Talking with Robin Kramer from Flourish & Thrive Academy

Episode #195

Today I talk with Robin Kramer from Flourish & Thrive Academy. You'll love hearing the insights Robin shares about the ins and outs of having a successful jewelry design business. Plus what’s new in the CRAFTCAST studio, some techie stuff and my favorite new book.

Here is the transcription from our talk.

Alison Lee: Alright everyone. You are going to learn a lot today. I am talking to Robin Kramer from Flourish and Thrive Academy. I love their tag line "Where jewellery designers go to get business savvy." Aren’t we glad that there is a place we can do that? So let me brag a little bit about Robin for a second. She was Director of Sales at DogEared Jewels and Gifts and grew the sales over 800%, we like that number, in just a few short years. And she brought the line so that it was sold in speciality boutiques including major department stores like Nordstrom’s, Neiman Marcus Direct, Bloomingdales, Lord and Taylors, very good. Applaud, Applaud. Thank you for coming on and talking to us Robin.

Robin Kramer: Thank you. I am so happy to be here with you today Alison.

Alison Lee: I know you have tons and tons of really good information. So let’s just dig right into this puzzle called “I make jewellery and now I want to go wholesale.” What's the first question you should ask yourself do you think before you take that leap?

Robin Kramer: Well I have quite a few things you should be asking yourself. But the first and foremost is know why you are doing what you are doing.

Alison Lee: A good one alright. Let’s hear more about that, ok?

Robin Kramer: Knowing your endgame, I think it really is important to know, you can have a passion for it but what is your, really what speaks to you of doing this. And that’s the next thing would be knowing who. Who is your customer? And those two things are super important before you dive in. Because you can be a hobbyist and do a few things here and there, but if you really want to go wholesale it just entails so much more.

Alison Lee: With someone new, what's the biggest misconception that people have, that they don’t know anything that they think?

Robin Kramer: I think the biggest misconception is that I want to do wholesale, I'm going to go to wholesale trade show and all these buyers are going to come and buy my work and it will be immediate. And it takes time. It takes time to build your reputation, it takes time to build the relationships. Relationships are key to business especially in the wholesale industry. And sometimes it takes a few years to. I have one designer that I worked with that it took 10 years to get into the Sundance Catalogue. But they kept submitting, they kept. It’s not taking it as rejection and not taking it as a personal rejection. It is, you know, there's always the side of the buyer where, what are their needs? What are they looking for? And what is going to work well with their assortment that they are doing.

Alison Lee: Yeah. And I think that's something that people can easily forget. That it’s not about you per se at that point, but the buyer has to make themselves shine as well.

Robin Kramer: Absolutely. And coming from a place of being, you know. Whenever I work with a buyer, I always look at what is going to be in their best interest? I would never sell a buyer something that wasn’t going to enhance the store experience for them for their customer. So coming from a place of service and what's going to be helpful to them instead of "Oh my gosh! I need to sell this to make my quota." Or you know, it's really about how can as a designer and maker how can you help this store or this buyer with their business.

Alison Lee: I think that is huge if people hear that advice. Because they have to look good and how do you make them look good? They're always going to come back to you if you can do that.

Robin Kramer: Again and again and again. They'll be a lifer for you.

Alison Lee: Yeah. Yeah. It's not about just you. I think that in my experience of that which was being on sort of both sides of the table for that was the first time I got used to being a creative director actually. Buyers saying "OK. Well that's ok. But you have it in 2 sizes small or 3 sizes bigger and a bunch of different colours." And then watching artist go "What?" What do you think about that? How do you have to be open, you know? What's your feedback and that sort of thing when you get that feedback from a buyer?

Robin Kramer: I think all feedback is really valuable. Listen. I think sometimes people make the mistake of talking too much instead of listening. And it’s really important. You know my business partner Tracy Matthews actually has an experience where she was selling her, she is a jewellery designer and she was selling her line to a very reputable store in San Francisco. And the buyer said to her "You know what you have a very beautiful ascetic and beautiful [inaudible]. You need X, Y and Z to complete it." This is where I see you're missing. And what was so cool is Tracy took that to heart and took the advice and made the changes and it really made a difference in her business. And I think that's really important for designers to take into consideration because it's working with your buyers. Now I think you also have to take it with a grain of salt because it is very important as I said to know your [inaudible], it’s very important to know who your customer is. We call it that, your dream client. And to also know your story. How did you evolve? How did you get to this point? And why it’s so important what's your inspiration behind what you do? And last but not least is your confidence. Be confident in what you are doing and how you are doing it. So listen to what the feedback you're getting and take it in but that doesn’t mean that you have the change everything. But it’s very important to listen of the opportunity that might be presented to you. And know that if somebody says, "You know what? Turquoise and Gold sells for me all the time." And you have to look at is that going to work for you? And if this is a store that you want to work with, is that something that you may want to consider bringing into your collection?

