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Advice

Maker Resources

7 Tips for Setting Up at the NYNow Trade Show

August 23, 2013

Advice from our artists at the NYNow trade show | UncommonGoodsThis week New York City welcomed hundreds of designers and brands to the Javits Center for NYNow, nee NYIGF. This trade show is big time for designers as well as buyers since retailers are getting ready to stock their holiday assortments and are looking for products that are new and interesting.

With trade shows being so expensive for an exhibitor, there is a lot of pressure to make an impact on retailers walking the show. I walked through, visiting our UncommonGoods artists – some seasoned NY gift show veterans- asking them for their best advice for other exhibitors. Some of the tips they told me are truly golden!

Cat Studio's booth at NYNow | UncommonGoods1. Be flexible with your display.
CatStudio, designers of beautifully illustrated geographical home wares, comes with a loose plan for the display of their booth and room and time for improvisation. When they get to NY from California, founder Terrell heads to a flea market in Chelsea for vintage props. The team heads in with an open mind and the result is a display that is personal and exciting.

Jeff Davis's booth at NYNow | UncommonGoods2. Leave your booth in NYC.
Designer Jeff Davis knows he is coming to NYC twice a year to exhibit at the gift show, so instead of bringing his walls and props with him to and from Philadelphia, he leaves it all in a storage facility in Manhattan. Some storage facilities will even drop off your stuff at the Javits Center. This way you can focus more on packing your merchandise and marketing materials.

Jenny Krauss's booth at NY Now | UncommonGoods3. Design a booth that doubles as storage.
Setting up a booth for Jenny Krauss is as simple as opening a trunk. She designed two large cases that open up into a display and hired a local contractor to build it. It wheels into the convention center full of props and merchandise and allows for an easy clean-up!

Jim Loewer's booth at NYNow | UncommonGoods4. Lighting is everything!
Bad lighting could make or break your product display, and since your booth doesn’t come with lights of it’s own, lighting is all on you! Glassblower Jim Loewer understands the importance of light in his display so he constructed a light box to show off his sun catchers. Experiment in your home or studio by shining a flashlight over your product, if it looks better in the light, it should have a spotlight on it.

Melanie McKenney's booth at NYNow | UncommonGoods5. Build some private space.
Things can get cramped in a small booth, so husband and wife team Justin and Melanie McKenney build a small room into the back of their booth where they store supplies, papers, and a chair for resting. I won’t show it to you, but the couple says it keeps them sane (and still married!) while exhibiting Melanie’s designs throughout the week.

great idea to get buyers to remember you at the next trade show | UncommonGoods6. Bring bottled water!
Melanie and Justin know from exhibiting more than once that water at the Javits Center is expensive and hard to come by. So they come prepared with cases of water they buy in bulk at home. It’s a nice gesture to hand a bottle of water to someone who is clearly parched and not interested in shelling out $3 for a bottle of water, but they make sure that retailers remember how special the gesture is by replacing the labels with custom labels with their brand name and booth number. I glanced at their logo so many times throughout the rest of the day and was even reminded of them when I got home and emptied my bag!

getting my caricature done at NYNow | UncommonGoods7. Offer an experience they can’t get anywhere else.
Back at the CatStudio booth they took advantage of their talented illustrators to offer caricatures to people visiting their booth. It got me to sit there for a bit and chat with founders Terrell and Carmel to learn more about their company. I also walked away with a great souvenir to have after the show. If you have the space and resources, try planning something creative that highlights what makes your brand unique and will leave a lasting impression.

Advice from designers at NYNow | UncommonGoodsAnd my advice for walking the NYNow? Wear comfortable shoes!

Maker Resources

8 Videos from How To Make It: Pitching Your Designs

August 15, 2013

How To Make It event at Union Hall | UncommonGoodsLast week we had the pleasure of hosting another How To Make It event, this time, in the basement of Park Slope’s Union Hall. We love hearing from our artists and buyers on the panel, but especially love getting the chance to meet local designers.

