Stacey: A thing I talk about a lot when people are starting businesses is you don’t know what’s going to be successful. Let’s say you start your business and you’re going to sell books. You could spend a lot of money stocking every book that’s out there, but that might not be what’s going to be successful. If you just started with a niche, let’s say you just sold some mystery books, but your people were saying that they liked horror more. You’re more flexible when you start small and can listen to your customers because then you can steer where you want your store to go. I’m a big fan of starting your business small not just in terms of a niche, also in terms of money. If I had been given 100,000 to run Fresh Stitches my first year, the business I would’ve come up with would’ve looked very different than it does now and I don’t know if it would’ve been profitable. There’s certain customers that connect with you and you’re not in control of that. You can change your Facebook ads and all that, but in the end there’s certain people who connect with you, certain people who gravitate towards you, and maybe certain customers share to their customers and your base grows in ways that you can’t control. It just goes where it goes. I know we talk a lot about ideal customers, but sometimes you don’t have control over it.
Mei: Yes, I completely agree with that. I think it’s really important as you’re beginning your business that you try a lot of things. You need to try a lot of different things before you find the thing that really sticks. A lot of people when they meet with failure the first time just put their tail between their legs and go back to their banking job.
When I started Tiny Hands, I wasn’t making scented jewelry. It was only about a year later that I really focused on this thing being my unique selling proposition.
Stacey: You can do all the business things you want, but you don’t know how it’s going to end up running. When you started Tiny Hands, let’s say you were making pieces one by one. You can’t exactly plan how it’s going to scale up. Maybe you found out adding scents to things was easy or hard, adding glitter was easy or hard, and maybe adding glitter can’t work for 10,000 pieces a month. You can’t plan for that when you’re starting out. When you’re starting out, you’re still sourcing for your materials, still making your connections, and maybe you find out you’re only going to do wholesale sales. You can’t plan on that expansion. I don’t think it’s wise to start a business and say you’re only going to sale for wholesale so you’re just going to do one thing, because you don’t know.
Mei: As business owners we need to adapt to changes and listen to feedback. If something isn’t working you just need to put up new products that have something different that people are interested in.
When we talk about ideal customers, a lot of people say just make a fictional character up and like you said, we don’t have control over who the person ends up being. I care about trends and I make cupcakes because I know they’re a huge hit with people. After cupcakes, French macaroons became a big thing so I started making them. I think it’s important where people are at. We’re not inventing new things, we’re not recreating the wheel, we’re just kind of figuring out where these people are at.
Stacey: Fresh Stitches, I make crochet animals that are cute. So your first thought would be: “Oh, you could be with the kawaii, amigurumi, super cute movement.” I tried for a really long time when I started a new Instagram for Ami Club, which is a subscription club. I tried going after those hashtags and that audience, but something just doesn’t click. I may never know why, but sometimes it just doesn’t work.
Mei: We try a lot of different things and not everything has always worked out. It’s important that you keep going and don’t give up.
When you mentioned scent and glitter, if I could go back to when the whole concept of scented food jewelry was established in Tiny Hands, knowing what I know now I wouldn’t put the scent in. It’s not like I can just press a magical button and press “Put the scent to 100%.” There’s always the problem of people saying they couldn’t smell the jewelry or my friend tried to smell the new cone necklace and the smell made her want to puke, but other people like the scent. There’s a lot of problems with making jewelry, but it’s kind of what I’ve become known for and it’s not necessarily what I want to be doing.
Stacey: But also because it’s so hard, you’re in a position to take control over it. Other people try to copy what you do, but other people aren’t going to be as successful because it’s so hard and you’ve already become so experienced with it. I see this with the craft eyes I sell. They’re really hard to find because craft stores aren’t really selling them these days. I order them from a company overseas and I have to order them by the thousands so it’s very expensive to do. In terms of looking at my competitors, when it comes to the range of sizes nobody is going to wake up and do what I do. It’s too expensive to do it. I can do it because I have an established business, but because it’s harder and more difficult it kind of guards you a little from competition.
Mei: I agree. It does make it harder for other people to copy you and do what you do. People see Tiny Hands and think they can just do the same thing, but there’s a thousand steps before me. It’s a very good point.
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