Alison Lee: Right. Right. Yeah. And I like what you just said before. You have to make non emotional decisions.

Robin Kramer: Yes

Alison Lee: Hopefully. I mean there is that place when you just [inaudible] and you go "I can't believe they said [screaming]!" And then you let it all out and now go back to the facts here and let the emotion go.

Robin Kramer: Yeah. I mean you have to know too that the stores are coming from their perspective. It is a good practice to let it go and I have to tell you working trade shows for as many years as I have and done and all over the country and even overseas, to have a buyer come in and critique your work right there as you're standing there. And I'm not even the designer, but I am very emotionally attached to anything I have sold. And I was at DogEared, I have these buyers that would come in and say "You know what. I could do that. Or this doesn’t seem special enough to me. Or this." Then I would say "Thank you so much for letting me know. This might not be the line for you." Or it will allow me to also say " Well it's interesting you feel that way. Here, let me explain the process to you." So if you use it as a door, as an opportunity to explain you know, how you do something. Or they may have no idea that the silver you are using is socially responsible recycled silver. And it's going to cost a little bit more. Or the fact that you, the reason that you carded something with a message is because there is an intention behind this. So, instead of looking at it as somebody taking digs at what you do, but as a door to explain why you do what you do and how you do it.

Alison Lee: Yeah. Well you just said. I'm laughing because we all need to take a deep breath but I'm with you. I think if anyone wants to bother critiquing for a good amount of people then that can be gold. Especially if it’s a negative because it’s like, there is a lot of gold in negative comments if you can sit down calmly and figure it out.

Robin Kramer: I 100% agree. Opportunity. Opportunity. Opportunity. And I always tell our community that when somebody gives you feedback, the first thing I always say is thank you. And that's true. Somebody calls if let’s say, the chain broke on a necklace you know what thank you for bringing that to my attention.

Alison Lee: Absolutely.

Robin Kramer: It's diffusing the situation and it really makes a level playing field.

Alison Lee: Yes. I totally agree. And people will come back to you again because they are not going to worry if it breaks again or if something else happens. They will know "Oh they'll take care of it though so it’s no problem." Well you were just saying before about the story. Just explain to people. You started going into it by saying recycled silver. That's so important to share with people, whatever your story is. Don't you think?

Robin Kramer:: So much so. I have worked with a lot of rep groups and being a sales person myself, the more I know about a product, the more I know about the inspiration behind it, the more I know about the designer, the better salesperson I am. So even if you are your own salesperson, know your story. Know how to pitch it too. And I think pitch, pitch is not my favourite word because I think sounds a little like sales-y. I would say educate. Know how to educate and know how to educate quickly. And know how you can educate within 20 seconds and know how you can educate within a few minutes. So by that, what inspires you? Why do you do what you do? So for some designers that is the recycle side of things. That is the responsibly sourced stones. It is the process, maybe the casting process that you do. It is people that you hire to work with you. Maybe you work with single mothers, who you know help teaching a trade to them. You know, your story is so unique and it is unique to you. And I think that this just brings up something else for me is that there is a lot of jewellery out there. And there is a lot of jewellery that even looks alike. But it’s what you bring to it that’s going to make it different. So I always like to say "A circle is a circle, is a circle." There's a lot of circle necklaces out there. It’s your interpretation of it. It’s maybe how you cast it or how you hammer it or what's stones you put with it. And it makes it unique to you but it’s also your story around it. Like what inspired you or what kind of, you know the ideas behind it?

Alison Lee:Well I think a huge example of that is, and I forget the second name Ani and Ro? Ani and Me?

Robin Kramer: Me and Ro?

Alison Lee: Is it? No. I think the name is Ani and There. They have the charm bracelets, the bangles.

Robin Kramer: Oh! Alex and Ani.

Alison Lee: Alex. Alex and Ani. To me that is an amazing example of a story not particularly about the jewellery because I don’t particular love the design personally but I love the story.

Robin Kramer: Do you know what? Absolutely. And I have to tell you what drew me to DogEared Jewellery was the story. And the jewellery spoke to me. I loved the idea, when I was first introduced to DogEared Jewellery it was their make a wish necklace. It was a sterling silver charm on a silk chord and you were to put the [inaudible] on a card and it said "Make a wish when you put this on, and when it falls off your wish comes true." And I was like well first of all they're brilliant, because who doesn’t want to wish. And secondly, its suppose to fall off. So it’s like disposable jewellery that you want it to fall off and what happens? You want another one because who doesn’t want another wish. So I thought it was incredibly brilliant. And when I got to know the owners, the designer is just like the words that spoke to her and words were so important to her. And it really touched me. I was so taken with everything of the company that I had to work there.

