This last fortnight has been, for me, all about the holiday/Christmas season - 2010! It's actually getting a little late for planning for next year and I'm almost beginning to panic as we've had a shock from one supplier - our long-planned samples came back looking like something from a cheap market stall. They're functional, but they're not nice and we can't possibly go ahead with this maker. (You can see a small picture here - the trim is nightmarishly bad). So, it's back to looking for good makers for this kind of bag - which really does require industrial machinery to come out well. *
One of the themes of this blog is the importance of good design, production and manufacturing. There are loads of places that will tell you about marketing and promotion. How you need the blog, the newsletter, the Facebook fan page, the Twitters - it's all true. But what I want to emphasise is that first and foremost the product needs to be good, everything follows from that.
To get it right takes time. Our bags seem to need at least a year from first concept through to us actually selling them. In between are several sample cycles, adjustment and testing (I joke, but I really do carry our bags around so I know the strengths and the weaknesses). In between is also a lot of frustration and, on the upside, some great moments when we see how to make something better, or understand that yes, it's going to work.
Right now, I'm pissed off and feeling under time stress - having been let down by what I thought would be a great production partner next year. But in spite of this, I actually love the production side of things, it's so tangible and so satisfying when you see a bag go all the way from a vague idea to a reality in canvas and leather. Ideas are exciting, but making them into real things is better.
* By the way, for anyone thinking "handmade"? we largely nowadays use professional makers for our bags - but we do all the prints by hand. In this way, we're a bit like Etsians who print on ready-made tees or bags. However, we have the base bags made specially to our specs, we don't use mass-made, generally available ones as we find the quality is too low.
I've talked a lot about the times that you need to change your main focus, whether that's in business terms or creatively. Sometimes, the things you've been doing successfully for years stop working, or begin to feel stale. Or circumstances simply become different, and force you to rethink.
However, the opposite can happen. There are moments when you may actually want to go back to something that you've done in the past, and revisit a market, or a style or a field or skill that you thought you'd left behind. It's important to leave options open for when unexpected opportunity or inspiration strikes.
When we finished the Bohemian Gothic Tarot we were both exhausted. For me, it got caught up with the whole experience of the death of a parent that happened at the same time, and it became too intense at one point. For Alex, it was simply too wrecking to work night after night until gone two in the morning. We both felt like saying, "Never again" once we finally published, even though the deck was such a success as far as buyers and users were concerned.
But we didn't make a decision at the time - we knew we were too emotional and tired to see things clearly. We just said, "Not right now, not for a while, and perhaps not ever." Now, suddenly a deck seems a more inviting prospect again. Or at least feasible. We've learned, from the experience, a lot about not making announcements about anything or promising publication dates or getting into too many open - and demanding - discussions about design (we have enough wild- slightly wild - fights here about that) .
So we've changed our attitude and something that seemed barely possible two years ago looks more do-able again. It doesn't mean that it'll ever happen - meanwhile we are heavily involved in a new Bohemian Cats project that may lead us to places we didn't expect so who knows what will happen. But I'm glad we didn't close off all possibilities, even psychologically.
Think of it like love. When some idea suddenly comes along that's a thrill and that takes your imagination, you don't want to find that you've cut yourself off from it by vowing never to have anything to do with that kind of
person project/style/business/customer/field again. Now do you?
One thing you need to face squarely when you're running a studio business is that there are some people who you don't want an on-going customer relationship with - those who just don't like your work that much.
Yes, it's great to expand your audience and clients/customers. But the fact is that there are some people who will never "get" what you do and who, even if they can perhaps be persuaded to buy once, won't ever be all that enthused by it. You know, if you're honest with yourself that "they're just not that into you" - right? Don't waste your energy - and their time - by trying to target those people on the very edges of your natural customer/fan group. Your efforts are far better spent listening to the people who love your work and working out how to make it even better for them.
Don't be afraid to choose your customers so that you genuinely can like, enjoy and feel at ease with them.