Besides writing for the magazine and selling patterns through my site, I have a couple of larger companies which I sell my patterns to at a wholesale rate, for them to resell retail. This is a necessary and important part of my job because even though writing for the magazine is wonderful, it is on a free-lance basis and certainly wouldn’t be enough money to sustain me in a living. My own site is doing pretty good, and really gaining momentum since I have spent the time and attention it needs, but the wholesale market is still very necessary in my business and plays a large part in its success.
I have a few major companies which I wholesale to. Scroll sawing is a pretty specialized offshoot of woodworking, as you probably realize and there aren’t very many choices when it comes to marketing. Selling patterns is pretty much the way to earn a living in the scroll saw industry. Although many of my customers do very well selling items at craft fairs and some even have their online stores, it is usually as a second income or retirement supplement, as it is very labor-intensive work and people aren’t really willing or able to pay for the many hours it entails to create something. Any scroller can attest to that, and most keep up the hobby as a way to relax and be creative and perhaps make a little bit of money on the side. (Usually enough to buy more wood and blades!)
So with that said, you can figure that times have been kind of rough for our industry, as they are with many. When people are worried about putting food on their tables and paying their mortgages and keeping their jobs, buying scroll saw patterns is probably close to last on their list of priorities. Especially with all the free patterns available online. I must say that I have been able to hold my own this past year or so, but that has only been because I really stepped up production and have over doubled my efforts in both producing new designs and marketing. I feel that if I hang in here through the rough times, when things begin to loosen up a bit everything will be OK. I guess we will just have to see.
So the other day I received an email from one of my largest wholesalers stating that their new catalog was in the mail and their art department wanted me to redesign my pattern packets and strip all of my contact information off of them. Until last year, I was the one printing my own packets and sending them to the wholesaler for distribution. As a cost cutting measure, they decided they wanted to print the patterns themselves, saving postage from me to them and not having to purchase inventory. Because they were doing this, they also wanted to cut my percentage of what I would receive for them. I did agree to this (I had no choice, or they would not carry my patterns anymore) even after just a couple months before they cut the percentage they would pay out to designer across the board by ten percent. They wrote us a letter, telling us they were struggling too, and for the good of ‘everyone’ they needed to do this and hoped we would understand and comply.
So to sum it up, in the past 12 months I received what figures out to be a 33% pay cut, but no longer had to print or mail my own patterns. Life is full of compromises. I have been doing business with them for over 12 years and as I said, as far as distributors go, the pick’ins are slim. I had finally purchased the right combination of printing equipment which would output beautiful, clear, color patterns at very little cost to me, and I could pass on the savings to the customer. But I would always be able to use the equipment for my own other avenues and also I would have more time to design, so I agreed to the terms.
Several years ago when I just began working with them, they wanted to strip my information off the patterns and I told them that was unacceptable. They had tried to convince me that they had ‘knowledgeable staff’ who would help any customer who had questions, but even at that early stage of my experience with them, I had received calls from customers who tried their customer service and were not satisfied. They hired people to answer the phones and take orders. In general, they didn’t know much about woodworking or blades or construction of the projects, etc. I didn’t want my customer to not be able to find me if they had a question or issue. I held my ground then with them and we came to an agreement that I would be able to leave the information on the patterns. After all, if you buy a Whirlpool washing machine from Best Buy, they don’t strip all of Whirlpools information off of it. I wanted to be available to stand by my product if necessary and didn’t want to leave it to chance.
Now, however, I received this letter that they wanted me to remove all the information on the new patterns that I had sent to them for distribution. They even went so far as saying that ‘by an oversight, they had not done so on my other stuff’. They had recently added several new designs of mine into this new catalog and it would mean rewriting all the patterns to suit them – by early next week. Besides the extra work load (I have several deadlines I need to meet, both for the magazine and my own company) I was pretty upset with this. This occurred the other day as I was reading the responses from several of you regarding how I handled the angry mailing list guy. I fought my urge to react and called a couple of close colleagues whom I respected to discuss things with them. I wanted to get their take on the situation and also put some distance between my initial reaction and my response.
My colleagues agreed with me. It seemed like one push too many. It is like the story of the camel in the tent I used to hear from my grandmother. At what point do I say ‘no’?
Knowing they needed an immediate answer due to the time frame, I responded a couple of hours later. I was honest with them and told them that I had other commitments that had to be filled and there was no way that I could possibly have the time to do this so quickly. I was told in the initial letter that ‘their art department said it would take 30 minutes to an hour to change each pattern’. Somehow that made me more upset. It would probably take me a couple hours each to redesign those patterns on one hand and on the other, what were they getting the 60% for? In my company, I don’t have an ‘art department’. I am the art department.
I did also tell them that I was not happy that they were taking all my contact information off the pattern. I could see them not wanting to have the paragraph which told the customer to visit my site, and I had no problem with them removing that, but I did let them know that I strongly felt that they should leave my phone number and email so that customers with questions could reach me. I read and reread my response several times before hitting the send button. It was polite and very matter-of-fact and professional. I felt as if I didn’t stand up for myself at some point, I may as well quit and find another vocation.
