How Two Small Businesses Landed Collaborations with a National Retailer
In my last article for The Southern C Blog, I talked to Kirk Chambers of Brothers and Craft about the importance of storytelling in social media and he said something which kept coming to mind as I sat down to write this article: “At the end of the day, it’s all about people.” Essentially he was saying that when you find a way to connect with the people around you, your community, you’ll be far more successful than just focusing on your product. We may have only been discussing this in relation to Instagram, but I think his advice can be applied to most aspects of business, especially with regard to collaborations.
In August, I attended the Meet the Maker event at West Elm Charleston on King Street. Celebrating their one year anniversary, West Elm welcomed local artists into their store to share their products with the community. Participating makers included J. Stark, 42 Pressed, Kristen Solecki, ash&coop, Perla Anne Press, Dodeline Design, Raven Roxanne, The Contents Co, Charleston Weekender, and Blakely Little. Still relatively new to Charleston myself, I am always on the lookout for ways to learn more about and connect with my new community. Usually this means I’m seeking out small local boutiques or the Saturday farmers market so I was surprised and excited to get this opportunity at a national retailer like West Elm. Curious to learn how these local vendors partnered with a national retailer, I spoke with two of the participating makers. Read below for their best advice on how to approach a collaboration.
“Retailers are looking for something new and different.” – Jackie Robinson, 42 Pressed
If there is one thing that the founder of 42 Pressed can’t stress enough, it is to focus on being original. Originally started as a letterpress studio, 42 Pressed has grown into a multi-faceted business: a design studio, a line of stationery goods called OOAK (one of a kind), and a collection of travel themed candles and prints called ROAM. Her unique block prints of Charleston caught the eye of a West Elm scout at a local pop-up shop during the holidays. With only a small order to start, 42 Pressed is now sold online at West Elm and was subsequently picked up by Anthropologie, Urban Outfitters, and Paper Source. “It’s important to develop your own voice,” says Jackie. “It’s just a matter of time until people catch on.”
“You’re not going to do anything, if you don’t ask.” – Liz Martin, Charleston Weekender
Liz Martin’s relationship with West Elm began last February when she approached her local store with an idea for a pop-up surrounding Valentine’s Day. As the saying goes – if you don’t ask, the answer is always no. Several months later, West Elm was approaching her for the Meet the Maker event.
Liz started Charleston Weekender off small in the fall of 2015 with an online shop of turkish towels. “It’s a product I love and use,” she says. She quickly expanded her site though into a blog and developed her skills as a stylist and social media expert all in addition to growing her online shop. It’s her go-getter attitude and willingness to seek out opportunities within her community that have led to larger-scale partnerships. In her first year of business, she has styled an entertaining feature for Style Me Pretty Living, participated in pop-ups at her local West Elm and Madewell, and has recently partnered with Draper James. “People notice when you are out doing things,” she says.
“The business side needs to be taken care of before the creative side.” – Jackie Robinson
Once you’ve made that initial connection, Jackie and Liz both agree that you’ve got to iron out the details. Before starting any of the creative, Jackie advises the importance of finalizing a contract and specifying the deliverables that each side is responsible for. “Listening to what the other person wants is really important,” she says. Liz offered up almost the same exact advice: “Pay attention to what is asked.”
It’s also equally important to understand what you are able to offer and bring to the table, especially when you are in the position of approaching a company for a collaboration. Whether it’s creating awareness through your social media channels or providing professional photography in exchange, be prepared to explain what you can offer in return.
“Be respectful.” – Liz Martin
And because at the end of the day we are all people, Liz reminds us that the best advice is to act human. “Be responsive to emails, go and set up early, and remember to be thankful.”