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Advice

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!

Design

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!