Continuously expanding and varying your product offerings can broaden your customer base and invite loyal customers to come back for more. When you launch a new product, you also keep your shop fresh and your creativity sharp. Plus, you’ll have a perfect reason to pitch a story to the press. The icing on the cake? Challenging yourself to innovate can balance out the repetition of making multiple versions of the items you currently sell.
You might worry that broadening your product line will be a daunting and time-consuming process. But it can be fun and invigorating, as Natasha Durham of Rough and Tumble Bags has learned. Natasha's line has expanded and evolved since she opened the Etsy shop six years ago. “I love looking at Etsy shops with a long history," she says. "When you look at the first few pages of someone’s sold items, it tells a story.” Looking back at her shop’s first sales in 2008, you can see exactly what she means. Even in the early days, the knapsacks and satchels she was making alone in her home studio were high caliber – but featured simpler designs and fewer details than the bags she currently offers. Natasha’s style and skills have clearly developed and grown, and so have her sales figures. Rough and Tumble, which is based in Hebron, Maine, has racked up 16,875 sales in the past six years and now employs 16 local quilters, seamstresses and assistants.
Here are some tips for keeping your product lines fresh based on Natasha's experiences.
Approach 1: Refresh Your Current Line
“I've already started from zero, I don't need to start from zero again,” Natasha says. Neither should you. If you’re happy with the products you’ve already developed and you’re short on time, think about slight variations you can make to your items to keep them up-to-date, while playing with fresh features. Re-examine the details that make up your product, such as a pocket placement, a necklace fastener, a color choice or that decorative tassel. How are these elements enhancing your item? Brainstorm ways you can adjust a style and update the details based on customer feedback. If you make small adjustments over six years, as Natasha has done, you might organically end up with items you would never have imagined from the outset.
Approach 2: Introduce a New Collection
While Natasha prefers to make iterative changes on her one-of-a-kind purses over time, she always makes a few simple and specific changes for the season by broadening color options for current items. She takes into account how warmer weather brings lifestyle changes for her customers. For example, she may offer a smaller and lighter piece for spring. “Different materials can really get you in a different retail price and profit bracket," she says. "That’s why I went out and bought my first leather sewing machine!”
When you set to work, take stock of your shop and see what colors might be missing. And how about mixing up your materials? If you’ve only worked in silver for the past year, for instance, can you make the leap into white gold or platinum to place yourself in a higher price bracket? Mull over additional sourcing options if you aren’t ready to make that kind of investment. For example, you could try newly-rejuvenated brass, vintage components, or look into gold or silver plating your work for a different look.
Think about your target market. Perhaps they were getting married when you started your shop three years ago. While there will always be a wedding market, you can also find ways to grow along with your existing customer base. Think about what they’re up to now — perhaps they need maternity and kids items, say, or travel accessories — and expand your offerings accordingly.
Approach 3: Launch a Brand New Line
As an Etsy seller, you’re in a unique position. You can make changes and sell original products fast, and adapt and evolve nimbly. While Natasha’s Rough and Tumble line grew organically over hundreds and hundreds of pattern and textile iterations (and that might work best for you), you don’t have to wait if you’re ready to try a completely different product. Much like experimenting with materials and price points, launching a new product in your shop can grab customers who are browsing entirely different categories. If you sell home decor pillows, for instance, you might consider adding a line of dog beds.
Product innovation requires you to climb a bit out of your comfort zone, with patience. Luckily, you already have an abundance of information to inspire your next prototype. Let common customer questions and requests help inform your choices. Similarly, you can learn a lot about potential customers by studying your Shop Stats. Are you getting a lot of search hits for “graduation card letterpress” but don't sell anything that fits the bill? How can you meet shoppers’ existing needs? As Natasha says, “Customers paid for my education.”
You can also think smaller. What could you offer as an add-on that complements your existing items? When brainstorming, start with ideas that can be created with the materials you already work with, and branch out from there. Case in point: Rough and Tumble now offers messenger straps that can convert a clutch handbag into a wearable purse.
Above all, always work with your strengths. “If I'm designing, I study what my team and I are really good at," Natasha says. "Maybe that’s the flawless way in which we sew a French seam or install a zipper. We'll take that and design it in and build on it.” To keeping your lines cohesive, she says, “You have to balance out the customer requests and ideas with what you truly believe is a good design. I focus on getting down to my core aesthetic.” While this is a challenge, her litmus test is a really simple question: “Would I wear this?”
Have fun creating your next best-selling item! Have you launched a new line? Share your tips in the comments.