Ah June, the traditional month for weddings. There’s just something joyous about the beauty and excitement of a big gala celebration as friends and family witness solemn vows, followed by a fête for the happy couple.
The wedding industry is a multi-billion dollar market. Even in a rough economy, most couples don’t want to scrimp on whatever it takes to make their special day memorable and unique. A bride, especially, is interested in making her wedding stand out. Weddings are nothing if not entrenched in tradition, so how does a bride go about introducing a distinctive touch to her special day?
And what part can artists or crafters play in helping bring individuality to a wedding? How can artists and crafters break into the seemingly impenetrable traditional wedding market in order to introduce hand-crafted touches to the standard-issued merchandise available to couples?
Clearly, it helps if your product already has potential to appeal to bridal couples. Your hand-crafted Dracula masks, no matter how superbly made, aren’t likely to please a bride. However, your unique wooden tankards or creative hair pieces might.
I spoke to a number of crafters who have successfully targeted their products to the wedding industry. Let’s learn their secrets.
The Smell of Success
Dennis and Sylvia Lai (www.spicywedding.etsy.com) fell into the wedding market as a direct result of their own wedding. They specialize in producing personalized bottled spices as wedding favors. “We custom mix and bottle our spices and seasonings,” said Dennis, “and personalize the bottles with label designs, using our clients’ photo headshots and wedding descriptions. As a couple, we love cooking and pride ourselves in it. And I have a background in digital graphic design with a great deal of creativity, so our skills in these areas fit perfectly.”
The idea came to the Lais when they got married four years ago. “We were looking for a unique but inexpensive wedding favor that would stand out in the crowd,” Dennis said. “We weren’t able to find any off-the-shelf favors that fit. So being the crafter and artist that I am, I thought it would be fun and creative to bottle our own spices and brand them as our own.”
The customized spice seasoning favors were such a hit among friends and relatives that the Lais began selling them on Etsy two years ago. “To date, we have shipped more than 4,000 bottles across the country and even to Canada,” said Dennis. “Etsy has been a great marketing tool, allowing us to gain visibility and court shoppers who crave boutique products like our customized spices. Our clients are delighted with the uniqueness and also how it fits their budget in today’s economy.”
The Lais’ products have been featured in wedding magazines, regional newspapers, and numerous blogs, helping to get the word out. Their success stems from the individuality of their products, as well as the economical pricing—both of which dovetail well with the flat economy.
“In the virtual world, we run giveaway contests via Twitter/blog/Facebook and associate ourselves with various popular bloggers as much as we can,” said Dennis. “A link to our Etsy site is tweeted or posted on the blogs as part of the entry criteria. Winners of the giveaway contests receive a basket of customized spices. And, in general, the contests create a fair amount of social buzz when entries are sent through social media.”
The Lais also attend local wedding shows. “Face-to-face marketing is still a great way to introduce your products to potential customers,” Dennis noted. “Many engaged couples attend wedding shows, so we get exposure to the perfect clientele for our wedding favors. We make sure to get all their contact info since it’s the follow-up in marketing that sells products, not the initial meeting.”
The Lais offer two suggestions for artists or crafters who want to break into the wedding industry:
Your product should be highly customizable, and affordable. The wedding industry offers millions and millions of products to couples, but in order to stand out, your product must be unique and personalized.
Concentrate your efforts on marketing as much as creating the actual products. Marketing in the real world via wedding shows is a good start. But marketing in the virtual world via social media is even more important.
The Power of Handmade
In this made-in-China world, brides often want the handcrafted artistic touch for their wedding. Properly marketed, crafters whose products can be tailored to the wedding industry can find their work in high demand.
West Virginia husband-and-wife woodworkers Phil and Teresa Holcomb (www.Facebook.com/holcombs.woodworking) make handcrafted reclaimed wooden items such as cufflinks, money clips, bookmarks, bottle stoppers, and other gifts. “We enlisted the help of the Tamarack Foundation (www.tamarackwv.com), which helped expand our products into larger wholesale markets,” noted Teresa. “Our work is now featured in over 100 galleries.”
“Many wedding orders come from people who purchased one of our items in the past or received it as a gift,” said Teresa. “We created an Etsy site (www.etsy.com/shop/holcombswoodworking), where we package items for bridal parties. Often the specific wood used in the product has a special meaning or a design in the wooden bookmark fits perfectly with the wedding theme. We’ve found that the couple love to give handmade gifts to their bridal party.”
Their high-profile presence in the art world has helped the Holcombs expand their market into the wedding industry. Due to their gallery presence, the Holcombs have been featured on a national woodworking television show, documentaries, numerous magazine and book articles, blogs, and newspaper articles.
