Many years ago, in the perfect world of Licensing one’s art, I learned that licensees (the partner, not the artist) require 3 years to determine the success of the art and the product.
- First year to build
- Second year to distribute & sell
- Third year to determine the success of your product(s) or service(s).
TIP: Everything has a formula -even art
As I learned this, I saw this as a woman’s pregnancy divided into trimesters. For me, that made sense because trimesters are phases and sequential phases can be a formula.
TIP 2: Once you know the formula, it’s no longer magic.
For now, I measure success of any long term project in 4 equal phases. While the first 3 are hardcoded as:
- Kickstart the project
- Begin selling the project
- Measure ROI of the project
The fourth phase asks: Do we continue or tweak or dump the project?
I wanted to know if Raleigh was ready for my work and an incubator was the first place to begin our grassroots shop. Originally, I measured the success of building my new incubator shop in 18-month increments. The number 18 is derived from how many months we spent in the incubator.
- First six months to build
- Second six months to sell
- Third six months to determine the success of the shop space
First Six Months
This is where we determined how we wanted the shop to be set up.
My target audience was already defined and my plan was to design the shop for my ideal customer. We decided to divide the space to have a formal place for customers in their office attire to shop without the fear of getting dirty.
We signed the lease in September. Shopped at the local hardware store for laminate flooring & paint, and local vintage shops and IKEA for furniture and display stands. We renovated the entire space ourselves -elbow grease and all- to make the space sing unlike any other incubator.
We opened in October.
Unfortunately, no one was walking into our small shop because the incubator was labelled as “studios.” People dressed in office wear do not like the idea of getting paint on their Prada’s, thus, they did not step foot in my studio during their 9-5 routine. Within a few month and keeping track of foot traffic, I got the creatives in the incubator to agree to change our signage to include Blake Street Shops and Studio.
TIP: Shop is a call to action. Because shop is an active verb, this changed the positioning of the incubator and the perspective of customers. Huzzah!
Despite the hiccup in foot traffic, October, November, & December were incredible. We made 2x, 4x, 8x our rent consecutively. It was the selling season and we were new -customers see this as a novelty. January we did well, too, as customers had cash from Christmas. February and March were low because foot traffic was low. People shopped in April, but not for Easter. Some bought Mother’s Day gifts in April.
Although the incubator made a brand update, awareness remained difficult. Our space in BSS was essentially in a closet, tucked away from the beaten path and the people who did pass our tiny window in the tunnel -with their faces planted in their phones- never looked up with the slightest curiosity. It was very disappointing.
Being a government town, Raleigh wasn’t set up for retail or as a walking city.
It set up a park that became a tug of war with the transient population. This population spilled over into adjacent areas, making the thought of walking alone a dicey proposition. So, the downtown area had a stigma that it couldn’t shake. I’m not sure a 16 milion dollar renovation is going to help that.
Another Southern customer observation: They park in front of a shop, walk in, walk out, pull their car out only to drive it down a block and park to repeat the process. Their heads are down the entire time looking at their phone rather than engage in their own curiosity. So unfortunate as they’re missing so much between the block-to-block destinations.
Second Six Months
The Summer brought in low foot traffic. I continued to participate in local and regional shows simply for brand awareness. Customers no longer wandered in for two reasons: Raleigh isn’t a walking town and they were running errands before they head out of town for the weekend at the mountains.
Traffic began to pick up in September. Customers used their lunch hour to explore and shop while it was nice. I began to offer to customize and personalize their gifts (notice I didn’t say my products) to help boost sales.
Fall and holiday sales were dismal. We had awful weather -a record rain season that flooded our town nearly every day. The torrential and pounding rain kept customers from driving downtown. Downtown Raleigh is a destination and because there are one or two retail shops, they chose not to make the effort. I didn’t blame them, but it was tough not to.
When I finally had a lonely couple wander in just one week before Christmas, they indicated they had finished their holiday shopping.
That just killed me.
This is when I decided to tweak my postcards to include how to add my products on your Amazon wishlist. Not to be confused with having a shop on Amazon -because I didn’t.
Third Six Months
The damn rain finally let up and we saw more customers walk in early Spring. Many of them had budgeted for personalized or custom gifts so this lifted my spirits and my account.
I continued repping my business on a myriad of levels.
Anywhere I could get recognition and brand awareness to meet my target audience was considered with my business planning. We exhibited at any local shows that would have us. These included festivals, business alliance, art walks in neighborhood shows. I also experienced bias and shunning by many natives. Despite that, I continued to hustle and form partnerships to make my business work, but they didn’t want us.
We were outsiders. Read: We weren’t native
We weren’t native of North Carolina, didn’t attend school (high school or college), or attend one of the 1000 churches in the bible belt. After sending in my application to the Handmaids market 3 times and getting rejected (because my work wasn’t good enough) they -and many others- encouraged us to send in our applications because they wanted our money.
Meanwhile, I continued to do regional shows that made sense to us and were within one day of driving to return home. These included juried art shows and tradeshows. My motto is to always be hustling.
At the same time, the incubator was outgrowing its usefulness.
Politics, lack of professionalism, and harboring fugitives were not what I had signed up for. With 18 months under my belt, it was time I made a move to grow.
Beyond this personal learning experience of my first incubator, I use these 4 steps for every project I endeavor. You can, too.
Have the 4 simple ways to measure your success helped clarify your goals? Please share your insights below, I would love to hear them!
Scoring a free boat ride to see my new hometown Seattle,