Product Selection: Market Feedback When There is No Market

April 04, 2016

Product Selection: Market Feedback When There is No Market

I'm often asked how we choose products at HoonArts, especially since most of our products come from Tajikistan and have no established market and traditional "market research" is impossible. That is one of the great challenges of starting a new Fair Trade import business.  I selected the original products based upon photographs, gifts brought from Tajikistan, input from friends and colleagues, and guesses about which products would be most likely to sell in the US.  We have always tried to focus on products that are noticeably distinct from other handicraft imports, particularly those that are readily found in New Mexico.  That means, for example, that we avoid products that look too much like Native American crafts or crafts from Latin America.  We also try to look for high quality products that can compete on price with comparable products from other countries and regions.  That can be particularly difficult, since all shipping from Tajikistan is by air and is very expensive compared to imports from places like Africa, China, Southeast Asia, India, Turkey and Latin America that rely upon ocean-based shipping.

We also rely upon market feedback at local New Mexico craft shows and trunk shows--what sells, comments from customers, etc.  That too presents a challenge, since HoonArts is not eligible to participate in most high volume craft shows, in New Mexico and around the country. I didn't realize until after jumping off the cliff and deciding to start HoonArts that most arts and crafts shows are only open to artists and craftsmen showing their own work. Resellers and "distributors" like HoonArts are generally not eligible to participate, even if we are Fair Trade vendors striving to provide economic opportunities to impoverished artisans on the other side of the globe. After a year and a half, it has become clear that selling locally in the New Mexico market will not allow HoonArts to create the sustainable US market that is our goal.  We are also not in a financial position (yet) to have our own booth at major trade shows in other parts of the country.  So, what to do?
Our approach is two-pronged.  On the retail side, we are now beginning the effort to increase our online presence, with social media marketing, including (gasp!) paid marketing.  Our first (very long) step was to watch a seemingly endless supply of online videos and webinars about best practices in online marketing and e-commerce.  At this point, I at least understand terminology like "opt-in form," and "landing page."  Soon, we'll be launching our first Google AdWords campaign, and posting our first professionally crafted videos on our YouTube channel.  We've begun using InfusionSoft as our email management software, and have connected Google Analytics to our online store and this new Wordpress blog website.  We're building our email list.  With help from some great local business consultants, we hope to soon be able to track shopping and website traffic, and evaluate what products and marketing techniques are generating the most online interest and sales.  We know that, ultimately, our future retail success lies on the e-commerce side, since we're not moving to New York or San Francisco.  We'll share our adventures in building this ecommerce business along the way. In the meantime, I'll keep trying not to become overwhelmed by the brave new, and sometimes very scary, digital world.  For heavens sake, I still remember carbon paper and typewriters!

Another technique that we plan on using is seeking direct customer feedback and existing and future product design, via our websites and social media, email and even (yet another gasp!) surveys. I think SurveyMonkey is in my future. . . . As an experiment in getting this direct customer feedback started, here's a quick little product survey. Please let us know in comments which of the suzani pillows shown you like best, and why. Each of these pillow covers is made using hand-woven ikat fabrics (60% silk, 40% cotton) from Margilan, Uzbekistan, and all embroidery is hand-made, using the suzani (needle and thread) technique. Retail prices range from $32.99 (for the plain yellow ikat cover) to $68.99 (for the round embroidered pillow).  Give us your thoughts on color combinations, designs and anything else that comes to mind. We want to offer unique products that our customers love, products that truly speak to them, so your input is critical.

The second prong of our new marketing initiatives is to work to develop wholesale connections.  Our first step in that direction is our upcoming participation in the Aid to Artisans Market Readiness Program held in conjunction with the NYNOW trade  show in August. We hope to make key connections with retailers and wholesalers from around the country, and get invaluable feedback from designers. New York here I come! Maybe we'll see you there.

Thanks for your input.

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