How To Make It event at Union Hall | UncommonGoodsHow To Make It event at Union Hall | UncommonGoodsHow To Make It event at Union Hall | UncommonGoodsHow To Make It event at Union Hall | UncommonGoodsHow To Make It event at Union Hall | UncommonGoodsThe conversation was all about getting the word out about your designs to the media and retail buyers. UncommonGoods Senior Buyer Erin Fergusson, jewelry designer Emilie Shapiro, and myself chatted about the dos and don’ts of email pitches, trade shows, and pr reps.

Even if you were unable to make it, there was some great information shared that you can benefit from as a designer and business person. Here are 8 great clips from the panel.

How to submit your designs to a design challenge.

How to create an email pitch that won’t get lost in the mix.

Bloggers and editors need different information than a buyer. Here’s what to send when pitching to the media.

Trade shows can be expensive, but are they a wise investment?

Some advice on setting up your booth at a trade show.

Erin shares how the UncommonGoods buying team schedules and organizes themselves during a trade show.

What kind of information should a designer share about their company and designs at a trade show?

Emilie shares her tips for keeping track of contacts at trade shows and following up after meetings.

Want more? Check out the entire talk.

The Uncommon Life

Our 8 Favorite Motivational Quotes

June 21, 2013

Each month we get the opportunity to learn a little bit more about one of our artists by stepping inside their studio to see where and how they work. These visits are always inspiring, and we’re always amazed at how every artist and designer who opens their door to us also opens our minds with a wealth of wisdom.

One of the questions we always ask when we stop by a studio is “what quote keeps you motivated?” The quotes always make us smile, and get us going…and they also got us thinking. Since our artists have graciously shared their favorite quotes with us, we decided to share ours with you.

As Senior Merchandising Manager and Head Buyer, Erin is all about finding products that really stand out. She’s not afraid to show her true colors, either, and shared her favorite quote found on etsy.

Gaby’s blog posts often feature awesome advice from our design community, and she’s always happy to share what she’s loving from around the web, so it’s no surprise that she found this Woody Allen quote on Design Love Fest.

Kira, on the other hand, dug up a quote from her own history instead of her browser history. This Marketing Analyst hasn’t changed much over the years. (Though her hair color has.)

Kim, who coordinates our quality control team, was so inspired by these words of wisdom from Walt Disney that she got a permanent reminder to follow her dream.

Quality assurance specialist Seneca also shared an aphorism from someone with a big imagination. She keeps this Michael Jackson quote by her desk.


Sometimes keeping that reminder to follow your dreams, think before you act, or preserver near is all it takes to get though a tough time. So, I decided to write down my favorite quote. (I grew up in Minnesota, so the symbolism of a long, cold winter really hits a nerve.)


Our Founder and CEO, Dave, shared this quote that roughly translates to “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.” The saying originated in WWII and became the motto of Army General “Vinegar” Joe Stillwell, but it was also something Dave’s mom used to say while he was growing up. The words had such an impact, that they inspired him to develop one of our products, the “Illegitimi Non Carborundum” Paperweight.

Tabletop Buyer Candace’s quote is an appropriate way to end our roundup. This message from Hello Jack Design is a reminder that when you’re having a rough day, it’s okay to fight back.

What quote do you turn to when you need a little motivation?

Design

Advice from our Design Challenge Winners

June 18, 2013

Everyone always asks what my favorite part of our design challenges is. I really love sitting with the buyer and going through the entries and offering my unsolicited advice. I also love making that phone call to the grand prize winner letting them know the results of the judging session. But my absolute favorite part is getting to interview the winners for the blog post where we introduce them to our community.

Being able to be the one who makes that first personal connection with the UncommonGoods brand is really important to me. Learning what keeps these artists ticking and how excited they are to be a part of our community really warms me up! I tend to get really attached to my design challenge artists and develop design crushes on them!

Each time I ask an artist what advice they would give to someone considering entering a design challenge, I am blown away by their responses. Considering entering a design challenge yourself? Here are some of my favorite bits of advice.

