This post was written by Stephen Parsons.
Why do we do it? Why do art and craft entrepreneurs put their products and reputation out there in the marketplace? Business objectives are different for each business owner, I guess, but some would seem more important than others. But how important is profit as an objective compared to other – perhaps more altruistic – objectives?
While profit and the need to express one’s artistic creativity and passion are goals we might think at the top of the list, I wonder about whether recognizing and satisfying customer needs aren’t just as important, if not more so, as viable craft business objectives. I mean, what is better than seeing a satisfied customer with something you made?
Profit as objective
For the small art and craft business, steady revenue and sustainable profit is an elusive objective and – pursued as a focus – one that may compromise other equally important objectives. I suspect it may be years before Chez Craft will become truly profitable (at least from a Canada Revenue Agency perspective ;-)) Material costs can overcome sustainable profit margins and demand is really out of your control. What you think is cool to design may be so for the short term, but in no time tastes change and if you are not careful, you can get complacent and pedantic with your style and then suddenly your market and your revenue dries up.
The Art of Business
That segues nicely to the notion of artistic expression as an objective of its own. Craft as an outlet of artistic innovation is equally challenging to pursue in a productive way and particularly hard to measure because true art demands continuous innovation, design, redefinition. OK, I know there are artists making good revenue and feeling satisfied with the production of limited (or even unlimited) copies of their work. But the true artist knows that the real pursuit is of the next piece, not the satisfaction of the ones already in production. Pricing that first original piece is hard to do but production levels are one of the few things you can control and that is important to the craftsperson – choosing how many (or how few) of a particular item you will produce.
Well, how about customer satisfaction? Is this truly the ultimate business objective? A 2014 MIT Sloan School of Business article suggests that while Customer Satisfaction has become an altruistic beacon to many businesses, the relationship between customers and businesses is pretty complex and often quite in opposition of the anticipated correlation. The article even goes as far as to suggest that there may actually be a negative correlation between customer satisfaction and customer loyalty in some cases. However, that article seems to be describing situations of mega businesses who don’t really get to know their customers, can’t call them by name – like we do. I know that customer satisfaction is very important to me – and the images I am sharing are a big part of why my partner and I choose to (and truly enjoy to) spend time in the studio and workshop day after day.
Finding the Balance
A recent Chron post identified what their research identified as the top ten business objectives for their survey sample, many of which I’m sure will resonate with you. They include those I have mentioned above and also things like productivity, employee retention, growth and the need to compete -all worthy objectives in their own right. It would be rare for any experienced entrepreneur to identify only one objective that they pursue for their business. The secret seems to be in finding the balance between multiple motivating factors and in understanding what will keep oneself engaged in that business day-in and day-out for many years.
The faces of these customers – and the many I hope to satisfy in future – are strong motivators for me. I can’t hold on to every original product I build, or else I would certainly go out of business in a hurry. But I can hold onto those smiles, that look in the eye when they first hold that piece in their hands – that part is truly priceless and something that will keep me charged up for some time to come.