Several minutes after sending it, I received a response. It was not what I would call angry, but the former friendly tone was not there. It was pointed out to me that until this point, my information was left on – an ‘oversight’ by them – and that they wanted to make my “huge” logo smaller and put a “little” logo of their own on them. I felt bad because I had had a decent relationship with them for a long time and there was definitely an icy undertone. I didn’t want to leave things as they were, but felt that I may have lost an important client.
I waited until I talked to my partner, as I wanted to see his take on it. He has just started working with me and I think that his opinion was important as another point of view. I told him that I may have shot myself in the foot with them, but he did agree that enough was enough. He had been around long enough to see concession after concession on our part and realized that if we aren’t making money, maybe it is time to think in another direction. I did feel that I didn’t want to leave it that way with the company, so I took my time and very carefully composed a letter to them. (one of the problems too, is that they don’t talk on the phone – my liaison ‘doesn’t do the phone’ and will only talk through emails. This is true across the board, even with the magazine, whose patterns they sell also. The problem with that is that things can be misunderstood in writing as some pointed out in my blog of the other day)
So I took my time to be honest and upfront with the issues I was having. I wanted to clear the air so we could better understand each other. I stated my own concerns, but I also acknowledged their problems as a company and the struggles they are experiencing. I did point out to them that it was due to an agreement, not an oversight that until now my information was left on the older patterns. Another issue that I didn’t mention was that they were going to do double-sided printing. Many of you have seen the type of patterns I draw and even in the best circumstances, when you make copies necessary to cut the patterns, the other side has a way of showing through. I also expressed this concern in my letter. It is difficult enough to cut for some without seeing ‘ghost’ lines from the other side. This was something that I felt very strong about, as the cost of adding in a sheet or two of paper on a $6 or $8 pattern was negligible. in any case, after waiting again and rereading and going over the letter with my partner, I again hit ‘send’.
It was a restless night. I realized that I had stood my ground to one of the biggest companies out there. Many of my fellow designers won’t do business with them at all anymore because of their demands and practices. I always tried to be diplomatic and I am grateful for an additional outlet. But some times you have to say ‘enough is enough’. Soon I would be paying them to sell my patterns. I also had to face the reality that I may have seen my last order from them. It was a difficult pill to swallow, but I had to look at this business realistically. I had been reading many of the blogs and posts here in LJ’s and they pretty much all say the same thing – if you don’t make money, it isn’t a business. You have to have confidence in your own self-worth. Those words helped me tremendously in making this decision.
I looked on their site and at their recent catalogs. I was a large part of their business. I added value to their business. If we didn’t do business with each other anymore, I wouldn’t be the only one that would be hurt from it. I had to have the confidence in myself and my designs and the way I present them in my patterns. That is something that I have had trouble with in the past. We all have some trouble believing in ourselves, I think. But after almost 15 years it was time I saw my own value, too. I am not saying this in a ‘big-headed’ way. If I dropped out of the business, it would barely skip a beat. I know that. But I do my job well and complete and my following and loyalty of my customers and my editor attest to that. So I held my breath and waited.
I got a response sometime in the afternoon. I was expecting no response (or subsequent orders) or a ‘take it or leave it’ letter from them (they have been known to do that before). When I read the response I needed to sit down. It was a long letter on how they valued our relationship and wanted to make it work. They said that they would not only leave the phone number and email, but they put a paragraph that said “for any questions concerning this project, please contact Sheila directly at . . . . .” They said that the double sided printing would only be on the text pages, as they also felt printing patterns on both sides was not good, and they said that they wanted to continue to do business and we would all see this through together.
I felt incredible and proud. It may seem like a small, silly thing, but it was important. I didn’t react emotionally, but I kept it practical and businesslike and (I believe) unoffensive. I felt that their compromise was sincere and enough to make things work. After all, isn’t life full of compromises? I felt so much better having my say in this way rather than being angry and letting it stew inside and ruin the relationship. I respected their position too and I feel that with a little give and take on both sides, it was a happy ending for everyone.
I am sorry this got so long, but I thought this story was important. For the other business owners in this group – you DO have to stand up for yourself and respect yourself to ask for what you deserve. I learned that from all of you. You also need to approach your business with as little personal emotion as you are able, even though creating and building is a very emotional business to be in. Again, I thank you all for your previous advice and comments. Even though there have been many different perspectives presented, it is good to see different sides and point of views that are impossible to see on our own. Many views are so much more valuable than just our own.
Thank you for sharing yours with me so I could make a better decision.
-- Designer/Artist/Teacher. Owner of Sheila Landry Designs (http://www.sheilalandrydesigns.com) Scroll saw, wood working and painting patterns and surfaces. "Knowledge is Power"