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Standing Out In A Crowd

Updated: Oct 17, 2023

How to sell more when others sell the same products

Updated Oct 2, 2023 (original blog post Sept 29, 2021)


Competition is everywhere. Even if you don’t have a brick and mortar competitor in your area, online shopping has made inspiration, buying creative supplies and learning new artforms extremely easy and fast - and cheap.


So, how do you compete with online retailers? How do you turn your inventory faster than a competitor across town? How do you plan classes that sell out quickly? How do you sell more pieces per person per visit? How do you increase your customer’s average visits per month or quarter?


The answer is a clever and simple, yet highly effective strategy that I used in my studios for many years: group complementary items and call it a Collection.


The Whole Is Greater Than The Sum Of Its Parts: meaning, when one single item is grouped with a collection of individual items, it will be fairer, more beautiful, or more perfect than any of the parts would be on their own. Or, recognizing that individually a piece is pretty cool, but when combined with other complementary, equally-cool pieces, it turns them all into something excellent that we just can’t live without.


Even though everything we sell is designed to stand on its own, by way of displays, visual merchandising, story telling and marketing, selling a Collection demonstrates that buying (and painting, creating, designing, etc.) multiple, complementary items means they will enjoy them individually and even more so as a set.


Think of the apartment vignette in Ikea: a bed on the showroom floor is okay ... a dresser and, way down the winding Ikea walkway, a two-person kitchen table is okay, too. But when you put them together in an “actual” 900 square foot apartment, with other items that complement them (a bookcase, a chair, colorful linens and bedding and trendy wall art) it’s sooo darn cool you want to move in immediately.


Selling Collections in your studio builds stronger marketing power by creating a focus on products that follow a theme, whether it's a natural theme (gardening - no pun intended!) or a theme you create that reflects your business (staff favorites), your area (local designs) or long-term best sellers.

You're telling a story with the products, how they're displayed and what you name each Collection. You’re also engaging your customer, bringing them into the story through your display and your choice of products.


A Collection is most effective when you narrow the focus of a category. Dinnerware = too wide, so how about The Back Porch Collection = pieces for backyard spring dinner. Make each Collection special, with a story, and not just for the sake of grouping items.


The subtle power of grouping and suggestive selling gives your customer more possibilities than they may realize with your products: show them how the pieces work together and how those products can be a part of their own story. You're guiding them by simplifying the steps they take to decide, buy and create.


Try grouping by color or pattern. For example, you've seen this trendy design everywhere: organic shapes that are freeform and carefree. They're so fun and easy to create, especially since you can't go wrong with colors, shapes or placement. They can be painted on anything!


Why not create six to twelve pieces with these types of patterns? The usual: a plate, mug and bowl PLUS the unexpected: an animal figurine, spoon rest, bank, picture frame, a canvas, a fused glass piece and a planter.


Include signage with instructions and helpful tips. Fluff up the display with accent décor. For serving pieces, create a BBQ feel with tongs, a spatula and faux veggies - even faux fried chicken legs! A breakfast theme is eye catching: coffee cans, painted mugs, sugar cubes and faux bread. And for a children's display, add small stuffed animals and trendy nursery décor to complement the designs painted on your samples.


These tricks can really attract attention, make your shelves pop and look more substantial (especially if you're low on some inventory) - and most importantly, create an image in your customer's head for how they can use the pieces they paint. This is very similar to staging a home for sale: it's hard to imagine your family making themselves comfortable in an empty home, but when you enter a staged home, with furniture, décor and professional touches, you feel like you just walked into your own space.



Here are some other Collection ideas to spark inspiration:


The Pottery Cove’s Journey (Your studio name’s Journey)

A collection of beginner's level classes featuring your top five techniques or products.


Home For The Holidays Collection

Feature eight to ten top holiday sellers. Play off nostalgia, kids-related products, a group of ornaments, gifts for grandparents. There is no shortage of ideas for the holidays!


The Garden Collection

As you may have guessed, inventory that has to do with green thumbs (or not!) and the outdoors: flowers, plants, gardening and gifts.


The Houston (Chicago, New London, Asheville, Shenandoah ...) Collection

Pieces or designs relevant to your town/area/state (whether touristy, a historic angle, pieces made in your area or inventory/designs that reflect where your store’s located).


Good Morning Collection

Include your best-selling mugs, tea cups and teapots - and don't forget spoon rests, teabag holders and any other complementary products.



To be successful with Collections consider these important points:


- Limits: don’t go overboard and confuse customers with too many Collections. Create three to five Collections and make them special for specific reasons (ideally each Collection is a different product category).


- Have fun with naming your Collections: consider names with special meaning or significance like your family, friends, pets, favorite foods, activities, your town/state. Consider having a contest, inviting customers to submit names for a new Collection. Humor is always well received: The Takeout Collection, featuring a unique line of dinnerware.


- Consistency: once determined, the Collection's name and brand - how you market it, signage, etc. - should not change. When the identity is created, keep it. (Yes, each Collection should have its own identity, but don't forget to stick to your company's brand).


- Merchandising: create eye-catching displays that include supplementary items. For the Good Morning Collection display, consider adding coffee beans, spoons, faux breakfast food (all found on Amazon), etc. Create signage that is simple yet conveys the benefits of buying more than one piece in the Collection. Also tap into emotions with signage describing (and illustrating) the smell of coffee brewing, starting the day right with coffee and breakfast. Cinnamon rolls. Mmmmmm.


- Branding and marketing: feature your Collections in your social media posts, website and emails.


- Change it up: refresh the display regularly. You do not want a thin or messy Collection display. It completely devalues your story. Move the Collection around to different places in the store periodically. (You know what happens when you rearrange inventory!)


- Also consider seasonality when changing it up: after The Home For The Holidays Collection, replace with a new seasonal Collection or create a new Collection.


- Long term: don’t simply create a Collection, display them together with a sign and expect quick turns. It will need ongoing nurturing, attention and marketing. Create urgency by discontinuing one of the pieces (last chance!); create continued interest by adding a new piece or two. It is not intended to be set-it-and-forget-it sales technique.

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