Shop Talk: Mellybee
Cornwall-based Melanie Chadwick has three strands to her creative business. She is a freelance designer, illustrator and screen printer, and created her brand Mellybee to sell her stationery and textile products. We talk to Melanie about her business, find out her tips for selling at craft fairs and learn why, for her, packaging is almost as important as the product….
When and why did you start Mellybee?
The name Mellybee has been around a lot longer than the brand itself: my dad used to call me Mellybee as a nickname when I was a teenager. When I graduated in Fine Art in 2002 I used the name to do quirky random projects like making bags and soft sculpture, alongside my ‘more serious artwork’ when I used my proper full name. However, after a couple of years living in Hong Kong and being surrounded by such bright, fun and colourful life I decided to invest more time in the illustration and design side of my work. When we moved to Falmouth in 2011 I was finally able to invest in a screen-printing kit and launch the brand you see today, producing quirky handprinted textiles and stationery designed to make you smile.
What did you consider before opening your Folksy shop?
I had tried a number of different selling platforms prior to opening a Folksy shop but, after meeting the Folksy team at the Renegade Craft Fair in 2012, felt that I would commit to opening a shop on there properly. When you feel like you know the people behind the organisation it’s a lot easier to make a decision.
Do you work on Mellybee full time?
My art practice is split into three areas at the moment, which fluctuate according to the season:
- Mellybee: my quirky label under which I make and design stationery and textile products to sell via Folksy and other shops online and on the street.
- Melaniechadwick.com: my freelance design and illustration work, where I create logos, designs, posters and illustrations for web and print. Clients include indie shops, businesses, design studios and cafes.
- A screen-printing service: I do screen printing for small businesses/shops looking for small print runs on totebags and tees etc. This ties in well with my freelance work as I usually offer to print the designs I create on to tea towels/tote bags, which they can then sell in their shop.
Last year you reviewed the Outlaw Craft Fair for us. Do you often sell your work at markets, and how do you pick which fairs to do?
In the first two years of setting up Mellybee I did sell at lots of fairs and it’s a great way to test the market without a massive outlay. You can also meet people face to face and get first-hand reaction to your products. However, as my business has grown and especially with the wholesaling side growing and the amount of time it takes to make things, I have had to become more selective about which fairs I sell at. Outlaw Craft Fair put on a great event and have a brilliant team of organisers who put in many hours to ensure the fair is advertised to the right people as well as having a varied program of workshops, demos and stall holders.
There are a few questions I think you should consider when choosing a craft fair to sell at: What’s the venue like? Is it easily accessible to the public? What’s the location like? Have the organisers got a good track record? Do you know anyone who has been a seller there before? Is this a one off? It may not matter so much when you’re just spending a tenner on your stall, but if it’s over £50 then you need to consider how well it’s being organised.
Also think about what the main purpose is for you. Sometimes it’s not just about selling your work – it might be that it’s to showcase new products, test the market, build your mailing list, sell all your misprints at bargain prices, check out the craft scene or network with other crafty people, or it could be a combination of all of these things. That way, you’re less likely to be disappointed than if you had gone with the expectation of just selling your products.
Do you think stall presentation is important at craft fairs. How do you display your work?
Definitely! Think of it as your own mini store front window. What do you want your customers to see first? How are you going to sell your brand in the midst of so many other creative businesses? What will be your unique look? How are you going to make your customers linger long enough for you to make a connection and sell your wares? These are just some of the questions that occupy my mind when I’m preparing to sell at a fair! I try to ensure I have products placed at different heights, so my display is not just flat and there is something to look at at every level.
Do you sell your work wholesale? What do you think are the benefits (and pitfalls) of selling to shops?
In the last year or so my wholesale stockists have more than doubled and I now supply over 25 shops. One of the main advantages of wholesaling is getting paid for the work you produce upfront. This, in turn, gives you confidence to create new pieces and collections because you know you have shops that are willing to take your work and pay you for it. I also find talking to my stockists about what I’m working on and listening to what their customers have been asking for is a great way to ensure that what you produce is more likely to sell for them.
