Shop Talk: More Tea Vicar
Natalie Franca aka More Tea, Vicar? believes that wearing her own knitted products is a great way for self-promotion: “I was recognised in town by my fingerless gloves once, and also saw someone walking along wearing one of my hats – both were fantastic feelings!” We talk to her about the ups and downs of running a seasonal business, plus the thorny issue of how to charge accurately for your time and skill…
When and how did you start your business?
About four years ago I knitted a tea cosy for a house-warming gift for a friend, who was also opening a shop in London. She loved it and asked me to knit some items for her to stock and it went on from there. I then discovered Folksy and haven’t looked back.
Did you consider your brand identity before you opened your Folksy shop?
I did, I was completely stumped for a name of my shop though, so I took a break from thinking about it for a cup of tea and then it came to me just like that! My friend helped design my shop banner, which is also the logo I use on my flyers and the carrier bags I use when I sell items in person. I do think brand identity is very important – it also helps people to recognise you and your work and keeps everything looking professional and cohesive.
How and where do you sell your work?
I use Folksy as my main online selling platform. I do sell online elsewhere, but I really love what Folksy is about and its ethics – there is a fabulous community of designers, makers and supply sellers on Folksy. I also sell at craft fairs and markets – I used to do a lot of fairs but they weren’t always busy or advertised very well, so now I only do about two a year, the two I know are popular and established. I only sell at markets in the winter. Craft fairs are very hard work, so you have to make sure they are worth doing. I used to sell through bricks and mortar shops as well, but I prefer not to nowadays.
Do you ever develop pieces with a particular customer (or event) in mind?
Not really, I tend to just develop pieces with the chillier weather in mind. My favourite season is autumn and a lot of my knitwear is influenced by muted autumnal colours, and cosy pieces to wear in the autumn and winter.
What’s been your best-selling piece so far?
There are two that have both been equally as popular, my Duck Egg Blue Fingerless Gloves and also my Ladies’ Flower Neck Warmer in Deep Teal Green. They have sold all over the world and that makes me very happy!
Have you got a method for working out your pricing?
If I paid myself a decent hourly rate I’d have to charge an absolute fortune for my work, however, I do time how long it takes me to make an item so I can work out the cost accordingly. I also incorporate the cost of the wool I use and work it all out that way. I tend to charge around or above what you would pay for something in a decent high-street shop. I do think that sometimes people forget that a lot of time, hard work, love and care goes into designing and making handmade items. They should definitely not be sold for less money than you would pay on the high street. To be honest, I probably undercharge for my work, but I do still want to make my pieces affordable, so I think I charge a fair price.
Do you work to commission? What are the good and bad points of working this way?
I used to, but I find it too time consuming, especially when I need to keep my Folksy shop constantly stocked up too. I’ve also made the mistake of not charging enough for pieces I was asked to make, as I agreed to the price before I realised how long the items would take. These days I’m happy to make the items in my shop in other colours that aren’t listed as long as they are available in the type of wool they need to be knitted in.
How do you promote your work?
I promote through my More Tea Vicar Facebook page , and through my personal Facebook page. My friends are great for sharing my work on their personal and business pages too. I always link the photos I put on to my Folksy shop. I use flyers and business cards (I keep a stock of them in my handbag, as you never know when you can hand one out!) and always enclose a business card with my Folksy shop details on when I send out orders, and take them to craft fairs too. I was recognised in town by my fingerless gloves once, and also saw someone walking along wearing one of my hats when I was on the bus – both were fantastic feelings! Wearing your own work is also very good self-promotion – I’ve had many orders that way. That’s another reason to always keep your business cards with you!
How does your Facebook page work for you and self promotion?
My Facebook page does help somewhat, but they have made a lot of changes for those who have business pages, and it can be very hit and miss about who sees what on there now. I find if I share what I’ve posted on my business page to my personal page, my friends then kindly share it and it gets seen by so many more people – and I always make sure I direct people to my Folksy shop when I post on Facebook. I’ve been so busy stocking up that I haven’t been on my page for a few months – I must get back on it now!
Do you do your own product photography?
I do take my own photographs and it’s my least favourite part of having an online shop. Sometimes it can take me a day of taking 20-50 photos of one item and then cropping and editing to be able to have five decent pictures. Multiply that by the range of different colours and it’s a very lengthy process. As customers can’t pick up and your items and feel them, you have to take really good, clear photos and at different angles. I like to have a white/pale grey background so I can keep my shop looking cohesive. I actually made myself a mini studio by using three big artist canvasses and a wooden box painted white, plus I always have a big window with daylight behind me. I use the macro setting on my camera to show the details of my knitwear, but I never use the zoom as the photos come out blurry. Instead I use the crop function when I edit my photos. There are some great free editing software out there, such as Fotofuze, Gimp and good old Microsoft Picture Manager. I like to use the free version of Adobe Picture Elements 8 as well to do all my cropping.
What’s the hardest part about being a maker?
Doing enough promoting can be difficult, especially when you’d much rather be making, but it’s all part of having an online shop and it’s something you must do. I used to get very despondent over the spring and summer seasons when I hardly sold anything, but after a couple of years of having my shop I understood that knitwear is seasonal, so I make the most of the quiet seasons now and stock up for the busy autumn and winter period.
Finally, what piece of advice can you give us on how to stand out from the crowd when selling online?
Great quality and clear photos are an absolute must. A good cohesive, recognisable shop and, of course, you must have well-designed and well-made pieces. Not forgetting good customer service. Word of mouth is great – if you have a happy customer, there’s no telling how many people they will recommend you to, and hopefully they will keep coming back to your shop themselves.