Take a risk and enter. Be sure to rally up your friends and colleagues, they can be some of your best chances to filling in votes. But, above all, don’t let negative comments get you down. Constructive criticism is one thing, but personal preferences and insults are not necessary in the creative process.

Jeff Knight, Woodworking Design Challenge

This is a great opportunity it doesn’t cost anything to enter there is really nothing to lose! Even the opportunity for a jury to look at your work usually costs money; here you get a team of professionals to evaluate your design for free! The semi-finalists get great exposure on the website through the voting platform and there is another opportunity for honest feedback and insight into your work. We made a goal several years ago when looking at an UncommonGoods catalog to some day be featured in their collection, and it took this long to do it. Without ever having that thought or goal to begin with it never would have happened!

Patrick & Carrie Frost, Glass Art Design Challenge

My first bit of advice would simply be to enter the competition. Don’t prevent yourself from taking advantage of such an awesome opportunity by worrying about whether your art is good enough. Just enter it and see what happens. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Those circumstances are not very common and should always be ventured.

My second piece of advice goes hand in hand with my first. I think Andy Warhol summed it up perfectly. He said, “Don’t think about making art. Just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.” Whatever the outcome of this competition or any other artistic venture you attempt, don’t worry too much about the results. Just keep making more art. If you’re consistent, you’ll eventually stumble upon a great artistic breakthrough that someone will notice and adore.

Elise Wehle, 2013 Art Contest

Submit work that you not only know is strong, but that you are genuinely proud of. If selected as a finalist, you’ll be discussing the design challenge with your with friends and colleagues; it’s much easier to talk about your work with enthusiasm when you feel truly engaged with the work.

Sarah Nicole Phillips, Art Contest-May

Still not sure about your design challenge entry? Check out my advice to artists here.

Gift Guides

How to Create Your Dream Wedding Registry

May 20, 2013

Not to sound overly girlie or cliché, but getting engaged was absolutely one of the happiest, most blissful moments (weekends) of my life. And sure, now five months later I am entirely wrapped up in comparing caterers and photographers and yes trying on many, many white dresses and making many, many decisions (who knew there were so many decisions to make?). It’s been a total blast. As it turns out, I love planning! Now, that’s not to say I haven’t had my moments – total emotional breakdowns/spazz moments … I am somewhat comforted to know that I have found this to be a shared experience among just about all my engaged/married friends. (This is a highly emotional time, people!) but I am getting better at thinking big picture and turning any moments of stress into excitement. I think by the time our wedding date rolls around, I’ll have this down to a science. Until then: lots of deep breaths, long runs and on certain nights: copious amounts of wine.

Katie’s Uncommon Registry board on Pinterest

As for some of those details – while we are taking some liberties with certain “traditions”, building a registry was one of the most fun projects I have worked on during this flurry of planning – and we approached this in a somewhat traditional sense – all while infusing our personalities into it from bottom to top. I have been to enough weddings in the past 2-3 years to see several approaches to registries, and being in the retail business and overall a product-passionate person, I am at somewhat of an advantage as to knowing what is in the competitive landscape for products. Here are some tips of the trade and from my experience that might be useful for anyone who is just getting started in this:

(1.) SET UP MORE THAN ONE REGISTRY:
We tried a few different approaches, and in the end, we chose to register with four different sites. We wanted to make sure we gathered the best products from the best sources to match our taste and needs, rather than trying to retro-fit into one or two retailers who might not have exactly what we wanted. Not to mention, a lot of traditional retailers don’t carry the really unique, wow items to add personality into your home. I also really love when my friends register at a few different places, so that I can mix and match gifts and price points to give them what feels like a cohesive package of goodies.