Alison Lee: No. It's the story can really pull you in. So let me also ask you though your definition. Because I get a little plugged in with this term so I was like "Do you hear it clearly said?" But when people talk about their perfect client, because my little grumbling voice is also like "Any client who pays is a perfect client. But used in the right context, to use it as a way to figure out where to advertise and to find people I think it's brilliant. So what's your definition per se of someone figuring out their perfect client?

Robin Kramer: Well your dream client, we like to call it over at Flourish and Thrive, your dream client is exactly what you said. It is that person that you are designing for, that you are marketing to. That everything you are doing. One of the things I see designers come especially starting out is they cast this wide net. They want to sell to everybody. And when you sell to everybody, you sell to no one. You have no direction, you have no kind of, you are all over the place. And you are going to get sales but you are not going to get the consistency. When you really dial in and figure out who you are selling to, everything falls into place. And it’s not to say you are not going to get other people from who aren’t quote unquote your dream client buying from you. You will. But by really zeroing and saying "You know what? I have this particular woman. She has a disposable income for X amount. She lives in New York City. She loves the finer things. She a divorced mom with two kids.” I mean it sounds a little crazy to dial it in that much but the more you dial it in, the better and clearer you are going to get with not only who this person is but where this person shops. So it's going to be the stores that she's shopping in. Those are the stores that you want to get your jewellery into. The blogs she is reading or the magazines she's reading or you know. It just really helps everything in your business

Alison Lee:Yeah. No, I agree. Basically where does that person hang out? And that’s where I want to show up.

Robin Kramer: Absolutely. Absolutely. And it’s even, it’s not even in addition to the stores its maybe the events that you go to. Maybe it’s the symphony ball you go to or maybe its other networking events. Maybe it’s the chamber of commerce meeting that you need to show up at. Because it opens that door to all sorts of possibilities that are not just wholesale trade shows or certain stores. It really helps you look at where else. The bloggers that you want to start having relationships with or the TV shows who we were talking earlier about stylist. The stylist or the costume designers that you want to seek out because of the TV show because you know your dream client loves that show.

Alison Lee: Yeah. That's exactly true. Or even I was noticing certain shows but they, whoever is styling them uses very big pieces of jewellery on certain people. It's like if you make big pieces, that's a place. Find that stylist because clearly you can make their life easier if you show up with a dozen new big pieces that they love and think will work.

Robin Kramer: Absolutely. Absolutely. I mean it's just knowing who your customer is, that dream client is going to just everything easier in your business.

Alison Lee: Yeah. That's true. Alright. Well let’s talk about because I know so many people need this information. It's not just "Oh but everyone loves my jewellery and my family and my friends buy it off of me when I walk around." Really making the switch from that level to going wholesale is huge and having the information and now you've put it together is really really, you know. Why not make it easier for yourself I'd say? Why reinvent the wheel when you can just say "Oh? You have it all there for me. That's great." So I was just looking at your program and I loved the 4 sentences I pulled out right away which was, you know. Start thinking right away. Developing solid brand platforms [inaudible] your brand. Two, creating collections that sell. Another way of thinking. Sales plans that actually work and PR and marketing for low budgets. I mean right there you have a huge step up the ladder having all the information. So tell people how your program lays out and you know the best one for people starting out. Give us some information about that so people can make a good choice.

Robin Kramer: Absolutely. Well I just want to mention to you that Tracy and I met at a trade show. We met at the E and K accessory circuit show in 2006 and between the two of us we each have over 20 years’ experience in the wholesale and jewellery area. So we are coming from a lot of experience and we have made a lot of mistakes.

Alison Lee: Which is great.

Robin Kramer: And we've had a lot of successes but we don’t want jewellery designers to have to go through the mistakes we went through. So we created our very first, it’s our signature course called "Laying the Foundation". And this is really the course if you are starting out, this is the meat and potatoes, the nuts and bolts. It is a 6-week virtual program for jewellery designers who want to learn that step by step process of really building a business platform that's going to really set you up for success. And so what you then had mentioned when you are developing those solid brand platforms and also mind-set. How important having the right mind-set when you go into this business is just crucial. Creating collections that sell, what we talked about earlier is that when you cast that wide net, it’s really confusing to the customer. But the same thing with collections. When you are kind of all over the place, it’s hard to buy from. And I know that's been a personal experience. When I go to a craft show and I'll see some great pieces but when it’s so confusing and overwhelming to me, I'm just like "I don’t know how to do this." Sales plans that actually work. You know what? Sales plans, relationships, how you do it. I love analysing things so I am a big proponent of keeping track of everything that you're doing and look at what’s not working and opportunities and what is working and really having a plan. If you go into business and you are going to any show, even if you're just a hobbyist and you're going to a craft fair and you want to do a show, don’t go without a plan. Have a plan. And even if it’s your first show, maybe it’s selling X amount of pieces or X amount of dollars or covering your cost of the show. Whatever it is.

