How can my girlfriend take her hobby (lamp making) and turn it into a business.
January 26, 2011 3:42 PM   Subscribe

How can my girlfriend take her hobby (lamp making) and turn it into a business by seeking a manufacturer and sales channel?

My girlfriend makes lamps and sells them as hobby. Over the past two years they've gotten a little bit of press: The were featured on a very popular design blog, a home remodeling television show, appeared in Food and Wine magazine and some internet publications.

The lamps are somewhat expensive and very labor intensive (she hand makes each). She often considers having them manufactured and selling them through a more mainstream store so she can focus on design rather than production. (If it matters, they're made out of wood).

The problem is, she has no idea how to start. How can she find a manufacturer and a sales venue? What sort of legwork does she need to do? What are some of the arrangements and partnerships she can make? She's looking for any tips, information, tools etc, that you can offer. Thanks!
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (4 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
If I knew nothing about an industry and wanted to get into it, I would find a major trade show and go to it. Talk to the booth reps, they will be bored 90% of the time and happy to chat. Talk to everybody and ask who else you should be talking too. Ask lots of questions. Then ask them again, of somebody different, with the goal of coming out of the show with an understanding of what you need to do next.

Of course, this being the green, the next answer will probably be from the CEO of a lamp manufacturing company :)
posted by COD at 3:55 PM on January 26, 2011

I'd imagine a lot of their appeal (and the ability to draw the price I'm sure they command) has to do with their handmade nature. Would she continue this? Would she offshore the production?
posted by speedgraphic at 4:50 PM on January 26, 2011

Your girlfriend is a product designer or developer or (more broadly) an inventor. The process she needs to follow is called licensing. To get a favorable license arrangement she will need independent market and production evaluations, an intellectual property attorney, and possibly a marketing team just to find a partner e.g. by attending trade shows, many of which exist for the sole purpose of allowing product inventors and product manufacturers to speed-date.

A Beginner’s Guide: How to Rent Your Ideas to Fortune 500 Companies [1, 2]

Marketing & Licensing Products for Independent Product Developers

Invention Marketing and Licensing for the Inventor

I'd advise your gf to get on LinkedIn and start making connections in the industry, in particular looking for a mentor who can help her weather the tricky bits. She would also probably be well advised to take some local college courses in marketing and general business.
posted by dhartung at 10:47 PM on January 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm going to echo Speedgraphic a little bit, but part of their allure is probably the artisan nature of the product...

A friend of mine did this with messenger bags and riding jackets. Her sales volume got to the point where she had backorders all the time... She figured out how much she could produce in a month, and then how much she needed/wanted to earn, and priced her bags and jackets accordingly. She only works 4 days a week.

She still innovates and creates quite a bit, but she would lose the core of her business if she contracted mass production out to another body. She also has a fairly constant stream of revenue, due to backorders and the semi-bespoke nature of her work.
posted by furnace.heart at 9:33 AM on January 27, 2011

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