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How to Custom Order Goods from Your Indie Friends

by Ashley on January 12, 2010

Inspired by my own growing wishlist of indie goods and by this post on Customer Etiquette at Corsetry (not to mention Birdiee’s post on Retail Hell: How Customer Service has Changed), I thought it’d be great to share some tips on how to order custom, handmade, and one-of-a-kind goods– both from a consumer and creator perspective!

As someone who dabbles in crafting, the few custom orders I have had have been less than thrilling experiences. I can’t imagine what it is like for the person doing it full time.  Clients being unclear about what they’re wanting to lacking knowledge and research about the kind of work I create… it can create a disastrous work environment for both maker and buyer!

buttons hearts measuring tape
Via Catty Came Home

  • Know what you want and how to describe it. Telling someone you want a black hat isn’t as helpful as saying you’d like a black pillbox hat or a black fedora.
  • Do your research– approach the right person for the job. You wouldn’t approach someone to make a latex corset for you if they reproduced period pieces, and you shouldn’t approach the lady who makes gorgeous crystal headbands about making you a fedora.
  • Don’t pressure them in to making something they aren’t comfortable with. All designers know their limitations–they know that point that is challenging and new and exciting, and they know that point that is beyond their skill set.
  • Don’t ask them to provide their sources— don’t ask about material suppliers, where to get the best deals on supplies, or to divulge their secrets.  They’re called “trade secrets” for a reason, these designers take years to build up their relationships and suppliers, and they should’t have to share them with their consumers.
  • Be regular, straightforward, and upfront in your communciations. Be honest about when you need it by, what your actual measurements are.  Set up a plan for payments, and be diligent and regular in your email responses.
  • Keep your commitments. If you say that you’ll pay by a certain date or that you’ll ship a product at a certain time– DO IT.
  • Recognize business hours and costs related to doing their job. Just because they are self employed doesn’t mean that they’re expected to work 18 hour days for below minimum wage, or not have health insurance to keep their costs low.  Realize that they are running a business and expect that to be included in your costs.  If they have to go out and buy new supplies to create your product, don’t be surprised that some of that overhead has ended up in your final costs!
  • Don’t expect discounts! Related to the above point, these people are trying to run a business– and as much as I love a discount (and I know you do too!), there is a difference between waiting for a promo or sale and asking for the price to be reduced.
  • Demand security for you and for them. Whether it’s in the form of a contract and home contact information, make sure that if you’ve given someone money upfront to create something for you, that you have the right to get in touch with them– and not just over email.  Likewise, respect that they aren’t going to appreciate phone calls at 3 a.m. and that they have as much right to your personal contact information as well.
  • Be understanding. Real life happens to all of us– we get ill or injured, we relocate (*cough*), or occasionally we just let our orders get out of control.  Be understanding as a customer that most independent businessmen AREN’T out to screw you over.  Be understanding as a businessman that your customers will get scared and panicked if you have their money and haven’t been in regular contact with them.  On both ends, we’re just wanting communication, honesty, and survival.

Lovers of indie products, or creators and designers of indie products– is there anything you’d like to add?


Allie January 18, 2010 at 10:53 am

Super post, so helpful for everyone!
I can’t recommend enough that crafters, even if they just get into selling for pocket money, take the free classes offered by the Small Business Administration, local Chambers of Commerce, etc. After the NY Times article highlighted the indie designers who make 6 figures but do nothing but knit for 14 hours straight, it really highlighted for me how important it is to have some basic management skills – even if you’re just managing yourself. There’s a difference between working hard to grow your business, and working harder than you have to to have a comfortable income.
I will definitely link to this on my shop & site.
.-= Allie´s last blog ..Links a la Mode by IFB =-.

Ashe Mischief January 26, 2010 at 10:18 pm

FANTASTIC points, Allie! I read that article as well, and it’s so important to know that you don’t have to abuse yourself to do what you love, to make bank, or live comfortably. I’m a big fan of education as it is, so taking classes on small business admin is a beautiful idea!

M January 14, 2010 at 10:43 pm

Great advice, as I learned the hard way when having something costume made a contract of sorts should be signed especially very clear on the delivery date, even for the little things, yes people get sick or unexpected things happen but if the person that requested your services made it clear there’s a reason for a specific date to deliver and you agree to it then you must come thru regardless of personal issues or at least call and try to work things out not just say sorry not ready yet when they show up to pick it up. Came out rant-y sorry jajaja
.-= M´s last blog ..Yesterdays outfit =-.

Ashe Mischief January 26, 2010 at 10:17 pm

Your rant-y was appreciated! Contracts are SO important, and on big purchases, I’ve been very, VERY lucky. Communication, honesty, and understanding really go a long way, especially when there’s a due date involved on a project.

39th & Broadway January 13, 2010 at 3:48 pm

Excellent info as always Ashe. You really should submit this to Etsy. Shoppers really need to have respect for the designers and artists custom making goods for them. People need to realize they are not dealing with Target Corp, these are actual individuals taking their time to create something special and of quality for you, often with far tighter margins then big retailers. A little respect goes a long way!
.-= 39th & Broadway´s last blog ..Label of Origin =-.

IdStyle January 13, 2010 at 10:35 am

Thanks for all the helpful advice, i have not custom oredered anything yet, but with this guideline, if i need to, i will be well prepared!
.-= IdStyle´s last blog ..Design Board: No Two Snowflakes… =-.

Jennifer January 13, 2010 at 3:11 am

GREAT post! It warms my heart to see that you are trying to help customer interaction, goodness knows not everyday is a good customer day, but we really do try!!
I really enjoyed this, thank you!!

The Clothes Horse January 13, 2010 at 12:33 am

This is awesome. I’m preparing to custom-order something and I was wondering how specific/demanding I can be… :)
.-= The Clothes Horse´s last blog ..Lifespan Of A Butterfly =-.

Alicia January 12, 2010 at 10:54 pm

*rousing applause*

Wonderful, wonderful post.
.-= Alicia´s last blog ..…iRock… =-.

Michelle January 12, 2010 at 10:03 pm

This is a GREAT post. Something that people should be required to read before purchasing custom items. We can put together a little syllabus, Custom Orders 101!

Tegan January 12, 2010 at 8:26 pm

The last one is so important when dealing with buying/selling and transactions of any kind. I’ve found that people usually jump to conclusions when contact has been flimsy. Have some trust, people! (great post, btw. Brings light to many things people don’t think about)
.-= Tegan´s last blog ..Three Condoms Equals Prositute in D.C. =-.

Ashe Mischief January 26, 2010 at 10:15 pm

Yes! Trust is very important– and it’s important to realize when an acceptable amount of time has passed and when it’s been to.fucking.long between contact. (For me, the TFL is about a month. 1 week I find acceptable, though frustrating.)

birdie January 12, 2010 at 7:48 pm

Great post, m’dear! (Also thanks for the link love) These are such great tips to remember.

Audi January 12, 2010 at 12:04 pm

Great post! I couldn’t agree more. I can’t tell you how many orders we get on our etsy shop in which people don’t bother to provide their size and then are unreachable for days. We’ve also gotten requests for custom work where the person expected us to go out and buy materials we didn’t already have in stock, then spend hours creating the piece to specific measurements BEFORE payment would be sent. No, thanks!

I should also point out, though, that the majority of our customers are really wonderful people who communicate promptly, recognize the quality and uniqueness they’re getting for the price, and take the time to submit valuable feedback. Hooray for them! The bad experiences make me doubly grateful.

Ashe Mischief January 26, 2010 at 10:14 pm

Yikes! I really hate to think of people like you & Wendy getting monster customers D:

You’re right though– I imagine that MOST customers are actually great, understanding, wonderful people to work with. It’s easy to remember the bad ones and forget the good ones, but both should make a designer feel grateful!

Christine January 12, 2010 at 11:35 am

These are really good points. I once went to a high end “craft fair” and people were demanding to know why prices were so high, where stones came from, and in one case, a recommendation for a book to start themselves. One jeweler downright refused to answer questions — obviously he would answer questions about the type of stone used, how to care for jewelry — but the wouldn’t give his sources. Then a woman asked for a discount on the piece she’d been asking about, and he said no. She had asked to buy the piece at half price! It was embarassing to watch; the artist was trying to be polite, but she was tying up time that he could have used to serve other customers.

I do think artists shouldn’t be afraid to ask for a fee if they sketch a piece, or are asked to make adjustments. I had my wedding headpiece made and changed to swarowski crystals and they told me it would cost more, and how much more, and I decided to go ahead.

I’m sure it’s deeply frustrating but I hope people read this and get it.


Ashe Mischief January 26, 2010 at 10:12 pm

I can understand why people tend to get in to these haggling mindsets at fairs and markets… on one hand, that’s kind of their nature. But on the other hand, people should understand that profit is the bottom line. Many people can be talked down a few bucks, but half price is insulting! That probably didn’t even cover his costs for labor and materials.

Poochie January 12, 2010 at 11:23 am

Great info! Etsy should add this to their site.

The Maiden Metallurgist January 12, 2010 at 11:22 am

Right on! My husband owns his own web design business, and it is shocking how many people- strangers and new clients- ask for discounts. They’ll say they just think he charges too much, and they aren’t comfortable with his prices. He’s so much more diplomatic than I would be when he responds that his prices are his prices, and they are free to shop around for other designers.

Also right on: they have no ideal what they want but expect him to know, and I have had to institute a no answering the phone of emails on dates and holidays. You’d be surprised how many of his clients call at 10pm on Saturday night and expect an answer- even though we’re already in bed asleep.

Ashe Mischief January 26, 2010 at 10:10 pm

This makes me so angry to read! I’m glad your hubby is diplomatic and has these rules in place….so many designers don’t value their time and don’t put these in to practice!

WendyB January 12, 2010 at 11:15 am

Oh my God, people do this to me all the time: ‘Don’t ask them to provide their sources– don’t ask about material suppliers, where to get the best deals on supplies, or to divulge their secrets. They’re called “trade secrets” for a reason, these designers take years to build up their relationships and suppliers, and they should’t have to share them with their consumers.’

So fucking insulting!
.-= WendyB´s last blog ..Seeing Blue =-.

Ashe Mischief January 26, 2010 at 10:09 pm

it always disappoints me when I hear of talented designers being asked this.

By the way, Wendy, can you put me in touch with a good diamond wholesaler? ;)

Alice January 12, 2010 at 10:34 am

It is a great post! I find that people tend to compare handmade to high street and set the same standards. It is totally inappropriate to say something like “I can get it half price in Accessories!” On the other hand it is also not fair to sell bad quality handmade goods and use “ethical” as a justification.
.-= Alice´s last blog ..How To Wear A Puffer Coat =-.

Ashe Mischief January 26, 2010 at 10:09 pm

I COMPLETELY agree with both points you’ve made! And they’re excellent points that should be included in the post.

Jaime January 12, 2010 at 9:06 am

This, my dear, is a post to bookmark. Great advice! :)
.-= Jaime´s last blog ..Denim News: Ksubi Placed in Voluntary Administration =-.

DailyDivaDish January 12, 2010 at 9:13 am

Great post Ashe! I especially like your point about the need to be able to reach the provider in some way besides email…once you’ve provided a pre-payment. This was a fact I had to learn the hard way.
XO Piper
.-= DailyDivaDish´s last blog ..Vintage Jewelry =-.

DailyDivaDish January 12, 2010 at 9:11 am

Great post Ashe! I especially like the point you made…that once you’ve provided an upfront payment—make sure you can contact the provider and not just through email. This was a lesson I had to learn the hard way.
XO Piper
.-= DailyDivaDish´s last blog ..Vintage Jewelry =-.

Ashe Mischief January 26, 2010 at 10:08 pm

Piper, I hear SO many stories about buyers this has happened to–I’m sorry to hear you’re among them. It’s really important to remember that buyers have just as many rights as sellers do, even when buying indie!

Rachel January 12, 2010 at 7:00 am

Thanks – that was actually a really interesting article from anyones perspective really! And I love your blog by the way!
.-= Rachel´s last blog ..The Beautiful Blogger Award =-.

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