Challenges, problems, and triumphs
-- from a manufacturer's perspective.
The Trials of a Small Company
Talent, drive, and product -- but no money.
by Anonymous (March, 2004)
(Editor's note: No, this isn't "Vinny" this
time. Instead, we've given the space over to a small,
one-person-operation who emailed us about her struggles to gain a
foothold in the industry. We are publishing an edited version here
because we suspect the vendor represents many others in a similar
situation. We checked the company website and believe her main
product has lots of potential and deserves a chance in retail
stores. In other words, this manufacturer isn't having problems
because it's a lousy product.)
Your support of small vendors and creative people is so
refreshing – thank you for every kind word and supportive article.
I want to share with you briefly some of my experiences as an
innovator/owner of my small business.
I admittedly do not have a business education background or any
relatives with money, but I am highly creative, self-motivated, and
love to learn. So without the capital to start out of the gate
properly, I’ve done much of the work that most large businesses
hire professionals to do (product development; packaging, pricing,
warehousing, manufacturing, distribution, sales/marketing, company
logo/colors/identity, accounting, research, hiring patent/trademark
attorney, trade/consumer shows, workshops and free demonstrations,
website content including photography, and articles, advertising,
Further, as I am a family-first person with a husband, young
daughter, and son, I do most of my work during the midnight hours
and outside sales/shows only when my children are in school or with
Grandma & Grandpa.
I have no problem admitting that my lack of education and
financial resources reveals itself in my packaging and other areas
– but I had to start somewhere. My test-marketing demonstrated
without question that my product would be well received by creative
consumers – so the obvious next step for me was to get my product
in the hands of creative consumers.
As I went cold-calling, demonstrating, and selling to my local
independent scrapbook, stamping, and craft stores, I learned about
HIA via conversations with store owners. What a wonderful
opportunity! Becoming a member of this organization and
participating in their annual trade-show would be a natural and
smart way to introduce myself and my innovative, patent-pending
product to the larger creative community.
I was especially proud of the fact that my product offered a new
surface upon which creative people could, well, create. It's an
empty canvas which could potentially help sell more of the
everything, therefore benefitting storeowners and manufacturers of
paper, stickers, embellishments, etc.
So 2003 in Anaheim was my first HIA trade show. Boy, was I proud
and excited when so many people came to my booth raving about my
product line: "I’ve never seen anything like it!"
"I’ve looked around and you get my vote for Best In
Show!" Wow, what a warm welcome!
I was overwhelmed with booth set-up, preparing and teaching a
workshop, and non-stop conversations – the size and scope of my
very first trade show. It was not until I returned home that I
realized all the wonderful compliments and rave reviews came from
1. Advertising sales representatives for various publications,
2. Producers of other trade and consumers shows, seeking money
3. Sales reps/talent for hire/public relations firms, etc.,
4. Curious manufacturers, checking out potential competition.
5. Buyers for independent stores ordering product – yahoo!
I’ve learned a great deal and continue to learn – but my
shock of all shocks since beginning my business is the cost of
advertising! Unbelievable! I do not know how even the large,
big-business budgets can afford the advertising I see them do.
So, what’s a small business with a new product/new concept and
no capital to do?
I turned to the editorial side of industry magazines, believing
when they said, "Send us your product for consideration in our
This seemed to be answer. Surely the editorial staff of
scrapbook, stamping, and craft magazines will see how excited their
readership would be to learn about my new product. This – in
effect, free advertising – might generate enough sales that I can
actually really advertise one day.
So I put together very complete, very wonderful (in my
estimation) marketing packets for the editorial staff of various
publications. Editors and tv hosts responded, raving about my
product and promising this and that.
Assembling these packets were very time-consuming on my part, but
I wanted to make it extremely simple for them. A great deal of time,
care, and attention to detail went into every submission.
One editor loved it, asked for more materials, and promised to
demonstrate it on tv. I sent the materials – but there was never a
mention in the magazine and the tv idea was dropped when the editor
changed her mind. The bottom line: no editorial mention in any
My product was demonstrated on tv, but not well and in poor time
slots. Promises about appearing on shopping channels never
I am committed forever to demonstrating my own product, my own
way. And every time I do, creative people are delighted and
thankful. I receive hugs and thank you’s after my workshops. I
receive the highest marks on my workshop questionnaires. It is not
uncommon for my workshop participants to ask me to sign the back of
I love what I do – creating, designing, teaching, learning,
demonstrating, sales and marketing, and supporting my local
independent store owners. I love the fact that potentially my
product, services, and enthusiasm COULD benefit others in the
industry – but it is pure hell trying to make a contribution!
It's an almost physically painful experience to have a product
which I know from experience creative consumers are thankful to
have, but not being able to afford to advertise/distribute in a way
that will reach the larger creative community.
Searching for partners.
I need an investor! So letters, invitations, etc., went out to
the CEOs/decision-makers of three major companies – whose products
I demonstrate and promote for free throughout the year at all
workshops, demos, etc., and write about in my website articles).
Result? IGNORED. Only one person replied to send regrets. I had
to initiate follow-up with another three times before she finally
spoke on the company's behalf to say no, the timing didn’t work.
– but there was no request for a later time, which I would gladly
Not one to give up easily – but getting wiser from the wear –
at this year's HIA I met with one of those companies – I captured
his attention when he walked near my booth and he was kind enough to
lend his ear for several minutes. One of his questions for me was,
"If this is such a wonderful product, why isn't it in more
Well, where do I begin??????
Mike Hartnett's answer.
This is a classic case of a small company being between a rock
and a hard place: She doesn't have the money to grow, and she can't
grow without money.
I have checked her website and her product looks like it has lots
of potential, but so far it's questionable if most consumers will
ever see it. It makes you wonder how many great products consumers
have never seen because of the way our industry works.
This tale of frustration is also an indication of the trouble so
many memory-related companies must have being noticed. The recent
HIA show was a classic example: surely the magazines were swamped
with requests for editorial coverage and couldn't possibly satisfy
The answer, I think, is this: she needs to continue to pursue
larger vendors and make a deal with them. Let the companies with the
contacts, money, distribution, and marketing expertise do their
thing so she can concentrate on her thing: create good products.
In the meantime, if any company (particularly memory related, or
wishing to enter the category) wishes to learn more about this
company described above, and possibly invest in it, call Mike
Hartnett at 309-925-5593 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
To read previous columns by "Vinny," who is a top exec
at a major industry manufacturer, click on the titles in the