The first place we registered with was the service Knack. We used this to pull in items from sites that did not have their own registry or if there were not enough items on the site to rationalize an entire registry. I had used Knack for friends’ registries and found it exciting to see items aggregated from funky, smaller stores. I liked that it opened up the market for registering outside of traditional retailers, but the checkout process was somewhat laborious to use. (E.g.: to purchase an item, you click into the item page from the main registry page, select “Buy Now” – which then takes you to the separate retailer site to purchase. Once you purchase it through the other retailer (and have to enter in all address information, etc), then you have to click back to Knack to tell the service you purchased it. Not the easiest, I did not check out correctly the first time I used it and I consider myself a pretty tech-savvy person! After imagining some of the less tech-savvy folks in our life trying to use this service, I decided to break out what I could onto separate, more traditional registry sites.



Your wedding registry is an opportunity to show off your style and point to the “wow” items you’re dreaming of.

(2.) ASK FOR HELP!
After building out registries which solved for pots and pans, plates and cups, coffee makers and cookbooks, I thought I had thought of everything. Well, thankfully, I sent our registry links around to my mom, sister-in-law, and my fiancé’s mom. Definitely ask around, while there are tons of wedding planning books and websites, I found getting advice from the people who know us best to be the most helpful. They knew we didn’t need overly ornate plates or silver serving pieces, but they also jumped on the fact that I had missed sheets and towels and silverware.

(3.) MAKE SURE TO GET YOUR PARTNER’S SIGN OFF
Building the registry was something I decided to take on and consult with my partner after I was more or less finished. I built out the above described registries, added the links to our wedding website, and before I knew it our family and friends were jumping on items as engagement gifts. (What a lovely surprise!) Luckily, my fiancé and I definitely share a similar taste level and aesthetic so I was not too far off. However, once I saw people starting to buy items, I decided I ought to run the registries by my fiancé. The process of editing was funny, while I tried to pretty much stick to the essentials, I may have tried to slide in a few decorative accents that he quickly and swiftly gave the axe (a handmade bell, Katie, really??). So, make sure you are BOTH on the same page to avoid glares from your one and only after the wedding.

Overall, building a registry is a super fun project; I think this is because it allows you to start picturing what this next phase of our life might look like. Sure, we have lived together for going on 4 years now and have stocked cabinets, but our kitchen is largely a patchwork style collection of cast off odds and ends from our moms’ kitchens (happy to clean out their pantries), plates we picked up from the free shop at a oft-visited dump in New Hampshire, and–most notably–our collection of pots and pans from a particularly successful yard sale day. For two people who love to cook and entertain, curating a collection of items to use on a daily basis was an exciting foray into – dare I say – true adulthood. Because really, I think it’s when you own your first Cuisinart that you can call yourself an adult. But it was during the selection of goods that I realized we could hand pick the items that we would use not only to use to heat up soup on a typical Monday night of netflix-marathon watching, but to make our home with, to serve holiday dinners with our families, and in someway, to define who we are as a couple and how we want to make our home. That being said, I believe our kitchen, and our home will always be a patchwork of odds and ends, but at least now we might have matching tops to all our pots and a functioning coffee maker!

My biggest words of advice: Make it about who you are as a couple. If you never bake, don’t register for bake ware; if you aren’t the formal type, register for some high quality, but funkier versions of things – everyone needs plates to eat off of, you don’t need to go for the super expensive kind if they don’t suit your lifestyle. The rules have changed a lot, embrace the freedom to build your home together and have fun with it. When in doubt, consult your family and friends for help, they will love it!

Get your registry started at UncommonGoods!

Design

How to Win a Design Challenge

May 1, 2013

After facilitating 11 design challenges over the past year, I consider myself our company expert. I sit with the buyers as they sift through the entries to decide on the semifinalist designs that will make it to our community voting app, moderate the final judging session, and communicate with the designers throughout the entire process. I am to the point now where I can anticipate what the buyers will say about each entry and finalist design so I thought it would be helpful for me to share some of my observations.

Of course the final decision always comes down to the design and how well the buyers think it will sell at UncommonGoods, but keeping this advice in mind will help you avoid some road blocks that I have seen make or break the final decision.