“We work closely with each of our galleries so that they know that we are able to make multiple items in a timely matter,” said Teresa. “When couples want to give handmade items at their wedding, they will visit galleries or art shows.”
Silk artwear designer Jasmine Sky (www.jasmineskydesigns.com) learned the benefits of direct marketing in a bad economy.
“I am a very successful crafter in the wedding industry,” noted Sky. “I custom-design and hand-paint silk beach wedding dresses for brides and their bridesmaids, and I custom-paint silk Hawaiian aloha shirts for the grooms and groomsmen.”
Sky’s niche started in Key West, Fla.—a popular vacation and beach-wedding destination. She began selling hand-painted silk sarongs and sarong-style dresses to tourists. “I started getting beach wedding guests and mothers-of-the-bride buying from me,” she related. “A beach wedding is one of the few truly formal events that happens here. At this point, my business was locally-based.”
But along with many other artists and crafters, Sky feared that her business would suffer when the economy tanked. So she made the deliberate move to focus her marketing directly to brides and become an Internet-based business. “This was a market that would not disappear with the economy,” she said. “I started actively marketing directly to brides and became an Internet-based business.”
For Sky, it was a steep learning curve with respect to websites and marketing online, but it allowed her creativity to flourish in the wedding arena. “I had to create a website with examples of how I would use the designs I had already created for a beach wedding,” she said. “I had to create the samples and photograph them and make a site dedicated to brides. Even though my brides are nontraditional, they do need to be spoken to directly in the context of a wedding. A wedding is a very special event, so I had to imagine that I was the bride. What would I want and need? Some brides are bold enough to create their wedding by going to places that do not market directly to brides, but this is not the norm.”
Sky trimmed her business to reduce the elements that made less money and increase the elements that were the most financially rewarding. “My niche is wedding dresses,” she noted. “As an artist, I don’t just paint on silk. I create art-wear that reflects the experience of living in the tropics. It enables women to feel the exquisite expansion that one feels in the islands.”
Based on her success in marketing her art in the wedding industry, Sky offers the following points:
Market to the bride. Most likely she is the one organizing the whole thing, and you will gain access to the bridesmaids, grooms, and even mothers and fathers-of-the-bride.
A bride is always looking for unique and different ideas for her wedding. If you make sure that you communicate the handmade nature of your product and all its unique benefits, then you don’t need to play on the bride’s “emotional rollercoaster.” Brides are hungry for the new and different—I cannot say this enough times. They are also willing to pay for it. A wedding is a major right of passage in life, and they want to celebrate in style. There are always budget constraints, but that is why you tell them all the benefits of your product and that you have three tiers of pricing.
In your marketing copy, speak to one bride—your ideal bride. Imagine the specifics of your ideal customer, and then talk to her when writing any copy for your product. Don’t be afraid to do this. You will reap your ideal customers and not waste time talking with people who really aren’t going to buy.
Have three tiers of pricing, as well as customizable ideas. This allows you to speak with each bride personally to create a relationship and earn her trust. In this way, you stand out from the pack because you are treating each woman like a human and not a number. At a time like this, every woman is looking for help from people with whom she can design and create. Your most expensive price point will be hinged on this. But don’t turn away lower-end business—have something for them, too. This sets you apart.
Alternately, market to wedding planners. Show them what you can do. Ask them how they could market your products to their customers, and then tailor your product around what they say. Work only with wedding planners with whom you have a real rapport.
In any marketing literature—brochure, website, whatever—specify that you are an artist and that you make everything by hand. Detail what makes you different from everyone else. Create a company and product that is so unique that you don’t have any competition. In crafting, this is not difficult. Make sure you shout what is different about you from everyone else from the rooftops. This attracts your ideal customer.
Decide whether what you offer can only be done locally, or can you go nationally and/or globally on the Internet?
Listen to your inner artist to find your niche. Imagine what you absolutely love and are passionate about, and this will help you be different from everyone else (the “no competition” thing again).
For your Internet site, decide if you’ll concentrate on custom work versus mass production. Most people can’t do both, so determine which is best for you and your product.
Your website is where you begin your relationship with each bride that visits. Short videos can help potential customers “meet” you without pressure, before they call or e-mail.
An Internet-based business requires an Internet strategy, complete with social media and blogging. This requires work, but it helps you stand out. Remember: pictures, pictures, pictures. This is how brides shop, and they often share their finds on Pinterest.
As with so many other successful handcrafted businesses, these artists and crafters discovered that marketing is the key to success to breaking into the wedding industry. They not only create products that appeal to bridal couples, but they also targeted their marketing efforts to include those seeking unique products to celebrate their special day. This makes for happy brides—and happy crafters.