Liesl and I have always been independent people. Being independent has helped us both accomplish many of the things we have set out to achieve. But it has also made it hard for us to ask for help.
It’s taken a long time, but I think we’re both coming to see that this isn’t always the best way to approach the world. Sometimes there’s real benefit to asking.
In her TED talk from 2013, the musician and performer Amanda Palmer makes the case quite compellingly for why you should ask for things and how you can make deep, lasting connections (and a living!) by asking.
Liesl and I are both trying to become better at asking. We’re not nearly at Amanda Palmer’s stage of development, and as much as I respect Palmer we probably won’t be giving away all our patterns hoping that everyone will throw a few dollars into the hat. But we did learn something very important from your responses to our customer survey: you care about us. You care about our brands, you care about our business, you care about the community that has developed here, and you feel a sense of ownership in all of this. For that we area extremely grateful.
We also realized that we can ask for your help in continuing to grow what we’ve all built together.
When we asked you to spend some time telling us what you think, more than 1,500 people put aside the other pressing responsibilities of the day to share their thoughts. So, so many of you took our request for information seriously and spent the time to write us detailed, thoughtful comments in response to our questions. You put effort into sharing your feedback. Thank you so much for that.
We feel very fortunate that we’ve been able to grow this idea Liesl had eight years ago into what we do to make a living and support our family. And we feel even more fortunate to have developed such a dedicated and loyal following. But we can’t rest on our reputation. In order to continue our business into the future, we always need to be growing our customer base. And your survey responses showed us we could be doing better in this.
So let me end this series of posts about what we learned from the survey the way we began the process—with an ask. The survey has told us that we could use your help in spreading the word about what we do here, about our brands, and about the community that has developed around our patterns. Will you do that for us?
Here’s why we’re asking.
On the survey, we asked how long you’ve know about Oliver + S. Eighteen percent of you are real veterans, having sewn with us for more than five years. Sixty-eight percent of you have been with us between one and five years. But only 14% of you have joined us in the last year. On the one hand, it’s great that we have developed such a loyal, long-term following. But we wish that 14% number were higher, indicating that we were acquiring more new customers who would stay with us through future years and spread the word about what we do.
When we asked how you first heard about Oliver + S, almost 60% of respondents said they originally saw us featured on a blog or website, while less than 15% of people said they found us by coming across one of our patterns in a local store.
This isn’t how we imaged our business would grow eight years ago when Liesl started writing patterns. At that time, we assumed that our patterns would be sold primarily through quilt shops and that we would grow a following as people discovered them when they were shopping for fabric. But, as I mentioned in my post on paper vs. digital patterns, the industry changed on us over a few years, and fewer people were discovering our patterns at retail. At the same time that this change was happening, social media usage (everything from blogging to Pinterest) began to increase. And it has been through social media that word about our work has spread. Without all of you showing what you have made and telling about your experience sewing with our patterns, we would not have built the following that we have.
So what are we asking for? We’re asking that you continue to spread the word about us—about Oliver + S, Lisette, Liesl + Co., and Straight Stitch Society. Many of you are doing this already, and it’s extremely helpful. People overwhelmingly find us and our patterns by stumbling across them on blogs, in Facebook newsfeeds, on Pinterest, and on Instagram. So, please, keep spreading the word.
When you make something from one of our patterns that you are proud of, don’t be bashful. Show off your work. Talk about the experience of sewing—in person and online. Tell people what it means to you to be able to make the clothes that you and your family members wear. Talk about your thought process in selecting patterns and fabric, and share your creativity. By inspiring people to sew, and by talking about the experience you have sewing with our patterns, you will introduce others to the joys of sewing. And you will help strengthen and support our business in the process. We can’t grow without that.
In addition to talking about us online, you can talk about us in your local fabric store and come to our website and leave reviews on the patterns that you have sewn. Even though most new customers are finding out about us online, there are still a portion who see our patterns for the first time in their local quilt shop. But many quilt shops don’t carry our patterns for two reasons: because of their price and because they are apparel patterns. When you’re in your local fabric store, tell the staff that you sew from apparel patterns and ask them to carry our patterns–even though they may be a little more expensive than some other brands. Talking about your experience sewing with them may help convince store owners and buyers to begin carrying them.
Similarly, sharing your experience through writing product reviews is very helpful to us. Customer reviews are some of the most influential pieces of information a shopper sees when she is evaluating whether to purchase a pattern. We have recently upgraded the reviews functionality on our site with some new features—including the ability to vote on whether reviews are helpful and to embed hyperlinks in the reviews you write. Please visit the shop section of the site and leave a review on some of the recent patterns that you have sewn. Tell people about your experience using the pattern and what you liked about the final result.
Finally, the most surefire way to grow a customer base is to grow the number of potential customers. The more people who sew, the more people will be interested in using our patterns. If you have a friend who has expressed interest in sewing or has admired your work, invest a little time teaching her the basics of the craft. Show her (or him!) that it’s not as hard to sew a garment as she may think, and give her the confidence to set off on her own creative journey. It’s a win-win. You’ll feel good about what you’ve done, and your friend will thank you for it in the future.
So that’s our ask: Spread the word. Share your experience. Grow the community. And thank you, for everything you do for us. We wouldn’t be able to do what we do without you.