Think of yourself as a consumer for a moment. 

  • What compels you to buy several items from the same Etsy shop? 
  • What prompts you to follow an artisan on Instagram? 
  • What makes you stop dead in your tracks at an art fair?

I’d bet it’s a cohesive product line. When your products are visually unified and organized, it’s easier for customers to see what you’re about, find what they need, and buy complementary items.

To boost sales, there’s no better strategy. Let’s talk about the many benefits of developing a product line and how you can shift your handmade business toward this approach.

Benefits of a Product Line for Artisan Entrepreneurs

Developing a product line might feel a little counterintuitive for an artist at first, but keep reading. The benefits may outweigh the drawbacks.

Creates a Recognizable Brand

Whether it’s your signature color palette or an unusual medium, customers should know right away they’re looking at your work. When you create a cohesive line-up of products, it’s easier for customers to remember you, understand the value of what you offer, and share your story with others. That’s how you get fans who keep coming back – and act like an influencer among their social circle. You want them to say, “Check it out – this is the artist who…(insert unique, memorable quality here).”

For example, NextFab member Cody Huges of Untitled Design uses discarded raw materials to create home goods that double as artistic conversation pieces. Despite the uncertainty of his materials, he’s developed a refined design aesthetic that’s unmistakably his.

UNTITLED_CO
Courtesy of UNTITLED_CO

Streamlines Processes and Reduces Costs

When your products have something in common, like the same base coat or a specific laser cut shape, it’s easier to break down the production process into groupings of tasks. This creates an opportunity for greater efficiency. Many of our members take advantage of NextFab’s digital fabrication tools to build the elements of their products quickly and consistently. 

A product line also uses similar materials, so you can buy supplies in large quantities. By purchasing wholesale, you’ll get better pricing and potentially lower shipping fees. Plus, you’ll eliminate waste. All these savings can translate into more profit per item.

Encourages Multiple Purchases

A well-designed product line considers how each item goes together. Whether they’re functionally similar (like a set of dishes) or aesthetically pleasing in a group (like a trio of framed art), it encourages customers to make more than one purchase. Have you ever seen a carefully staged photo with a collection of products on Instagram? That’s what you’re going for!

Gwanyan of Kpelle.Designs is a great example. This NextFab member is a Liberian-American artist who creates culturally-inspired jewelry. Her Instagram posts often feature her wearing multiple pieces at once, showing customers how they might want to expand their collection.

How to Design a Product Line
Courtesy of kpelle.designs

“Finding new customers for each sale takes money, time, and effort,” says Rebecca Ledbetter, NextFab Marketing Manager, “It’s much less expensive to market to existing customers. A product line helps you do that very effectively.”

Focuses Decision-Making

As an artist, it’s fun to explore new territory and see what happens. But as an artisan entrepreneur, it helps to focus your time more constructively toward profitable products. When you have a defined product line, it’s so much easier to answer questions like – Should I use this color? Which material should I buy? Do I need this equipment?

How to Develop a Successful Product Line

So, now that you can see the many advantages of a building product line, how do you get started?

Create Collections

Think of your current products and how you might place them into logical groupings. This will depend on your artistic medium and market niche/audience, but you might consider categories like color, materials, or overall aesthetic design. You could also divide them by the type of shopper or their intention. For example, “The Bookworm Collection” or “Gifts for Cooks.” If you have a fairly disparate set of products now, decide on collections and keep them in mind as you plan future items.

NextFab member Idol Light has several collections for its unique scientific glass jewelry, such as the Gem Cut Collection, Under $100, and Eco-Bling. This helps shoppers navigate their huge selection and find items that complement each other.

Document Your Process

Having a defined product line requires a higher level of consistency and quality. After all, you’re developing a group of items that should appear as depicted on your website or social media. There will always be variation in an artistic process (and that’s what makes it special), but you want to make sure customers are getting what they expect. To do that, you need to confirm what materials you’ll always use and write down how you create each item from beginning to end. This is where the expertise of NextFab staff can be invaluable. 

Marc DiGiaimo, Woodshop Manager, notes, “The story of the product, and its process, often helps to enhance its identity as well as integrity. How that story is represented online can in turn help enhance your brand identity. Be sure to stay consistent with how you tell your story.”

Find Reliable Suppliers

Let’s say your woodcraft product line features a certain stain – and that particular shade is critical to the look and feel of your custom wood furniture. What would you do if the manufacturer goes out of business? Make sure your suppliers are dependable and you have back-up options if they happen to go out of stock. This is another area where NextFab’s resources and knowledge comes in handy. NextFab’s experienced staff can help you identify alternative materials and suppliers, as well ways to make your process more repeatable and scalable.

Get Feedback and Do Research

Ask your customers if they’d be interested in complementary items to go with one of your popular products. See if people tend to buy more than one item together and figure out why. Learn from past purchases and ask lots of questions to understand why they decided to buy. Once you’ve developed a product line, keep adapting your offerings based on what sells.

It’s also a good idea to learn from artisans in a similar medium or those who target an audience like yours. What’s trending right now? What’s been successful for other artists, and how could you replicate that? Having access to a community of passionate and collaborative makers through NextFab can speed up your learning curve. 


Ready to Build Your Product Line?

Learn about becoming a NextFab member. With our mass production tools, knowledgeable staff, and other maker resources, NextFab can help you create a successful product line and a profitable sales process.

Also, check out NextFab’s webinar series, From Making to Selling. Featuring experts throughout the creative economy, we share hard-earned insider tips on how to grow your artisan business.