PRICING I thought I’d start with the technical stuff to get it out of the way and because this is a really important factor in most design challenges. UncommonGoods is a retailer so we buy artist’s goods at a wholesale price. After we buy your design from you, we still need to make a profit, so we need to have a retail price set with a fair profit margin. We measure gross margin % to gauge profitability. We calculate this with (retail price – wholesale price)/retail price x 100 = GM%.

But if you have only been selling on Etsy and at flea markets, you might not have a wholesale price figured out yet. Many independent sellers are currently selling their items retail at a wholesale price! Stores like UncommonGoods will need to charge almost two times that amount to make a profit, and we won’t want to sell your design at a much higher price than a customer can get it on your site. This might mean going back to the drawing board but a strong pricing structure could really benefit you in the future.

Senior Buyer Erin Fergusson advises, “Research what is out there in the market place and understand the range of retail prices for similar products. Be sure to note the materials and how something is produced (handmade vs. manufactured) in order to understand where the cost is coming from.”

To understand pricing a little more, check out this really informative forum discussion between Etsy sellers.

Tell your product story well and completely! Some artists do a great job telling the story of their design in the Product Description field on our online submission form. Some artists don’t and it can really hurt them. This is the space to let us know all about your inspiration, your artistic process and how the design makes you feel. This is the space to tell our buyers everything you want them to know about you and your art.

If your design is chosen to be a semi-finalist, this is the copy we will edit for grammar and punctuation to use in the community voting stage-so this story won’t just attract our buyers, but also the thousands of voters who will be viewing your design. Good product copy can make or break your chances with the voting community, the buyers, and the rest of the judging panel.

Our buyers love collections. When I sit with a buyer and go through design challenge submission, more often than not we are also visiting an artist’s website to see what else they have. Not because we’re nosy, and not because we don’t like what we see. Our buyers want a sense of an artist’s future as a vendor at UncommonGoods. They’re looking for an artist that will be able to create a collection of similar products. Check out Valerie Galloway and Etta Kostick – former design challenge participants with robust collections.

Be prepared for our inventory demands. Our inventory requests for each design are always different depending on price and category, and our buyers work to create a plan with each designer that is beneficial to both parties. One common question you should be able to answer is “how many of these can you make in a week’s time?” Don’t know the answer to that question because you’ve only ever made one? That’s ok too, but have a plan in place for scaling up. (Get some advice from our current vendors here!)

Send a product sample, NOT a prototype. Most challenges require the semifinalists to send in their design for the buyers to review. Even if a design doesn’t make it into the top five designs that are judged, the buyers will review all the samples that come in. So many other artists are eager to get their designs into our buyers’ hands-but so many times I see samples with unfinished edges and chipping paint. Who knows when you will get another chance.

Send them something that shows the true extent of your talent. Before you send out your sample think, is this something I would send to a paying customer? Remember, when our buyers have your design in their hands they are thinking the exact same thing.

Stay tuned to our Twitter to learn about new design challenges and enter our Art Contest all year round!

Maker Resources

How To Make It: Collaborating and Building Your Network | Videos

April 11, 2013

Earlier this month we hosted another design panel and happy hour for designers in Brooklyn. The topic of conversation was learning how to work well with other artist in a collaborative community, a business partnership and on the internet. Sitting on the panel was artist and founder of the AmDC Kiel Mead, Katy Maslow and Michelle Inciarrano of Twig Terrariums, and UncommonGoods Community Outreach Coordinator, Gaby Dolceamore (yeah, that’s me!).

Guests were invited to mingle with each other and the panel; enjoy some Brooklyn Brewery beer, Dark Horse Wine and Pelzer’s Pretzels; and vote on a community winner of the Woodworking Design Challenge. Check out Zsuzsanna’s winning design, the Floating Window Air Plant Wall Decoration.

We know not everyone can head over to Brooklyn on a Tuesday night to join our events, so we are happy to offer clips from the night’s discussion below!

Communication is key, especially when best friends become business partners!

