What, you didn't think that I'd let this morning's big news from By Hand London go un-posted-about, did you?
By Hand London: Some Heavy Hearts and Big News From Us
The TL; DR summary of the BHL post is as follows:
- BHL bit off more than they could chew with their kickstarter-funded fabric printing business.
- Because of the overhead of printing/carrying paper patterns, they're doing a 180 on their paper-patterns-only post from a few months ago and will be distributing ONLY PDF patterns, once they run out of their paper pattern inventory.
- The BHL girls are going back to their day jobs, but will continue to produce new PDF patterns as a labor of love and do have a few new patterns in the works.
I do not own nor have I have I ever made any By Hand London patterns, but I've certainly followed them. They certainly have been one of the higher profile "new indies" of the past couple of years. I'm not an expert at the pattern business, but as a software industry veteran who lived in the Bay Area during the dotcom explosion/implosion and with a resume that includes eight cumulative years at three different startups, I do know something about business failures. Here are my thoughts on where BHL made missteps:
- No clear business plan or product roadmap: We're going to start distributing PDF patterns! No, wait, PDF patterns are eating too many sales from our paper patterns, which we printed a ton of and have an overstock of! Ooh, and now we're going to print fabric, too!
At best, BHL came across as indecisive. At worst, they came across as unprofessional. When you're asking customers to pay over $20 USD for a pattern (expensive, even by indie standards), you had better come across as having your shit together both creatively and professionally.
- Lack of marketing and manufacturing research before expanding: Clearly, the women at BHL had no idea what they were getting into when they kicked off their funding campaign for their fabric printing business.
From a customer standpoint, custom-printed fabric is very expensive. With several other fabric printing vendors out there, was BHL really filling a niche that couldn't be filled by another manufacturer? From their post, I got the impression that they thought that they'd be able to hit the ground running as soon as they got their printer without accounting for the test runs and fine-tuning that would be needed to produce saleable fabric.
- Unrealistic sales forecasts: As BHL admitted in their post, they had overly optimistic sales forecasts (leading me to wonder how much research was done in this area) and that the slow summer months hit them hard. We also saw this point pop up with the excess of printed pattern inventory that they had.
- Limited target demographic: Based on their designs and size range, I can guess that the target demographic for BHL's patterns is slender, 20-something women who attend a lot of weddings and parties. And who sew. That's just not a huge customer pool for purchasing your product.
While BHL isn't the worst offender of an indie with a limited size range, it's not particularly inclusive, either. And how many party dresses does one woman need? Even between the years of 27 and 32, when it seemed like I had a wedding to attend every few weeks, I rotated three different dresses among the occasions. To me, the Holly jumpsuit was the only "interesting" pattern they've released in the past year or two, and even in that case, I thought that the original bodice given to the pattern testers was better than the one that they ended up releasing.
- Tone-deaf marketing sense and customer service: I cringed when BHL pulled their PDF patterns from their website without any forewarning. I can't think of another pattern company that has pulled a major product line without warning.
What's worse, if you poke around the blogosphere and GOMI, you'll find numerous stories from customers who had paid for PDF patterns but had not downloaded them yet when the patterns got pulled from their website. These paying customers had to fight to get their money refunded, even though a number of them would have been perfectly happy to have just been emailed the PDF that they had previously paid for. A 14 or 30 day grace period or "last call on PDFs" would have saved BHL a lot of bad publicity and angry customers.
- Ignoring what your customers want: To me, this is probably one of the biggest contributors to BHL's woes.
If your customers are telling you (via sales) that they prefer PDF patterns, then you don't pull PDF patterns from distribution just because you have an excess of inventory of paper patterns. You put those paper patterns on sale, perhaps write off some losses and lick your wounds, and you focus MORE energy on PDFs, not less. On a positive note, this appears to be what BHL's plan is for the future.
My life is starting to return to normal after my father's recent passing. Cancer sucks. I'm back in Seattle and back at work.
I did sew that Simplicity raglan sweatshirt (the one that looks like the Grainline Linden) as a quick sewjo-boosting project, and it's cute even with a few fit issues, so I'll be blogging that soon. And I want to get back to my pattern release recaps! I've missed writing those! However, I'm not sure that I'll continue post them on an weekly-basis. Like BHL, that turned out to be more work than I anticipated. But I will get back to them, and I will be doing them on a regular basis, maybe just not as tight of a schedule as before.