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SMART ANSWERS
By Karen E. Klein

10.19.99  
Homegrown Meets High Tech: Piecing Together an Online Quilt-Selling Business
A mix of traditional and Web resources is the best way to find craftspeople

Q: I own a Web business selling handmade American quilts on consignment. I charge the quilters a $10 set-up fee for mounting a picture of their quilts and the sale information on my site and take 20% of the sale price if they ship their own orders. If they want me to ship, I waive the setup fee but take a higher percentage. My problem is that I need a better way to reach quilters and convince them to sell through my site. Any suggestions?
--P.M., Los Angeles

A: You've found a niche business that seems to lend itself well to online sales if you can bring buyers to your site by featuring one-of-a-kind, high-quality merchandise, and connect with the people making quilts at home who would like to sell their products but have no marketing experience. The key to becoming an attractive portal for quilters and quilt lovers will be to verify merchandise quality in person before you price and list quilts for sale. You can search for quilters on the Internet, though you'll probably do better with old-fashioned avenues, says Sandra Gassmann of Sage Marketing & Consulting, Inc. in New York City. "You may have more success with direct-mail pieces and advertising through quilting guilds and in quilters' trade publications than you would buying opt-in e-mail lists that might be too general. If you buy lists that target "crafters" or "sewing hobbyists," for instance, you'll be paying for a large percentage of irrelevant names," she says. Prospect for expert quilters at craft and quilt shows or leave fliers at local fabric and craft stores that have quilting classes, Gassmann adds.

A search on the word "quilting" at a metasearch engine like www.dogpile.com turns up links to local quilting guilds and larger national associations that may aid your research. You can also find many Web sites that sell patterns, fabric, books, and other quilting products. Consider contacting some of these sites to arrange for reciprocal links to your site. You might even purchase small ads on the largest and most popular sites for surfing quilters.

Another option is to provide content to these sites. Articles about selling quilts, pricing them, popular patterns, exhibitions, or market trends would give you a chance to mention your Web site and let quilters know you welcome quilts on consignment.

Take the same idea -- writing helpful articles or perhaps a regular monthly newsletter -- to newsgroups, discussion lists, and chat forums for quilting hobbyists, says Ken Burke, president and CEO of Multimedia Live, an e-commerce development site based in Petaluma, Calif. "Take four or five paragraphs to offer tips, and include a line about your site and a hyperlink to it," Burke says. Make sure you're giving the group something of value to read -- not just spamming -- and lurk for a week or two before you post, to get a feel for the tenor of the community and how to best fit in without drawing resentment.

If you have some money to spend and want to make a foray into opt-in e-mail lists, you can find many hobby-oriented lists at www.postmasterdirect.com. You can find newsgroups and discussion forums through searches at sites like www.deja.com, www.delphi.com, and www.tile.net. There's also a Usenet newsgroup for quilters called rec.crafts.textiles.quilting. Try www.talkcity.com for chat sites and www.onelist.com for discussion lists.


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