Pre-Made vs Made-to-Order

I want to give a shout-out to those shop owners who regularly keep items in stock, particularly those of the knit and crochet variety.

Whether you sell at fairs or have an Etsy shop or your own website, I find it daunting to keep items in stock, for several different reasons.

  • Anticipating what your customers want — try as I might to stay “on trend,” there is no telling what potential customers are going to actually purchase. There is so much subjectivity when it comes to buying something, especially if it’s a gift for someone else, that it’s hard to know what will fly out the door vs. sit around. I do check my stats regularly, and look to see what search terms are getting people to my shop, but I haven’t figured out any magic formula. Sometimes I don’t participate in the hot trends, however. Two examples that come to mind are ponytail hats (for autumn/winter) and mermaid tail blankets. I have made mermaid tail blankets, as I’ve blogged about, but trying to list a custom mermaid tail blanket was a bit overwhelming. People want to see color choices and they want to see an example. Since I’ve only made three in three different colors, I would have to ask people to use their imaginations, unless they ordered something exactly like what I’ve already made. Just typing all that out reconfirms for me why I never made a listing for them.
  • The more effort you put into something, the more you want it to sell. This is especially true for larger stuffed animals or any kind of garment. I have a baby blanket that hasn’t sold, even when I had a sale going on for the month of July. It’s colorful with a popular design (dragonfly) and is a terrific size, but…..nada. I try not to dwell when things don’t sell, for whatever reason, but it definitely shapes my decisions on what to make in the future, even if I’m just trying something out for fun. On the flip side of the coin, smaller and easier things don’t always sell, either. I’ve made several cute baby hats in the past that have just sat there, so they went into the gift pile, instead. Baby hats never go out of demand but it’s also a saturated market, so… c’est la vie.
  • I work full-time, so I don’t have as much time during the week as I’d like to dedicate towards crafting. I am in awe of and inspired by those who have creative careers where they can make and sell for a living (pottery comes to mind). Even if I didn’t work full-time, however, reasons 1 and 2 would keep me from making things in advance unless I were regularly setting up booths at craft fairs.
  • Limited space! While I do have a dedicated craft space for my yarn and other crafting supplies, storage space for finished objects is definitely on the smaller side. If I were to have a shop full of items in stock, I would have to be selling something 1-2x a week so I didn’t have 20-30 animals and blankets and things laying around.

For those reasons above plus those below, I enjoy doing custom orders as they come in:

  • have sold items in stock and I really love when I’m able to ship something out quickly without having to make the customer wait. That said, even when I make something for the current season, e.g. a cowl, there is no telling what someone is going to want. It’s great to have a little pile of pre-made gifts, but typically, I like to ask a person if I can make them or their child something, and 99% of the time it’s not what I’ve already got on hand. Case in point, I’m about to make my third hippo in a row as a gift to a friend — they’re just so cute, a terrific size, and the accent colors are totally customizable.
  • I can buy specific yarn for a specific project and know that it will get used. If you are a yarn addict as I am, you know the pitfalls of buying a bunch of yarn with no intended project. I made that rookie mistake AGAIN this past weekend, when I used a Michael’s store credit to purchase a whole bunch of Caron Baby Cakes yarn in multiple colors, just so I could try it out. Now I’m working on another baby blanket to use up 5 of the 7 skeins I bought. Worst case scenario, the blanket will be donated, but I have so many friends having children, I am sure it will be gifted or sold. (It’s a very pretty design.)
  • Making custom orders is giving someone exactly what s/he wants, down to color, size, etc, and it makes me feel all warm and toasty inside to be able to craft something precisely as that person desires, be it friend or customer. This raccoon and the big pink bunny are just two examples of that.

This is a random aside that doesn’t have anything to do with crochet or knitting, and I don’t mention it very often, but I have various photographic prints for sale in my shop. Photography, like crochet and knitting, is such a saturated market, that I rarely sell any prints or canvasses, even though these have a short turnaround time. I have been toying with the idea of getting rid of the photo listings. I’ve read that it’s better to have one particular focus per shop, as well, so it may be the little nudge I need to finally do away with them and stick to the yarny things for Etsy. I have bigger aspirations, and I may just need to see the light on this and stick with the crochet sales (and potentially knit sales in the future!).

If anyone who reads this blog is also an Etsy seller, I would love to hear your feedback, especially if you keep items in stock. I just don’t find it very practical for how long it takes to make things and hope for the best, but I see plenty of people who sell regularly from their stores.

Thanks for reading, friends. Until the next mishap or adventure!

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