Michelle and Katy of Twig Terrariums reveal how they split up the work in their business.

Kiel describes the dynamic of contributing to a group of artists in the AmDC.

The Twig ladies talk about how important it is for them to share their craft with the local community.

The group discusses the importance of telling your art’s story.

The panel weighs in on the belief that 80% of a group’s work is done by 20% of its members.

Kiel describes how he makes the most out of networking with other artists.

…or just watch the entire thing!

Design

Using craftgawker.com to Promote Your Designs

April 9, 2013

As an avid craft blogger, I know the magic of getting a post featured on craftgawker. One DIY or tutorial posted on the site usually means thousands of new visits to my blog! We even use it as a tool to promote UncommonGoods design challenges and blog posts. But it recently dawned on me how helpful the gawkerverse could be in gathering inspiration and promoting your work so I reached out to Maria, their designer and editor, to pick her brain. As a designer herself, Maria has some great advice for using the gawkerverse to it’s greatest advantage.

How can a designer use the gawkerverse community to market their designs?
Anyone can use the gawkerverse to share their work. Our goal is to publish posts that are inspirational to our readers. Sometimes that comes in the form of a DIY or recipe, an artist’s interview, or a post that shares a behind the scenes look at how something is made.

If you are a designer looking to share your work, the best gawkerverse site to submit your work to is craftgawker or dwellingawker. A great way to get readers to check your post is to offer a printable or a DIY, as people like to participate. If you don’t want to provide a DIY or printable, another great way to get noticed is to provide an inside look at your process. Did you just create an amazing logo? Why not share some of the ideas that led up to the final? The same thing would work for a fine artist. Rather than only sharing the final painting, why not share some of the in-progress photos? People love to see how an artist/designer got from point A to point B.

Also, remember that photography is important! Photos are important for any blog or website, because most people are visual, but it is especially important when submitting to the gawkerverse. You only have a short time to draw someone in, and the best way to do that is with a photo that makes them stop and look.

What is the most creative thing you have seen submitted to the gawkerverse?
That’s a really hard question, because we get a lot of amazing submissions but here are a few posts that stand out.

This post by The 3R’s Blog utilizes a paper craft we all know how to make from our childhood and repurposes it into this modern, geometric lamp shade!

This DIY by My Poppet is a great way to restore old, hand woven, cane chairs. Cross stitching turned this old chair into a modern, colorful work of art.

This recent post by Feathers of Gold shows us how to create this awesome hexagonal ornament with stir straws!

Where do you seek inspiration?
I usually don’t have to look too far for inspiration, since I am one of the craftgawker moderators, so I see tons of amazing ideas daily, but some of my favorite design blogs are Design Work Life, Weekday Carnival, and Door Sixteen.

I try to find inspiration everywhere. Packaging, posters, magazines, catalogs, they all give me ideas and inspire me to try something different.

What makes a good gawkerverse submission?
Our goal is to inspire our readers to be creative. In our opinion, there is no better feeling than creating something! Whether your creative outlet is food, art, your wedding, your look, or an entire room, we want people to experience the satisfaction you get from making something yourself.

The most important component for a good gawkerverse submission is a great photo. Beautiful photos are always inspirational and will usually do well on our site. It’s the first thing a reader will see and it is what makes them want to find out more.

Next we look for good content. We always prefer DIY, but we will accept anything that we believe our users will find inspirational. That includes process photos, interviews, or any discussion about what inspired the blogger to create.

What are some tips for taking gawkerverse-worthy photos?
In my opinion, lighting is the absolute most important component for taking a good photo. If you don’t have good lighting, the photo won’t be successful. Natural diffused light is always best, because very direct light can create distracting shadows.

Next, composition plays a huge role. It’s always important to consider your subject matter and be sure that it’s always your focal point. An image can be perfectly exposed, with amazing light, but if the composition isn’t right, the image won’t be successful. It’s always important to consider your subject matter and compose a balanced shot that will work in our square format. When in doubt, keep it simple.

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