I have had quite a few bad experiences selling my work on a sale-or-return basis, so I no longer offer that way of selling. However, if you’re just starting out this is usually the way to go until you have a few more shops under your belt and have a history of your products selling. If you do sell on a sale-or-return basis, make sure you have a contract in place and an expectation of how and when payment is made.
Do you have a method for calculating your prices?
I have a quite a simple calculation for prices which is:
cost of item (materials+time) x 2 = wholesale price
wholesale price x 2 = retail price (RRP)
At the moment this pricing structure works with my current stockists but I may need to increase my retail prices over the next few months because more commercial stockists expect a greater mark-up. [Many shops expect a mark-up of 2.4 on the wholesale price, see Cat How’s blog post about pricing for retail for more information.]
How do you decide which products to include in your range?
If you’re starting out then this is quite a difficult thing to forecast because, until you make the product and let it sit in the market, you won’t know what will be your best seller. I’ve found over time that certain things do sell more frequently than others and sometimes when you’re deciding what to include in your range, it’s simply a process of looking back at what has sold well in the past and making a few tweaks. I also tend to look at where my stockists are situated and think about the type of customer they will attract. For example, this year I made sure I had some nautical-themed items in stock for summer because a lot of my stockists are based in tourist hot spots along the coast.
You’ve previously collaborated on products. Did you enjoy that process and would you recommend collaborating to other makers?
Yes, I would certainly recommend it as a positive experience, so long as both parties know what the expectations are. When you collaborate I find the best attitude to have is ‘what can I give to this project’ rather than ‘what can I gain’. That means you’re more likely to enjoy the process. My collaboration with So Small Shoes was enjoyable because we were able to produce something together that neither of us could do on our own. We managed to have our work featured in a number of Cornish-based magazines and blogs. Working with someone else helps focus your mind and makes you try things you wouldn’t otherwise have thought of.
How do you promote your work?
At the moment it’s mainly through word of mouth, stockists selling my work, social media channels, going to fairs and updating my website.
Which social media channel is your favourite and why?
It’s currently Instagram as I find taking a picture with a short caption is a lot simpler than trying to write a huge blog post. My Instagram account then pushes the content to Facebook and Twitter. I enjoy Facebook as you can have a lot more interaction with people and you can actually see if people like what you produce. However Twitter has been helpful for creating contacts for my illustration and design work, particularly with studios and design professionals.
Has blogging helped your business?
Blogging has been a help to me, especially in the early years as it gave me documentary evidence that I was actually producing things and in some ways kept me accountable. As my life has got busier and business has picked up, I’m finding blogging a lot harder to commit to regularly, but I will always see it as a positive way to document my creative professional life. I quite enjoy writing tutorials, so I might start adding those to the blog.
Your work has been featured in Mollie Makes (as well as lots of other magazines!) How did that happen and did it have an effect on your sales? For the article in Mollie Makes I was spotted through Folksy. Other features came through some of my stockists or because I got in touch directly with a particular magazine. I’m not quite sure how much of an effect it has had on sales – I’m sure it has had some, but I know if you’re able to keep drip-feeding your work into the public eye people start to recognise your brand.
How do you package your work and do you think packaging is important?
I use my packaging to tell customers about myself and my brand. I make sure people know that the product is British-made, and has been screen printed by hand in Cornwall. I mainly use belly bands to wrap my tea towels and bags, swing tags for tees, and cellophane and stickers for my cards and notepads. I think packaging is an extension of your brand and helps reinforce the message you’re telling. I like to include illustrations and information about the product, like the fact it’s 100% cotton and has been printed using eco-friendly inks.
My main aim is for people to smile when they receive one of my products, and for them to want to touch it, pick it up and explore how it’s been created. I want them to have a sense that it hasn’t been mass-produced but has been individually made and printed for them. When people receive my products I want them to know exactly who made it and where it’s from.
Have you got any tips on how to keep your customers happy?
Keep in contact, especially if something is delayed or has changed. I find people are quite reasonable if you communicate what’s going on!