Made by hand… the magic words every ecommerce shopper wants to see (almost as much as “free shipping”). But if you’re product sourcing for artisanal and handmade goods, the best person who can provide them for you, is you.
The oldest method of product sourcing is to simply make the products yourself. But that only solves one of your ecommerce problems — you still have to deal with marketing, storing, and shipping, not to mention product sourcing for your raw materials.
So how can you turn your crafting skill into a profitable business model? Below, we explain the best ecommerce product sourcing strategies for artisans.
What are Artisans?
Artisans are craftsmen and women who make their own products by hand, typically in the categories of jewelry, home decor, artisanal food, trinkets, and custom furniture. Artisanal products are known for their originality and uniqueness, often with features that don’t exist in more mainstream products, making them a particular haven to certain niche markets.
Artisanal products have a reputation for being better quality than manufactured goods. The allure of “old world craftsmanship” lends its power to items that are “hand-crafted” or “homemade,” suggesting reliability and durability that assembly line products can’t match. Platforms like Etsy even specialize in these types of goods, making it easy to break into pre-existing communities of like-minded customers.
The downside, of course, lies in making the products — sellers really have to earn that “made by hand” tag. Artisan sellers are usually artisans first and sellers second, where crafting products takes more time and effort than selling them. So first and foremost in the decision to sell artisanal products is whether or not you can make products worth selling, and whether the profits are worth the work.
But even if you’re the Leonardo DaVinci of brass-wire jewelry, your products won’t leave your workshop unless you run your business like a business. Below, we talk about the best ways to cut overhead costs when you’re making and selling your own products in-house.
The Best Product Sourcing Strategies for Artisans
While they don’t have to worry about the same product sourcing concerns as other online stores, artisan sellers have a whole new set of worries with finding raw materials. The tips below will give you a good start.
1. Source Your Materials As You Would Products
The benefits other sellers receive from smartly sourcing their products are the same that artisan sellers receive for sourcing their materials the right way. True, you don’t have to worry about the demand or competition for certain materials, but product sourcing strategies like buying in bulk and negotiating with suppliers can still minimize operational costs and give you less things to worry about.
Some of the same strategies we’ve encouraged in our product sourcing guide translate well for sourcing product materials. For starters, you can check online directories and social media communities to discover some of the best places to find the materials you need. When you do find the best supplier for you, buy in bulk to cut costs in the future. And don’t be afraid to negotiate a better deal, as we explain in our product sourcing strategies for wholesale.
2. Offer Customization Options
Because artisanal goods have a better reputation than manufactured goods, you want to play to your advantage even further with customization options. Because originality is so important to artisanal goods, letting your customers personalize part of their product maximizes the effect and literally makes their product more theirs. And that level of personalization is something manufactured products have trouble emulating.
The extent of customization doesn’t need to alter your crafting routine too much. It could be something superficial like a color-change or a choice between design styles — which manufactured products often offer as well — or something highly customizable, dealing with the actual content or form of the product. Want a professional woodworker to create the chair you saw in a dream?
Somewhere in the middle is engraving. You can inscribe personal details like a message, name, initials, or date right onto the product, giving your customer the personalization they want, without disrupting your standard crafting routine.
3. Think Like a Retail Arbitrage Seller
Gathering crafting materials is fairly similar to a retail arbitrage seller gathering products — especially if you rely on chain craft stores like Michaels or JOANN. Therefore, artisans can employ the same product sourcing strategies we mentioned for retail arbitrage to cut costs on their materials:
Learn the markdown schedule of your preferred material stores. Chain stores usually have a set schedule for when they lower prices, so try to crack it by paying close attention to changes.
Hit multiple locations during sales. Chain stores often hold sales across all of their branches, not just one or two local ones. If a chain store is having a sale on one of your essential materials, it may be worth a trip to the next town over to stock up on twice the inventory.
Sign up for email newsletters. Stores like Michaels and JOANN often announce sales and promotions early in their email newsletters, so it may be worth signing up to stay informed.
If you don’t acquire your materials from chain stores, don’t worry. While you may get the regular promotions that chain stores offer, you can instead develop personal relationships with your suppliers. With the right negotiations, you may even work out a better deal than you’d get from a chain.
Perhaps the hardest part for artisan sellers is having to wear both hats: manufacturer and merchant. This can be exhausting, considering how both can be treated as full-time jobs. The good news is that you can employ better and more efficient strategies to trim some fat away from both sides. For example, buying materials in bulk isn’t just cheaper, it also means you don’t have to even think about reordering materials for awhile, freeing you up to tackle more pressing matters. The longer you maintain an artisan store, the more of these time-saving hacks you’ll discover.
Now that you have a strategy to find your materials, check out these top 10 places to sell your handmade products.