Alison Lee: Or meeting certain buyers for the first time.

Robin Kramer: Exactly. Make sure you have a plan and it’s you know. Trade shows nowadays it’s not just showing up. It’s what you do before, it’s what you do during and it’s what you do after that really creates a successful show. And then PR and marketing for low budgets. We know starting out in a business, PR is expensive. And there are ways to do PR and marketing that you can really be on a small budget and there is so much you can do now. I mean the internet has been an amazing tool for marketing. And you know getting the word out there about your brand. So it’s really exciting. In this course that we have our "Laying the Foundation" course, as I said it’s our signature course. We offer this particular one time of year. We do coaching calls once a week. It's really answering every question you have about not just wholesale. So if you are starting out and you are just really drawn to the retail shows, this covers that as well. This is about having a strong platform for your business. Whatever that looks like to you. But we're providing you with lots of answers so you don’t have to figure it out yourself. Nowadays to start figuring out things. Especially when you are a sole proprietor, it can take years.

Alison Lee: Daunting.

Robin Kramer: And you don’t have years. Right. Exactly.

Alison Lee: You want a cheat sheet I'd say. I'd like the cheat sheet to get me started here without making all the terrible errors and dead ends.

Robin Kramer: That's exactly what we've done. We've put together this awesome cheat sheet so you don’t have to spend thousands of dollars figuring it out of your own.

Alison Lee: It’s always good. Listen, I'm always a fan of that and it’s, I like to figure things out myself and then I'd say OK, I can’t spend anymore time. This is not my expertise. I need to just find someone who has that, who can give me the training in a cheat sheet form so I can move on here.

v Well exactly. And one of the things when Tracy, Tracy had a successful wholesale business for 11 years and there were some choices and situations when 2008 hit where there were some stores that owed her a lot of money. And being a small business it really affected her business. Now she had never gotten consulting before and she brought in consultants when kind of the, you know the "It" hit the fan. And it was really costly for her and it was great information but it was kind of past the time where she could react to some things and she always said had I known then what I know now, I would still have my business. It really showed her, she could have saved herself just a lot of time and a lot of money had she been willing to invest in her business and her education earlier.

Alison Lee: No its, that’s like 100% true. It’s like you got to invest in yourself. Plus, it’s fun and you are with other people and it makes it all momentum and energy moving forward.

Robin Kramer: Absolutely. Accountability and action. It holds you accountable, it gives you the tools so you can make those decisions correctly and the other thing you know. Over at Flourish and Thrive Academy we believe in community collaboration over competition.

Alison Lee:Yeah. That's great. I’m with that to.

Robin Kramer: Oh my gosh. Community is so important. And what jewellery designers specifically have been known as kind of like a tight knit group. You don’t want to share your resource to boosting your casting or where are you getting your gem stones from but we really believe that it’s much better to share and help one another than it is to compete with one another and it’s been, our community has grown and it’s been so joyful to see designers be cheering each other on. It’s such a good thing.

Alison Lee:I agree. I wish I had a jewellery line and I would sign up right away. [Laughter]. Because I agree. I mean it’s the only way. I'm a big fan of that. I think we all move ahead as one. There is plenty of room to be competitive with the design and all that but sharing information moves everyone forward. It's just really important so. Well I think its sounds very exciting. Now the website is FlourishandThriveacademy.com correct? Or we can certainly Google that.

Robin Kramer:Yes. Now for your community if they go to flourishthriveacademy.com/craftcast, they will learn more about “Laying the Foundation.”

Alison Lee: Perfect. And I will put that link in the show notes so you just click it and not have to be rewinding right now, trying to copy it fast. So it will be there for all of you. And I want to thank you for coming on and sharing all that information. I know that you have tons more to share with everyone.

Robin Kramer: I do. I can talk for days, days about it.

Alison Lee:The two of us could. I know. That's the way it is. But you know, we can't we have to do other things too. Well Robin thanks again.

Robin Kramer: My pleasure Alison. Such a joy to talk with you and about something I am so passionate about.

Alison Lee:Absolutely

Episode Notes: