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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?

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