions Blog! Congrats to both of you happy ladies.....

Barbra said...

Thank YOU<Nicole for the opportunity and exposure. i hope some of my experience may help others. And thank YOU, ladies above for your kind words and support.

Sue said...

wonderful interview. I love how define success! you can tell you find your work very rewarding and thats what its all about.

PaperOnParade said...

Another super, outstanding feature! Thank you for sharing your tricks of the trade, Barbra! congrats!!! Nicole, fabulous article...thank you too!!!

Amy said...

What a lovely article! I enjoyed reading it and getting to know you a little more. I understand that overwhelming obsession with making things; I've always been like that, too. Thank you, Nicole! :-)